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Reflections On The Norwegian Massacre
April 29, 2012 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Reflections On The Norwegian Massacre (60 min audio interview) On July 22, 2011, Norway suffered a catastrophe: its main government buildings were bombed, and scores of young people were killed and maimed at a summer youth congress. Nils Christie, a prominent Norwegian sociologist and criminologist, talks with CBC IDEAS about what happened and what it means for his country.

Bonus interview: Reflections on Deviance and Social Control

Nils Christie (born 1928 in Oslo) is a Norwegian sociologist and criminologist. He is a professor of criminology at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo since 1966. Among his books is Crime Control as Industry.

"I don't like the term crime—it's such a big, fat, imprecise word," says the renowned University of Oslo criminologist. "There are only unwanted acts. How we perceive them depends on our relationship with those who carry them out." If a teenager swipes a wallet, we call it a crime. If he snakes a twenty from his dad, it's a family issue. Locking up the pickpocket only sets him up to learn worse tricks from hardened thugs. Better, Christie says, to treat him like a badly behaved son. Send him to counseling and require that he compensate his victim. Similarly, drug abuse should be considered a matter of public health, not criminal justice. Give addicts treatment instead of incarceration and you'll cure more of them and (bonus!) foster a more humane society. Of course, seriously violent criminals should be locked up, but Christie points out that the justice system does a poor job of determining which ones are so incorrigible that they need to stay behind bars.
posted by KokuRyu (38 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nils Christie, August 8 2011: in an interview with Nettavisen (in Norwegian) he stated that he hopes Behring Breivik can "return to society" and that "we shall tolerate him and be happy that it's posible for him to return to society". (According to Google Translate, it's "not tolerate", but that's not a correct translation.)

Other Norwegian criminologists disagreed.

Nils Christie's dogmatic views ("crime does not exist" etc) are no longer "fresh" and "provocative". Please ignore him.
posted by iviken at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


"its main government buildings were bombed, and scores of young people were killed and maimed"

Sounds like war. It is very interesting that when a deranged individual does this we recoil in horror and demand justice. But when governments do it, we cheer and we pray for the brave individuals who are doing it. I guess this is a perfect example of what Nils Christie meant when he said "How we perceive them depends on our relationship with those who carry them out". Them being these murderous romps. And I am reminded of the 60-minutes interview with Madeline Albright when she was questioned about the deaths of approximately 500,000 Iragi children due to years of economic sanctions. Her response was that the price paid for all of those dead kids was worth it. No doubt it was a gotcha question but the answer, some how, is still chilling.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:43 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was at a small circus when I was young. One of the "performers" had a serious mental meltdown during a performance. The other people in the troupe filled in and made it part of the show. The performer with the issues was slowly escorted off of the stage.

Allow the same thing to happen here.
A soliloquy of the insane serves none but the devil.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 3:50 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


But when governments do it, we cheer and we pray for the brave individuals who are doing it

"We"?
posted by Wolof at 4:44 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"we"

I know.....I wanted to clarify that but I got lazy. I mean "we" as a very large percentage of a given population whose government goes to war by choice.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:47 PM on April 29, 2012


I'd consider Breivik "returning to society" entirely too risky, making him an exceptional case. Ain't such a great case for discussing Christie views, which seemingly target average cases.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:55 PM on April 29, 2012


The problem with treating Breivik like a "criminal" is that he didn't believe that what he was doing was anti-social. Rather, he thought that he was protecting society from people who were trying to hurt it. No different then what a soldier thinks when he's fighting a war, or what a terrorist thinks.

So of course there is no way to "cure" him, and make him "normal" the way you might with a pickpocket.
posted by delmoi at 4:59 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"How we perceive them depends on our relationship with those who carry them out."

Well, I can agree with that, but never forget that when you push the edge of the envelope, there is always still an edge. Sometimes people need a little help. Sometimes people need to be forgiven. And sometimes they need to go to jail forever down in a deep, dark hole from which they're never heard from again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:29 PM on April 29, 2012


A pickpocket will never be cured of the desire to steal, just trained to understand stealing = punishment. There's no training Breivik, no punishment to fit the crime.
posted by Mblue at 5:32 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


A pickpocket will never be cured of the desire to steal

Citation please. (And I'm not agreeing that Breivik is anything like a pickpocket.)
posted by sneebler at 5:35 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem with treating Breivik like a "criminal" is that he didn't believe that what he was doing was anti-social. Rather, he thought that he was protecting society from people who were trying to hurt it. No different then what a soldier thinks when he's fighting a war, or what a terrorist thinks.

So all the more reason to make every effort to rehabilitate him. Not saying it would be easy, or even, in the end, possible, but the attempt fascinates me. It would be akin to conquering evil, no? To get the man to the point where he can feel criminality of his actions -- genuine remorse.

As to whether he should ever be allowed to walk free again, that's a whole other concern. I think some crimes are simply beyond reconciliation, certainly with regard to a return to "normal" life.
posted by philip-random at 5:42 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Citation please.

An alcoholic will always desire drink.
A gambler will always desire odds.
A politician will always desire applause.
posted by Mblue at 5:43 PM on April 29, 2012


An alcoholic will always desire drink.
A gambler will always desire odds.
A politician will always desire applause.


You... uh, you don't really understand what rehabilitation is... do you?
posted by sadmarvin at 5:47 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


But when governments do it, we cheer and we pray for the brave individuals who are doing it

There are plenty of people out there cheering for what Breivik did. And when governments go to war the people they attack tend to describe the people attacking them as inhuman monsters. I'm not sure the "lone gunman" vs "government" distinction holds up to much scrutiny.
posted by yoink at 5:52 PM on April 29, 2012


Rehabilitation isn't a cure of the desire, just a learned ability to resist the temptation.
posted by Mblue at 5:53 PM on April 29, 2012


People steal or even kill for lots of different reasons, and I don't think that for most people, it's because they just like doing it.
posted by empath at 6:05 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rehabilitation isn't a cure of the desire, just a learned ability to resist the temptation.

again - cite.
posted by philip-random at 6:35 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


An alcoholic will always desire drink.
A gambler will always desire odds.
A politician will always desire applause.
An Mblue will never understand what the word "Citation" means.

Hint: It does not mean "restate your premise without any evidence"
posted by delmoi at 6:51 PM on April 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


A surgeon will always desire to cut people open.
A World of Warcraft player will always desire to play World of Warcraft.
A mother will always desire to give birth to more people.
A janitor will always desire to clean up other people's messes.
posted by squarehead at 7:38 PM on April 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh. Em. Gee. Anders Breivik is Ender.
posted by Nomyte at 8:05 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


And so it ever goes, point missed. Scorn for the agreeable mob.
posted by Mblue at 8:24 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nils Christie's Cuban project:

"About the project
The project, initiated by Nils Christie in 2005 in collaboration with the Cuban Lawyers Association, working with classes in Havana at the Facultad de Psychology and the Facultad de derecho (Faculty) of criminological, sociological and criminal law policy issues and exchange of scientists.

The main focus of instruction has been placed on prison sociology, alternative conflict resolution, drug policy issues, including both treatment and punishment. Besides teaching, the project staff participated in a number of criminal policy discussions with participation of among others, the Cuban Communist Party and the prison administration."
posted by iviken at 8:49 PM on April 29, 2012


I don't think Anders is Ender - the whole of point of Ender's view of violence was that it should settle things once and for all: if people are bullying you then you hurt them so badly that they're scared to go near you. If aliens are attacking your ships then you wipe them out. Breivik was violent, but I don't think even he could have expected that shooting a bunch of kids would achieve his goals.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:05 PM on April 29, 2012


Nils Christie, August 8 2011: in an interview with Nettavisen (in Norwegian) he stated that he hopes Behring Breivik can "return to society" and that "we shall tolerate him and be happy that it's posible for him to return to society". (According to Google Translate, it's "not tolerate", but that's not a correct translation.)

Other Norwegian criminologists disagreed.


Thanks for the links - I would have never have found them (they're in Norwegian) without your post. I don't know much about Christie, except that in the Ideas interview he mentions working in a quasi-concentration camp for Yugoslav prisoners in Norway, and I guess I'd like to read more about what he has to say about the Holocaust and other instances - like Breivik - of unspeakable crimes.

On the other hand, I guess as I was creating the post was mindful of the fact that for Norwegians this is still a tragedy that is very fresh in their minds, so it would be somewhat callous and superficial to turn this into a thought-experiment that does not reference the pain the society must be going through at this time.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:09 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Breivik was violent, but I don't think even he could have expected that shooting a bunch of kids would achieve his goals.

I mean, yeah, I'm trading on the name similarity, but if one thinks for a minute: He had identified an existential threat, planned a course of action, and has pursued it with total resolve.

"You have to have men who are moral, and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment. Without judgment! Because it's judgment that defeats us."
posted by Nomyte at 9:19 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post, KokuRyu. This is very interesting stuff. Frankly, I don't think rehabilitation is the right approach with Breivik. The most important thing for Norway to do is not to defeat him but to defeat his ideas. He's very much unlike normal criminals in that he was motivated purely by ideological purposes.
posted by nixerman at 10:22 PM on April 29, 2012


KokuRyu: "I guess I'd like to read more about what he has to say about the Holocaust and other instances - like Breivik - of unspeakable crimes"

Let's not exaggerate. What Breivik did was pretty bad, but it's not exactly genocide, or even in the same ballpark.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:24 PM on April 29, 2012


Let's not exaggerate. What Breivik did was pretty bad, but it's not exactly genocide, or even in the same ballpark.

Um. He was one man that murdered 78 people, most of them children, and injured about 300, in one day.

How many Nazis do you think had that kind of body count?

I personally don't think that comparing Brevik's crimes to the worse recorded crimes in history is a long bow to draw.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:40 PM on April 29, 2012


His thoughts were red thoughts: "How many Nazis do you think had that kind of body count? "

Probably quite a few. The Nazis industrialized genocide. At Auschwitz II, they gassed as many as 20000 people every day. Even if the SS men dropping in the Zyklon B pellets took turns, they'd easily kill many more than Breivik did, every day for weeks, months, and years.

In Katyn, the Soviets executed 22000 Polish prisoners in less than two months. From Wikipedia: "Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD—and quite possibly the most prolific executioner in history—is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison over a period of 28 days in April 1940." That's 250 a day on average, for 28 days.

Breivik is an outlier in the ranks of spree killers, an exceptional criminal, but he's not particularly far up on the list of war criminals, terrorists, and so on.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:31 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Probably best to stop with the irrelevant details about the Iraq war and Holocaust
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:09 AM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:20 AM on April 30, 2012


I also agree, which was why I protested when Breivik's actions were compared to the Holocaust. He's a (very successful) criminal and political terrorist, not a genocide.

This is important also because his own agenda is to inflate his importance and that of his actions. I've been following the trial somewhat closely (I'm Norwegian, so it's a bit easier to check the primary sources), and he's fighting tooth and nail to not be made trivial and pathetic, much less mentally ill, while it's becoming more and more clear that he's not very exceptional, and that he's likely a malignant narcissist.

Thus, the presentation of his actions, and who we compare him to, what class we place him in, matters profoundly.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:45 AM on April 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


If we're following the "but he's not running the gas chambers at Auschwitz!" line of reasoning, then we should let everyone convicted of murder run out and frolic into the park.

Seriously, that's a ridiculous assertion to make - that anyone who killed over 70 people (most of them minors) in one day is "not that bad."

Truly, if there was a crime that warrants being kept away from the rest of society for the duration of one's natural life - this would be it. Rehabilitation is a great thing to work towards, but also - actions have consequences. If you go on a mass murdering spree, the consequence of your actions being that you never get to do anything again without being in an orange jumpsuit and wearing shackles seems pretty reasonable.
posted by sonika at 5:37 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


sonika: "If we're following the "but he's not running the gas chambers at Auschwitz!" line of reasoning, then we should let everyone convicted of murder run out and frolic into the park."
Strawman much? Try reading Joakim's posts again.
posted by brokkr at 6:28 AM on April 30, 2012


Also, sorry to break this to you, but prisoners in Norwegian prisons (or, indeed, any prison in Western Europe as far as I know) are not in orange jumpsuits or shackles. That's mostly a fashion of the Northern American prison-industrial complex.
posted by brokkr at 6:29 AM on April 30, 2012


If we're following the "but he's not running the gas chambers at Auschwitz!" line of reasoning, then we should let everyone convicted of murder run out and frolic into the park.

This strikes me as one of the most fantastically unreasonable interpretations of another commenter I have ever come across on Metafilter. Seriously?
posted by Dumsnill at 6:43 AM on April 30, 2012


Seriously, that's a ridiculous assertion to make - that anyone who killed over 70 people (most of them minors) in one day is "not that bad."

Typically, quote marks imply that someone said that which is enclosed in them.
posted by empath at 6:57 AM on April 30, 2012


Let's not exaggerate. What Breivik did was pretty bad, but it's not exactly genocide, or even in the same ballpark.

Yeah, but the thing is Christie (whose ideas, as others in this thread have pointed out are to some extent falling out of fashion in Norway) discusses the Holocaust and genocide in the IDEAS interview linked to in this FPP.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:51 AM on April 30, 2012


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