The recent terrorist attacks in Norway, masterminded by Anders Behring Breivik (right), have left me — like most of you, I’m sure — with sadness and frustration. I know how easy it is to jump right into the political commentary and finger-pointing (believe me, I know), but I’ve learned that it’s important to take a moment to let ourselves feel the sorrow and aggravation for the death and suffering that this man has caused.
I shall forgo any discussion of his political affiliations or ideological intent here, except to point out — once again — that terrorists come in all colors and religious persuasions and hairstyles.
I will say this, though: I’m sure conservative commentators will argue that, like McVeigh and Kaczynski, this guy was an exception that proves the rule. If you believe that’s the case, then, let me ask you: Why is it that — with a few notable exceptions — why are almost all of those who commit these hideous acts of mass violence men? If you believe that there’s some innate cultural reason why so much terrorism comes from Islamic fundamentalism, do you also believe that there’s some innate cultural reason why men are usually the ones who plan and carry out terrorist attacks?
Means and Ends
Whatever. That’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this to make two points, and the first is about means and ends. Mr. Breivik wrote a 1500-page manifesto that is now circulating on the internets, which Garrett and I both spontaneously (and independently, without the other’s knowledge) compared to John Doe’s notebooks in SE7EN.
It’s most chilling in its deliberate commentary, which is designed to serve as followable model for others who seek to carry out similar activities. He refers constantly to the organizations with which he’s involved, and the righteousness of his cause, mostly to do with “cultural Marxists” and those pushing an agenda of “multiculturalism” (ie, Muslim hegemony). There’s a good summary from Blake Hounshell at Foreign Affairs.
It’s not surprising that he declares his admiration for Al Qaeda, since they share a fanatical devotion to their own self-righteousness. Once again we see the blinding effects of closed-minded certainty with violence as the instrument of delivery.
Several years ago, while working to make the Wikipedia page about Emma Goldman to a Featured Article, I came across this quote from her, which made a powerful impact on me and which I now quote constantly:
There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another…. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose.
Breivik and Bin Laden (like Hitler and Stalin and every other terrorist you can name) both believed they were doing nasty violence in the name of a greater good. One more example of the “To do a great right, do a little wrong” sentiment Shakespeare presented in The Merchant of Venice.
But this way of thinking is a fraud. The world doesn’t work this way — if you use violence to achieve a political goal, you will achieve violence. People will die and others will suffer, and you will make things worse.If you want a better, more peaceful world, you must use better, more peaceful ways. Otherwise you become violence, and the world you create is one of suffering and pain.
I’m willing to admit — like Cornel West — that there are certain situations where violence is the only alternative to annihilation (the Treblinka uprising, for example), but usually it’s just delusional people who refuse to consider any point of view other than their own.
Therefore this is a good time to provide another excellent quote, this one from Chinua Achebe (another of my Wikipedia FAs):
Whatever you are is never enough; you must find a way to accept something, however small, from the other to make you whole and save you from the mortal sin of righteousness and extremism.
Propaganda of the Deed
Another sad connection between Breivik and Goldman is their belief in the goodness of attentat, or “Propaganda of the Deed“. Basically, the idea is this: “If we kill [name of bad person/people], enough people will wake up and take action and things will start to get better!”
Another absurd line of thinking. Emma Goldman and her buddy/lover Alexander Berkman decided they would murder wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Ironically, after they shot him (wounding but not killing him), it was one of Frick’s oppressed workers who subdued Berkman until the police arrived.
Here’s a fun quiz: Guess whether or not a massive uprising of workers took place after this incident? Give up? The answer is: No! There was no spontaneous revolution or burst of class-consciousness epiphany. If anything, I expect this action only led people to believe that their anarchist cause was dangerous and stupid.
This will (hopefully) happen also in Breivik’s case. There will doubtless be ignorant buffoons who view his actions as heroic, but I daresay the vast majority of onlookers will be horrified and saddened and dissuaded from his ideology. As with the above, the point here is clear: If you believe The People™ need to be educated about the rightness of your cause, then use actual education. Quit pretending that your egoistic violent action will inspire anyone to make anything better.
Okay, one last thing. The guy was apparently a fan of video games. In his manifesto he explicitly mentions Dragon Age: Origins, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Modern Warfare 2. In fact, he celebrates MW2 as a way to “more or less completely simulate actual operations”.
This is chilling and sad, and provides another example (along with the Columbine kids and DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo) of a terrorist associating video games with his murderous actions. And while it’s obvious that the knee-jerk reaction is quite correct (“There are so many other factors to consider, how come so many other people play these games and don’t kill anyone, etc etc”), I’m sickened by the fact that I enjoy games which are praised so highly people who actually kill.
It’s easy for us to say over and over that we’re not affected by these games, but just as I get high off of loud techno music, or inspired in positive ways by great literature, it’s just not true that video games have no impact on me whatsoever. The key is to be honest about all of the effects — good and bad — and committed to balancing the bad with positive resources from other places.
Like I said in 2008: I’m playing a living contradiction. (And speaking of which: It’s time for a GTA4 playdate!)
UPDATE: This Calvin + Hobbes cartoon is pretty relevant, dont’cha think?
I love 5 Second Films so much. (TWO WARNINGS: 1. If, after you watch that movie, you hit “Random” even once, you will spend an hour on the site. I guarantee it. 2. There are some adult situations in some of their films. 3. This is the best thing they have ever done.
Today I’m listening to: Electric Oasis!