The dead are not yet buried, but the horror du jour will no doubt generate a lot of commentary.
If it bleeds it leads. But to be fair, the shock value of this story would make it news no matter what else was going on in the world.
Word is that Norwegian “authorities” have a “suspect” in custody, and contrary to initial impressions that the whole bombing and shooting rampage must have been the work of radical Muslim Al-Queda, it now looks as if the “terrorism” was more of the home-grown variety. It’s kind of remarkable how the news reports are referring to the suspect as tall, blonde haired and blue eyed to drive home the point that for now the usual suspect Arabs are off the hook and we’re dealing with something else entirely.
These horrible incidents happen from time to time. I know it seems unsatisfying to put it that way, but it’s true. In the aftermath, we flounder around looking for reasons, and usually come up empty. And then the next one happens and the exercise – searching for some meaning – begins again.
I want to suggest two aspects of these incidents that I think apply across the board, to all of them. One is practical, the other is moral or perhaps spiritual.
The practical aspect is that large, unarmed groups of people are tempting targets for those inclined to treat other human beings that way. Whether on a subway train or in a school or at a mass sporting event, you can rack up a lot of killed and wounded when you start shooting and no one is shooting back. It may seem crazy to some people, but the logic of this is unassailable: if more people were armed, there’s no way some lone nut gets to take out dozens of defenseless people. He’ll only get a few before someone gets him. With a few notable exceptions – like people wanting to lynch Casey Anthony – people who are not crazy and homicidal greatly outnumber those who are. Arming people would therefore make mass gatherings of people safer from this kind of thing, not the opposite.
The second thing I think applies across the board is more of a moral-spiritual dimension. Some people believe in an all-knowing, all powerful God, others don’t. But everyone would have to agree on this: if there is such a God, one thing we can say for certain is that he does not impose his own will through force. He leaves human beings free to stew in their own juice, to experience the consequences of their own acts, and the acts of others. He does not stop the lone nut from carrying out his murderous plan.
Note the contrast between this God and the lone nut: the latter seeks to impose his will on others in a particularly brutal way. He goes where angels, and even God himself, fear (or decline) to tread.
Mass killings, and most other serious crimes, are the product of a very basic internal dysfunction: the desire to force the world to be something other than what it is. To make the world – reality itself – conform to one’s own will, rather than conform one’s own will to the world.
There is an obligation to submit one’s mind to what is. To the extent that anyone’s sheer will is to be made reality for that reason alone, there is only one answer to that: Thy Will Be Done. And even in that case, the use of force is wrong. If God himself declines to use force to impose his will, who else can claim that right?
The freely given assent of the will to “what is” is the mark of physical, moral and spiritual health, just as the opposite is unhealthy and ultimately destructive of oneself and others.
We shouldn’t forget, either, that the lone nuts who horrify us by their violent acts are not the only ones who have a problem with imposing their will through force, though that in no way implies moral equivalence to other manifestations of the same thing. Even so, it’s not improper to be mindful of the degree to which the most vulnerable minds and souls might act out in an extreme fashion disorders that are too prevalent in less obvious ways.