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.




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3 responses to “Norway

  1. bluebird

    The indiscriminate nature of this killing frenzy would lead one to believe that Al Queda was involved-infact my first thought was this was an act of terrorism. But no, just some psycho guy similar to the Oklahoma bombing. Crazy is everywhere and no culture or country is without them.


  2. Rob

    Plenty of people try to subvert the world to their mind instead of adapting to the world. Only a small percentage of those people kill other people. So there must be something else. The only surprise to me is that more of these killings don’t happen.

    It’s interesting that you chose the word obligation…”obligation to submit one’s mind…” Who is the obligation too? Oneself? Society? To a sane, mature person submitting ones mind to the world is more akin to instinct I’d argue than any kind of choice. You might be able to argue that it’s not instinct but deeply ingrained habit, but is deeply ingrained habit really a choice?


    • I’m probably not expressing myself very well, but this is a difficult subject, a difficult idea to get across: the interplay between what we can do to change things, and simple facts that must be acknowledged and submitted to.

      There’s always a question of balance, too. You can’t argue that everything should just be accepted as it is; then again, you can’t tilt at windmills. You can’t ignore the feedback the world gives you as you try to change something; then again the feedback can be wrong or misinterpreted or deceptive, and you may have to soldier on in the face of what appears to be formidable opposition.

      There’s an ancient question of epistemology: how does one search for the truth, or put another way, learn anything? If you don’t know what the truth is, how will you recognize it if you come across it? But if you would recognize it then you already know it, so why are you “searching” for it?

      We rightly revere inventors in the practical sciences. But notice that the term “inventor” is something of a misnomer. The inventor does not produce a useful or spectacular invention by willing it into existence out of nothing; he discovers that things already work in a certain way and adapts some aspect of that to produce the invention. The true invention is not the product of imposing one’s will upon reality, but rather the opposite: submitting one’s will to reality.

      It is not different with the law, but to a large degree the legal profession, and especially the judiciary, disagrees and behaves as if it is. Consider this from Justice Scalia’s dissent in Brown v. Plata earlier this year:

      “But the idea that the three District Judges in this case relied solely on the credibility of the testifying expert witnesses is fanciful. Of course they were relying largely on their own beliefs about penology and recidivism. And of course different district judges, of different policy views, would have “found” that rehabilitation would not work and that releasing prisoners would increase the crime rate. I am not saying that the District Judges rendered their factual findings in bad faith. I am saying that it is impossible for judges to make “factual findings” without inserting their own policy judgments, when the factual findings are policy judgments. What occurred here is no more judicial fact finding in the ordinary sense than would be the factual findings that deficit spending will not lower the unemployment rate, or that the continued occupation of Iraq will decrease the risk of terrorism. Yet, because they have been branded “factual findings” entitled to deferential review, the policy preferences of three District Judges now govern the operation of California’s penal system.

      It is important to recognize that the dressing-up of policy judgments as factual findings is not an error peculiar to this case.”

      Facts command the assent of the mind. Wishing them to be otherwise can be normal, but willing them to be otherwise is something of an internal disorder. Pretending that they are otherwise – that is, that facts are not facts – goes beyond even that and is a peculiar temptation of judging. This is what Scalia is acknowledging. The degree to which this is projection on his part is anyone’s guess, of course.

      This internal disorder of judges can become a social disorder because of the position they hold and the function they perform.

      And others, in their zeal to make reality conform to their minds rather than the other way around, may become frustrated with unyielding facts and decide to impose their will by blowing things up and killing people.

      The difference is in degree and method, not in kind. The further a judge travels down the path of “It is so because I say it is so”, acting contrary to facts and reason whenever he feels like it or it’s more convenient for him, the less difference there is between him and the lone nut in Norway. And neither can we delude ourselves that a judge is incapable of doing something as destructive with a gavel than the lone nut is doing with a firearm: what the judge does is less graphic and the effects are more attenuated, but just as real and socially more insidious.


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