First rant of the week.
I’ve just watched a speculative documentary on the repugnant Anders Breivik, the man responsible for the horrific attacks on Oslo and Utøya Island last month. Before continuing, for the little it’s worth, I’d like to extend my sympathy and solidarity to anyone from Norway reading this. Living in Northern Ireland, I have not been a stranger to terrorism. It is a truly despicable thing, that someone could think politics (or more specifically, in the Norwegian case, reactionary extremist racism) could be worthy of ending even one – never mind multiple – human lives. One of the survivors of the shooting attack on the island, who was attending a summer camp on what the documentary described as “left-wing” politics, stated at the end of the programme that he was sure his ideals rather than Breivik’s would, in the end, be the political victors. It is my fervent hope and belief that this will indeed be the case.
I commend the survivors in the programme for their bravery and determination in the face of such horrible, senseless adversity; I hope that in time all of the survivors can heal from both their physical and psychological injuries; and I send sincere sympathies to the loved ones of those that died.
In the sense of the survivor and eye-witness accounts, the documentary was interesting, informative and very powerful and tragic. I am not the nicest person on this Earth, let’s face it, but even I will never, ever understand how someone can be filled with so much loathing for other cultures and different demographic groups that doing something like this would ever cross their minds.
And herein comes the rant. Inexplicably renowned criminologist David Wilson, a supercilious little man that I’ve come across dozens of times both in an academic context and in my more amateur investigations into criminality, was employed by the film-makers as an ‘expert’ witness on Breivik’s psychology. Can you guess where we’re going with this, readers?
According to Wilson (who, to the best of my knowledge, has no more insider knowledge of Breivik than you or I do), Breivik has a “classic cluster B personality disorder”; Wilson exemplifies this point by highlighting the sensationalism of the attacks, and of Breivik’s apparent at-easeness, even his thrills, with the media frenzy after his arrest. Wilson also contends that Breivik is a psychological splitter (ie. a black and white thinker), presuambly in reference to his “MUSLIMS BAD! LEFT WING BAD! KNIGHTS TEMPLAR GOOD!” kind of thinking. Also, he’s a classic narcissist – look at the “manifesto” and the ridiculous pictures the man posted of himself online the day before he embarked on his awful plan.
I can’t argue with any of that, but neither can I see how it took Wilson years of training and work experience to come to these frankly blindingly obvious conclusions. (Also, he contradicts himself on the histrionic thesis at a couple of points by then pointing out how much of a loner and how reclusive Breivik generally was before this all took place, though to be fair that doesn’t exactly mitigate the gruesome exhibitionism the man demonstrated when he enacted his plans). Given that Wilson fails to explain his hypothesis further (or at least that any further explanation was not shown in the programme), I also don’t get how exhibiting a few (admittedly extreme) traits of cluster B pathology makes the man a “classic” example of same. Yeah, he’s probably a narcissist – but being narcissistic does not necessarily mean having narcissistic personality disorder.
Breivik is certainly a classic example of a cunt, but that is far from always the same thing as being someone with a personality disorder. Look. Maybe he has a one, and maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he has some other form of mental illness (the whole Knights Templar thing sounds vaguely fantastical to me), and maybe he doesn’t. What I object to is the programme’s, and Wilson’s in particular, testimony to these possibilities without any qualification.
OK, so they shouldn’t have to point out that just because one exceptionally extreme (possible) example behaves in this heinous way that the overwhelming majority of people with allegedly similar disorders do not – but let’s be honest here; the public love the morbid sensationalism of reporting on supposed madness, and that – and personality disorders in particular, stigmatised as they often are – is (are) often the perfect scapegoat(s) for outrageous behaviour that decent people have difficulty understanding.
I think, as an unfortunate consequence of things like this, that each examination in the media of a criminal that may or does have a mental health problem should carry a clear disclaimer with it: that people with mental illness are generally no more violent than the general population, and are in fact much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators of it (if memory serves me, schizophrenics in the community are about seven times more likely to be affected by violent offending than other members of the populace, but I could have the specifics of that wrong). It shouldn’t have to be that way, that we need to qualify every generality, but I’m a pragmatic person. I’d rather that than have everyone outside the mental health community demonising those within it, because the consequences of the latter are potentially devastating.
Anyhow, as far as I can see Breivik was mostly sane anyhow. Null made a very good point on TWIM the other day – no one with a serious and active mental health problem could honestly have spent so much time* meticulously researching and planning a major ‘event’ in the fashion that he apparently did (except, arguably, a sociopath, the more organised version of the psychopath ((depending on which textbook you read))). We just don’t have the concentration, the calculated calmness and, more practically, in all probability we don’t have the economic and physical resources to engage in anything so necessarily complex. That sounds like a cold statement, maybe, but the point is that mentally ill people who kill because of (as opposed to in spite of) their illness tend to do it on impulse (because of a false sense of feeling persecuted or threatened, perhaps) or because they genuinely have no rational conception of what they’re doing (eg. because hallucinations compel them towards the crime).
* Null’s comment suggests that Breivik was planning the operation for nine years, though the documentary claimed it was three. I’ve heard different reports from other sources too, so don’t know what to believe. Either way, it’s a long time and was, by all accounts, a complicated process.
Further, in September 2001, did we start hearing speculation on whether Marwan al-Shehhi, Mohamed Atta, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Ahmed al-Haznawi et al, and – presumably – Osama bin Laden himself, had cluster B personality disorders? Did we spend any significant amount of time discussing whether they had folie à x? No? Didn’t we just accept that they were representing a particularly extreme and reactionary version of Islam (which, I would add, in no way represents the vast majority of people that belong to that faith)?
It’s not an entirely fair comparison, granted, because as far as we know Breivik worked alone – whether or not the two supportive ‘cells’ to which he referred were somehow involved in the attacks is at present unknown, but either way the bomb and the shootings specifically were carried out by him alone. The 11th September attacks were organised by a huge, world-wide cult of extremists.
But therein lies the point. Breivik, by his own delighted admission, is a racist that loathes Islam and wants to wage a war to drive Muslims from (Western) Europe. He claims to be a “cultural Christian”, which I think in effect means that the man is not particularly religious, but supports whatever continuing influence Christianity has on an increasingly secular and culturally inclusive continent. But although Breivik is probably not a religious extremist, he is certainly a political one.
To further exemplify, when the Troubles here were ongoing, we didn’t try to examine whether or not Johnny Adair or Thomas Murphy were personality disordered. Do we debate the state of Nick Griffin’s mental health? Was that the first thing on people’s mind when London was attacked in July 2005? Indeed, is it the lead speculative headline as regards the current ongoing rioting in London?
No. Because we used to be able to, and still can on occasion, accept that some people are just twisted fucking dickheads. People have always committed unspeakable acts in the name of religion, politics or other fucked-up ideologies. Anders Breivik is one such example. He may be mad after a fashion, but he knew what he was doing. So, ultimately, he was just fucking bad. Very, very bad.
RIP to all those that were killed as a result of the attacks on Norway on 22 July 2011.
Disclaimer: author of the above is not a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, not a criminologist, not a political scientist, not a sociologist, doesn’t know Anders Breivik, doesn’t know David Wilson, doesn’t know anyone from the Discovery Channel, could be wrong on all counts, could be wrong on everything she’s ever written, it’s all merely alleged, she’s only speculating just like the programme was, is not a member of any organisation, believes in free speech. Author of the above is a provincial nobody who apparently can’t stop her vociferous gob (fingers) when presented with a topical story and a laptop. Author means no harm in voicing opinions, welcomes sensible and reasoned debate, wishes most people well, though doesn’t wish Anders Breivik well.