Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who is Anders Behring Breivik?

Anders Behring Breivik
(Image from BBC)

A question currently posed by many of us who analyze terrorist motives but have been more accustomed to focusing on Islamism is: "Who is Anders Behring Breivik?"

One of my long-time readers, who goes by the online pseudonym "Erdal," is a secular European Muslim of an 'unorthodox' Islamic background (Alawite?) with ancestral roots in Turkey (though not necessarily Turkish) who has long taught in the German university system, and he has offered his thoughts on this query by attempting to place Breivik not within an ideological camp but within a new generation that is coming of age in Europe:
I think the media is full of misreadings about all this, because they operate in a world with questions of ideology, discourse and (in-)consistency thereof, conviction and political maneuvre that is outdated.

Breivik is young -- he formed his world view in his twenties, in the 21st century. This (and a bit younger for students starting out) was the generation I was last in close contact with before retirement, and I found them to be unlike any generation before.

Their demeanour is usually decried as they indeed do function in a quite unfamiliar way: They put forward conclusions (if pressed), while their process of reasoning appears opaque and unorderly. People usually mistake this for a lack of method, knowledge and discipline (I remember a post of yours that argued roughly in the same direction).

I've come to think this view is entirely backwards and that this generation is way better informed, much stronger in its convictions, and has independently thought a great deal more and deeply that any of their predecessors. They appear passive because their convictions are not the result of open discourse -- a discipline they are indeed not good at -- but that is just beacuse most older educators (and indeed most media personnel) are just bad at spotting their interaction, which is way more subtle than it was in their day.

The period of shared and prepackaged static ideology that you aquired along a canon of public, organized and bookish learning, to defend with discursive methods as you progress, is past. The young activist people you find that still adhere to this traditional method are usually just eager to please the elders.

But most, the rest, have instead a very rigorous intuition, formed by much data, strategic playfulness, experience and inner struggle, and they can very eloquently communicate the results of their thought processes with cultural markers that are simply overlooked or considered inadequate by the old paradigm.

Brevik's text is instructive because is very much like that, because it is -- its size excepted -- so very typical. It signals its convictions as markers that draw from shared cultural core material of his generation: Tolkien's LOTR [Lord of the Rings], WOW [World of Warcraft], "levels" [as in computer games], autodidactic progression from an unstructured, fluid, episodical mass of information and solipsistic reasoning, a sense of mission and rootedness in themselves and an idealized heritage that they aquire with great gusto like forbidden fruit.

When Breivik speaks [in his manifesto] of his Knights Templar and traces his steps through levels mastered, of insights with tokens aquired, of his tactics and strategies, he fully inhabits this metaphorical world of his generation -- and does not suffer some weird reactionary infatuation with medieval militias. His phantasy uniform designs are neither a sign of madness or self-aggranzizement, nor an article of clothing ever to be worn in real life gatherings, but just a metaphorical currency of his own otherwise intangible progression. He is not political in a way that has sytematic public organization at its core but in a way schooled by his generation's experience that you can contribute on very sizable and ambitious projects without any formal organization to lead you, just by establishing a code that you renegotiate permanently by signaling with markers shared or rejected, but always at least unconciously understood by the participants that you need to never know. You know they exist, because you know the signals don't arise spontaneously. You don't argue because you expect it to be futile: The infrastructure isn't built for it, there's too much noise along with the signals. You don't go looking for agreement, because you can expect it to be there, based on the general nature of signals you receive.

He grasps quite correctly -- and apparently without prior knowledge of the common name of the effect -- that ultraviolent extremism will indeed inevitably shift those that share his outlook, but not necessarily his method, further into the ageing mainsteam and give their position more weight. (It's called the anchor effect, btw.) I think the defensive whining in the established antijihadist quarters, that their cause has been harmed, just shows the complainants' naivety and old-school upbringing.

This guy acted alone, but in the certain, and probably correct, conviction that there are many others like him. He has no need to know them, he knows they are there and that they are very many among his age cohort, because he can read their signals. They were many even in the humanities, a bastion of tradition[ally] organized politics; in technical fields, his type is the male default. They may decide to emulate him or not, on their own terms, along the lines of their own assessment of the situation, in permanent contact with the general vibe. This is not illness, not misunderstanding of ideology, not being a victim of demagoguerie, just rational extremism, a logical extension of widespread self-perception and world view.

I think the ageing media and policymakers have no idea of the potential trouble they're in, because they're deaf to this generation, ignorant of a huge discourse they assume doesn't exist because the channels it manifests itself in are not their channels. They think their march through the institutions was the greatest achievement ever, and that they are safely on the steering wheel. They are very wrong. Their categories no longer apply.

Types of Brevik's generation and general worldview are a pan-European phenomenon, well educated, well travelled, with shared experiences, without nationalistic prejudices, without fixed ideology, without sacred beliefs, without class attitude, without the need for visible organization, without illusions. And now they are grown up, nurtured by jihad, Tolkien and WOW, patient to progress stubbornly along the levels, certain of the significance of myth and quick on the trigger, and they will start rocking the boat. I can't see them not winning.
Well, they do have youth on their side, and they probably dislike the baby boomer generation that they're expected to support through their taxes (which might partly explain their generally anti-Leftist views). Anyway, that's Erdal's generational analysis of Breivik. In short, this younger generation, growing up on World of Warcraft and related computer games, familiar with the Lord of the Rings and similar stories (Harry Potter?), forging identities symbolized by avatars and enhanced by ascending through "levels" marked by acquired "tokens," shares not so much a fullfledged ideology as a situational worldview.

What remains unexplained is Breivik's turn to terrorism, and particularly his choice of young people, including teenagers, as his target. Erdal gestures in the direction of jihad on this point, perhaps implying that Breivik has learned from observing the jihadists that terrorism often has the effect desired by the terrorists. Erdal's reference to the "anchor effect" probably finds its application here.

Perhaps Erdal will respond and clarify this point.

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At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a problem with this statement:

"[T]his generation is way better informed, much stronger in its convictions, and has independently thought a great deal more and deeply that any of their predecessors."

Maybe I don't know the older generation well enough, but I've always thought people of the older generation were stronger in their convictions and beliefs, compared to the nonchalance that blights many of my generation.

I would also like to see how he was able to reconcile his liking of "Cultural Christianity" and being a Freemason.

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

On the first issue, I gather that Erdal is making a general point, i.e., that this new generation is inundated with media through the internet.

As for Christianity and Freemasonry, that's not much of a problem to reconcile. Many evangelicals in the US have had membership in the Masons. My maternal grandfather and several other relatives were Masons and evangelicals. In Breivik's case, the reconciliation of the two would have been even easier since his Christian identity is almost entirely cultural.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

O right. I forgot Protestants do not have the same antagonism against Freemasons as Catholics (used to) have.

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

Your objection is completely valid. I expressed my thoughts badly. Happily you also supply the solution: "Nonchalance" is part of what I meant, when I said that I feel this generation is "stronger in its convictions". They are less defensive, less argumentative; their personal convictions are grown from pieces, and even if the process of assembly is somewhat random, the result inconsistent: it's theirs entirely. They cannot be disheveled by objections that they haven't fully grasped the ideology they picked, because there is no grand design (such as Marxism, Liberalism or Libertarianism) as an original blueprint that they could feel inadequate against, and defensive about.

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Erdal said...

As for the "why young people" question, this mistakes results for intentions. The primary target, as evidenced by the amount of preparation, was the bomb in front of the central government building. Brevik expected the building to collapse. Him primary target on the island was former prime minister Brundtland, who left the camp (two?) hours earlier than Brevik expected.

Also, the youth of the victims has been exaggerated in the media, they are still routinely called "children" Here is a list:
I counted one victim of 16 years of age, most in the 17-24 range, at least a quarter in their late twenties or thirties. (the bomb victims were older still, as expected).

I did a quick and tasteless calculation: The average victim at the island camp was 20.5 years old.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Here's your link as hotlink.

Thanks for the tasteless calculations. I had wondered about the tendency to call the victims "children" -- were they really pre-teen? Or so I wondered . . . and I now know.

I hadn't known of Breivik's original plan, that he hadn't targeted the young people specifically, but rather the former prime minister.

His act remains an atrocity, of course.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:40 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Protestants do not have the same antagonism against Freemasons as Catholics (used to) have

That's right: This is the situation in Italy. The antagonism is reciprocal, still nowadays.

Moreover, here in Umbria, where the leftist parties have been ruling for some 65 years, Freemasonry is often linked to the former Communist Party. That's quite ridiculous for a guy like me, coming from N-W Italy, where Freemasons still express the 19th century liberal ideals.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But it's now linked to whatever Breivik signifies . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:36 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Well, in Italy, secret Freemason groups "are often said to be linked to" subversive and even terroristic actions, especially in the 1970s, including bomb attacks and the kidnapping and killing of the statesman Aldo Moro (officially, he was murdered by the Brigate Rosse, more or less the Italian version of the German RAF).

The writer and movie director Pier Paolo Pasolini said that he KNEW what it was all about: power, oil companies, names, etc. And he was killed in 1975 (officially, because of a showdown among gays).

Sounds like Silvio Berlusconi himself is / was a member of the most infamous of such lodges, the P2. Currently a member of our Parliament is being accused of belonging to the P4.

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One Mason friend of mine told me, "We're an organization with secrets, not a secret organization."

I imagine the secrets are rather mundane, so I've never been so interested in joining.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:00 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Your friend is surely right about his own lodge. But in Italy (as usual...) there are both "officially recognized" Masonic groups, e.g. the Grande Oriente, and secret, potentially dangerous ones.

I too have been asked to join. That did make me laugh. Are they scraping the bottom of the barrel?

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't know about that, but I do know that I wouldn't join any organization that would have me as a member!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:37 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

____Groucho Marx

The only true, inimitable Marxism.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My Italian girlfriend of many years ago once informed me, "I am a unique daughter." She was more right than she realized, as I soon came to know.


Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One should check out Peter Hitchens column.

At 1:39 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Why "should" one, Mr Hitchens?

At 1:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was impressed with Erdal's deep analysis of Breivik, and then I wondered if we need to analyze someone like him so deeply. Haven't violent, angry nutters always been with us although their causes, targets, and methods vary? How different in essense is Breivik from someone like Andrew Kehoe, who blew up a school in tiny Bath, Michigan, nearly 100 years ago, killing dozens of children, teachers, and other adults because he was angry about property taxes being levied to pay for a new school? I wonder how much of the angry, violent nuttiness of people like Kehoe and Breivik, who appeared to have led mostly normal lives and were not subjected to severe trauma like physical abuse or warfare, is innate, a ticking time bomb building force and awaiting a trigger.


At 2:14 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

I wonder how much (...) is innate, a ticking time bomb

That's basically what I think too. But the interesting factor pointed out by Erdal, a factor which somehow involves us all, is the social context around these rare and scattered "human time bombs." E.g., most Germans, back in the 1930s, were quite different from Adolf Hitler--- but they voted for him.

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, always provide a link.

Hitchens blames drugs for Breivik's insanity.

Drugs undoubtedly played a role, but they don't explain his ideas, and I don't think the man is crazy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I don't think that Breivik is any more crazy than the jihadis. A few of them might be insane, of course, but the phenomenon is too widespread to be only that.

Breivik is just a single individual, so he might be crazy rather than a harbinger of a social phenomenon.

Even if Erdal is correct that Breivik didn't originally target anyone on the island but the ex-prime minister, he also didn't just randomly attack. He was attacking the Left, whom he considered traitors.

I think that we do have to understand him at a deep level so that we don't blame the wrong things for what he did.

For his violent acts, I would look for parallels in McVeigh and the Unabomber on the Right, but also to the Jihadis themselves, whom he praised in some respects.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not use the word "crazy" to describe Breivik. I think he is sociopathic. As for comparisons with McVeigh and Jihadists, I think Breivik seems closer to the former than the latter. Jihadism seems to have reached critical mass among Muslims, giving it wider acceptability among Muslims with different personalities and backgrounds. McVeigh, his fellow members of the Michigan Militia and other anti-government groups, and Breivik may have certain personality traits in common which would explain why they gravitated to violent, anti-government activity.


At 8:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm not even sure that he's a sociopath, though he might have some tendencies, but he clearly expresses admiration in his Manifesto for Islamists who engage in jihad. In some ways, he sees them as a model.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

Hitchens seems to be possessed of the same sort of hysteria he describes as being portrayed in the film he reviews later in the same column.

Stanazol, aka Winstrol or "Winnie" is a well-known steroid. It is used mainly to "cut", i.e., trim visceral fat, rather than to put on muscle.

Contrary to Hitchen's claim, it does not increase testosterone. In fact, it inhibits the natural production of testosterone and, if used for an extended period of time can, and usually does, result in the permanent shut-down of natural testosterone production. Winstrol achieves its effect because it mimics the the fat burning action of testosterone, and, depending on the dosing can be very effective, i.e., if the dosage produces a serum level significantly in excess of the "normal" range of testosterone in the system.

The studies that have been done indicate that increased aggressiveness occurs as a result of the use of winstrol in only about 5% of cases, and even then the expression of that aggressiveness is thought to be limited to those with a previously documented aggressive temperment/proclivity for aggressive conduct.

Ephedrine and caffeine also are well-known weight loss supplements and are often combined with steroids like winstrol and/or other supplements like yohimbe or amino acids like l-carnitine and l-tyrosine in order to activiate the receptors in so-called stubborn fat cells (the famous beer belly in men) in order to liberate the fat therein for burning as energy.

Each of these substances alone, and certainly in combination, in a large enough dose, is likely to make one feel "buzzy" and even anxious, as anyone who's had a cup of espresso too many can testify.

Hitchens' attempted attribution of Breivik's conduct to the use of drugs/steroids is based on errors of fact and is little more than an hysterical attempt to explain away his action on grounds other than the socio-political ones that are likely to present a challenge to Hitchens' own apparent ideological commitments.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer, for the expert, detailed explanation.

I had my unlearned doubts . . .

Conservatives and critics of Islamism should simply acknowledge the similarities and note the differences between Breivik's views and their own.

That's what I've been trying to do.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm not even sure that he's a sociopath, though he might have some tendencies, but he clearly expresses admiration in his Manifesto for Islamists who engage in jihad. In some ways, he sees them as a model."

Yes, but was he a normal guy driven to violence after being exposed to Jihadism and other ideologies or was he innately prone to violence and therefore drawn to Jihadism and other violent movements? I think the latter just as McVeigh and others were drawn to anti-government militia groups. As for Jihadists themselves, I haven't studied them like you have, but given the large numbers and apparent social acceptance among Muslims, I think it is possible that a psychologically normal Muslim might be drawn into the movement.


At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Tom Ball said...

It may be possible that I'm the masonic "friend" you were speaking of. I'm bemused in all this to think of the gazillion "Knight Templar" bodies out there who are probably running for cover right now. There is a KT branch of the Freemasons in many countries, although apparently Breivik wasn't initiated into one of those. There is a version of the Knights Templar listed as a NGO recognized by the UN. It has a charming history, going back to just after the French Revolution, when its purported charter was found in a writing desk belonging to the late Duke of Cossé Brissac.

At 1:57 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Yeah, this is how the Templars wound up. While the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher are a religious, ultra-Catholic organization. To think that in the Middle Ages the two Orders were more or less the same thing :-)

At 2:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I think that a lot of young men are prone to violence. It merely needs to be switched on. We do it to them in boot camp, for instance, to prepare them for war.

If jihadism continues for a long time, I suspect that we'll see more violence from counterjihadists, but directed against Muslims more than against the Left.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tom, I was thinking of a different friend, but you'll do. Thanks for the comment, from which I learned something.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The ironies of history, Dario . . .

Borges was especially good at teasing those out in his short stories.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:09 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

What are you doing awake at 2 a.m.? What are you hatching?

At 4:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I couldn't sleep. You'll see what I was doing . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:46 AM, Anonymous tom ball said...

Actually, the only legitimate remnant of the Knights Templar is the Order of Christ, the highest decoration in the gift of the Pope, so rare that I don't think there is a living member.

The Order of the Holy Sepulcher was never a functioning military unit

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Order of Christ, eh? That'd look good on my CV. Where can I apply?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:25 AM, Anonymous tom ball said...

You pretty much have to be a Catholic head of state to get it. There is also a version of the O of C awarded by the government of Portugal which is at least as legitimate as the one given by the Papacy. It all gets delightfully byzantine.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe I'd best aim a bit lower. Are you authorized to bestow any honors? If I recall, we used to be proficient at that sort of thing . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:31 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Tom, many thanks for correcting those quick and awkward remarks of mine.


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