Sometimes things just don’t make sense

It is one of the most enduring human characteristics to try and see patterns in the world around us.  We don’t like the idea of random events.  People even pore over lottery numbers.

After the awful events in Norway last week, it is only natural that people try to make sense of them.  The most common is that it is part of the rise in right-wing hate politics – for example Timothy Egan in the New York Times or Matthew Feldman in the Independent.  A more original alternative, from Joan Smith, also in the Independent, is that it is part of frustrated male pride, with parallels in the British 7/7 bombers.

But I don’t think any of this helps.  Of course people who think we should do more about the extreme right will use this event to bolster their case.  And the extremists themselves may also do so, on the grounds that this act shows just how desperate things are getting.  Frustrated macho pride was clearly part of the toxic mix, but this afflicts most of the male population.  The more I find out about Anders Behring Brehvik, the more I think his lawyer is closer to the mark by describing him as “mad”.

I am no psychologist, but I don’t think Brehvik fits the normal description of insanity.  But he does seem to have something that the professionals call a “personality disorder”.  He seems to have real difficulty in socialising.  He acted alone, almost certainly, when most terrorist acts are collaborations, like the 7/7 bombings, with people encouraging each other on.  He read widely, and took inspiration from a lot of different sources, but he doesn’t seem to have tried harden his ideas through proper discussion and argument with anybody else.  They are a very flaky agglomeration of fantasies.  The idea of a cultural war between the West and Islam has many followers, but allying with mumbo-jumbo of the Knights Templar?  Describing himself as Christian without any reference to what that actually means?

It is nonsense.  If he hadn’t picked up on these ideas, something else might have done.  Anarchism, perhaps.  The closest parallel is the US Unabomber, another unconnected loner.  We can try too hard to find patterns.  Sometimes the only way to understand something is to say that it is senseless.  The random act of a madman.

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes things just don’t make sense”

  1. Making sense of things is certainly what we do. I think this description is used for two very different activities. On the one hand an ‘explanation’ is any hypothesis which fits in with our already established beliefs. This kind of explanation is rife, and almost by definition something we can’t learn from. On the other hand there is the investigation carried out with curiosity. Maybe looking closely at this one man’s derailed life with this attitude might might help us to see factors which are affecting us all? I hope so.

    Morgenbladet, one of the two excellent weekly Norwegian weekly newspapers, has an edition this week with the headline ‘Hvorfor?’ (= Why?). I will read this through and report back.

  2. “They are a very flaky agglomeration of fantasies”, read his manifesto, its impossible for that number of sentences, not to contain some sentient and well thought out reasoning, I doubt you have read it all ? He may well be mentally ill and is most certainly a mass murderer, but you could not accuse him of ‘not thinking’, or lacking in certain kinds of rigorous independent thinking ? “Random act of Madman” you say ? first of all, “madman” at the moment of committing the act ‘yes’, but “Random” no definitely not ‘random’, meticulously planned and perfectly executed, would be a better description, hence its level of success from an emotively independent perspective, just Like 9/11, I doubt those who executed that could have conceived of their plan, going as well as it did ?

    by the way the title of this blog “thinking liberal” what do you actually mean ? do you mean “thinking a specific ideology that places the same value and rights to all thoughts on a level playing field” which fundamentally if you’re not careful means no value to anything thought. So when someone comes along who has a definite “ideology” … then … the ideology of “no specific ideology” withers in front of it, hence the necessary small populational size of a specifically ideologically driven group, it takes to take over an entire country, as history is many times testament too ? unless “thinking liberal” means were talking about what liberalist propaganda today currently equates to, in the present political reality ? which is the liberal weakness that allows globo corporate capitalism to run the world for the benefit of the few elite, under the hijacked auspices of “free trade”, dissolve national borders and identity, destabilise independent thinking governments ? and remove democracy, from public view and replace it with a popularity contest ? In which politicians lie to attain non destiny shaping powers, by attempting to get elected through trying to liberally please all groups (whilst ultimately being told whats going to happen by the corporate power voting block), and thereby please no-one, especially not the poor or the “native”, which probably in your liberal world view is politically incorrect hate word now consigned to “conversational extinction”, unless it refers to Amazonian indians ?

    1. I use the word “random” loosely to mean that it was senseless and unpredictable. I think for my response to the rest of your comment my best advice is to reread the original article; the answers are all there.

      You clearly have no real idea about what liberalism is. It my view it is the only political ideology that properly reflects common humanity. If you want to understand more about it, there are plenty of resources out there. Start with John Stuart Mill. It certainly isn’t about pleasing everybody!

  3. “my best advice is to reread the original article; the answers are all there.” are you a teacher by any chance ? it sounds like the line a educator might scribble on the end of an essay they were marking to lazily avoid any real debate ? (see the reference text etc) I very much doubt the “answers are all there” ? for I very much doubt we even understood each others questions in the first place, for them actually being “all there” would be a miracle.

    “You clearly have no real idea about what liberalism is” … I certainly have a real idea as to my definition of it, I was presuming you would provide me with your definition of it ? where you would define your interpretation of it ? after all im not interested in my definition of it, its your definition im interested in ? (not “John Stuart Mill” version of it either, unless you subscribe wholly to someone elses definition of it ?), though I will check out “John Stuart Mill” and strip from him that which is good.

    though this section from wikipedia doesn’t look promising ? :

    Quote 1:
    “His father, a follower of Bentham and an adherent of associationism, had as his explicit aim to create a genius intellect that would carry on the cause of utilitarianism and its implementation after he and Bentham had died.[4]”

    response to quote 1 : so one we know from this his father was an indoctrinated ideologically driven egotist of some sort, who set out to create some certain sort of child in the creation of his son John Stuart Mill to carry on his legacy of philosophical beleif, only if his views broke from his father indoctrination could he be said to be an intellect discernably seperate and of his own creation ?

    Quote 2:
    Mill was a notably precocious child. He describes his education in his autobiography. At the age of three he was taught Greek.[5] By the age of eight he had read Aesop’s Fables, Xenophon’s Anabasis,[5] the whole of Herodotus,[5] and was acquainted with Lucian, Diogenes Laërtius, Isocrates and six dialogues of Plato.[5] He had also read a great deal of history in English and had been taught arithmetic.”

    response to quote 2: Only in his “auto” biography is his genius described ? ie he had the ego to talk himself up in his own autobiography these are not the promising qualities of a humble man ? He also goes in an typical classics sense to vaunt his study of the literature of the past as though this should somehow automatically ? entitle him with the recognition of others as a great man ?

    I presume this is the John Stuart Mill born in pentonville and died in avignon france in the mid 19th century ? you are referring to ? Im sure he had something to say and some of it of value, but he certainly cant have imagined the world as we currently experience it, nor could his philosophys and ideological beleifs have countered for current times and situations.

    I will not wholesale swallow anything, as I refuse to subscribe to any artificially defined political creed/group/ideology. I think allot of the people who consider themselves something : liberal, conservative, socialist etc have a poor understanding of the terms they idenitfy with, and define their viewpoints by, and certainly the consequences thereof subscribing to extraneous philosophical groups, I myself would not define myself as being, in any of those camps, purely because I know its bad enough that most people will unecessarily pigeonhole a persons political viewpoint anyway without one choosing to identify with one, as you no doubt mine ? and I yours at the behest of the plain identification you make with the naming of your blog ?

    The liberal values of equality and human rights are a good conceptual idea (how do you police human rights ? one world government ?), but are not demonstrated in the natural world which leaves all things in a state of looping dynamic imbalance & movement, true ‘equality’ is an unnaturally static state ? and may not in the physical world be ajudged to occur except in the natural equality demonstrated only over historical time in the looping rise and fall of interdependent creature population sizes over time.

    The bond of common humanity for sure exists and would suffice in an ideal world, where we had rubbed out the negative aspects of human nature, but throughout history the liberal has fallen and proven weak compared to rampant tribalism , or the ego of the self that has run through the majority of human history. And that tribal nature should be recognised as being deep within and desired by the psyche of human beings, its a sense of belonging and to fail to see it their, is dangerous, for below the human psyche is an organism most often fighting for its own survival first.

    The extension of a common bond to a large numbers of others and to the whole of humanity in a practical form is yet a dream most aspired to by the international comfortable. To me that sense of “common humanity” could easily be used / abused in its ideological sense as an excuse to lead to one world government and the rubbing out of the liberality necessary to sustain national cultural identity, this in my opinion has the potential to lead the greatest possible human abuse, I myself recognise the concept of our “common humanity”, but at the same time identify with and protect stable agreed and recognised populations, borders and cultures, allowing for all social, monetary and intellectual commerce between them. for that is what historically has fundamentally created periods of human peace … stable borders, and whether nazi’s trangress those lines or liberal europeans dissolve them, both can ultimately end in strife and human suffering.

    1. Ancient. If you are capable of empathy you might understand my frustration at dealing with somebody that writes very long comments, that does not seem to make much effort to understand what I am saying, and why, beyond delusion, I might be trying to say them. I have limited time for blogging, and I’m not sure why I should be investing much of it in this conversation. There are so many flaws in your reasoning that I don’t really know where to begin, and I don’t think you’d be listening anyway. And if you don’t believe me, reread what you wrote about JS Mill, and ask yourself what objective readers might think about it. Believe it or not, it is the ideas contained in his writings that I find convincing, rather than worshipping the man himself.

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