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.