Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Between Norway and Hell"

Here's a must read article from Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest blog on Norway:
The tragedy in Norway is among many other things an important reminder that much of we want to believe about history is plain wrong. In particular, it reminds us that the most cherished American illusion, the form of historically determinist optimism often called “whig history,” is a delusion and a snare.
There is no principle so deeply engrained in American social science as the idea that moral and economic progress go hand in hand. 
The inescapable reality is that the very forces creating our affluent, modern and democratic world also generate violent antagonism. Breivik, like Al-Qaeda and like Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, is the shadow of progress. When conditions are right, the lone psychopath becomes a cult leader; in a perfect storm when everything breaks his way, the psychopath becomes Fuehrer.
Obviously, read the whole thing. He does a much better job than I do in explaining the inescapable fact that much of our world view is tainted by a philosophy of wishful thinking (you'll hear much more about this on tomorrow's DOWN RANGE Radio podcast).

I would take issue with Mr. Mead on a couple of points. The first is that I think it's a conceit to assume that it is only since the beginning of the Industrial Age that the rapid pace of societal change has driven a certain percentage of the population to "violent antagonism." I tend to look through a more Darwinian set of blood-colored glasses. I believe that violent, psychotic, sociopath, lunatic, serial killer, religious fanatic — pick a word, any word — has always been with us...as I said in a previous post, since the veldt.

It is the legacy of our evolution from killer ape to whatever we are today, the fragments of DNA left over from our forefather and foremothers who bequeathed us not only their successful genes, but the violence that placed them at the top of the food chain and ultimately as the unquestioned owners of Planet Earth. In short, there have always been monsters among us, but until the concentrating of populations in urban centers that  was part and parcel of the Industrial Revolution, those monsters were less visible, hidden in the widely scattered, largely autonomous human settlements. How many "knights in shining armor" were the John Wayne Gacys of their time; how many rulers with hands as bloody as Hitler?


Anonymous said...

"I believe that violent, psychotic, sociopath, lunatic, serial killer, religious fanatic — pick a word, any word — has always been with us.."

Agreed. Let me help out with some names.....Herrod, Vlad the Impaler, Tamerlane. All preindustrial fellas with lots of time on their hands and a deep desire to terrorize and murder others.

Pathfinder said...

As a former archeologist, I have seen this attitude constantly. "Based on 5 separate bones and 15 pot shards, here is how I see the evolution of this culture." And they will fight to the (intellectual) death that they are right.

Part of the problem is that when illiterate peasant Stan kills illiterate peasant Willie, illiterate peasant Herman, and illiterate peasant Fred in some village in central England in the Middle Ages, no one knows about it. And yet I would guarantee this happened - a lot.

MB, you are right, we are wired for this, and we are a hair's breadth away from letting the wolf loose. At Beaulieu Wood, Peleliu, at Okinawa, at Tikrit, we see how good, productive law-abiding men become cold, hard killers because they had to.

These men didn't like doing that job, in part because our society NOW says you're not supposed to like it, but the ease with which men changed in war reminds us every time that the wolf is constantly lurking right there under the skin.

And this is why I carry.

Anonymous said...

And back in the days of old, Lord Jon Doe just did what he felt was just with the lunatic, hung, beheaded, or staked on a plain and moved on.

No talking heads, no panel discussions, no media insight or hand wringing.

Folks in the neighboring village or tribe would never have even known or cared the dead maniacs mother never breast fed him or that his dog talked him into murder.


seeker_two said...

And a lot of "missing persons" and murdered bodies were explained away by blaming vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc....folklore covered a lot of crimes back then....

Anonymous said...

The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

nj_larry said...

A wild crazed man with delusions of grandeur. An insane philosophy. Thinking that his actions will set all the world right. Willing to destroy all around him. Unwilling to accept any outside help.

hmmm....for a second I thought you guys were talking about Obama. My bad.

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting in this context that the "Ice Man" found in an Alpine glacier several years ago was the apparent victim of an attempted robbery/ murder.
Tom B.

B said...

There are quite a few holes in the "Norway and Hell" article's logic.

A) Two hundred years ago, an armed individual certainly could have gone to a group of unarmed people in a remote location and slaughtered them - and in the far more distant past. Samurai killed w. impunity. Most of the killing in Rwanda was via machete. The Hundred Years war was an orgy of violence against non-combatants. Not to mention the numerous, private, slaughters of American Indians, African Bushmen, Aborigenes, South American Indians, etc, etc.

Heck, even the Old Testament is filled w. stories of killing in large numbers. Man's been engaging in genocide and mass-killing for a very long time, both individually, and in groups.

B) I think he's completely missed the point about wealthy societies generating more enemies. Technology, the spread of education, increased wealth, and more effective communication, will enable violence to be more effectively carried out - they make all human activities more efficient, but there's no reason why such a thing would cause more insanity.

If there really is an increase in violent outbursts, I suspect it will be much more likely to be the result of both the increased dissonance between an individual and the culture he lives in - either due to a failure to integrate, or because the individual is coming from a different culture which has more violent tendencies.

The other aspect of modern, Western, civilization which leads to the spread of violence, is the refusal of individuals to defend themselves and civilization.

If we want a strong civilization, filled w. strong, free individuals, we have to go back to teaching our children to sock bullies in the nose, not leave the unfortunate to their fate while you go get a teacher...

Anonymous said...

Of course, if all we are are highly evolved slime, then who are we to judge somebody as "a monster" or a "sociopath?"

As Dr. Provine at Cornell, a total evolutionist, points out, within the Darwinian worldview is no basis for any ethics, no meaning to life, and no such thing as human free will.

With this worldview, the Norway shooter isn't "a monster" nor is he a "sociopath."

He is merely a random collection of atoms slavishly obeying his evolutionary heritage. If anything, he might actually be a force of natural selection.

Mr. Bane, I'd say you are willing to go only halfway there. You do argue that he's following his evolutionary heritage.

But I do wonder where you get the basis to label and judge him as a "monster?"

I'll be honest and admit that I do not believe, for one second, that we are merely the product of time plus matter plus chance.

But if we indeed are, nothing but the products of our evolutionary heritage, then the terms "psychotic, sociopathic, lunatic, serial killer, religious fanatic" merely have no meaning whatsoever, nor do we have any basis whatsoever to label anybody in such a way.

Michael Bane said...

No offense, Anon, but there's no cheesier (or older) trick in debating than to take the other debater's statement to some weird-ass extreme, then demand the Debater #1 defend that ground. You see it in Washington all the time, and only a fool plays along.

Everyone here is welcome to believe whatever they would like, especially when it comes to religion. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Goddess worship or sacrifices to the fire god R'holor...all are welcome under the Big Tent Michael Bane Blog, as long as you're not actively calling for the death of Said Proprietor!!!

Check your weapons at the door...


Dave S. said...

"But if we indeed are, nothing but the products of our evolutionary heritage, then the terms "psychotic, sociopathic, lunatic, serial killer, religious fanatic" merely have no meaning whatsoever"

Evel Kneival on a rocket bike couldn't make that leap of logic.

nj_larry said...

"all are welcome under the Big Tent Michael Bane Blog.."

I strongly object if that means Al Sharpton, John McCain, Keith Olberman or Paul Krugman are going to start putting their 2 cents in these comments ! The only BIG TENT worth a damm is the Ringling Brothers circus.

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