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?