"I went down to the water
Like a lamb to the slaughter
Didn't know what was waiting for me there.."
It also contains
"All of these years
I've built up this hate..."
Where does hatred come from? Is it always provoked? If we are to explain it so, how can it so far outstrip the wrong which has allegedly been done to the individual (or groups) consumed by it? How can it tip over into acts of terror and violence on a scale far greater than has been done by those who are hated? Is the primary motivation fear, which then translates into hatred? If it is perceived that those in authority, eg government, are responsible for facilitating alleged wrongs of others, do they become ‘legitimate targets?’ Even if politicians are identified as targets, how can this hatred be vented on those who can’t have been responsible – such as teenagers who haven’t been around long enough to be accountable for the decisions of government? Were those who were murdered even old enough to have voted? Again, perhaps fear is at work – the fear of what they will become. Slicer recalls the Biblical ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ in which Herod feared he was losing control of his own future.
When confronted by atrocities such as the Norwegian murders this week, many of us are driven to ask ‘Why?’ The precise form of the question may vary eg “why would anyone do such a thing?” or “why does God allow this?” or “why did the security services not prevent this?” but, alongside revulsion, we want to know some kind of reason, or an explanation of how the killer’s twisted mind justifies such terrible acts. The media have noted Anders Breivik’s describing of himself as Christian, that he was a freemason, held far right political views, and expressed a fear of both ‘cultural Marxism’ and Islamic ‘colonisation.’ They have also noted some similarities with the ‘Oklahoma bomber,’ who also felt that the national government was not doing enough to protect ‘his’ nation.
In a classic legal text, Sir Henry Maine stated: “All ancient societies regarded themselves as having proceeded from one original stock... The history of political ideas begins... with the assumption that kinship in blood is the sole possible ground of community in political functions.” – Ancient Law, London, 1861.
Slicer is frustrated to see tribalism still evident in society today.
No doubt part of our motivation in trying to understand appalling actions such as those in Norway is that we want to prevent a recurrence; but part is simply puzzlement and shock: “Why did you choose to do this? What did you think you were doing?”
It’s not so long since Slicer wrote on whether or not evil is merely a concept, an illusion generated by our brains alongside ‘illusions’ of self and free will – as some claim recent neuroscience data indicate. Those who advocate this position must have some way of defining/classifying acts such as Breivik’s as harmful, and explaining the passion with which we feel revulsion in strictly materialist terms – but a lack of free will, and a denial of evil as an entity (even if its consequences aren’t denied), leaves Slicer feeling yet more short-changed with explanation. He identifies with the lyric “I can’t provide for you no easy answers...” and also with the sense of a need for justice that many yearn for, which is touched on in the same song:
“You’ll know all about it, love
It’ll fit you like a glove
When the night comes falling from the sky.”
However we define justice, Slicer is at a loss to understand how those with a reductionist view of the mind can hold individuals accountable for evil acts if their actions are already determined prior to their conscious choice (as Libet’s neuroscience experiment appeared to indicate). In the case of Breivik, those investigating his actions state that there is evidence of planning of this atrocity over several months but, again, this is presumably must be regarded as a series of individual, albeit numerous, choices leading up to the final ones to plant the bomb and shoot each victim.
Freedom clearly can’t be an absolute thing - it has to be constrained within some limits. Slicer figures Primal Scream weren’t thinking of semi-automatic weapons when they sang of freedom in their song Loaded:
“Just what is it that you want to do?
We wanna be free
We wanna be free to do what we want to do
And we wanna get loaded”
No one seriously desires absolute freedom, but we spend a lot of time in society debating how much we should have – and there are certain to be strong views expressed on how much freedom Anders Breivik should have for the rest of his life.
Still, perhaps retributive justice is not the first thing we should be focusing on. When the night comes falling, quoted above, also states:
“I can see through your walls and I know that you’re hurting
Sorrow covers you up like a cape..” and
“In your teardrops I can see my own reflection”
We have the ability to understand and sympathise, or even empathise, with the pain of others. We are driven to show compassion, and Slicer deplores compassion being reduced to nothing more than an illusion, albeit one which might carry benefit for the species/herd.
As someone who left his own teenage children to youth camps within the last week or two, Slicer feels horror at the prospect of being met with news like some Norwegian parents have received in the last few days, and he is resigned for the present to have little understanding of the answer to ‘Why?’ – well expressed by a different song by the same artist
“Darkness at the break of noon
shadows even the silver spoon,
the handmade blade, the child’s balloon
eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
there is no sense in trying...
...Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
you discover that you’d just be one more
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding).