Psychgeist

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Guns and Roses - The Jilted, Juxtaposed Mind of Anders Breivik

Do spree killers, like Anders Breivik, have telltale psychological profiles?

Anders Breivik

There are no easy answers to what happened on Utoya island, at around 6pm, on Friday, July 22nd, 2011. But the two questions that many people are asking are these: 'Do spree killers have a telltale psychological profile?' And 'Does Anders Breivik conform to it?' 

The answer to both of these questions is: Yes.

Let's start with the basics. The first thing to be bear in mind here, and it's a fundamental point, is this: there has never been a spree killer in history who was the life and soul of the party. There has never been a spree killer in history of which people said: "God, do you know what? I couldn't get enough of that guy. Time just flew by when I was talking to him".

No. Instead, what you get, as we're beginning to get with Breivik, is the quiet, mild-mannered, retiring, kind of guy. Who's sometimes a little bit touchy.

At least, that is, in Breivik's case, before the blond bombshell extremism kicked in. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Now there's a reason why you get this kind of profile. It's the profile of someone with a hugely inflated ego. But who, nevertheless, still feels socially inadequate. The day after the carnage, an old friend of Breivik's, Ulav Andersson, pitched up in a television studio in Stockholm. He said he was surprised by all the Knights of the Templar stuff, and the 1500 page manifesto, because Breivik had never really been religious. Had never been political either. But, Andersson said, the one thing that really did tick him off was when certain girls he liked passed him over for guys of Asian origin.

No more calls, folks, we've got a winner. Here, I think, buried deep beneath the rubble of sociopolitical rhetoric, we finally make contact with the pathetic, unremarkable crux of the problem. Which is this. There is usually a defining moment in spree killers' lives. But you know what? You often have to look very, very hard for it. For the simple reason that it's usually something completely innocuous on the outside. But, to the person themselves, something writhingly, excruciatingly painful. And, because of that pain, something deeply, starkly significant. 

The truth of the matter is as simple as it is sobering.

What happened on Utoya Island wasn't about immigration. Or so-called Eurabia. Or the Eurocrats' plot against the people. In fact, it wasn't really about ideology or religion at all. That's just the window dressing. It was all about him. Breivic. And his deep-seated feelings of inadequacy in relation to the opposite sex

Now one of the things we know about narcissists and egomaniacs is that they have a tendency to externalize blame. A formidable natural talent for it. Nothing is their fault. It's always somebody else's. 

IDEOLOGY
Enter, stage left, IDEOLOGY. In CAPITAL LETTERS. 

And here, incidentally - there's all this talk about Breivik's Christian leanings - I think parallels can be drawn with some of the acts perpetrated by young Muslim terrorists. 

The fundamental reasons for what these bonkers 'jihadists' do, just like for what Breivik did, lie deep in their own personal sense of rejection and alienation. Not in ideology. It's the ideology that gives them the dolled-up, catwalk cause. But the naked, unflattering truth stares blankly, bleakly back at them from a mirror of disillusionment. 

And this is precisely what charismatic radicalizers are on the look out for. And what they exploit. The world over. Their stock-in-trade is to continually press links between the personal grievances of the castaways they recruit, and the bigger, wider 'picture'. Until, in the end, what inevitably happens is this: their quarry conveniently forgets why they had an axe to grind in the first place. And comes, instead, to embrace the surrogate cause. To genuinely believe that they really are working for the, as they now see it, greater good of the brotherhood. 

Liars
We are travelling, here, through dangerous territory indeed: the treacherous border, the dark, desolate frontier, between radicalization and deception. There are studies, for instance, that have attempted to get to the bottom of what separates out good liars from bad ones. And you know what it seems to be? Good liars, it appears, are better at believing that the lies they are telling are true. 

This is actually mirrored by real-time changes in the brain. Example: the more you believe something, the more activity you'll find in an area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex - it's the part of the brain that glues together the way we think about something and the way we feel about it. In other words, it's the part of the brain that binds together the good old 'head and heart.' 

You also find less activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that sparks into life whenever we come across information that we think is not quite right. 

This is exactly the pattern you see in the brains of accomplished liars when they tell lies. But stick someone whose been brainwashed in an fMRI scanner, and ask them about the 'cause', and I wouldn't mind betting you find something pretty similar. 

I do not, in any way, mean to trivialize the Nordic Armageddon that Breivik has visited upon his countryfolk. But think of it in terms of a grotesque, macabre, apocalyptic snakes and ladders game. You spend ages trying to throw a six to get on the board. But in the meantime you see everyone else advancing. You become increasingly frustrated and angry. We've all been there. As kids. So what do you do? You kick over the table and end the game for everyone. 

You globalize, in reality, a private, personal pain. 

We shall never know for certain, perhaps. But the bottom line, I would hazard a guess, is this. Sometimes, there come along people like like Anders Breivik, who feel powerless and rejected, and who exact a terrible revenge on the world for their own feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes there are people who feel so weak they need to kill in order to feel strong. Sometimes there are people for whom nothing makes sense anymore unless framed by the crosshairs of an HK-416. 

Ideology is their morphine.

It isn't because of the bodybuilding that 86 people lie dead. It's not the freemasonry or the video games, either. No. It's all because one vainglorious, arctic farmer, alone with his roots and tubers, decided he was a failure with women. Felt lonely. Felt isolated. And whose crackpot circle of contacts, high tar right wing extremists, of both the political and religious variety, provided the convenient, consonant narrative for him to gain a terrible revenge on the innocent, ephemeral women of his past. The virtual, unknowing presences who ghosted past him in corridors, and by the sides of broken coffee machines. And who dared to go out with Asian guys, not him.

Anders Breivik
It's crazy, but it's true. He only ever wanted to be with you.

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Kevin Dutton, Ph.D., is a psychologist and research fellow with the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion at Cambridge University.

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