Anders Breivik, the 33-year-old mass murderer of 69 innocent teenagers, tearfully confessed to “barbaric measures” to save his “dying country.” He “humanized” Norway. He “dehumanized” people. Is he evil, insane, or both? Let’s start this with a trip down memory lane.
In the 1930s there was a popular radio program called “The Shadow.” It was introduced by a mysterious voice that said “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!” The program ended with "The weed of evil bears bitter fruit. Evil does not pay.” On Bali, I encountered another Shadow in the “Wajang Puppet Theater.” Its origins date from Hindu and Islamic cultures going back a thousand years. Both Shadows speak of evil, but without revealing the heart of evil. It appears that stories of evil cross cultures and time.
A contemporary and an ancient metaphor describes the timeless tyranny of the evil that lurks in the minds of people like Anders Breivik. One involves today’s modern computers and the other involves yesterday’s Wajang Puppets.
Let’s assume the mind resembles “computer software” and the brain resembles “computer hardware.” Let’s equate the mind with Wajang puppeteers and brain with Wajang puppets.
It’s helpful to distinguish between the “mind-disease” of an evil puppeteer and the “brain-disease” of the puppet. Like their theatrical cousins, they talk to each other. However, most evil originates in the puppeteer-mind as “twisted values behind twisted evil thoughts.” Far less common is the involvement of the puppet-brain’s “twisted molecules behind twisted thoughts.”
In rare cases where the puppet-brain is involved with evil (e.g., brain tumors, genetic defects, environmental pollution, substance abuse, etc.) the result is more an “emotional storm” amounting to the equivalent of “wind in our sails.” Nevertheless, it’s the “hand” of the puppeteer-mind that grips the sticks that hold the strings.
Evil is normally a sickness of mind rather than a sickness of brain.
Anders Breivik’s case shows the preemptive ideology of a twisted mind where ideology is elevated, devalues persons as “things,” and then makes “nationalism” a “person.” The normal priority of decency toward others is flipped giving new meaning to the phrase “flipped out.”
Breivik confessed he killed to protect Norway against multiculturalism. Like Hitler, he dehumanized persons in the service of his perverted ideology. (Hitler used National Socialism to clear his path to power. It was later that the world saw the products of his evil intentions.) This disturbance is nothing new. Philosophers and psychologists have long thought about preemptive ideation leading to power, control, and mass murder, such as in Stalin’s people’s paradise.
It is unproductive to label Breivik a psychopath or sociopath. Diagnostic labels are where thinking stops and we need to keep thinking about evil as moral insanity rather than a medical or clinical condition. Breivik has bugs in his software. He saw the world through a twisted values system.
Breivik lived with a flawed ideology. I suspect his values began with the embers of hatred, which evolved into values where he placed his growing ideological-priorities over empathy-priorities. He became fixated on his perversions. With twisted values, he operated with diminished capacity and then emerged from his shadow world with deadly force.
A diminished capacity to value others and ourselves has broad social consequences. When we elevate ideologies and a twisted version of nationalism over life, the goal is to control. This is the lesson we learned from Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
Can we do anything to prevent the craziness of evil? Even as natural science has given us creature comforts and nuclear weapons, too many remain moral pigmies wandering through a shadow puppet world with defective “axiological” software. The time has come to look at the values we build into our software. Beyond Good and Evil is Axiological Science (i.e., Value Science). It's time to use this new science to save humankind from itself, and help us all make sane and enlightened choices.
Dr. Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D.