Madness: A Question of definition

There was a letter in the paper today: “Dear Sir, Anders Breivik should be put to death: not to deter others, but because he deserves it”.  I am inclined to agree, but I’d add that hanging him would also be the one certain way to ensure that he never does such a thing again.

So much has been written about the appalling Breivik case that there is perhaps little more to say, but I’d still like to make a couple of points.

First, I’m disappointed that sloppy journalists are still describing him as “right wing”.  He was obsessed, he was prejudiced beyond reason.  He hated Muslims with the same passionate, pathological, perverse hatred that Hitler harboured against the Jews.  But on the political short-hand scale of left and right (itself looking increasingly like a last-century cliché), there is surely no place at all for people like Breivik.

The point has often been made that at the extremes of totalitarianism, the terms left and right are drained of meaning.  Many regard Hitler and Nazism as “right wing”, despite the fact that the word Nazi stands for National Socialist.  And while the Communist dictatorships of Stalin and others are sometimes thought of as left-wing, there are in fact far closer parallels between Nazism and Communism than between either of those movements and liberal democracy.

Brievik is not right-wing.  I’d like to say that he is simply a pathological lunatic, but that rather tends to pre-empt my second point.

In the recent court-case, the verdict, and the sentence, turned on whether or not Breivik was insane.  I note, by the way, that the Norwegian people wanted him to be found guilty and sane, and sent to prison, rather than guilty but insane, and sent to a secure psychiatric hospital.  Breivik himself hoped to be found sane, because he believed that a finding of insanity would demean both him and his beliefs.  Many may feel that demeaning Breivik and his beliefs would have been the best thing to do, and the most effective punishment.  But we have to respect both the finding of the Norwegian Court, and the views of the Norwegian people, who have been subjected to a terrible trauma, and have reacted to it with measured dignity.

It is easy to make a case that Breivik was sane.  He speaks in a quiet and measured way.  He planned his vile act with great care, and, one has to admit, with great skill.  His ability to think through and implement his plan suggests a cool, calculating mind, not someone who has taken leave of his senses.

On the other hand, it is equally easy to make the case that the act itself practically defines him as insane.  Surely no sane person would ever decide to kill dozens of his young compatriots at random and in cold blood, as he did?  Surely no rational man could prowl around the island as the minutes ticked by, looking for new victims, and firing at those seeking to swim away?

We should, of course, take care to avoid the circular argument, applied to any outrage, that the perpetrator must have been mad, since no sane person would do such a thing; that a mad person cannot be responsible for his actions; and therefore that no such attacker can ever be held to account.

My conclusion, for what it’s worth, is this.  The debate about whether Breivik was sane is not about the reality of the Breivik’s state of mind.  Rather, it’s a debate about the definition of “sane”, and how we choose to use the word.  I would rate Breivik as evil, pathological, mad.  But given that he clearly knew what he was doing, that he had a clear and firm intention, and that he planned it over many months, he is guilty as hell (and I use the term advisedly).  I think he should hang.  But failing that, he should never get out of jail.

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9 Responses to Madness: A Question of definition

  1. Clearly he wil not hang. I believe that he has received the maximum sentence in Norway which is twenty-one years. I also believe that there is a clause which allows for him to be detained beyond that time but the wisdom or otherwise of release is taken into consideration. In this case, if he really is sane then in the long term he should never be released and a “life sentence” is appropriate.

  2. maureen gannon says:

    To give him the label of insane would have labeled every IRA bomber every radicalised muslim insane for the atrocities they have performed and I would include bLiar in with them, for their intent is/was to kill innocents for what they see as their legacy/,martyrdom /jihad these people as you say are evil as was Hitler, there are people who through the centuries have pursued the same aims , people without the mindset such as theirs call them insane because they do not understand them in rational terms, as for the media giving them the badge of right or left wing is the easy way for them to relay the message to us peasants who of course do not understand anything other than that..

    • Ammonite says:

      I agree, though hanging or any form of capital punishment is I fear is feeding into the mindset of these calculating detatched loners who crave attention. Such crimes need a simple answer, no contact with the outside world. No internet, no communication. Oh yes, and for life.

      • maureen gannon says:

        My sentiments exactly, killing them martyrs them for the likeminded. In other words incarceration and certainly not allowed like Brady to taunt Mrs Bennet untill she died, he was obviously getting his murderous kicks via another form by what he did,

      • Ammonite says:

        By showing humanity it does not mean we have to execute people. Denying things like writing and selling their memoirs, or having any form of contact or publicity is what will rob them of the thing they want most. The trouble with this is that this system may be used by a corrupt politic that may silence brave and credible whistleblowers. I see no way out of that. We have two opposites Breivik and Assange, it looks as if Breivik gets the better option….

  3. maureen gannon says:

    Well now we are on another tack, thats for sure, we have a Breivik who has been dealt with and we have Asange who believes this is a stitch up, I totally agree with him this smacks of a stitch up he was charged of this offence in the August and reinstated in December, smells of CIA to me.http://www.democraticunderground.com/10021175331
    Apologies for going off topic .

    • Ammonite says:

      I am in danger of agreeing again! The Assange stitch-up is a way to silence him and Wikileaks forever on a hyped set of principles, they put a ribbon around him and offer him to those who were responsible for the ‘collateral damage’ deeds done, like a box of chocolates. Breivik given full and humane treatment by the country he loves so much.
      I will not make any more comments for fear of being off topic. Thank you for the link.

  4. Anne says:

    He should serve the sentence agreed and then he should hang. In reality-the REAL world- he will do exactly the same again. He sees nothing wrong in what he has done-he never will.

  5. DeeJay says:

    ‘Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a character; sow a character reap a destiny.’ Breivik indulged murderous thoughts for years and they led eventually to those deliberate and carefully planned actions. He develped an evil ideology. He is not insane. Hanging? ..too good for him. Why hasn’t he had a life sentence for each of the people he killed?

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