I remember reading about the Norway massacres as the story unfolded on Twitter last July. First suspicion focused on Islamic terrorist groups that had (it was supposed) made good on their stated threats. Then the drift of the tweets began to turn, like a river rounding a bend, toward a different perp. Finally the murderer had a name, and it was someone unknown, a misfit named Anders Behring Breivik. I wrote about it here, wondering if, perhaps, Breivik wasn’t insane after all, as so many had immediately assumed:
Perhaps we are dealing with a new psychology, a new class of criminal – aided and abetted by technology and mass communication – and none of our usual boxes fit. Perhaps psychology itself doesn’t fit. As [Jean-Marie] Apostolidès said, some in this growing class of murderers are more than willing to kill brutally to promote their ideas.
A scary thought, and apparently a contagious one. Each atrocity attempts to outdo the other in scope and depravity. It seems like we are trapped, globally, in an irreversible spiral of imitated violence. Violence, as René Girard notes, spreads mimetically like a fever over the planet.
Someone else has picked up on the René Girard theme. Anthropologist Mark Anspach at Imitatio (the foundation launched to promote and study René’s ideas) describes Breivik as “a hopeless nebbish,” yet a dangerous one: “being taken for a nobody filled him with murderous rage. He was bent on venting that rage in a way that would make people finally remember his name.” Anspach discussed what we’ve learned from the recently released police tapes, after Breivik telephoned the police following his first round of murders.
The call began smoothly enough. “Hello,” he said, “my name is Commander Anders Behring Breivik of the Norwegian Anti-Communist Resistance. I am in Utoeya at the moment. I want to hand myself in.” Clearly, he had rehearsed those words many times and managed to recite them with only a slight catch in his voice.
But the policeman didn’t stick to the script in Breivik’s head. He asked a question that stumped the self-styled resistance commander. “What number are you calling from?”
Breivik was using a phone he had picked up off the ground. He had no idea what number he was calling from. Like a pupil caught unprepared by a pop quiz, he tried to finesse the question. “I am calling from a cell phone,” he said.
But the policeman wouldn’t let him off so easily. “You’re calling from your cell…?”
“It’s not mine,” Breivik explained helplessly. “It’s another phone.” The conversation must have bewildered him. Why did it matter what phone he was using when he had just mowed down scores of young people with an automatic weapon?
Didn’t the policeman understand that he, Commander Anders Behring Breivik of the Norwegian Anti-Communist Resistance, had just carried off the biggest terrorist operation in his country’s postwar history?
The policeman’s next question was crushing. “What was your name again?”
That was the last straw. Breivik hung up and went back to killing unarmed civilians.
Anspach says that with the dissolution of traditional bonds of families and communities, some fall through the cracks: “They are the victims of nobody in particular and of everybody in general,” he says. Anspach cites French-Canadian philosopher Paul Dumouchel‘s recent book, Le Sacrifice inutile, which calls this new class of people “victims of nobody, individuals against whom no one has committed any offense.” According to Dumouchel, they are “the victims of generalized indifference. An indifference that must not be construed as a psychological disposition of certain agents, but as a new institutional arrangement.”
Anspach also cites René’s discussion of Albert Camus‘s L’Etranger in his essay, “Camus’s Stranger Retried,” in which René argues that the antihero “prefers to be persecuted rather than ignored.”
Read the rest here. It’s fascinating.