The Breivik diagnosis: ideology wrapped in a straitjacket

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by Neil Godfrey


I suppose it’s trite to remark that this reminds us of the political function of psychiatrists in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Presumably it would mean Hitler must be exonerated, too. And Baruch Goldstein. Mohamed Atta. Tip the scales of power and ditto for Bush, Obama, Blair, Howard.

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0 thoughts on “The Breivik diagnosis: ideology wrapped in a straitjacket”

  1. This diagnosis brings to my mind the case of John Hinckley, the young man who shot Ronald Reagan in order to impress the actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley was put on trial, and his lawyers presented psychiatrists who had examined Hinckley and diagnosed him as legally insane. The 12 jurors agreed with those psychiatrists, and so Hinckley was confined to a psychiatric hospital, where he remains confined for the past 30 years.

    Hinckley was not psychotic. He did not hallucinate or hear voices, etc. He did not imagine that Reagan was Satan, who had to be shot in order to prevent Satanic acts.

    However, for many years Hinckley obviously had become isolated in a mentality that was so bizarre that he was not capable of thinking with normal logical and moral considerations. So said Hinckley’s relatives and acquaintances. So said Hinckley’s own letters and diaries. So said the psychiatrists, and so agreed the jurors. The verdict was supported by many learned intellectuals in the USA.

    It seems to me that the psychiatrists in the Breivik case are using similar reasoning for their diagnosis. Breivik was not psychotic. Breivik’s writings were coherent and lucid. However, it seems to the psychiatrists, based probably on information not available yet to the public, that Breivik had a brain disorder. There was a lot more going on in Breivik’s brain than an extremist rationalization for mass murder.

    I suppose that if we would engage Breivik in a discussion for a long time, we might recognize (as the psychiatrists did) that Breivik was not merely a racist who had justified mass murder — we might recognize that he was more than that — he was insane on quite a higher level.

    That’s how Hinckley’s psychiatrists perceived his mental state. It was not just that Hinckley decided to assassinate President Reagan in order to impress the actress Jodie Foster — Hinckley was even far crazier than just that one decision might indicate to people who were merely reading about him in the newspapers.

    1. Mike: “I suppose that if we would engage Breivik in a discussion for a long time, we might recognize (as the psychiatrists did) that Breivik was not merely a racist who had justified mass murder — we might recognize that he was more than that — he was insane on quite a higher level.”

      In the old TV commercial for Time-Life’s series on the Third Reich, an image of Hitler came into focus as the announcer solemnly intoned, “He was a monster!” Whenever a group of people who seem an awful lot like us do unspeakable evil, we would rather think of them as monsters. Surely they must be insane. They can’t be like us.

      Similarly, every time we hear news of another murdered abortion doctor, we’re immediately told that the killer was a “lone nut.” It doesn’t matter if the shooter was awash in hate propaganda, listening to radio hosts calling doctors “baby killers” and watching beloved political figures talk about “second-amendment solutions” with a wink and a nod. Of course not. Even before collecting or analyzing the evidence, it’s the duty of the American press to assure us that he acted alone and must have been unhinged.

      Hinckley may have been isolated and completely delusional. But the public evidence on Breivik is that he was not a lone nut who was cut off from the world. His distorted view of the world is not a unique personal construct. Indeed, it isn’t hard to imagine that privately within the fascist underground he’s seen as a hero.

      When determining fitness for trial they used to talk about a person’s mental state affecting his or her ability to judge right from wrong. If we ignore the fact that a depressingly large subculture in the West sees itself as a noble defender of white race and justified in any act that protects the Volk, we do so at our peril. Yes, their views of right and wrong may seem upside down to us. Yes, they may be delusional sociopaths, but they are not necessarily insane.

      1. it isn’t hard to imagine that privately within the fascist underground he’s seen as a hero.

        Except in your imagination, there is no “fascist underground” that sees Breivik as a hero.

        I remember that when Hickley shot Reagan, a lot of liberals did cheer aloud, and the verdict that Hinckley was legally insane was defended by liberals.

        The idea that society ought to maximally extend insanity defenses for murderers is essentially a liberal idea. The idea that we ought to replace punishment with therapy is essentially a liberal idea.

        So, in according to legal precedents established and defended by liberals, Breivik is diagnosed as legally insane and will receive psychiatric therapy until he is found to be sane and can be release.

  2. They (the psychiatrists) should just come out with it. That is: Do to the conclusions Breivik unfortunately, but evidently, reached, some part of his mental state must be socially unacceptable.

    Only, this would put people to thinking; would it not? They may think: which part, or how much of the whole is this part?

    Most(!) of it? Is this whole line of segregationist, supremacist, evidentiarily vacuous but morality impeding while eternally threatening line of thinking the cancer that, if not benign, grows into a Deuteronomy; the conversions of Theodosius I; a Crusade; an Inquisition; witch hunts; Papal Bulls of 1452, 1453, 1493, 1537, etc. (yeah, makes me sick too); a Manifesto; Fr. Jozeph Tiso; Ante Pavelic; Africa’s Army of the Lord; and way too much of America’s history and political system?

    The over whelming evidence appears to be very strong. Is there any evidence suggesting this line of thinking leads to a more amicable conclusion? Or, is this line of thinking only beneficial for those of the in-group: that whole kinder-gentler thing, I mean?

    If, by logical extension, this line of thinking, and this is merely another instance when this mentality has been culpable for an atrocity of biblical proportion (yes, I said biblical), wouldn’t any psychiatrist want to get to the root of the problem? But, we all know this root is on the wrong side of that socially acceptable threshold. Or, could it be that socially acceptable is merely a front for politically useful for emotional manipulation of the masses. Ah, playing with fire! Or, is it a weapon?

    As long as the discipline of psychiatry allows these childlike minds to continue to play with fire — yes, I mean the delusion — instead of insisting on a cultural shift toward an ever increasing reliance on evidence as the authority, over and above opinion, faith, or belief, the Anders Behring Breiviks of the world will continue to force their personally imagined deity’s, ego induced worldview upon humanity, sometimes, to horrendous effect.

    The United States Founding Fathers’s free market of ideas, of open debate, was meant to curb this reliance on belief. Our educational system was meant to arm American minds against the irrational claims of the priest. But how was that meant to work when the populace made the preacher the teacher?

    Claims, views, and opinions which are untenable, evidentiarily vacuous, and unsupportable in reasoned debate (i.e. unreasonable) should be discarded; this is what the many faiths have taught me. And, I think of those Norwegian children often… We but walk a short time between the two infinities of not yet and no more.

    “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” — David Hume

  3. In other news, “U.S. prosecutors asked an appeals court on Tuesday to reject a motion by Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner that seeks to stop medicating him against his will.”

    “Loughner in May was declared not competent to stand trial. He has been receiving antipsychotic medication at a facility for federal prisoners in Missouri, in a bid to restore him to mental competency.”


    Loughner was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions, and was declared mentally incompetent on May 25. However, it didn’t’ stop there. Prosecutors want to restore his mental capacity to stand trial.


  4. Hugh Grant can offer us some wisdom here. A 2002 Sydney Morning Herald news article preserves the salutory lesson:

    Some time ago, the English actor Hugh Grant was arrested by the police in Los Angeles. He was performing a rather private activity in a public place, with a lady of the night. For less famous mortals, such a mishap would have been merely embarrassing, but for such a famous film star the incident proved quite shattering.

    In this distressing circumstance, he was interviewed by an American journalist, who asked him a very American question: “Are you receiving any therapy or counselling?” Grant replied: “No. In England, we read novels.”

    Novels worth their art are a humanizing medium. I think we would find reality far more confronting the more we can grasp that it is us.

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