Anders Behring Breivik absorbed all of his murderous ideology from the internet.
It wasn’t Christian fanaticism or
right-wing fanaticism or even anti-Muslim fanaticism that drove Anders
Behring Breivik, the man who slaughtered about 90 people in Norway on last
Friday, into madness. It was Google.
Hungry for explanations why the 32-year-old
detonated a fertilizer bomb that left eight dead in the heart of Olso and then
shot dead about 70 more at a youth camp run by the Norwegian Labour Party on a
nearby island, the media have been trawling through a 1500-page document that
Breivik posted to his Facebook friends before his killing spree. He titled it “2083
– A European Declaration of Independence”.
It was a clever publicity stunt. Now his
bizarre theories about the dominance of cultural Marxism, the failure of
multiculturalism and the invasion of Islam are flying around the internet. He
even created an FAQ about his personal life and program, including questions
about his favourite beer, films and eau de cologne.
How much of this is true will require the nimble
literary skills of a French deconstructionist. In fact, at one point, he has
inserted a long disclaimer declaring that the book is “fiction”:
incriminatory information in this work is written ‘in character’ and must not
be confused with an actual plan, or strategy to attempt to harm any individuals
or infrastructure, any political groups or attempt to seize political or
military control of Western European regimes.”
Unhappily, the “fictional” horrors calmly mapped
out in the document were turned into fact.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. This
calamity has been used to vindicate condemnations of right-wing politicians,
opposition to Muslim migration and Christianity. But triumphantly plucking damning
quotes from his 1500-page rubbish heap proves nothing.
Breivik was utterly inconsistent. He
describes himself as a Christian, a Freemason and an Odinist (a revival of
Scandinavian paganism). The two figures he most admires are Vladimir Putin and
Benedict XVI. He budgets for an orgy with prostitutes to be arranged “just
before or after I attend my final martyrs’ mass in Frogner Church.”
He speaks with the gravitas of both a
theologian and a new atheist: “As for the Church and science, it is essential
that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings. Europe has
always been the cradle of science and it must always continue to be that way.” He
rails against the destruction of family values and wants to implement a one-child
policy in the developing world to save the environment.
The document has a hyperlinked table of contents
with chapter headings and footnotes – all the paraphernalia of a scholarly
article. But most of the material appears to have been copied and pasted from
blogs and websites. Great slabs of the Unabomber’s manifesto are incorporated
into the text without attribution. Whole chapters were taken from the anonymous
Norwegian blogger Fjordman. The introductory chapter reproduces a pamphlet on
political correctness by the Free Congress Foundation, an American think tank.
It has all been compiled with Wikipedia’s
air of no-nonsense academic detachment, from its analysis of Muslim demography
to description of how to purchase weapons for a mass murder.
In short, it is a 778,257-word demonstration
that Google not only capable of making us stupid, as Nicholas Carr argued in a famous
article in Atlantic three years ago, but violent and full of hate.
“What the Net does is shift the emphasis of
our intelligence, away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative
intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence.
The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in
our thinking," Carr wrote
Evidence of that lies on the shores of Utøya
island. What the document reveals is a personality which has been shaped by years
of solitary engagement with the internet, a hollow shell filled to bursting
with the trivia of millions of internet pageviews. At one point, he says, he
spent “thousands of hours” trawling through Facebook trying to promote his cause.
He prepared for the climactic day by playing the video game “World of Warcraft
Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, once
predicted that “Providing universal access to information will allow [poor]
people to realize their full potential, providing benefits to the entire
world." This seems overly optimistic. Something more than information is
For some people the vastness of the
internet can be deadly. Critical thinking and making optimum sense of confusing
data about how the world works requires a fully integrated personality. Breivik
lacked that. He allowed himself to be absorbed into the Web, his intelligence fading
away to become just a node in the internet.
It is within the warmth of a family that
most people absorbs a world view that makes the world coherent and orderly. Breivik
never had one. His father, Jens Breivik, left when he was one and failed to get
custody. For him it was the second of three marriages. His mother also had
three partners. There were various half and step siblings floating around.
Who Breivik really is, what he really
feels, is a mystery. But there is a revealing sentence about men who conform to
contemporary Norwegian values:
going that road realise at one point in life that it’s a pretty shallow
existence. They long for something better but are trapped by the unofficial
‘rules of the game’ propagated through every aspect of society. At that point
you are 30-40 years + without a family, without children.”
Anders Behring Breivik, in other words.
Surfing the internet gives you facts, not
values to live by. You can only learn morality and self-knowledge through commitment
and engagement with other people, not by googling. At a time when families are
falling apart and many children are growing up without engagement with their
parents, how many more Breiviks are out there?
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.