By their works ye shall know them

We are presently being treated to the rather undignified and unedifying spectacle of the political right — particularly the authoritarians and liberthoritarians — crying foul because people are drawing cautious, well-documented linkages between their own rantings and those of the Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik. We had a dry-run of this following the Tucson massacre. Russell Brown has NZ’s most thorough treatment of this argument, and Peter Cresswell has NZ’s most succinct whine about it, with links to more examples.

One such piece bears particular mention: by Merv Bendle, it was published in Quadrant, and questioned whether Breivik’s attacks were “a covert, ‘false-flag’ operation, carried out to give just this impression that it was conducted by anti-Muslim, right-wing extremists, but actually conceived and directed by other forces?” Quadrant is edited by Keith Windschuttle, whose statements at a seminar given in New Zealand in 2006 (and chaired by Matthew Hooton) were quoted by Breivik in way that Windschuttle states is “not inaccurate or misleading. I made every one of these statements and I still stand by them.” The argument is essentially that “civilisation” is under threat from “the perverse anti-Westernism of the cultural elite”. There are many, many more such cases in overseas forums and I trust readers will have no difficulty finding them.

But Pascal’s Bookie, in comments at the Dim-Post, has found the nub:

They either need to disown the claim of existential threat, or explain why an existential threat does not justify violence.

This is exactly it. The right-wing commonplace that “Western civilisation is under threat” is at the heart of all the rhetoric being compared to Breivik’s nominal casus belli, and in many cases the similarities are more than merely cosmetic. This general line of argument has been popularised in its modern form by Samuel Huntington, but is much older in its essence (and I must note that Huntington’s theory is considerably more robust than the arguments I’m talking about here.) The problem for the wingnuts presently whining about these comparisons is that their bluff has been called. They’ve been squawking about the existential threat posed by “others”, much as Breivik has, but he has gone one better and actually done something about it. And so they must pick a side: either “Muslims” (or “Māori”, “socialists”, “teacher unions” or the “cultural elite” or whoever “Western civilisation” is at war with this week) actually are the existential threat the wingnuts claim they are, or they are not. If the former case is true, by their own logic the wingnuts would not only be justified in taking up arms in defence of their civilisation, they would be practically required to do so, as Breivik did. If the existential threat is real, they must hail Breivik as a hero. If they don’t, we can assume there is no existential threat, and that they’ve merely been spouting melodramatic masturbatory fantasy this whole time.

By their works ye shall know them. If there really is an existential threat, as they claim, then surely we can expect the rallying cry “wingnuts of the world, unite!” to go up from the towers where they reside, and their legions pour forth with tacticool assault rifles, iPods full of Wagner and Muse and Mario Lanza, and neoprene bodysuits with faux unit patches on them. And if they do not, then surely by their own admission, there is no threat, and there never was.

I know which I’m picking.


Update: ‘Nemesis’ at Crusader Rabbit has answered the clarion call to action with …. yet more words. But they are fighting words:

Whatever one may think of Breivik’s murderous rampage one needs to concentrate on the message the massacre has most surely sent to Europes political elite if one wishes to understand his motivation. One question the elite must now be asking themselves should be this; Is Breivik really a ‘lone wolf’ or is his manifesto to be taken seriously? If his manifesto is to be taken seriously, then how many other ‘lone wolves’ are out there waiting to enact their own ‘fantasy’ and against whom and what?
I am now seeing the ‘peace signs’ being offered from those blogs [Gates of Vienna, &c], and individuals who abhor violence of any description. To me this smacks of typical appeasement by those anti-jihadists who don’t appreciate that their greater enemy is the Left and not Islam. They don’t appreciate that Islam is a symptom of a delusional political system that parades the ‘religion of peace’ as more worthy to life than their own cultural heritage. They don’t appreciate that the Left have effectively shut down any debate they know they can’t win, and that the Left will now – spurred on by the Norway massacre – go to extreme and effective measures to curtail any ‘dissent’ from their agenda. Those fascist ideals of intolerance of ‘others’, ‘hate speech’ and any other euphemism or ban, especially on ‘Far Right Extremists’ will now be put in place.

They don’t appreciate the fanatics that the elite are fast becoming!

The time for talking and making friendly peace gestures is finished! Let the start of the ending begin!

Commenter ‘WAKE UP’ says:

Brievik’s action is but a small, overdue response to the cultural murder that has been done daily by Western Leftists for decades now. It won’t be the last.

Addendum from Oswald Bastable:

One can start to sympathize with shooting snot-nosed loud-mouthed socialist oiks…

And ‘KG’ in response:

One can. :)

Smiley-face in the original. But there’s more. The charming Nemesis, again:

Some [victims] were kids, most were adults hmm. […] If given the opportunity would you take a trip back down the time tunnel to kill Hitler, Stalin, Himmler, Ribbentropp, Hess, Bormann, Trotsky, Lenin or Marx when it would be easy, like when they were kids or young adults?

It’s a hypothetical, but I guess you will get the point?

I think we get the point. That’s a rather melodramatic, arguably even masturbatory, ‘watch this space’, I suppose.

51 thoughts on “By their works ye shall know them

  1. While this is undoubtedly correct, I’d be careful what I wished for, just in case someone out there is a violent terrorist wannabe.

  2. If there were any terrorist wannabes out there I think it’s extremely unlikely that a suggestion from Lew is going to push them over the edge.

    Another way to look at it is that bloggers who push the “Islam as a threat to all that’s good in Western Civilisation” line always refuse to acknowledge any distance between conservative Islamic scholars who don’t advocate violence and people who do. If there’s no difference between the people building the Ground Zero Mosque and Bin Laden, then there’s no difference between Gates of Vienna guy and Breivik.

  3. Sadly this is probably yet another case of one of the most frustrating tendencies in the way human beings see the world: We see the diversities and cleavages within groups we are part of, but we see groups we are not part of as monogamous and downplay diversity. So it’s quite likely that an Islamophobe will be entirely honest (if not intellectually) when they see themselves as totally different from Breivik because they don’t advocate extralegal violence, while poo-pooing the exact same difference between violent and non-violent conservative Muslims.

  4. The Breivek line is not unique, it’s just that in the past “fellow travellers” were removed from their place in government by mere character assassination – the idea being that left wing thought was incompatible with the well being of a western democracy during the Cold War. Here the idea that those tolerant of Moslem migration (more so the left wing parties) cannot be trusted in government during some clash of civilisations.

    The right use the shadow of this argument to touch the dark soul of western cultural chauvinism (and not just the Christian vote) trawling for votes from simple minded folk.

  5. @Hugh

    Two very well-conceived and clearly-explained observations. Thanks

  6. Hugh, no doubt. That (diversity within groups) is ironically enough one of the key critiques of Huntington’s theory, and the fundamental root of mainstream objections to the eliminationist arguments I’m talking about.

    Of course groups are diverse — groups of wingnuts little less so than others. My arguments here are targeted expressly at those scaremongering about the existential threat — those who’re more moderate in their objections to multiculturalism, to Islam, to “socialism” and so on I likely still disagree with, but theirs is of a different magnitude. It’s amusing, though, to see people responding as if they are themselves implicated. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs reckons this is down to guilty conscience (and he’d know better than most).

    It’s also amusing, and rather touching, to see rugged individualists like Peter Cresswell take umbrage on behalf of the collective of right-wingers. Bless.


  7. This view is horribly unfair. Redbaiter’s been called out on this very issue a number of times, and each time has been able to point to his firm and decisive action to combat the Islamic/socialist menace by, er, devoting years to denouncing it angrily on blogs and forums.

  8. I think there will always be psychopaths.

    Really, we just need an well funded mental health service to help such people before they do something bad, and effective controls over weapons and explosives to limit the badness people can do.

  9. After a quick perusal (quick was all I could stand) I see that Trevor Loudon – a man never short of a paranoid conspiracy when it comes to progressives, liberals, socialists, Islamists, etc etc etc ad nauseum – has not even mentioned once Brevik’s killing spree.

    Silence can often tell you all you need to know.

  10. “we just need an well funded mental health service to help such people ”

    the norwegian terrorist wouldn’t have been captured by any mental health screening. he is not, by any objective measure, mentally ill. cold, calculating, and a murderer? yes.

    he also set up a fertiliser company two years in advance so he could get sufficient material to make a very large bomb.

  11. Lew, you are deluded.

    I don’t see any of those you so dislike advocating supression of freedom of speech or blaming the freedom of speech of others.
    The main objections they have are to religious/superstitious law, racially biased law and policy, economic idiocy and scientific malpractice.
    All things that you support.
    They support democratic non-violent ways of instituting change and oppose those who do not.
    Unlike a lot of the groups you support.

  12. he is not, by any objective measure, mentally ill

    There’s plenty of evidence of narcissism, grandiosity and paranoia and he could be declared as mentally unwell we’ll have to wait and see.

    I think there’s reason to be cautious in coming to these sorts of political conclusions on the basis of a few individuals who may be mentally unwell.

    There was plenty of talk in left wing circles about how 9/11 could have been avoided had US foreign policy been different, had it not supported Israel etc. The problem with that view is that it accepted bin Laden’s explanation of his own actions at face value.

    With the Tucson shootings it turned out Loughner held a grudge against against Giffords unrelated to any political views. Yet another man believing he had been slighted.

    I think caution is again warranted

  13. Che, his lawyer has asserted that he is mentally ill. I’ve become involved in what I suspect is going to be a long-running argument with Stargazer at The Hand Mirror on exactly this subject. It’s equally irresponsible to run around declaring him sane without any evidence as it is to declare him insane.

    Re; the fertiliser company, long-term planning is not proof of the absence of mental illness.

  14. long-term planning is not proof of the absence of mental illness.

    in particular a person with paranoid schizophrenia can by highly organised, highly motivated and effective in their actions because they can lack the negative symptoms of psychosis, which would hinder concerted activity, and their delusional system so fixed and contained that that also doesn’t interfere with long-term planning.

    Although I suspect there is a huge narcissistic/anti-social element with Breivik and that sort of person can be particularly dangerous.

  15. well, i’m no big-city psychologist, but i think that the common understanding of “mentally unwell” is someone who barks at trees, howls at the moon and the like.

    so when someone murders close to 100 then people assume they are “a lunatic”.

    this guy may have a number of mental illnesses, doubtless including sociopathy, but he’s not “crazy” by the common measure. hence his ability to operate without notice for many years.

    if we started screening for the *possibility* that someone with a garden-variety mental illness like paranoia might commit a crime? then we’re into some costly and slightly dodgy territory.

  16. if we started screening for the *possibility* that someone with a garden-variety mental illness like paranoia might commit a crime?

    we already do, a Risk and Safety Assessment is done for anyone who is treated in the mental health system. But they have to have come to the attention of the mental health system first.

    My understanding is that Loughner fell through the cracks.

  17. While I’m not familiar with any of the right-wing nutters you refer to, it’s not logical to argue that if you honestly believe there is an existential threat, then you must therefore support violent means of countering it. If an extreme environmentalist group went round blowing up coal-fired power plants, ordinary environmentalists would not be faced with the choice of either a) hail them as heroes or b) admit that climate change is a myth. Instead they would rightly argue that climate change is a real and serious problem, but violence isn’t the way to combat it. People who share Breviek’s views should certainly condemn his actions, but the rest of us should probably acknowledge that, even within the right-wing conspiracy theorist world, they didn’t make sense.

  18. Or in other words, Pascal’s Bookie is right, and the extra step that you’ve taken is wrong.

  19. Helen, this rests on the specifics.

    Climate change is widely considered to be an existential threat, but nobody argues it is an imminent threat (even so, direct action is taken on ‘TINA’ grounds). So it is of a different character to the “Muslim threat” or similar, which (according to those who are the targets of my challenge) are both existential and imminent, and also not generally amenable to legislative or cultural remedies since (again according to the wingnuts) Western democracies are captured.

    In any case, I would welcome any stepping-down of this rhetorical line — admissions that these threats, while existential, aren’t imminent, or could perhaps be tackled another way, would be most constructive.


  20. While I don’t want to make this thread into a derail about environmentalism, this is actually one of the reasons why environmentalism often annoys me – there are some people who view the threat as so major and so imminent that it’s hard to see why they don’t advocate for its violent solution. They don’t represent a majority, but if there was some environmental group that was running around killing people, I think some environmentalist commentators -would- have to consider themselves responsible.

  21. As far as the rest of yous playing bush-psychologist go, even if you were eminently qualified you’d still not be in a position to make a diagnosis, having access only to media reports of these events.

    Breivik’s sanity or otherwise will be determined in the fullness of time by proper authorities — speculating on it is pointless at best, unhelpful at worst. Dismissing the massacre as “the actions of a crazy person” because the profile of Breivik isn’t ‘normal’ is quite literally a slander on all those millions of people with mental illness who strive, for the most part successfully, to live decent, moral, law-abiding lives. I have people like that in my family. You have people like that in your families, too, even if you don’t know you do. Mental illness might be a factor, but it’s neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for this sort of crime. Have a care who you tar with the ‘crazy’ brush.


  22. Dismissing the massacre as “the actions of a crazy person” is quite literally a slander on all those millions of people with mental illness…

    care to point out where I did this Lew?

    For your information I do work with people who are acutely mentally unwell and spend considerable energy trying to help them get better.

    I’m also involve at the moment in developing resources for use by health professionals to help them understand the different views of mental health the members of immigrant groups often have – so that we can better function as a multicultural society.

  23. “Have a care who you tar with the ‘crazy’ brush.”

    well, this is my point exactly. the guy was completely functional. i talk to people all the time who i assume are a bit nuts, but never assume they’re going to kill anyone.

    except on the internet, where you have to assume that 1 in 5 are potential murders. and 1 in 3 on Kiwiblog.

  24. Neil, it was more of a general enjoinder than a personal criticism. In fact, you’ve made a variant of my own argument above.


  25. general enjoinder?

    you’ve accused un-named people of “slander”, “bush-psychology” “dismissing” and site no particular quotes where you think this to be the case.

    could you be a bit more precise?

  26. At the risk of continuing: AFAIK the *legal* standard of insanity, at least round here, amounts to not understanding the nature of your actions.

    Many violent offenders have thought processes and attitudes you wouldn’t recognise. While I think there’s a percentage in treating those attitudes as an illness, from a criminal justice point of view it doesn’t count.

    Scoop has a piece from Binoy Kampmark about how soothing the ‘mad’ option might be . Though it did occur to me a side-benefit might be allowing indefinite detention.

  27. they must hail Breivik as a hero

    … well, that OR bewail his actions as the strategic disaster they currently seem to be.

  28. At the risk of continuing: AFAIK the *legal* standard of insanity, at least round here, amounts to not understanding the nature of your actions.

    It’s quite possible Breivik has a mental illness and still stand trial. I would think, as is the situation here, it’s the influence of a mental illness – if it exists – on his actions that will be taken into account as well as ability to plead etc.

    I was more interested in how someone with an abnormal mind processes the external world. Breivik also quoted liberal philosophers in support of his views.

  29. Neil, ‘bush-psychologist’ I mean like ‘bush-lawyer’. It’s not an uncommon phrase. And please accept my assurance that the ‘you’ is general in nature and I’m not accusing you of anything in particular. I just don’t want this comments thread turning into the idiotic sort of is he-isn’t he that’s been evident elsewhere.


  30. Lyndon, yes, there’s a fair bit of that going on as well, such as this guy, whose only objection seems to be that Breivik’s strategy was crude and incomplete.

    Well, at least he’s honest, I suppose.


  31. In NZ at any rate, having mental illness is a factor in whether one can be granted a firearms license. ERMA also have rules that require holders of controlled substances licenses to be a fit and proper person.

    I’m not suggesting that people should have their rights taken away, quite the opposite.

  32. I just don’t want this comments thread turning into the idiotic sort of is he-isn’t he that’s been evident elsewhere.

    fair enough, that’s a bit clearer.

    I’m clearly not in a position to make any definitive assessment, I’m putting forward other alternatives from a position of having thought about these issues for a while.

    And having looked at what’s happening in Europe with immigration having seen such films as Welcome.

    France is probably the European country most likely to see the far right gain political influence, esp if the socialists stuff it up again, Struass-Kahn good lord, but this happend in Norway.

    I think it’s all a bit more complicated.

  33. An excellent article here on Dave Neiwert’s blog which I have had saved for 3 years.

    …strong words are often a rehearsal — a promise of strong action to come. But the CSIS further verifies that those watching worrisome groups need to keep their ears open, and listen carefully for a fundamental shift in rhetoric. There’s early-stage rhetoric, which establishes the lines of conflict by repeatedly identifying the group’s enemies, and asserting their essential evilness. And then there’s the more serious later stage, when the talk turns overtly eliminationst, and the group starts expressing its clear intention to eradicate those perceived enemies. When they start shifting to the second stage, it’s a sign that they may have accepted the need for violent action in their own minds.

    Link here

    Highly recommended. I note Cresswell has not condemned the murders.

  34. I note Cresswell has not condemned the murders.

    I think he kind of does here.

    That link was fascinating reading, thanks.

  35. I also wouldn’t read much into PC not condemning Breivik’s actions — I think a default presumption of good faith must be made, and most people would rightly consider such condemnation redundant.

    Peter, for all that I disagree with him about most things, and although he took vicarious offence at the general calling-out of right-wing extremists, is not among the worst offenders. It’s those worst offenders — those who routinely call for decisive action against their cultural foes — who’re the target of my criticism.

    The same extremists, of course, who’re largely immune to appeals to reason and consistency.


  36. At a lunch today Blair said “so called western values of democracy and freedom are in fact universal values, and we are seeing this take place through the (Arab) uprisings” – now that is revealing.

    Some claim the whole point of multi-culturalism was a repudiation of cultural supremacism, now here Blair is saying western democratic society is evolving into one based on “universal” (imperial/post nationalist) values by becoming multi-cultural (taking in migrants, this fits with the meme of a EU labour market) … says a lot.

  37. There’s a very strong sense of No True Scotsman-ism among many of the self-appointed Western supremacists.

    To me, Anders Breivik didn’t come across as mentally ill, he looked more narcissistic-psychopathic – à la Clayton Weatherston. Just like the wider Tea Party movement.

    I recall a Listener article on hate speech law from 2005, not long after the Cronulla riots. The Nazi Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide were clearly egged on by hate speech, but care needs to be taken so that it doesn’t become a vehicle for ‘thoughtcrime’. At the end of the day, the best antidote to hate speech is free speech, provided there’s an equal platform for the latter.

  38. To me, Anders Breivik didn’t come across as mentally ill, he looked more narcissistic-psychopathic

    Protip: Psychopathy is a mental illness.

  39. I wonder if there is a natural connection between belief in cultural supremacism and survival of the fittest free market ideology and being a narcissistic sociopath ….

  40. SPC, that’s about as valid as the conservatives who claim left wingers want a greater role for the state because they love the feel of power that comes from controlling others.

  41. the comments you’ve appended at the end are beyond revolting.

    And for the sake of some substantive comment, I think with speech like this there are degrees of seriousness at play, even if the commenters don’t literally mean to start going around and shooting up Labour party conferences or what have you the tone that paranoid far-right rhetoric (and, increasingly, mainstream right-wing rhetoric) is taking up is truly disturbing and bodes ill for the coming decade.

  42. and for the record I don’t think Breivik is insane at all, and it’s very important that this be emphasised. To let the conservative commentators who’ve spent the last decade promulgating inflammatory rhetoric on the Muslim threat write Breivik’s actions off as those of a lone ‘nutter’ or ‘psychopath’ enables them not only to wash their hands of their own share of responsibility for the kind of poisonous political atmosphere that can produce a Breivik, but to continue ratcheting up that rhetoric even further. The paranoid nativist strain of right-wing politics that has pervaded public discourse in many Western countries over the last decade, from continental Europe to the US to Australia, needs to be challenged, and we can’t let the conservative commentators who’ve promoted that kind of politics off the hook for this.

  43. My first-ever post here was a defence of hate speech laws, as a guest post in response to this request from Anita. I can no longer find either my post or the other side (by Rich, opposing hate speech laws) – the links are dead and the posts don’t seem to be in the archive. But I have dredged mine out of the email archives:

    ‘Hate speech’ is tricky to define, so for this purpose I’ll crib part of the definition from s131 of the Human Rights Act 1993; speech “with intent to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand”. This is broader than the definition in that act, which applies only to racial disharmony, whereas I intend it to cover other forms of hate speech (such as that against religious groups, people of a given sexual orientation, or whatever) as well.

    First of all, let us dispense with the canard that speech is not action. The ‘”fire” in a crowded theatre’ argument already put forward in the other thread is enough to invalidate this, but even so, let’s look at it more closely. Speech (more technically, discourse) is the stuff of which civil society is constructed. Law, policy, norms of interaction and all other such things are fundamentally made up of words. The laws formulated by governments to give force to society’s commonly-held norms are constructed in just such a way, and if the discourse of a society contains significant prejudice, the laws and policies constructed from within that discourse will be likewise prejudicial. Moreover, a prejudicial discourse legitimates other forms of social conduct which are themselves prejudicial. There is no legitimacy to the ‘sticks and stones’ argument that people have no right to not be offended, and must therefore tolerate anything which is not strictly violence. Many aspects of civil society are not strictly codified, but operate on mutual trust, goodwill and expectations of reasonable conduct. Where there is prejudice, that trust, goodwill, and expectation of reasonable conduct cannot be entirely mutual. This fundamentally the problem. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that rights be accorded all people ‘without distinction of any kind’. The problem with hate speech or a society founded on prejudicial discourse is that it harmfully distinguishes between people. Speech is action inasmuch as it begets action, and the worst cases of hate speech must be circumscribed lest they beget similar action.

    While I’d like to believe that any utterance should be judged on its merits, and that hate speech will naturally be subject to the ridicule it deserves, in practice this cannot be relied upon. But on this basis I confine my support of hate speech laws to only the very worst examples of hate speech. I don’t believe the state should determine norms of public conduct, but that it has a responsibility to codify those norms which do exist into law where circumstances demand it.

    So reasonably consistent with my present arguments, I think.


  44. Yep, shortly after discovering what a computer and a blog was, and having it slowly dawn that I wasn’t witnessing an elaborate work of satirical performance art (including the pasting and world-wide publication of our PM’s head onto pornograhy by the son of a National Party president, and explicit suggestions of her assassination as a serious option – allowed to stand by the host) the overwhelming thought permeating my fascinated horror was “but…where are the defamation/hate speech laws?” accompanied by a dread-filled near certainty that all this was not going to end well for some poor innocents not too far in the future. And that the architects would, of course, immediately deny responsibility.

  45. @ak: Same guy has just written on his blog that gun control is effectively to blame for the deaths in Norway. I read that post so you don’t have to.

  46. Hugh on July 28th, 2011 at 02:07

    I would just like you to note, Hugh, that the Ground Zero Mosque you refer to is neither at ground zero nor a mosque.

    I happened to catch the initial coverage of this tragedy on the O’Reilly Factor, hosted that day by the lovely but plainly crackers Laura Ingraham who baldly stated that the massacre was carried out by Islamists, immediately followed by a recorded interview by Bill himself of the attorney for the developers of the centre the Fox crowd in the US, the Land of the Free, misleadingly refer to as the Ground Zero Mosque.

    Addressing the topic, let’s face it, there are plenty of potential Breiviks in our blogosphere, mainly hiding behind aliases that our police should be trying to penetrate (and probably are), as they all need treatment.

    And am I the only one who looks in wonderment at the offering of the “out” of insanity for Breiviks, an “out” never permitted any Muslim terrorist, like Bin Laden?

    A final note, one thing Breiviks is not is a coward. I wouldn’t slam my butt into the driver’s seat of a huge bomb masquerading as a legal vehicle!

    Unless, of course, I had a just cause, like defending our way of life, but that would make me a hero, wouldn’t it?

  47. Luc, normally I’d love to get involved in the debate about the fundamental nature of the structure we are talking about, but I’ve been to enough 2010 retro parties this week, sorry.

  48. Sure Hugh, but the point I was trying to get across was the language of the media – from guilt by association (Fox) to stark contrasts in adjectives depending on the religion/race of the protagonists.

  49. And the point I was trying to get across is that that particular storm in a teacup seems to have passed.

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