This is a reply I just wrote to a piece written by one Erik Abild on the Oslo tragedy, which you can find here: “Faced with inhumanity, we must be more human”.  Normally I resist responding to most of what I read on the Internet (the reasons are obvious, right?), but I was compelled to reply to this for reasons you can read in my reply below:

I’m writing to convey the utter dismay I feel after reading your piece entitled “Faced with inhumanity, we must be more human.”  I stumbled upon it while reading the news; normally I realize the futility of posting opinions on the Internet, but the stark naivete of your article compels me to reply.

Now I will be clear: I did not begin reading your piece expecting that you, as a humanitarian worker, were capable of ideological neutrality with regards to the horrific events which recently transpired in Norway.  The romanticized beginning of your article dispenses with any pretence to that.  What I take issue with, in the main, is your naive assumptions with regard to what is “(in)human”, what constitues a country (be it Norway or Canada, where I live).  I will try to restrict myself to these points.

But before I begin, let me state some things clearly: I do not endorse what Anders Breivik did.  I’m not anti-Muslim, although I am harshly critical of Islam and other monotheisms. Nor am I anti-immigration in principle, but I am severely critical of naïve, uncritical immigration policies and the idea that we should simply be generous and let people in. Now that that’s out of the way…

Mr. Abild, are you as a single person, really so arrogant as to pretend to real knowledge of what a country is in its essence? Are you so wise as to know what it means to be “human” or “inhuman”? What you are going to have to realize is that Anders Breivik is just as much a part of “humanity” – and “Norway” – as yourself; no amount of feel-good hands-across-the-world ideology is going to change that. Human beings are animals (whatever else we are above that) and that means (among other things) that we are territorial, tend to function in groups that exclude others. We will obviously privilege our own groups in the name of survival. Your ideology notwithstanding, our existence as bipedal animals (whatever else we are above that) before an indifferent nature means that we are locked in the same mortal struggles as other organisms on this planet. Some groups struggle against others with bombs and guns; they are nevertheless human and it is dangerously reductive to assume otherwise.

There are almost 7 BILLION people on this planet; do you really think a meaningful sense of community can emerge with so many people on the earth – let alone when most of them (in China and especially India) live in poverty?  If the day ever comes where food and water become scarce, I’m afraid you’re going to see how misguided your idealism really is as your global human community is going to shred itself tooth-and-nail to survive.

You write:

concepts such as democracy, openness, equality, community and freedom. These are loaded concepts, shared by many nations, but which are also viewed differently by many. The sum of how we, as Norwegians, fill these concepts with meaning – by our actions as individuals and a society – perhaps best defines what Norway is.

True enough!  What you don’t seem to want to realize is that Breivik did precisely this – filled these concepts with his own meaning as an individual Norwegian.  But you hasten to nullify Breivik’s stance by saying his  attack is “without meaning,” and in doing this you perpetuate the same lack of awareness and unwillingness to discuss the complicated issues surrounding immigration as most of the uneducated populace.  You need to realize that Breivik’s attack absolutely has meaning – whether its meaning is palatable to yourself or not.  Instead of productively using this tragedy to recognize that all is not rosy with immigration, and that the dissident voices need to be heard1…instead of using it to bring up the hard questions about Islamists (as a subgroup of Muslims) and immigration, you choose the easy and unthinking way out.

Yet not only do you do this; in fact, in the excerpt below you perform a certain kind of reductive violence on the very cultures you purport to defend.  You write:

 Today, here in Norway, many politicians and people state that “today we are all AUF” (the name of the youth party). And we are. Just as we all were Japanese when the earthquake struck, or as we all are Somalis when we read about famine. This feeling of community is a part of being human. And this communality, the shared experience of humanity, is essential to hold onto. In the face of inhumanity, we have to be more human.

What an insult!  Do you feel the trauma of the Japanese who have lost relatives in the earthquake?  Were they your relatives?  Of course not.  Do you feel your stomach contorting from lack of food, or the brutal sun as you walk across the desert?  You do not.  Are you really so naive as to think we are all one big community who feels each other’s pain?  Are you so blind to the very different struggles each culture endures when faced with crisis?  Apparently you are.  Your words are the words of a privileged Scandinavian projecting his own psychological needs on to the life-dramas of others.  It is unproductive and embarrassing.

An objective discussion about the benefits and drawbacks to immigration must take place if we are to attempt a more enlightened view.  This leads to some difficult and complicated questions.  Do you bother to ask them?  Do you bother to ask yourself about the difficulties faced by a democratic society that feels compelled to accept blatantly exclusionist religions such as Islam (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Judaism and Christianity)?  There are no easy answers to these questions, as much as you seem to try to avoid that fact.

I am someone who believes in immigration in principle but utterly against the way it is implemented in countries like my homeland, Canada.  I am against monotheist religions in principle, and am strongly critical of Islam as a result (but say the same things about Jews or Christians, or even Buddhists insofar as they believe themselves to be “special” and mount terror attacks).  I believe that it is a brute fact of history that Islam is – at least at this stage in human history – more exclusionist than the other monotheisms.  At the same time, it’s important to distinguish between Islam and Muslims (since there are Muslims as ambivalent about Islam as myself), and between moderate Muslims and radical Islamists (the latter I believe should not be allowed to immigrate).  Do I pretend to know these dividing lines?  No.  But for countries to function these lines need to be drawn, and it is possible to draw them, however provisionally.

If, as you quote, “the meaning of life is to do good,” then what is this good?  You seem to imply – here, anyway – that it is to mystically, pretentiously, phantastically feel the pain of your human brothers and sisters and admit all with open arms.  While this may be an article of faith for you (which is fine), it has no place in a serious investigation of cultural dynamics.

Disappointed by your off-the-shelf “why can’t we just get along”ism, I continue to look for a more realistic response that takes into account an intelligent view of humanity.  Your hand-wringing, feel-good ideology, while appropriate for the Oprah Winfrey show, has no place in any forum that seriously discusses complex issues.

 

  1. Even the American government has realized it will need to talk with the Taliban to ensure a post-occupation Afghanistan doesn’t dissolve.
  1. Hi.

    Ah, I finally understand what you are doing. You are basing yourself on the idea that Breivik was rational, and that he did this for a “reason” – to say something about immigration. I had the same thought for a while. But after studying it more, I discovered that the ideas were probably more an afterthought – he would probably have found some reason to do these actions regardless of where he was politically.

    About immigration: “There are no easy answers to these questions.” That’s always right. I like that you don’t present any answers you don’t have. As it is, it seems your position is “could you politically correct people please stop gut-reacting and start thinking?”

    This is a good and important viewpoint, and you seem to present it nicely so far. You don’t seem to have an agenda of your own here, other than “don’t be so dualistic, guys”, and I guess that’s the confusing part – you’re fighting idiocy in all its forms rather than fighting for something specific. Immigration must be handled without an excess of emotional hysteria, and this is an important and difficult thing that too often ends up with each side deep in their separate trenches. Is that fair to say?

    But in my first post, I use dualism to make a point clearer, as I am aware that someone else, muslim-haters, have already created the other perspective.

    Abilds posting did of course not contain all the nuances of the situation of immigration either, but I can’t see him lying about it.

    I guess you want to say “we shouldn’t waste this opportunity to talk about immigration”, and that’s fair. But it is a bit of bad taste to use a madman’s actions to talk about immigration too, just because you happen to agree to some of the scattered viewpoints he presents. (His viewpoints are mostly an excuse to go bananas, to justify his actions. He may look rational if you only have a superficial knowledge of his writing, but read my whole blog, then)

    Did you use the Unabomber’s manifesto to say “he had some points” too? Would that help your cause?

  2. […] Unfortunately, as long as people such as yourself insist on this obsolete good-evil binarist distinction we will not arrive at a better understanding of what Breivik did.  You share a lot of views with Erik Abild, to whom I have already replied here. […]

  3. traumaturgist says:

    Hi Mr. Runde,

    I posted my reply to you and copied our dialogue to my website as well before I read this reply (hope this is ok with you – if not, please let me know). But let me respond to some of your points in the order that you present them.

    I continue to think that Breivik is “rational,” but as you can probably guess by now when I use that word I am not adopting any idea of “reason” as opposed to “madness” or what have you. In the sense that I use it everyone is rational insofar as they have an ordering principle (or principles) they apply to the world. Of course, some peoples’ ordering principles are very, very out of touch with the general consensus (i.e. Breivik’s). Put differently (and somewhat more philosophically): I don’t think there is any such thing (in our world anyway) as complete and total senselessness; only rationalies we can’t understand (which is not to say we can, or should, attempt to embrace all such different rationales).

    And yes, you’re absolutely right in your grasp of what I’m trying to do. I try as much as possible to critique not the specific content of arguments, but the thinking process behind such arguments. Hopefully this gets me out of quoting websites to argue points (because let’s face it – any idiot can put up a webpage these days, and the signal-to-noise ratio of the Internet disappoints me to say the least). But more importantly, since I’m trained at doing this my hope is to deconstruct arguments and illustrate where people are going wrong (which isn’t to say I’m omniscient and perfect). In that sense, yes, I am arguing from what I hope is a philosophically “negative” viewpoint – that is, less concerned with “posit”ing points of factual content (which can always be disputed and which require a lot of research to do justice to), and more concerned with negating the simple distinctions and reductive logic in arguments. And this includes my own: I’m less concerned with being “right” than with starting dialogues that productively interrogate each other and bring out new ideas and understandings as a result. A tall order, perhaps, for the Internet. Does that make sense?

    you’re fighting idiocy in all its forms rather than fighting for something specific. Immigration must be handled without an excess of emotional hysteria, and this is an important and difficult thing that too often ends up with each side deep in their separate trenches. Is that fair to say?

    Yes. 🙂

    And yes, in my mind some people are so wantonly stupid and wilfully ignorant and prejudiced that I parody them! But irony is the most difficult thing to get across to the masses at large, so…

    And I agree with you re: Erik Abild – I would never call him a liar, and there’s no doubt he is serious about his beliefs. But nevertheless, you read me correctly again when I insist that we need to reason these things through as opposed to neurotically compensating hatred with blind emotionalism. As you know (and as I’m sure I wrote somewhere), I think this merely redraws the same Friend-Enemy distinction that festers in Breivik’s head. When I took my cue from Breivik, I didn’t want to give the impression that I “agreed” with him so much as try and “recover” that tragedy and see something productive in it – but of course, it’s possible I failed.

    And I know next to nothing about the Unabomber, so I can’t say anything about that :).