As I said in my previous post, it is essential when discussing a tragedy like the one that has just struck Oslo to keep a clear head and a sense of proportion.

Far too much in my opinion is being made of the fact that the perpetrator of this atrocity claims to be a “Christian fundamentalist” and an anti immigration nationalist. There has been a spate of commentaries explaining how such supposedly hate filled beliefs have led to the violence that has caused the tragedy.  There is a cartoon in the Guardian concerning the supposed spread of such allegedly toxic views via the internet and a number of worried articles have appeared concerning the existence and spread of militant ultra right and neo Nazi groups in Scandinavia and elsewhere and the danger they supposedly represent.

In my opinion the beliefs of the person apparently responsible for this tragedy provide no explanation for it.  I speak now from experience.  When I was a court official I was regularly struck by the large number of people I would encounter in the course of my work who seemed filled with feelings of anger and hatred.  All too often this anger and hatred had no properly discernable cause.  These were people from well educated and affluent backgrounds so that social and economic causes for their anger and hatred did not exist.  Usually these people had experienced failure in their professional and family lives but far from this being the cause of their feelings of anger and hatred it seemed rather to have been caused by them.  What was especially worrying about these people was that they seemed to be on a perpetual quest to find a reason and focus for their feelings of anger and hatred.  What this meant in practice was that they were always on the look out for people to focus their anger and hatred on.  Typical targets were spouses, partners, neighbours, fellow workers, business associates or rivals and (very often) amorphous groups such as the authorities (especially local authorities), lawyers, Jews, Freemasons, politicians, the Church, the royal family, the Muslims, the Socialists, immigrants etc.  In order to lend some coherence to their feelings of anger and hatred these people would construct often quite elaborate belief systems  usually adapted from whatever ideas were currently in fashion.  These ideas were almost always poorly understood or were even misunderstood and were normally combined with some pretty bizarre beliefs.   .

I am fairly sure that the perpetrator of the Oslo atrocity is an extreme case of the sort of person I am talking about.  If so then his beliefs are neither here nor there.  The reason he carried out the atrocity is not because he holds the beliefs that he does but because he is a very dangerous and violent man with an exceptionally acute personality disorder.  In so far as his beliefs are obnoxious and bizarre they are obnoxious and bizarre because he is a very violent man with an exceptionally acute personality disorder.  It was not these beliefs that made him violent and dangerous because he was that already.  If he had held different beliefs he would still have been violent and dangerous and because he is violent and dangerous with an acute personality disorder any other beliefs he might have had would almost certainly have been as obnoxious and bizarre as the beliefs he actually does have.

In other words the explanation for this person’s actions should be sought not in the realms of ideology and politics but in the realm of psychiatry.



  1. As usual you are ahead of the curve Alex, and I have seen two commentary pieces today saying almost the same thing. (Published after yours I should add, and substantially after our conversation yesterday in which you told me all of the above). These were by Sam Leith in the Evening Standard, and also Boris Johnson of all people, who was writing for The Telegraph. There are surely more too.
    What neither of these authors have done though is to give any insight into – or explanation for – the correspondence between the violent personality disorder you describe and extreme ideologies, which was very interesting.

    Here are the two articles to which I refer.



    • Dear Haukur,
      Thank you for these kind words. I should tell you that I found both of the articles you mention very interesting. As I have said in my posts I have had the benefit (if that is the right word) of meeting people like Breivik and that sort of experience helps in understanding why they do the sort of things they do.

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