The Norway Shooting: is Anders Breivik a normal personality?

I am not sure about you but I was moved to tears when I saw the TV coverage about the Oslo bombing and especially the Utoya massacre, the Norway shooting. Much more in tears when I saw everyone in Norway standing still and paying their respect for all those killed. For once, a whole country seemed to be together as one, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew, whatever religion, all were mourning.

However, I was shocked as well about the media coverage and what psychologists or psychiatrists had to say about Anders Breivik… he seemed to be quite normal. Their reasoning was that he did not show any psychotic behavior, he had a normal sense about reality, could manage himself alone, being healthy, and neatly dressed. No signs of abnormal behavior…

Because of this kind of coverage and the largely unknown facts in current psychology and neuroscience, I felt an urge to write this column. As I already tried to explain on my pages about Normal personality, brain, and behavior and What is a anti-social personality?, Anders Breivik is far from a normal personality. And it is simply bad psychology when someone claims that he is normal. For one thing, Breivik is not a really nice guy, not in a sense that he normally likes everyone…he is highly selective in his likes or dislikes of people. It is even worse, he even detests fellow citizins or fellow Norwegians, whether they are white or black skin. He had absolutely no problem in shooting them point-blank through their heads. Even if these poor youngsters begged him not to shoot them.

Breivik is quite out of touch with the Truth or Reality as well. Claiming that he had to shoot a lot of youngsters to get his message through. Claiming that Europe will be overturned in the near future but Muslims. Claiming that he and some other guys have to do something about this imminent threat. Claiming that it should be a very violent action, namely a war, against Islamization of Norway. A lot of such ideas are quite delusional and loaded with paranoia, fear. This kind of fear normally can be repressed by the opposite emotion: anger. And anger was trained and expressed in Anders the last couple of years. He played and watched very violent video games and TV-series. Training himself in efficient warfare and attacks, just as a marine is trained to kill without even blinking an eye.

Breivik was and is quite out of touch with his compassionate and empathic feelings as well. He doesn’t feel them (anymore). Normally, this can be done by extreme rationalizations. And just that he has done in his Internet manifesto, making up a lot of reasons why things had to be done in his way. Just as the Nazis had ‘very good reasons’ to kill the Jews. Just as Ratko Mladic had ‘very good reasons’ to kill defenceless 8000 boys and man without any feelings of remorse or pity.

No, in my opinion, Breivik is not a normal personality and he has not been that for a long time I suspect. When more facts become known about his thinking and his youth, this will become clear. Update 27th July 2011: it turns out that he was a bit of a loner in his youth. However, he supposedly had a lot of friends, also muslims. The quality of these friendships is not known. 

When you are interested in how rationalizing, how ideas can suppress empathic feelings you should read Rudolf Hess’s book Death Dealer (1996) about how he and other Nazis saw the Jew ‘problem’. I must warn you: some pages are very upsetting to read because of a very frightening lack of empathy for other human lives.

Can such incidents be prevented?

A lot of professionals state that this can not be prevented and ‘it is the cost of an open democratic society’. Quite without much empathy and cold-hearted, in my opinion. Of course, such incidents can never be prevented for 100%, that is physically impossible. However, a lot more can be done to seriously reduce the risk of such an incident. That is one of the reasons I am writing my columns here: to show people what we already know about psychology, neuropsychology and our brain and behavior. Because, thát is one of the reasons that most people are so ignorant about abnormal behavior that they really do not recognize man who are about to kill. Because, most people simply do not know much about psychology, about emotions, about what is a normal personality. They simply do not know! Astonishing, given the fact that current (neuro)psychology knows a lot more about human behavior, emotions and the brain than 20-30 years ago. So, I would like to tell them, as far as I can.

First of all, anyone with a weapons license should be checked psychologically. A risk profile should be made up for everyone having guns, even police and soldiers. This can be done very simply, without harming anyone. Transparency is vital here: such measures must be made very clear to the public. For example, when you are a man between 20 and 45, living alone, having no children at all, having no relationship at all, not having much of an income, playing a lot of (violent) games on the Internet, you are at a higher risk than someone who has a family, good income and a lot of friends. Secondly, with such a higher risk profile you can simply ask and investigate what someone is writing on the Internet. If the writings are extreme, out of touch with reality, loaded with paranoia, it’s about time to monitor such a person or much simpler, withdraw the weapons license. Of course, someone can always obtain an illegal weapon, but that is no reason not to withdraw a weapons license.

Sounding too police state like? Well, this does not have to be so. When everyone understands that in having weapons at home you have a higher responsibility for the general society, and therefore you must be ‘more’ normal and stable than an average guy (without weapons), then I don’t think there will be much resistance with such law enforcement laws, specifically targeted at weapons.

I already mentioned the Internet. I personally think the Internet is a blessing because it really brings more freedom and the world’s really getting smaller. However, the Internet has a very nasty side as well: it is boundless. Everyone can put anything on the Internet. It is a social place where we still have to find behavioral rules to abide to. Most providers have such rules already: very obscene or violent reactions or writings will be deleted, usually in fora. Now, after this Utoya massacre providers should sharpen their rules for normal conduct. They could start to make rules about what can and can not be written on their servers. Especially, writings that are meant to discriminate and increase hatred or anger against whatever fellow human beings, should be refused. Again, this sounds like censureship or a totalitarian state. But no, that is not my suggestion. My suggestion is that providers should raise their ethical standards, probably backed by lawmakers, to refuse to host very violent or aggressive movies, writings or images on the Internet. Because…abnormal behavior should not be tolerated, neither in the streets or schools, nor on the Internet. Abnormal behavior meaning the same as I have explained on my pages about Normal personalities. Luckily, the large majority of people fall into this category.

But will we all have the guts, the courage to demand more ethical rules, more normal behavior? Will we have the courage to say stop to all those around us who polarize, discriminate, create anxiety and hatred towards specific groups of people (like the muslims)? In the Netherlands, where I live, only very few dare to stand up against populists like Wilders who clearly has lost his touch with reality and discriminates a large group of muslims, as if they all cause every trouble there is in the world. How many shootings like Utoya will there have to be in Europe? I find it very ironic that there have been more attacks in the last couple years of ‘normal’ European lunatics than real attacks of muslim fundamentalists. Please remember: every form of extreme ideas, every form of fundamentalism is inherently unethical because it always picks on some specific group of human beings. The underlying emotion? Fear. 

Update 27th July 2011: it turns out there was at least one person who had the right antenne: mrs Monica Bosei. She noticed on the little ferry a young policeman (Breivik) that turned his back towards her when she tried to ask him about the recent bomb attack in Oslo. This very strange behavior for a policeman made her suspicious. Arriving at the island she immediately went to a voluntary guard Trond Berntsen. However, Breivik saw them talking and killed them almost instantly. Here you can see that there are still people who have the ability to see and detect abnormal behavior. Unfortunately, this did not help Monica and Trend much...

My final comment on this matter: it is really touching to see that most people in Norway are quite normal. Mourning together and making a statement together that such a massacre will not change their open democratic society. They all stick together and help each other...exactly the kind of behavior you can expect from normal people having suffered a terrible experience.

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Books to read!

Well written and clearly explaining the disastrous effects of anti-social personalities on businesses and human lives:

Highly recommended book about recognizing anti-social personalities around you. The only warning I have: please read the book carefully page here in order not to falsely identify your neighbour as a sociopath...:

From the same author comes a book explaining in plain language how severe emotional trauma can lead to personality disorders. Reads like a detective but the difference can get a lot out of it for use in your daily life:

A bestseller because it explains in plain language how to recognize and arm against anti-social and narcissistic people: