Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Response to the Violence in Norway

Where to begin, when this has no actual beginning but for my own slow realization that the world can be a terrible place, full of grief and horror and pointlessness? Of course it contains other parts, but the informed world has been once again shaken by an act of violence perpetrated upon a defenseless and unexpecting group of human beings, who contained the hopes of their families and who were loved, and for all purposes, innocent--an act certainly small in the grand scheme of things but crushing for all who were touched by it.

This is not a eulogy but rather hopefully a lens by which I hope we would all intensify self-scrutiny. 

I was on a plane the other day, and without being asked a man offered to give up his seat in the front so I could sit next to my partner. To get to it, however, I had to travel opposite the flow of other travelers to their seats. The seats being only three across, the dimensions of the plane barely allowed for comfortable seating much less a two-way path down the aisle. The young man I faced in front of me was sympathetic, apologetic even, for being unable to step aside to let me pass so as to get only three rows further, as the seats were full all around us and there were a few people stacked behind him. The woman directly behind him, however, was worrying angrily aloud about me, saying, "What is she doing? We can't go back! What is wrong with her?" as if what I was asking was equivalent to flying the plane into a tornado. I understood the small fix my reversal was causing, but the complete negativity which she responded was ridiculous to me. Within fifteen seconds the man in front of me said, "Wait, everyone's backing up now, you can pass," and he smiled and then apologized again for the process being so difficult, though of course he was not in the least at fault, and I felt bad for causing any stress. After I took my seat, Brooks said, "Did you hear what that woman was saying?" It was a small incident, but odd and surprising due to her refusal to see other options in the most simple of circumstances. How was she when she faced real challenges, or when people truly needed her help?

So today the small, peaceful country of Norway is rocked by the deaths of almost 100 of its citizens, many of whom were only teenagers, away at a summer camp for kids of Labor Party youth. The Labor Party, Norway's largest and currently ruling political party, is known for its sympathies toward immigrants, those seeking political asylum from violence in their own countries, and for its social services.

The killer is a 32-year old man, Norwegian-born, and his purpose seemed to be to avenge the damage he saw as bred by the Labor Party, by which I mean the long-standing policies that tax those with more to serve those who have less.

Though this man is no doubt a sociopath, the principles that propelled him to plan and effect yesterday's horrors lie not only within his own mind. They were the unlikely but not unheard of result of a lifetime spent in cultivation of antipathy, hatred, disgust, and separatism. He found fodder for his beliefs everywhere, not only in extreme religiosity and conservatism but also in the individuals who surrounded him on a regular basis. These people did not share his extremism, probably, but we have all been around those who would rather disperse negativity and confer blame than look for ways to better understand those who appear different from themselves. I know of no one, including myself, who is not guilty of at one time or another of encouraging (rather than stanching) the dispersal of negative stereotypes, even if they are directly relevant to my own description, be it white, female, a U.S. citizen, younger, Southern, and so on. All the while, I have often been sickened by any proximity on my behalf to discrimination, closed-mindedness, or simple negativity toward a single individual, especially if that individual is me. 

This murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, is a product of modern culture. We in the United States see Norway as a peaceful country, and justifiably so. Our own culture has far more failings in the area of civility, historically fighting tooth and nail for the sustained privileges of the few who have far more than they need already, and our denial of personal guilt is simply a guilty reflex, and a window into a legacy of shame that we all carry as survivors of any part of history's violence. Each race and religion has its demons and disgraces, even if only due to the actions of a relative few. Perpetuation of this guilt without understanding its roots, however, only directly serves to fuel hatred in order to excuse us from blame. Breivik would not have felt nearly as potent were it not for having run with the views of those who came before him, from being supported within online forums, hate groups, and conservative politics.

This is not an appeal for welfare benefits, for immigration reform, for non-violent responses to cruelty. This is simply a request that each person who has a problem with yesterday's murders and the countless that came before it decide from now on to try harder to act out of love instead of fear, paranoia, jealousy, refusal to change, or unwillingness to see humanity in spite of difference. If this seems difficult, act first out of love for one's own children, friends, fellow citizens, even environment. Any form of violence will carry on if you allow it, and will find its way back to you or those you love. Pre-emptive condemnation will not save you from future suffering. Would you not rather suffer the pain of the innocent than wonder if something you have said or done stole enough joy from another human being that they passed the pain onward until it found you again?
It is that culture that mocks love and empathy and praises violence in whatever form, from unkind words to machismo to enslavement to war, that allows for the construction of human monsters at all. Be a part of recovering from violence like this and simply stop participating. You don't need to be a beacon of positivity, just stop being part of the problem, and stop letting it pull you down with it. 

Profile of Anders Behring Breivik:

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