Killing for a Debate

by Ben Albahari 29. July 2011 00:56

What are we achieving by pointing the finger at a mass murderer?

A 5 year old knocks over a vase and it shatters all over the floor. Do you point your finger at the kid and shout "Look, it's the dumbest person in the room!"? Yes, Breivik is the most evil person in the room right now. Congratulations for pointing that out. So now you have no responsibility for what he did? WRONG.

In such a horrific situation, what’s hard is to point the finger at ourselves. But we are complicit.

We never gave the guy a voice when his opinions were still malleable. We didn't let him debate. I've lived in a few western countries and here’s a cultural observation. If you say something politically incorrect, don't expect a debate. Prepare to be pounced on with patronizing admonishment. For any non-mainstream belief, you have to spend an inordinate amount of time learning how to delicately position it. So slowly, through a process of social reinforcement, you learn to talk less and less about politics and religion. And what do you talk about instead? Well, a friend of mine thought it was funny that I was up to date with the latest goss. This is hardly the case, but I do try to remain vaguely aware of it, because pop culture bullshit yields 10 times the social mileage of politics. We're rewarded for being superficial. For demonstrating social sensitivity rather than substance.

“In depth analysis and theoretical studies doesn‘t exactly go hand in hand with advancing your social skills which is more related to the skills of interaction and communication; sales, entertainment and manipulation. Unfortunately, many of my friends who are masters at it are apolitical and usually end up wasting their superb social skills on manipulating women into one night stands.”

That's Breivik. A good observation and it's fucked up, but good luck having a meaningful conversation about how fucked up that is.

I was recently at a bar discussing Californication, where David Duchovony's character gets charged for statutory rape for having a one-night stand with a girl who clearly looks and acts much older than her supposed age (the actress was in her 20s following a script that made her more articulate than most of the people I was having the debate with). The only thing resembling a 16 year old about this character was the label. Now I couldn't even suggest that what Duchovony's character did wasn't wrong without literally getting labelled a rapist. The label was meant jokingly, but on reflection it's insidious that you’re a joke for merely debating the idea. As a natural devil’s advocate I sort of get a perverse enjoyment from being the one to be rudely escorted out of the “let’s not go there” zone back to the invariably more boring comfort zone of polite small talk. But ultimately I never really push too far. These are the implicit rules of the game. Shut up and play.

Breivik never accepted the rules. And whenever he tried to openly talk about them and the effects he believed they’d had on his family he was basically told to shut up. The tragedy of this human being is how his great qualities were squandered. He was a big picture guy. A passionate guy. A guy who thought outside the box. And yet these qualities contributed to his alienation. In his manifesto, he writes "The phase of dialogue has now ended". No. The dialogue never really began. You never let him.