Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Cruelty Factor


There was a story out of Norway the other day that caught my eye. It was related by one of the survivors of the Utoya Massacre who witnessed a young boy confronting the killer with these paraphrased words:
You've just killed my father and now you want to kill me. I'm too young to die. Don't shoot.
The killer left the boy alone with the body of his dead father, moving on to kill others instead. The story was on the NRK website for about a day, but now it's gone. It's been replaced by the story of Trond Berntsen, the father who was killed in front of his 10 year old son. Turns out Berntsen was the sole policeman on the island when the shooting started. He of course was unarmed, and he was not in an official capacity but was apparently working on the side, as a private security guard during the youth camp on the island. He was one of the first people killed by the cruel monster who committed the murders. He was, as it happens, the step-brother of the current Crown Princess of Norway, Mette-Marit.

How small a world it is.

Mette-Marit's husband, Crown Prince Haakon Magnus, eldest only son of King Harald V, in a supreme twist of cruel irony, is the co-founder of a social initiative called Global Dignity with the following principles:

  • Every human being has a right to lead a dignified life.
  • A dignified life means an opportunity to fulfill one’s potential, which is based on having a human level of health care, education, income and security.
  • Dignity means having the freedom to make decisions on one’s life and to be met with respect for this right.
  • Dignity should be the basic guiding principle for all actions.
  • Ultimately, our own dignity is interdependent with the dignity of others.

Hard to argue with something as benign and... amorphous... as that, right? "Dignity" is something I've been writing about for many years as the core value we need to emphasize as we struggle to come up with a viable alternative to our extinguished Republic.

But what we have been getting instead is ever greater levels of cruelty -- some of it driven by imperialist states like the United States of America and Israel, some of it the consequences of failed states like The Former Yugoslavia and Somalia, some of it due to the permission granted by our polarized societies to various individuals to be as cruel to others as they want to be.

Dignity and cruelty don't mix. And it is the failure to respect the dignity of others that leads directly to so much overt and subconscious cruelty, not solely by Our Rulers and their many courtiers by ourselves toward one another.

That's part of what happened in Norway. But I saw a story today out of the New York Times that said that the bombing in Oslo and the massacre on the island were "one of the worst mass killings in post-War Europe," I thought, "Jeeze, you've never heard of breakup of the Former Yugoslavia, eh? Srebrenica, anyone?" Mass killing was a way of life for a while there, and it happened long after the end of WWII. But who's counting?

It was the absolute cruelty of the killer and his denial of any dignity whatsoever to his victims -- as the price of their "Treason" according to him -- that is the striking, and when you get down to it, the consistent feature of nearly all the mass-murder events we've witnessed in our lifetimes (almost too many to count now.)

The denial of the dignity of its victims -- and the cruelty of its extermination campaign -- is the primary feature of the USA's Death From Above Drone Operations through many countries, and prior to that campaign, it was the primary feature of American/allied military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan was the utter, remorseless cruelty -- and complete denial of the dignity of the natives.

Many of us have long recognized this is wrong policy; some see it as evil. Yet our response has been almost completely ineffective, or so it seems. Changing course is necessary, but doing it...

That's always the sticking point, and until we can find a way, we will continue to see the triumph of The Cruelty Factor.


  1. In the US, if a mass killing like this occurred, I would expect to find out that the killer had been systematically stripped of dignity for a period of time until he exploded in a rage.

    Norway, on the other hand, I don't know too much about, except that they have had a somewhat violent Black Metal scene for a while according to the Exiled.

  2. Just checking that story out now. News to me, but then, I'm not a Norwegian!

  3. The 2004 Ames story on Norwegian Black Metal and the murderousness of its practitioners, is really something, but you know America's Norwegian Uncle, Garrison Keillor, has been telling tales of the dark and murderous side of Being Norwegian for many a long year on the radio. I never doubted him myself. Norway is a dark and cold country in the wintertime, and the sun never sets in the summer. It makes people go mad. Berserk is a Norse word, they tell me. I think I can understand.

    As for the Dignity issue with Berwick/Breivik, it really makes a mess of the Global Dignity campaign's message. Someone in one of their videos asks Desmond Tutu -- I think it is -- what do you do about your enemies. "Ideally, you don't make enemies!" Yes, well. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

    From what I can tell, at least, this man was never lacking for Dignity and being treated with consummate Dignity by others. He was the son of diplomats (apparently both his parents were in the Norwegian diplomatic service.) Materially, he never wanted for anything, of course. And from his many pictures, it is clear he was physically quite handsome, almost pretty (this may have changed as he became a heavier user of steroids, apparently as a body-building aid).

    The problem wasn't that he wasn't treated with Dignity, it was that he did not -- indeed, could not -- treat others he deemed "traitors" or otherwise unworthy with Dignity, which led directly, as far as I can tell, to his monstrous and murderous cruelty.