Sunday, July 24, 2011

Complex system gone bad: the tragedy of Oslo

It is said that the human brain is the most complex system we know of in the universe. Complex systems, by their nature, are unpredictable and difficult to control. A feedback dominated system can stabilize in unexpected states. The brain of Anders Behring Breivik, the killer of Oslo, is a complex system that has reached a certain state of horrible lucidity. One can get some glimpse of this lucid folly from this document that he wrote under a transparent pseudonym.

Of all the things I read in my life, this is the one that most closely fulfils the definition of "evil". It is not even so much for what Breivik did, but just for what he is, or at least for the way he appears to be from this document. What we get is a glimpse of a state of evilness that one wouldn't think possible. And yet, as I said, the human brain is the most complex thing of the universe and can reach even this state. Try to imagine the solitude of this man the way he describes it. Try to put yourself in this state of personal exaltation; being convinced that it is upon you, and you alone, to save Europe by killing Europe's enemies. And this from a man who calls himself "Christian".

Facing this, I can only cite Paul, in the letter to the Romans (1:30) when he says that "they invent ways of doing evil". The human brain, indeed, can invent new and ingenious ways of doing that. There is no doubt that Anders Breivik has invented an ingenious way of being evil.

(thanks to "Mago" for Paul's citation)


  1. I think you need to fix the scribd link. It actually takes you to a 2share document that doesn't exist. The actual link text is correct, but the URL it points to is wrong.

    Nice blog. I've added you to my regular stops.

  2. Ugo,

    Maybe you could give us Americans a better sense of how the Norway tragedy is playing out in Europe.

    Here in the USA I get a sense that it is not being considered anything monumental. We are bombarded everyday with news of mass deaths: so many killed in Afghanistan this day, so many in Iraq, Libya, on our highways, in our slum dwellings, etc., etc.

    The mind grows numb to such things.

    As reported by the American news media, Norway is just another in a long string of "random" violent events.

    The "USA Debt Ceiling" crisis on the other hand, now that is a "crisis"!

  3. Does "peak oil" also mean "bottom of evil"?

    Somebody show me I am WRONG!


  4. Step Back, thanks for this comment, but I think it is very difficult to convey certain things in a world where our minds are, indeed, numbed by a bombardment of everyday violence. It just seemed to me, however, that this particular event was especially evil.

    You know, the man who pushed the button that dropped the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima didn't do everything alone. He was "embedded" in a structure that, somehow, made this act a necessary consequence of a myriad of small acts that occurred before. And something similar happened for the people who pushed the buttons that sent cyanide canisters drop in the gas chambers in Germany. It is embedding, it is the banality of evil.

    But this guy did everything alone - or at least so it appears to be the case. And even if he was helped by someone, he was still theorizing all of it alone. I my view, it is mind boggling; I can't imagine how you can accumulate such hate, all by yourself, all in your mind. I am still bewildered because of this. It opens up an abyss that I hadn't imagined to exist before.

  5. "But this guy did everything alone - or at least so it appears"

    No man is an island.

  6. I can't imagine how you can accumulate such hate, all by yourself, all in your mind.

    You can if you are truly in love with yourself. There are many white males of this type, but most get married and/or a lucrative career in Wall Street or some such place. Go and look at AGW denialist blogs. It's full of guys just like ABB, but without the incentive or guts to go radical.

    It's not even hate so much as seeing yourself as God's equal.

    ABB said of what he did that it was terrible, but necessary. He decides who lives and who not. He is the best, the strongest and the smartest. The rest are weak commies.

  7. Yes, I imagine this story can be described in these terms. He thought he was God and that he could decide who lives and who doesn't. The human brain has wondrous capabilities to go bad



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)