The media is little help at times like this; the Associated Press has gone out of its way to vindicate Muslim terrorism, as have Norwegians, with statements like "NRK and other Norwegian media posted pictures of the blond, blue-eyed Norwegian" from the former (see??? Not a Muslim! Yes, yes, we knew that) while national police chief Sveinung Sponheim said the suspected gunman's Internet postings "suggest that he has some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views, but whether that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen."
Oh, maybe he was a Nazi. Those are okay to talk about.
But yet another police official was quoted as saying "It seems it's not Islamic-terror related. This seems like a madman's work."
Islamic terrorists are not mad men? Which religious terrorists are insane then? Are only blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian farmer terrorists mad men? One American science blogger on Twitter even had the gall to snidely ask if Norway would invade some random Muslim country in retaliation - but, oops, he forgot the guy he voted for is currently engaged in neo-con imperialism against a sovereign nation that is no threat to anyone outside its own borders, called Libya.
Amend what I said about social scientists being forced into a cone of silence during tragedies and add insufferable young progressives who want to exploit dead people in Norway to take a shot at George W. Bush for, you know, implementing democracy in Iraq the same way they want Obama to implement democracy in Libya.
Putting aside frustration with media attempts to frame events and partisan hacks to take shots, there is a real issue here; a lot of people feel like they have less individual control and, even in gracious cultures like Norway, it can boil over and they seek to blame others, be it politicians or immigrants. When this happened I posted on Facebook my condolences and then my frustration with media attempts to skew thinking away from groups they happened to like (Muslim terrorists) and toward groups they didn't (anyone 'right wing') and I always like to invoke Vikings whenever possible so in a comment I wrote, "For being, you know, partially vicious Vikings in heritage, they are unfailingly a generous, warm country that deserves better than they got from at least one resident in this incident"; basically my way of trying to make Bente Lilja Bye laugh during a dark period, since hearing Norwegian bedtime stories was a highlight of having lunch with her and Alex "Sandy" Antunes replied with, "basically, unlike most countries, they went through their adolescence and learned from it", which was his shot at recent geopolitics but maybe he had a point. Humans have an adolescent period so why not human cultures?
66 years ago Europeans were ready for peace. Two thousand years of warfare, a pleasant enough diversion under ordinary circumstances, became a far different thing with the introduction of German 'total war', something that had never really been possible before. War became a lot less fun and jingo-ism was out of style when blitzkriegs and atomic bombs entered the picture. Does it take that long for a country to mature out of its cultural adolescence? Or can the process be sped up?
Maybe all countries should have a geopolitical rumspringa for youth, rumspringa being the period in Amish teen years when they are allowed to experiment with the outside world and then decide whether or not to adopt the Amish way, the freedom from law and morality the north countries had when Vikings were running around everywhere. Could it work? "Okay kids, rape, pillage and war with each other but do it on Antarctica. After two years, you can either stay there or come home and knock that shit off, including if you become president".
There may be some justification in this - we live in a world that is increasingly dominated by government. I suppose it always was, the overwhelming majority of nations have always been dictatorships, the end result of too much government (though right-wing or left-wing dictatorship is used depending on whether the speaker about the dictatorship is right or left wing; they always choose the other to criticize and you never hear left-wing people call China a left-wing dictatorship or right-wing people call Arabia a right-wing dictatorship) but even in the western world, home of liberty, government is a bigger part of all our lives. There are even more regulations on strawberry jam than there are cigarettes and kids can't sell lemonade in front of their house to raise money for charity without the police stopping by. People who value liberty and liberalism resist petty intrusions.
Who is more rebellious than anyone? Teenagers. Nothing is less socially acceptable to The Man than violence so, in teenagers, it boosts their social standing. Frustration with increasing limits on freedom don't just show up in young men - violent actions of college-age women toward men have increased dramatically also but over time violent behavior begins to steadily drop off in both genders. You rarely see men and women in their elder years getting into fistfights.
Modern violent video games are sometimes implicated or defended in youth violence - naysayers point out that children have long played war, including pretend shooting each other, along with cops and robbers and whatever else while proponents of the 'video games beget violence' hypothesis note that the graphical realism makes youth more anesthetized to violence in a way previous generations were not. That's social science making correlation-causation arrows do whatever they want, of course - if the kids behind the Columbine massacre played "Doom", video games cause violence. But at the same time hunters who use guns to kill other living creatures for real are far less prone to violence than urban youth, even youth in good neighborhoods.
To neuroscientists, it is instead relevant that the cerebral circuits for both empathy and violence have a great deal of overlap. And violent media of all kinds leads to less control in the areas associated with those.
The yellow area of the brain is the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex, or right ltOFC, which has been previously associated with decreased control over a variety of behaviors, including reactive aggression. The first graph illustrates that as the number of violent movies watched increased, the right ltOFC activity diminished. The second graph shows that when subjects watched the non-violent control clips, there were no systematic changes in the activation of this area. Credit: Columbia University Medical Center
We also have real world examples of where violence - modern day Viking cultures like I joked about with Norway - is the norm, namely in Africa and Asia, and in those places violence has certainly led to more violence, not less
Rather than think of violent media or government frustration as a sole catalyst it may be that a certain amount of potential violence instead provides a kind of cultural 'herd immunity' against violence even to those who would otherwise be victims, the way vaccines still protect the children of anti-science progressives who refuse to get them for their children. If a criminal has a choice between robbing a house in Texas where a lot of homes have guns or in England where no homes have guns, he choosing England. No guns at all are why England, Wales and Scotland hold the top 3 spots in the western world in violent crime. However, in Somalia, where everyone has a gun, the violence levels are far, far higher than where there are no guns. An armed society is a polite society - to a point. After that, as some neuroscientists contend, brains do become anesthetized to violence and it becomes far more common.
Given the data that exists today, it may well be that a geopolitical rumspringa, a place where people have the freedom to behave in irrational ways, would actually lead to a more peaceful world because the scope and time would be limited, rather than becoming a way of life. It's just unlikely to gain acceptance because we care too much about our kids to let them go into violent situations, even if they choose to do so.
We can always try worldwide Laser Tag instead.