So, I spent a lot of time in my previous post justifying my linking to the material. In retrospect I probably should have hived that off into a different post, but I was in a rush and at the time I started writing there was barely anything online in English about any of Breivik’s writings. I predicted that “most people who commit atrocities of this sort in the future will produce self-justificatory manifestos online”, and it’s now emerged that Breivik himself did post one, apparently the work of several years (it’s over
15,000 pages long). Correction-it’s 1,500 pages long
I’m definitely not going to write anything comprehensive on it. One day spent imagining the inside of his head is more than enough, but I’ve skimmed it just to check that my analysis of the Document.no postings is still valid. I also just want to expand on my position about linking to such material. It’s very clear from the manifesto that Breivik is a deeply self-regarding individual, and will revel in the notoriety. There’s no way to starve him of that attention, considering what he’s done, but it is extremely important to consider the nature of the attention being directed, and the extent to which we are simply falling in with his wishes by our reaction.
The manifesto is a three part plan for an extended ‘European civil war’ to remove Muslims from the continent, preceded by a twisted history and distorted picture of the present which justify this war. It is possible that Breivik actually intended for the manifesto to be the more important project. In a section entitled ‘Sacrifices made when creating the compilation’ he says:
All that, however, is barely noticeable compared to the sacrifices made in relation to the distribution of this book, the actual marketing operation;)
Sick Fuck. Anyway, this really emphasises that drawing attention to his ideas is far from being morally neutral. I still stand by my points yesterday that there is more to be gained from analysing this material than ignoring or suppressing it. But, the more we learn about him, the more it becomes clear that there are responsibilities that come with approaching this material.
There is a lot of interest in the manifesto, and a lot to be learned from it. Some of it may well be along the lines of what I was writing yesterday, other parts may point in different directions. There is also a great deal of practical information about his buying materials and testing, and profiles of his best friends, all of which would probably be better off out of the public domain, but it’s now on in the wild in the internet, so little can be done about it. The sections which I’d suggest may well be of particular interest are an extended interview he conducts with himself about his motivations and process of radicalisation (pop psychology spoiler – it’s all about his negative experience becoming estranged from a Muslim friend as a child), and the distorted reading of history that he employs.
But, having thought a bit about this yesterday before I knew there was a manifesto, I wanted to throw out a list of suggested points for referencing and discussing this material in a responsible fashion:
- Non-sensatinalism. He did this to attract our attention and achieve notoriety. Feeding it by cherry picking the most extreme parts and hyping them is pandering to him. Don’t do it, even though this is exactly what the press are now doing.
- No linking without fisking. If you are drawing attention to this material, you have a responsibility to debunk it. Do not let anyone get any closer to reading it without them having to first read why it’s wrong. NB – a disclaimer is not sufficient. You bleating that you don’t agree with it and condemning it is not sufficient. Don’t say that it’s wrong. Say why it’s wrong.
- In analysis, include both facts and interpretation. It isn’t enough to say that how Breivik viewed the world is wrong, or point out where he didn’t get his facts and figures straight. Both are necessary, and neither should be provided in isolation.
- Consider linking only to an partial copy of the material. If you only are dealing with part of the material, should you openly disseminate the rest? Perhaps some parts of it should not be in the public domain.
- If you are going to make a political point, think about it very carefully. Breathe. Think about it again. This action was clearly political, and should be treated as such. Consider very carefully whether the bereaved (for example) would find it appropriate. Use your language carefully, and do not overstate your point.
- Humour – this one is contentious, but I think there is a role for humour in approaching this material. Not yet, in the immediate aftermath, obviously. However, part of deconstructing and taking apart this man and his ideas will necessarily involve recognising their innate absurdity. There is actually a rich source of material – he spends a lot of time designing a hierarchy of medals for the army who will fight this civil war, and discusses using squads of attractive ‘female patriots’ for propaganda purposes. Laughing at the ridiculous narcissism of this man is one of the most powerful responses to him and the outcome he would like to see, much more so than painting him as an evil genius or terrorist mastermind.
Thoughts? I definitely won’t be linking to the manual any time soon because I don’t have the time or energy to do any of the above properly. I really hope someone out there does though.