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Gruesome but Necessary: Global Governance in the 21st Century?

Extreme normality as indicator of systemic negligence (Part #1)


Introduction
Varieties of basic response to massacre
Situating violence in a wider context
Rationalization and legitimation of violence
Making a point in a democratic society
Failure of non-violent point-making processes
Requisite human sacrifice for effective point-making
Current analogue to the Aztec sacrificial pyramid?
Gruesome but necessary prospects for global governance?
Conclusion
References

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Introduction

How are people to think of the massacre of less than a hundred Norwegians -- in a global society characterized by daily reporting of instances of tragic deaths of every kind and number? What might who do about it and why?

The concern here is with distinguishing the set of possible responses in the light of the range of other instances of deliberate or inadvertent enabling of death.

The most obvious approach is to recognize it as a totally repugnant incident calling for appropriate punishment of the person directly responsible. This however raises the question as to whether others enabling similar degrees of violence should be treated according to the same logic. And, if not, why not?

A further possibility is to enveadour to elicit learnings from the incident of relevance to both other incidents and to other forms and patterns of violence. This however raises the question of how the case for some of these other forms of violence is legitimized and rationalized -- and whether any degree of moral equivalence should be recognized.

There is as yet a further possibility by endeavouring to "hear" what the perpetrator was claiming to seek in vain to communicate. This is problematic in that it suggests the possibility that there may be some "point" to the perspective so repugnantly emphasized. Listening after the fact may then be understood as condoning the violence in some way.

Aside from the immediate challenge for Norwegians, there is nevertheless a challenge for those elsewhere. One cautionary argument is however offered from a UK perspective by Simon Jenkins (The last thing Norway needs is illiberal Britain's patronising, The Guardian, 26 July 2011), arguing that "hysterical British reaction poses a greater threat to democracy than Anders Breivik's meaningless and random acts of violence". With respect to wider learnings from the incident, the print copy version of that same article was titled "Breivik is of interest to brain scientists, but not to politics". Despite valuable insights in the article, the titles would seem to preclude further learnings of any value.

Curiously however the Norwegian was an enthusiast of online war games -- World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2 -- in which millions engage daily, often for many hours at a time (Norway Terrorist Used World Of Warcraft As A Training Simulator, 27 July 2011; Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik Used Modern Warfare 2 as "Training-Simulation", 23 July 2011). More curiously, the justification offered for the slaughter by Anders Behring Breivik, through his lawyer, was that it was "gruesome but necessary". That phrase figures prominently (some 75,000 hits, at the time of writing) in any web search relating to World of Warcraft -- prior to any reference to Breivik. It would appear to be recognized as a slogan.

If the Norwegian incident is to be considered a "wake up call", as has been argued, the phrase "gruesome but necessary" (used in the title of this article) is presented here as a potentially fruitful way of framing the currently implicit approach to governance in the 21st Century. It recalls the controversy associated with the thinking during the Cold War of military strategist and systems theorist Herman Kahn (Thinking About the Unthinkable, 1962; Thinking about the Unthinkable in the 1980s, 1984).

The question raised by any "wake up call" is the nature of the "unthinkable" which society may find it disastrously convenient not to think about (Karen A. Cerulo, Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006; Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable: why the new world disorder constantly surprises us and what we can do about it, 2009; Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason: new thinking for a new world, 1989). Is civilization indeed "unconscious"? -- as argued by John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995).

What indeed to do about the unthinkable? How indeed to engage with it? -- as separately discussed (Engaging with the Inexplicable, the Incomprehensible and the Unexpected, 2010; An Inconvenient Truth -- about any inconvenient truth, 2008)? In his efforts to "make a point", and his articulated frustration that people "Don't understand his point of view", do Breivik's actions raise questions about how it is possible to do so effectively by non-violent means in a democratic society? The abstract metaphorical notion of "point making" then merits careful attention.

In that regard, does the proximity and intense media coverage of the horrific Norwegian incident offer a well-personalized opportunity through which to engage with known phenomena from which unknown numbers of people suffer daily?


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