Is Anders Breivik our Loki?

A few weeks ago Jack MacDonald over at Kings of War had a superb post about the apparently unrelated subjects of the plethora of superhero movies over the past decade and lone wolf terrorists.

I think that superheroes happen to be an important way of thinking about ‘lone wolf’ terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh or Anders Breivik. A single person, capable of unleashing terrible force/changing the planet etc. Nietzsche was talking about Supermen as persons unbounded by the morality of the herd, Moore made the point that persons capable of unleashing terrible force should be an object of worry, regardless of whose side they happen to be on, and furthermore, there’s no reason to think that they might agree with ‘our’ way of thinking.

And more…

What is important about lone wolf terrorists, and, for similar reasons, movements such as anonymous, is that we’re sliding towards a world of ‘supermen’, and it’s not a pretty sight…What happens when these individuals or small groups start going to war? There have been nods towards this in the real world (remember the Anonymous ‘vs’ the Mexican cartels hoax a while back?) but the worst is yet to come. What happens when Anonymous pisses off some criminal black hat hackers? What if another Breivik provokes a violent response from a similar type on the ‘other side’? In either case, lots of innocent people are going to get caught in the crossfire.

I have to admit, this was a really enjoyable post for me to read because it was well written, combines ideas from different ideas to make a new point and I disagree with that point.

While I agree we’re in an age where an individual can unleash a ‘terrible force which can change the planet’ it seems to me this is a change of degree rather than something new and previously unseen.  After all, Tim McVeigh and Anders Breivik may have done some serious damage but Gavrilo Princip really set the world afire and that was nearly a century ago.  Certainly more people have the capability to do big damage (however we may define that) today than a century ago but it seems MacDonald misses the flip side of his argument.  People also have an increased capability to do ‘good’.

Worries about whether people with these increased abilities adhere to ‘our’ way of thinking seems to be regular old (small ‘c’) conservatism, afraid of change.  It seems the very same argument could be made at any point in history undergoing radical technological change.   The internet, electricity, industrial development, gunpowder, the wheel, domestication of animals.  Each of those dramatically enhanced the abilities of individuals and groups for good and ill. Times change and it may be worthwhile to remember that a few centuries ago ‘our’ way of thinking involved slavery, burning or stoning people who demonstrated too much individuality as witches and other horrendous things.  I’m just not that concerned with maintaining ‘our’ way of thinking over the long run.

After all, in the long run we’ll all be dead.

While I bemoan the lack of community as much as I suspect MacDonald does, I don’t think it necessarily means we’re headed towards some sort of destructive anarchy.  Humankind seems to crave structure and its desire for it seems to be demonstrated every day among the hundreds of millions of people who have the power to act like the Nietzschian supermen yet do not.  Suicide bombs have been around for decades, where are the million (or thousands) of people expressing their individual vetos?  At the risk of minimizing the criminal networks, terrorists and thugs that are all over the globe perhaps we should look at the vast majority of people who aren’t involved in such destructiveness.

So maybe a world full of superheroes might be more chaotic than what we’ve got now but it might not be a bad thing.

Along that same thread, I just finished New Model Army by Adam Roberts.  This is, on its surface, a book that should be right up my alley.  It takes place in the near future where the old (MacDonald) world is falling apart.  As the state is disintegrating new, crowd-sourced, mercenary armies are springing up and fighting against state militaries while in the pay of new, smaller states (Scotland in the book).

The book has gotten very good reviews which makes me think I’m missing something here but it really seems to fail across the board unless the author is trying to make a point very similar to MacDonald’s while superficially trying to demonstrate the opposite.  If that’s the case, I’m afraid Roberts to both too subtle and too clever for me.

The book spends (IMO) too much time on rather bland battle scenes while glossing over what a real crowd sourced society would look like and how it might coexist with a more traditional one as they compete for supremacy.  The New Model Army is really a one trick pony which reminded me more of 15th century Italian mercenaries that acted as roving bands of parasites than anything truly new or innovative.  The ending may have had some interesting sci-fi possibilities but the idea ended barely after he introduced it.  So, given that you’re only likely to read 1,000-2,000 books in your lifetime, I’d recommend giving this one a pass.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about a better description of crowd-sourcing military and intelligence operations.

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