Wedgeworth On Extremism

Steven Wedgeworth has a detailed post on the kind of mentality that leads to people like Anders Breivik; very likely you’ve encountered the kind of person Wedgeworth is talking about if you’ve spent any amount of time discussing religion or politics on the internet. I think his comments are worth deep consideration, and I’m very inclined to agree with him about the root causes of such problems. One excerpt:

Now think about that for a minute. While building his bombs, buying his guns, and planning a mass murder, this guy also played dress up. I mean really, a fake hunter’s permit patch? That’s outrageously geeky. Breivik was playing his own sort of RPG throughout all of this.

This kind of thing happens routinely among ideologues, albeit certainly to a lesser degree. Everyone who is familiar with Presbyterianism knows that when a Baptist becomes a Presbyterian, they typically have to watch Braveheart, buy a CD of bagpipe music, and, if they live below the Mason-Dixon line, develop a strong fondness for the antebellum South. Anglicans have their own version of this. I know several young men who have adopted the British spellings of colour and honour as a way to show their commitment to the true faith. Usually these sorts of things are left at the level of fun and geeky side-interests, but if the convert is himself alienated from a community of friends or particularly angry at the world, these character quirks can turn into something else. This is what was going on with Breivik, and, with certain modifications to fit the scene, this is also what’s going on with a lot of Islamic radicalism.  They are allowing their ideological fascinations to become an alternative identity.