Via my favorite fundamentalist Christian, I have learned of the latest school shooting. It took place in Finland and the young man who carried it out described himself in this way: “I am a cynical existentialist, antihuman humanist, antisocial socialdarwinist, realistic idealist and godlike atheist”. Among the things he hates are “Equality, tolerance, human rights, political correctness, hypocrisy, ignorance, enslaving religions and ideologies, antidepressants, TV soap operas & drama shows, rap -music, mass media, censorship, political populists, religious fanatics, moral majority, totalitarianism, consumerism, democracy, pacifism, state mafia, alcholohics, TV commercials, human race”.
Some of you at this point might be wondering if I’m similarly going to snap, so I’ll go through how I differ from him. I do admit to being a cynic because as Robin Hanson explains (see also from him here and here), cynicism tends to be more accurate. I have never read any existentialists, and like Rand I’ve gotten a bad enough taste just from hearing about them that I never plan on doing so. I’m not anti-human, even the more likable animal species are too dumb to measure up to them. I’m not a humanist (and though I’m a non-believer I don’t consider myself a secularist either, so I fail at both counts when it comes to secular humanism) since that sounds like another ideal I don’t feel like serving. I don’t like anti-social is the right word to describe me, since I have little antipathy and lots of apathy. Perhaps non-social (at least in meatspace, though not if I have something interesting to discuss or a suitable level of intoxication) would be a better term. I don’t really have a preference when it comes to how humanity should evolve, because I won’t be around in the long term unless the Singularity arrives (in which case evolution can be ignored compared to the rapid pace of technological change). I don’t hate religion (in fact I wish everybody except for me was a Mormon), I simply don’t consider any of them to be true. I don’t have a problem with consumerism, corporations (perhaps an illegitimate creation of the state and relic of mercantilism but I really like Wal-Mart), mass-media (it doesn’t “indoctrinate” people, it sells them the nonsense they demand, which is fine by me) and I think TV commercials are easy to avoid and a small price to pay for otherwise free entertainment.
When I was his age (I’ll spare you the stories of walking ten miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways) I was a nerd but also a Christian. I never understood the antipathy many nerds or other outsiders seemed to have toward popular kids or “jocks”. If anything those types seemed nicer people than the losers. Perhaps I was just lucky or perhaps I was extremely unaware (scratch the perhaps on that second one, but I think its effect could be questionable) but it didn’t fit the stereotype both the losers and entertainment fed me. I was largely ignorant and unconcerned of the doings of the high school elites, as were they of me. So why were other losers (if that term is irritating you, remember that I include myself in that category) so obsessed and filled with anger? My conclusion is that many were uncomfortable with their being nerds and wished they were jocks, which was something beyond their grasp. I saw a similar emulation of the popular kids with “geek chic” or “geek culture”, which always just annoyed me (and don’t get me started on nerdcore). Being filled with hostility and concerned with themselves, they imagined persecution at the hands of elites who could care less (we saw this both with Seng Hui Cho and Barack Obama, whose self-pitying accounts seemed bizarre to their former classmates).
At Pharyngula there was much blathering about trying to prevent this from reflecting badly on atheists, a courtesy the “religion poisons everything” crowd would never extend to Christianity or Islam. It is true that the killer misunderstood natural selection: anyone who thinks it has “stopped” or “reversed” in the modern era clearly doesn’t understand the purpose-free nature of evolution. The fittest still survive, but fittest has always meant merely those most capable of replicating their genes. As any evolutionary psychologist or behavioral economist will tell you, this includes selecting for self-deception. Rather than rant about how the ignorant masses just shouldn’t be outbreeding the “brights” (how I hate that term for stuck-up atheists) because they’re inferior I accept it as being how evolution always was, which is not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. Like Sidney Parker on Ragnar Redbeard’s “Might Makes Right”, this egoist finds all this ubermensch and “ought” talk rather moralizing. At the same time any Christian can state that someone who does horrible things in Christ’s name (the anti-abortion bomber or shooter of doctors was once prominent in equivocating between them and jihadists, but there haven’t been many of them in a while) doesn’t understand the Holy Word of God and is not a True Scot^H^H^H^HChristian and any Muslim can claim that suicide bomber’s ignore the Koran’s prohibition on the tactic, and these objections are true but irrelevant given the nature of mass belief. Atheism does not need an argumentum ad consequentiam. My fellow non-believers (I would refer to myself as an agnotheist, but there’s little difference between that and atheism) should be willing to admit that believers are more charitable with both their money, time and blood, that atheist regimes (both communist and Jacobin) were as bloodthirsty if not more than religious ones. Can we attribute those killings to atheism? I would restrict it to only the anti-clericalist violence (which occurred not only in officially atheistic regimes but also secularist ones like in Mexico during the Cristero War). The other killings may have been done in the name of communism, but could just as easily been have committed by an adherent of liberation theology. Similarly I think we should distinguish between Arab nationalist terrorism and islamists and quit referring to Timothy McVeigh as a “Christian terrorist”, especially considering that despite being raised Catholic he later denied believing in God. Even killings that can clearly be laid at the foot of a belief do not themselves discredit that belief. Hitler was quite anti-communist and killed huge numbers of people out of an apparently real fear of the threat of “Judeo-Bolshevism”, but this does not discredit anti-communism. If the war had gone otherwise I would have started by saying that just because Stalin killed huge numbers of people as possible counter-revolutionaries and opposed Nazism/fascism it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with opposition to those ideologies.
Along with democracy, the murderer hated the totalitarian regimes of fascism and communism (though I also dislike all three, I have to say western liberal democracy is far and away preferable). Oddly enough, he denied that Hitler and Stalin were guilty of mass murder because they got others to do it for them. To me that is just silly. We don’t consider someone innocent of murder if rather than using their own hands they wield a weapon. Though I often find Stephan Kinsella annoying I recommend his Causality and Aggression. A person may use a wide variety of things to call, from inanimate objects to another person. The distinction is irrelevant except in that we may also hold their accomplices responsible. I was thinking of that when commenters at Pharyngula mocked his talk of natural selection when he was killing people. They said it was instead artificial selection. When walruses evolve to become extremely large so they can fight each other, we consider this natural selection. When we breed animals for a trait, this is considered artificial selection. At the same time human beings are not bred by another species but breed themselves. Is sexual selection natural or artificial selection? From the viewpoint of an alien anthropologist/zoologist it is clearly the former. So how would human beings killing other human beings be any different? Our skulls apparently evolved considerable thickness when we were hitting each other over the head, and now they have thinned again. I say there is really no distinction between artificial and natural selection and our interactions with others are part of our extended phenotype. I consider killers like this kid or Varg Vikernes and Volkert Van der Graaf to be one-offs who do not have a significant impact and it is hard to think that any traits are being selected for.
Now that we’re done with religion/non-cognitivism let’s move on to other things that may be blamed. Firearmophiles like myself often pointed to Finland (along with Switzerland and Israel) as examples of places with lots of guns but little crime. Finland still has low crime, but the “Look at Finland!” argument won’t go over as well for a while. Video games are a popular target and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Jack Thompson in a bit. I’ve stopped playing them and I’m disappointed at their decline in quality from the days of the text-adventure while continually increasing technical requirements, so I wouldn’t mind seeing the industry get what it deserves good and hard, but that doesn’t seem to have been an especially big factor. The killer was apparently fond of electronica and industrial, which I am not (with all this machinery making modern music can it still be open hearted? no), but I do like a lot of metal and some quite vile punk. I usually look down on pathetic fans of nu-metal in an elitist fashion, but I was embarrassed to find I liked a number of the same bands as Kimveer Gill so I don’t feel like indulging in that prejudice here. In the 90s there was more of a hubub about that, but I think people have stopped caring as much about the malign influence of music and rap (which I share Mr. Social Darwinist’s distaste for) has pushed aside rock as the scary genre. After the Cho killings it almost seemed as if people were going to blame Oldboy, but that died down quickly. The days of Natural Born Killers and the Basketball Diaries (which along with Oldboy I have not seen) seem to be behind us. Perhaps youtube will be blamed?
Finally and a bit off-topic, I already read racist, stalinist and fundie Christian writings as I try to expose myself to alien viewpoints. Could anyone point out to me a good and readable islamist blog? It seems to me that islamism has displaced revolutionary communism as the anti-imperialist/american ideology of choice and it strikes me that its a gaping void in my understanding.