It’s always painful to be reminded, yet again, that those who inflict the greatest evil are so often those who believe that in doing so they are achieving the greatest good. This explains, but only partly, why multiple killers are convinced that killing lots of people is a wholly right and even valuable thing to do. They could explain, if they wanted to.
Anders Behring Breivik is just the latest in this dismal procession: solitary, self-absorbed, full of rectitude, bloodstained: always male. According to his lawyer, Breivik “says he is sorry he had to do this but it is necessary.” Thus speaks all those – at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Dunblane, Auschwitz – who let the rest of us know that they are doing us a favour and that, if we do not see this, then more fools we.
Each of us, of course, lives within our own reality. The question is: how permeable are its frontiers? It’s bad for introverts like me, some of whom think of their inner life as truly real and real life out there as mere fantasy. But The Outsider (as well described all those years ago by Colin Wilson) is way beyond that mild syndrome and travelling fast towards insanity, collecting weapons along the way. Glorying in his private kingdom, where he alone is king, he revels in his sense of hidden power waiting to be unleashed so that the world will be astonished at it, and suffer. He has something to say to us.
It means something and that something is about leaving the worst things of youth behind. The Outsider has an attitude and it rages in secret immaturity. It is a male neurosis that must be left to wither in the playground, before the young male sallies forth to meet the first challenges of his adult life: the world of adult responsibilities and opportunities, his response to those, and women. And, as we all know, any plans we might have already do not survive the first contact with reality.
But The Outsider has long ago lost all authentic contact with other people and their rights and needs. Perhaps he never had it. This does not matter if he refrains from demonstrating this absence by violence. Nor does it matter if he claims to represent some grievance faction or other; he just borrows their rhetoric and uses it to dress up the headless dummy which is his real presence in this world.
Who is this?
No, he is too angry about his situation to care what others think. The time comes, however, when he wants to bring all this to their notice. Recognise me! is his cry. But how can we know what he feels – he who in excluding himself feels exclusion bitterly? He built a dreamworld of his own in secret and then is confounded and enraged that nobody else knows about it. So he erupts into our world, full of human relationships and means of healing and forgiveness and care, and starts shooting. And we ask, “who is he? what does he want?”
He is the embodiment of evil, the negative print of the individual who lives in this world with all its pains and demands and still gets by in helping others. So often we will spot him, have a chance to do something with him before he explodes and avert his disaster. So often we will fail. That leaves The Outsider able to carry out his crime and so to his moment of glory, as scripted by the last paragraph of L’Etranger: as he is about to be led to his execution the Outsider hopes – knowing that he will be well satisfied if it happens – that as he appears in the prison yard he will be greeted by shouts of rage.