Around the world, there have been so many tragedies, both natural and needless, this past weekend, from the terrible famine in Somalia to the pride of American policy-makers playing poker with the fate of the international finance system. And then there was Norway.
I want to offer a prayer, but not just one of mourning — although it is that — nor of solidarity — for it is certainly that, as well — but also of philosophical opposition:
The apparent terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, claims to have acted alone. If proven true, this would be yet more evidence of the fearsome power of modern technology, not to mention the way it enables radical individualism and ideological atrocity.
Alas, intuitively I feel it shall indeed be (largely) confirmed, as it would also be consistent with his extremely Nietzschean worldview. As is by now well-known, a Twitter account in his name has this quote from John Stuart Mill (out of respect for the dead, I will not link to the tweet):
One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.
Besides the fact that it’s actually a misquote, it’s also woefully out of context, textually and philosophically. The actual quote from Mill’s theories on representative government, reads:
“To think that because those who wield power in society wield in the end that of government, therefore it is of no use to attempt to influence the constitution of the government by acting on opinion, is to forget that opinion is itself one of the greatest active social forces. One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.”
Moreover, it’s clear that Breivik totally inverted and perverted Mill’s famous maxim from “Utilitarianism”:
“The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”
And so, on behalf of Mill, the people of Norway and their dead, and yes, even the lost soul of Breivik himself, I offer this prayer from the Baha’i Writings, one which I feel is vastly appropriate for this situation:
“O My Servant! Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.” — Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian #72