In describing the Columbine killers in Political Affect I looked at their ability to handle the bodily intensity of their actions. The problem they faced was overcoming the wide-spread inhibition on cold-blooded killing (as opposed to berserker rage or fugue state killing) [link to draft version here]. One of the problems in using the Columbine massacre for a case study was the suicide of killers, preventing us from hearing what they had to say about the experience.
Anders Breivik's trial testimony (see here for previous posts on the case) provides fascinating insights into his preparation for and ability to withstand the intensity of his acts (the commentary by the reporters also is important for detailing how difficult it is for the other people in the courtroom to hear the testimony). I call this negotiation of intensity "political physiology" because it involves finding ways to allow a political action that normal physiology prevents (by triggering inhibitions, as in this account of Brevik's testimony: "I thought about it for 1 minute. Whole body resisted. Felt like a year. 100 voices in head saying STOP." Note the resistance of the "body" as well as the psychological aspects of "voices in head").
[UPDATE, 20 April 4:10 pm CDT: See here for more traditionally "cognitive" training Breivik did, using Call of Duty first-person shooter game for practice in "target acquisition." Of course there's a heavy affective component here too, but that's not dealt with so much in the article.]
Below the fold are more excerpts from the article emphasizing the dissociative and emotion-deadening political physiology practices Breivik performed, both before and during the events:
13.36pm David Blair gives us an idea of what it is like actually sitting in the courtroom. And the manner in which Breivik is delivering his testimony.
The court has now taken a brief recess. I get the impression this is largely because Breivik's testimony is so graphic and the events he relates are so terrible that people in the courtroom are emotionally drained by having to listen. I will not relate what he has just said, but I offer one observation about the way he is saying it. Breivik talks slowly, calmly and precisely, interjecting his account with deep sighs. The impression is that he is talking about someone else - not himself. He is talking about another person and the terrible things this individual was driven to carry out. He appears to have mentally separated himself entirely from the events in question.
13.12pm. Breivik describes pulling the trigger for the first time. He shot one guard so he fell and then shot him again in the head. The ferry crew escaped on their boat. People ran in all directions.
13.10pm Norwegian journalist Trygve Sorvaag tweets on the killer:
12.40pm Our man in court writes:
For the first time, the court's team of psyhiatrists are questioning Breivik. He has admitted that he became completely "de-emotionalised" during the attacks, as if he was in a "state of shock". He consciously adopted this mental state, with the aid of trance music and daily meditation.
12.30pm Breivik is now being grilled by four psychiatrists. He tells the court that from 2006 he began practicing meditation to delibrately dull his emotions. From "happiness to sorrow, despair, hopelessness, anxiety, fear".
12.01pm ... Our chief foreign correspondent David Blair, who's in court in Oslo, says:
The last three hours have seen the calm and controlled version of Breivik on display. His lawyers have given him a chance to expound on all the preparations that he made, presumably to show how rational he is. But this sits oddly alongside Breivik's statements that he deliberately 'dehumanised' himself before he killed his victims.
For the first time, Breivik has just addressed the crux of the issue before the court. "I'm not a psychiatric case: I am sane," he said. "I understand it must be hard for a peaceful nation such as Norway when you see an action so fundamentalist, but it's important to see the difference between political extremism and insanity in a clinical sense."
10.29am Interestingly, when asked to show more empathy when giving evidence Breivik replies by saying he will break down if he removes the mental protection he has created for himself. When asked to look around the courtroom and describe who he sees, he says:
Breivik has disclosed that the difficulties with organising the attack were so great he very nearly abandoned the whole idea. He had to revise his plan between 20 and 30 times. "My original plan failed time after time after time," he said. "I almost got to the point where I was giving up because it was so difficult."
8.46am David Blair writes:
Another chilling insight into Breivik's state of mind. He prepared for the massacre by robbing his targets of any humanity, at least in his own mind. "I have had a dehumanisation strategy towards those who I consider a valid target."
8.43am Our man in court reports that Breivik rented a farm outside of Oslo to help prepare himself for his attack. He shunned his friends and family by telling anyone who tried to visit him that he was too busy "working".
8.30am The 33-year-old says he believes had "fairly normal emotional patterns" prior to 2006 and before he began focusing on his plans to kill. He then chose to isolate himself to "protect" friends from what was coming.