Breivik sentence: wise and kind

 

Is the punishment of Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik going to fit the crime? He killed 77 people in the name of racial purity. He has been found sane. He’ll serve at least 21 years – and it’s likely that his incarceration will be reviewed and extended while he remains a danger. But he’ll be kept in a suite of three eight-square-metre cells, including a bedroom, exercise room and study with a computer. He will not have Internet access, saving a fortunate world from more of his extremist ranting. But he may be integrated with other prisoners, use the gym and take university courses. Is the sentence too soft or too harsh, in your view? In several countries he would suffer the death penalty. Does his survival mean he will become a rallying point for extremists and violent racists? Do you think the victims and their families have received justice?
– BBC World Service on Facebook

Here is my response:

It’s not about punishment. It’s about protecting society against his actions, and if it can be done with kindness – as in this situation – I think it’s very good. In this case, society is wise (protecting itself) and kind (treating him with respect and humanity), exactly those qualities (I imagine) we want for ourselves.

And another response to an article in the Atlantic:

I am Norwegian and I see the sentence as wise and kind. It’s wise because it protects society against his actions (and it protects him against his actions as well). And it’s kind because it treats Breivik with respect and humanity. If I were him, I would want to be treated with kindness and respect, so it only makes sense.

I added a somewhat pointed comment on the US system, and I know there are some beliefs there!

In my mind, the US justice system has very little to do with justice, and more to do with cruelty and – yes – stupidity. It doesn’t work. You are 5% of the world’s population, and have 25% of the world’s inmates. It’s expensive. It’s inhumane. It doesn’t prevent crimes. It doesn’t support inmates to live a good and crime-free life after they are released.

There are obvious cultural differences at play here. As the Atlantic article pointed out, the US system includes vengeance (a wild west mentality). And the Norwegian system is more based on humanity and takes a larger view, including supporting inmates to have a good life after prison.

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Here is my response:

It’s not about punishment. It’s about protecting society against his actions, and if it can be done with kindness – as in this situation – I think it’s very good. In this case, society is wise (protecting itself) and kind (treating him with respect and humanity), exactly those qualities (I imagine) we want for ourselves.

Breivik acted from confusion, which is what we don’t want for ourselves.

The only action that really makes sense here is for us – as a society – to act from what we do want, which is wisdom and kindness. We protect ourselves against his actions (wisdom), and we treat him with respect and humanity (kindness).

Note: This is, of course, in contrast to the reactions in the US following 911, which – in large part – was politically motivated. Bush used 911 as an excuse to push through wars and policies he and his political friends had wanted to for a while, and they used fear and prejudice to do so. There may also be cultural differences at play here. In the US, vengeance seems to play a role in these situations, while in Norway fairness, justice and respect is important.

Note 2: A few elaborations. Breivik acted from confused love. He loved his stories about traditional Norwegian culture, how foreigners come and dilute it, and how the labor party makes that possible. He acted out of love for what he believed in, and it was quite confused. The wise action is to make sure he is not able to do it again, and it’s quite unlikely he will have the opportunity. (The prison sentence is for 21 years, and it will most likely be prolonged every five years until he dies.) And the kind action is to treat him with respect and humanity, and make sure he has a decent life behind bars. How would I want to be treated if I was him? With kindness and respect. So the solution the Norwegian justice system came up with is optimal in my view.

 

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