On Understanding Conflict: Matti, 22

EDITORIAL, 6 Oct 2008

#30 | Johan Galtung

6 Oct. 2008

Last month tragedy visited a peaceful place in a peaceful Nordic country, Kauhajoki in southeastern Finland; the second time in less than a year, after November 2007 in Jokela in southern Finland, 19 killed; last month Matti, 22, killed 10 with himself. At their own school, entering a class, gun in hand, shooting.

How come?

I do not know. But I claim to know something about knowing  (like in 50 Years: 25 Intellectual Landscapes Explored, TRANSCEND University Press, 2008 – www.transcend.org/tup).  Please, do not ask for one cause at one level of human organization–the personal micro level, the social meso level, the inter-state and inter-nation macro level, the inter-region and inter-civilization mega level).  Be open for all four.  And please do not only ask for the efficient cause, obviously a finger pulling a trigger, but be open for the goal (punishing humanity, that evil, wasted exercise?), and for the other two of the Aristotle four types of causes, causa materialis, and causa formalis.  “He died from a stroke” is simply not good enough: we want to know about that person’s lifestyle, the social context, stress and strain that may have torn down the person’s resilience, capacity to resist the “pathogens”. Why?  Because rationality calls for answers even in the deepest recesses of the personal, social, national and global levels so that we can remove the causes of good and strengthen the causes of bad.

On 20 September a crisis psychiatry specialist was on the radio in neighboring Norway, talking wisely about two motives for mass murder: instant fame, even if they do not survive to enjoy it, and the sense of being above the common fry, being God, deciding over life and death.  No doubt important in the causa finalis syndrome.

Time for Matti-studies and funding for psycho-anything of victims and their relations to Matti and Matti’s family. All corners of micro.  All necessary.  But very far from sufficient.

Enters meso, school. With Finland’s famous score as no. 1 in the PISA studies in mathematics, natural science and reading; a total test score of 563, the OECD average is 500, and ordinary Norway, no. 33, scores 487. Finland’s follow-ups, Japan, Estonia, Canada and Hong Kong, are at 542 and below, a respectful distance from No. 1. One wonders, at what cost all those high scores?

Enters meso, suicide.  Finland is no. 15 in the world with 20.3 per 100.000 per year and Norway way behind, no. 43.  In fact, of the six PISA countries after Finland four are among the suicide top twenty.  But be careful now, correlation is not causation.

Enters macro, Finland as such, not data about Finns.  Deep culture, for instance.  If talking is silver and silence is gold, then Finland, for sure, is a gold mine.  Reticence, few words.  For loquacity, try Sicily. Latitude-dependent?

Speculation, hypothesis 1:  Could autism be a Finnish trait?  Living like a Leibnizian monad in a bubble, in a virtual reality, decoupled from the outer world?  Could that predispose Finns for mathematics, also decoupled from outer reality?  And reading is inner, even innermost, communication with an author far removed and with oneself.  Maybe that also applies to natural science?  Could it be that in PISA autism meets autism, and feels well?

Enters macro, weapons, for hunting.  USA no. 1, of course, then Yemen, then Finland.  Easily available, from 15 onward.

Speculation, hypothesis 2:  could it be that what you cannot communicate with words, like self-hatred and humanity-hatred, you communicate with weapons, and commit suicide, and homicide?

Enters mega: the USA.  More than a country, a civilization, a signal country with model character, defining for the rest of the world what is normal and natural.  If it is USA, it may be bad, but such is life, reality, human nature.  Not much you can do about it. You are not going to change the USA, are you?

So easy access to weapons may be the causa materialis, and the structure-culture of autism, and of the US status in the world the causa formalis, the pattern through which it all worked.

Complex, like conflicts are. Can anything be done about it?
Quite a lot, as soon as we cater to all four levels, not only one.

Starting from the top: the USA is now entering–with some talent–a career from a model to be emulated via non-model to anti-model.  Bad news is you enjoy US violence at all levels.

Also for arms-dealers: be at least as strict as with drugs.  But equally important would be a school where the students also learn conflict, communication and other social skills, conflict hygiene–see www.transcend-nordic.org for the Sabona project–in addition to accumulating knowledge inside their own small bubbles.

Then, imagine media relegate such violence to the margins of time and space and put in the center positive news about conflicts well handled?  Imagine more time was given to the miracle and wonder of life in general and human life in particular, and less to math many steps removed from life?  Imagine appreciation of the wonders of human creativity dominates, rather than misanthropic grumblings?  And that still leaves considerable space for good micro work, watching the early warnings, helping, preventing.

Imagine.  Just imagine.  As John Lennon said.  And imagine that we respect the complexity of conflict, violence and peace.

(Data from the brilliant article by Mari Skurdal, “Finlands suksess”, Klassekampen, 26.September 2008).

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Oct 2008.

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