Aurora beyond us

Like Anders Breivik, the young Norwegian who killed 77 people in Norway by bomb and gun, Holmes is reported to have been a “loner,” a young man without the social skills or perhaps the inclination to mix with his peers in a normal way. But such loners, though a small minority, are numbered in the thousands and tens of thousands; vanishingly few of them act like Breivik or Holmes, and many, indeed, make valuable contributions to society. Preventive detention for loners, or even special surveillance of them, would hardly be justified. …

The multifactorial analyses to which experts are inevitably driven—a bit of genetics here, a bit of parenting there, plus a dash of social pressure, culture, and the legal availability of weaponry thrown into the explanatory soup, as the weird sisters threw eye of newt and wool of bat into their cauldron—will leave us not much better off. The mesh will never be drawn fine enough for us to be able to say: “Now, at last, I understand.”

And yet our nature drives us to seek an explanation and an understanding (the two are related but not quite the same). Even if we felt like it, we cannot say: “Well, such things happen; let us hope, Inshallah, that they never happen again.” We must know the how, but also the why.