Time to shoot down this anti-human outlook

While the existence of homicidal lunatics, like Finnish gunman Maati Saari, is nothing new, the wider cultural resonance of their actions is.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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Matti Juhani Saari, a 22-year-old culinary arts student, walked into his vocational school in Kauhajoki, Finland yesterday and opened fire on his fellow students, killing 10 people before fatally wounding himself. No doubt this will inspire renewed debates about the availability of guns and the dangers of the internet. But the most disturbing aspect of the case is Saari’s misanthropic mindset and a wider culture that reinforced it.

Saari was interviewed by police on Monday at his home having been alerted to a number of videos posted by him on YouTube. The videos show Saari firing weapons at a shooting range and pointing a gun into the camera while uttering the words: ‘You will die next.’ However, Saari had a valid permit to carry a gun and the police did not have ‘enough evidence to revoke the suspect’s gun licence’, according to the Finnish interior minister, Anne Holmlund.

Various other aspects of Saari’s personality have been reported. His online profile stated his interests were ‘computers, guns, sex and beer’. His favourite films apparently included the Saw series of ‘gorno’ horror movies, and among his favourite videos were clips from the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado, USA, that left 13 people dead.

Saari stated alongside one of his YouTube videos that: ‘Whole life is war and whole life is pain. And you will fight alone in your personal war.’ In the suicide notes he left behind, Saari said he hated mankind and the human race and that he had been planning the attack since 2002, according to the head of the police investigation, Jari Neulaniemi.

The attack in Kauhajoki comes less than a year after Pekka-Eric Auvinen, an 18-year-old, shot seven of his fellow pupils, his headmistress and then himself in a school in the town of Jokela in southern Finland. After that attack, there were calls to make firearms more difficult to get hold of, which were echoed today by the Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen. ‘We have to tighten the law significantly’, said Vanhanen. ‘In terms of handguns that can easily be carried about, we have to think about whether they should be available for private people. In my opinion, they belong on shooting ranges.’

But as Kevin Yuill points out elsewhere on spiked, there is no simple link between the availability of guns and homicide. Societies with wide ownership of guns like Canada and Norway have lower homicide rates than the UK (see Who’s afraid of… gun culture?). Despite the very strict legislation on gun ownership introduced after the school shooting in Dunblane in 1996, Scotland’s homicide rate of 2.56 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004 was very similar to the figure in Finland, 2.75.

It would be foolish to restrict the freedom of a sizeable proportion of the Finnish population – it is estimated that half of Finnish households own a gun – on the basis of a terrible and very unusual event. Banning guns won’t stop such attacks from happening. If someone is truly determined to kill other people – and kill themselves in the process – there are easier ways to do it, as evidenced by a string of suicide bomb attacks around the world.

Vanhanen also suggested that there might need to be greater surveillance of online activity following yesterday’s events. ‘The internet and YouTube forums… are not another planet. This is part of our world and we adults have the responsibility to check what is happening, and create borders and safety there.’ But modern media do not determine behavior; we are not automatons. While Saari clearly expressed an interest in horror movies, films like Saw are very popular among young people generally. Despite the graphic violence, there is no evidence they turn anyone into a homicidal maniac.

As for Saari’s performances on YouTube, the fact that there was a publicly available forum for him to express himself did not determine that he would go on to actually carry out his threats. It would be just as valid to speculate that showing off to the world via the internet is a means of satisfying an attention-seeking urge.

That disturbed people turn to violence, occasionally with lethal consequences, is not new. What is relatively new is the way that this despair can find resonance in the wider cultural antipathy towards humanity. When Saari expressed his contempt for mankind, he was not only echoing the misanthropy of his spree-killing forerunner and compatriot, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, he was simply mimicking an outlook which is regarded as mainstream and intellectually valid.

For example, James Lovelock, doyen of the environmental movement, has described humanity in no less unflattering terms than Saari: ‘Humans on Earth behave in some ways like a pathogenic organism, or like the cells of a tumour or neoplasm. We have grown in numbers and disturbance to Gaia, to the point where our presence is perceptibly disturbing….the human species is now so numerous as to constitute a serious planetary malady. Gaia is suffering from Disseminated Primatemaia, a plague of people.’ From intellectuals like John Gray, to campaign groups like the Optimum Population Trust, human beings are seen as the biggest problem of all.

There is little that can be done to prevent lunatics like Saari from commiting murder. But challenging the anti-human mood in modern society, that clearly gives legitimacy to such nihilism, is an urgent task.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

Previously on spiked

Frank Furedi pointed out that the 18-year-old who went on a shooting spree in Finland last year followed a cultural script of misanthrophy and that both the Finnish teenager and Britain’s ‘Lyrical Terrorist’ were products of the globalisation of misanthropy. Previously, Furedi called the Virginia Tech massacre ‘a random act without meaning’. Kevin Yuill argued that no law can stop a school shooting spree. Brendan O’Neill examined Britain’s gun culture. Or read more at spiked issue Guns and shootings.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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