Insanity on Trial


The trial of Anders Breivik, who confessed to killing 77 people last summer in Norway, has become a test of the concept of insanity with teams of psychiatrists dueling over Breivik’s mental status at the time of the murders.

Article → Related items:
Experts defend schizophrenia diagnosis for Norway killer
Authors defend report finding Breivik delusional
Breivik trial: Psychiatric reports scrutinised


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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. I’m from Finland, close to Norway, so I’ve been through some heated discussion around this topic. More and more I think about this case, the more I think that the common psychiatric diagnoses don’t make a sense.

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  2. Nope, insanity is strictly a sexual disease.

    The man committed an Act of War. He invested time, work and craft. It was political, and his targets were precise. If he had shot up a grocery store, that would be deranged.

    Maybe his only real mistake is not being a member of a “legal” killing machine. If he is said to be “insane”, then common sense ought to reveal that ALL governments on this planet with military and armies, who KILL FOR A REASON, are also “insane”. Please, get the terms for conditions correct.

    Hear. I’ll show you the difference between madness and insanity.

    This is madness:

    RAGE against the machine

    Sound of Madness

    This is insanity:
    Gary Numan
    Mindless Self Indulgence
    Mindless Self Indulgence
    USE SOAP!!!
    This one isn’t insane at all and if you believe that, this world is truly lost forever.
    This one is a direct hit on the one above.
    Insane Clown Posse – Mad, Insane or otherwise – you be the judge.

    I have *unlimited* songs and other videos that communicate insanity. And madness. And the *distinct* difference between those two things.

    Here is a great example of that which is NOT mad or insane

    How many active wars are killing people, on this planet, right now?

    Are they all insane?

    What is the difference between an “insane” killing and killing that is NOT “insane”?

    Are any killings ever sane?

    What is a sanitarium?

    What is sanitary?

    What is sanity?

    Can anyone ever kill with a perfectly clean mind?


    By the way, if you want to convict a man of a war crime, you don’t have to call him insane to do so. If you’re trying to decide where he belongs, everyone already knows the answer to that.

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  3. The other thing I want to point out it the error of wanting to determine his “condition at the time of the crime”.

    His condition on that day is entirely irrelevant, since he put so much time and work into planning. What matters is the beginning point – when he first formed his concept and empowered it with intent.

    According to wikipedia, he “claims that he started a nine-year-plan to finance the attacks in 2002… ”

    His “condition” on that day is entirely irrelevant.

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  4. I think this quote from the article sums it up really well:

    the Board of Forensic Medicine was forced to answer numerous questions regarding how it was possible to have two highly differing psychiatric conclusions.

    If anything the one thing this case is highlighting is that psychiatrists have no idea at all of what they are doing!!

    And for those that use the argument that in mental health he can be detained for life, my understanding is that he can be given a 21 year sentence for each person he killed, which is 77 and so he would never be released. While it is true that Norway does normally serve sentences concurrently, that would nto make it impossible for them to be consecutive, as far as I am aware. Of course the most logical solution is to simply change the law, and the government can easily do that.

    One does have to laugh though at the public demonstration that is going on about psychiatrists unable to decide what condition he has or whether he actually has any condition at all. Killing someone is not a sign of insaniety, even though it is hardly normal.

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