Teaching Evil to Norwegians
Norway has been linked to grandiose notions of evil for centuries. In the Middle Ages, some Europeans believed the country was full of witches, and in the 1990s, the country’s black-metal scene made headlines for alleged ties to satanism, burning shit, and even murder. Though Norway’s crime rate is laughably low when compared with most of the world, the country’s fascination with evil is still apparent and widespread. And this fall, Norwegians’ preoccupation with wickedness will manifest itself in its most insidious form: a university class.
Last March, Soltun, a folkhøgskole (a school Norwegians attend for one year after secondary school) in the town of Harstad, announced that it will be offering a new course devoted to a yearlong in-depth study of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. According to the official description of the course, which is simply called Ondskap (“Evil”), pupils who enroll will experience “one year when you get to explore who you are and at the same time try to find answers to questions that carry with them gruesome, grotesque, and horrible actions.” The class’s instructor, Kristine Edith Morton, explained to me exactly what that means.
VICE: First thing’s first. Are you evil?
Kristine Edith Morton: I believe that everybody has something evil inside, and that this surfaces during certain circumstances. Everyone knows it’s there. During my classes I won’t try to find the answer to evil, but I will analyze it, tear it apart, and try to understand it. Understanding evil is the gateway to being good.
Are Norwegians keener to venture to the dark side than other nationalities?
Maybe, but I also think evil has made its comeback in Norway with Anders Behring Breivik [who, in 2011, was responsible for a brutal shooting spree that resulted in 69 deaths]. It’s pretty much established that he is evil, although there are still supporters of his ideology. In my class, we will reflect upon what it is in our society that allows us to think those kinds of thoughts. We will also consider things like, is a deed still evil when you think you’re doing something good? Young people need to answer questions like that.
What else will be included in your curriculum?
It would be interesting to have people who worship Satan as guest lecturers. To let them tell their stories, and see if the students find that kind of thing appalling or appealing. I’d like to put evil and good up against each other. For example, we can reflect on the similarities between Hitler and Mother Theresa. Were they driven by internal motivations or were they products of their times? After nine months of reflection about things like these, I would like to think that my students will hopefully be able to go out into the world and do some good.
Read more from our The World Hates You issue:
Are We Finally Heading Toward World Peace?
In the rasping, screamed words of Cro-Mags, “World peace can’t be done. It just can’t exist.” Then again, one of the band’s former members was arrested for stabbing two of the current members last summer, so they’re maybe not the best source to rely on when it comes to matters of peace.
I’ll tell you what kind of people normally are reliable, though: scientists. So when I heard that some of them from the University of Oslo and the Center for the Study of Civil War have been analyzing the history of internal conflicts across the globe to determine what the future holds for the human race—and concluded that things are set to get a lot more peaceful—I thought I should give them a call. Half because I was interested in how they decided that we’re all going to be a lot nicer to each other and half because I wanted to make sure they weren’t all idealistic hippies in lab coats.
I spoke to Håvard Hegre from the University of Oslo to find out how the world is going to get better.
VICE: Hi Håvard. Can you give me a quick rundown of your study?
Håvard Hegre: Yeah, it looks at factors associated with internal conflicts within countries—stuff like past conflicts, population size, poverty, and a few other things—and relates them to projections from the UN and the IRASA in Vienna to try and foresee the future of internal conflicts around the world. When we paired the statistics, we saw that conflicts will decrease steadily in the coming years. We predict a decrease from about 17 percent of countries involved in internal conflict to about seven percent.
That sounds good. Does that mean world peace is in the cards?
Well, that may be a bit optimistic. Previous studies have shown a massive decrease in violence in general, though. I do think that people will always use violence, but it’s becoming rarer and rarer in modern society compared to medieval society. But no, I don’t think that world peace is ever going to happen.
That’s a shame. I noticed that one of the factors you mentioned affecting conflict is oil—do you think that resources running out could spark a rise in violence?
It’s possible, yeah. One explanation of the decline is that warfare is becoming massively costly, destroying economic links between individuals, countries, and groups within societies. Engaging in conflict puts you at risk of severing those links and losing out on money. Oil is one of the things that’s still profitable enough to go to war over, but if an alternative is found, the economic benefits of fighting for it will be greatly decreased. I think natural resources are becoming less important over time, but it’s difficult to predict.