The word "psychic" has come to mean "supernatural" in popular usage, but in fact it merely means "of the mind" -- which obedient medium can often transmit ideas and emotions with astonishing speed. None is more potent than hate, which can pass through a community like plague rats, spreading the bubonic toxins of irrationality and murder.
This is no new discovery. It is as old as Cain and Abel. And we saw the psychic power of hate with a paradoxical synchronicity last week. On Thursday, Mark Stroman was executed in Texas for the random murders of two Asians in "revenge" for 9/11. The same day, the remains of Adolf Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, were dug up in Wunsiedel, Bavaria, to prevent neo-Nazis treating his grave as a shrine. The next day came Norway's Calvary, the greatest one-man act of unadulterated wickedness that has occurred in my lifetime.
It is hard to believe now, and 20-somethings might not even understand it, but 15 years ago, suicide bombing was regarded as a bizarre and almost unanalysable act of lunacy that could only be the very rare deed of either the clinically insane or the demented zealot. The Israelis, being the first to assess what made a suicide bomber, initially assumed that there were certain predictable psychological, domestic, or social conditions, involved. They soon made a shocking discovery: the very existence of the phenomenon was sufficient for it to become self-sustaining. No "type" of person became a suicide bomber. Suicide bombing was what made a suicide bomber.
The Israelis revealed their research to western intelligence agencies, which responded sceptically. There had to be a causal connection, surely; family bereavement by Israeli forces, or poverty, or religious indoctrination. Yes, agreed the Israelis, all these might be factors: but the most important factor was the very existence of the phenomenon itself. This theory was treated with profound scepticism by outsiders. Nine years ago I was at a security conference at Oxford for journalists, academics and senior military officers: the idea of such a self-perpetuating practice was still being dismissed.
One army general present then visited Israel. He was shown a graph of Israeli expectations of suicide bomb attacks in Iraq, with Israeli profiles of the sort of people expected to become suicide bombers -- namely, no type. He was profoundly sceptical. Within a year, both forecasts had proved correct. As the Taliban campaign began in Afghanistan, he told me that it was absolutely vital that there not be even one suicide bombing: for one must soon mean many. He contacted me after the first suicide bombing. That's it, he said: now watch them spread. And spread they did.
Mankind is compulsively replicative. To revisit a recent column, the human mind is extremely susceptible to the involuntary transmission of "memes", the psychic equivalent of genes. These both have a life of their own, and they mutate. Abominable conduct begets the even more abominable: the notional pretext for the founding deed is not necessary for that deed then to be repeated. Evil fathers further evil. The context that once justified is soon unnecessary.
The author of Norway's Golgotha is, with a wearying liberal predictability, said to be a "right-wing Christian extremist". This is as useful as saying Hitler was a vegetarian, or Mao was a womaniser. Psychosis does not have an outside reason or a belief to drive it. It merely has to see what is possible, and then does it. The slaughter on the blissful Eden that was Utoya is unrelated to whatever "cause" the killer was allegedly serving; the killings themselves were the cause. If normal people can become suicide bombers, what happens to the deranged when they see the glorious possibilities revealed by Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and other realms where Islamic fundamentalism has liberated people from the restraints and taboos of civilisation? The meme not merely evolved; it has leapt species.
Kubrick's masterpiece, '2001 -- a Space Odyssey' was right: we are violent chimpanzees who write books and occasionally send rockets to the moon. The good never inspire us in the way that the evil do: which is why Hess's body had to be disposed of, and Eichmann's, and Osama bin Laden's, lest worshippers gather at their graves. Who celebrates the name of the Rais Bhuiyan, the Muslim who was shot and wounded during Mark Stroman's homicide spree, and who pleaded for the murderer to be spared? "Killing him is not the answer," this peaceful follower of the Prophet declared. For what giver of mercy is ever revered in human society as war leaders are? No, not Gandhi: for he was not adored so much for his pacifism, as for his nationalism: how else would his "followers" have perpetrated such unspeakable deeds in 1947-48?
Everyone lies about their heroes. The Americans revere Lincoln, the inventor of total war and unconditional surrender. The British venerate Churchill, who throughout his life revelled in violence. The men of 1916, who caused hundreds of deaths, and who died well after most of their victims, have been re-invented by Irish nationalists as peace-loving innocents and poets: a quite fabulous reversal of reality. Yes, literally fabulous. For we are no more than recovering-cannibals, desperately weaving vegan myths out of the gore-soaked tatters of our history.