• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author

From Finland to west London: a culture of death?

Although they came from very different worlds, Pekka-Eric Auvinen and Samina Malik were the product of similar cultural influences. Auvinen was the Finnish school shooter, who shot seven pupils, his headmistress and then himself in southern Finland last week. Malik called herself the ‘Lyrical Terrorist’ and wrote poems about beheading ‘kafirs’: she was found guilty, at the Old Bailey in London last week, of possessing records likely to be useful for terrorism.

Both Auvinen and Malik’s young idealism seems to have been distorted and disoriented by today’s powerful zeitgeist, which encourages nihilistic and misanthropic thinking. Malik got off on watching videos of ‘Muslim brothers’ beheading their victims. Her poems fantasised about killing heathens. From the comfort of her bedroom in west London she warned: ‘Kafirs, your time will come soon, and no one will save you from your doom.’ Meanwhile, the heathen Finnish teenager Auvinen was also dreaming about exacting his revenge on his fellow humans. In a video he posted on the web, under the username Sturmgeist89, he boasted of being a ‘social Darwinist’ and declared that he would shortly launch ‘one man’s war against humanity’.

Of course, there are differences between these two troubled young people. Malik did not actually live out her fantasies; though she was convicted in a British court of terrorist offences, her ‘crime’ was to feel and think certain things and to express them in her writings. In contrast, Auvinen took that very rare and irreversible leap from thought to deed. One was a fervent Muslim and the other was a zealous ecologist. Outwardly their identities would seem to be radically different. And yet, as their rambling musings reveal, both are products of a culture that finds it difficult to invest the future with much meaning and which promotes a powerful feeling of loathing towards the human race.

Malik claimed that she adopted the username ‘Lyrical Terrorist’ because she thought it sounded ‘cool’. Auvinen described himself in more pretentious language, as a ‘cynical existentialist, anti-human humanist, anti-social social Darwinist, realistic idealist and godlike atheist’. In their choice of words, both seem to have known how to put on a show for a young audience in the early twenty-first century.

Finding an identity was very important to both Malik and Auvinen. Both seem to have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to constructing an identity that would get them noticed. In flaunting their personas and boasting about their outrageous desires, they seemed to be saying: ‘I am here. Please notice me.’ Through their online identities, the Lyrical Terrorist and Strumgeist89 transmitted images of themselves that they believed would resonate with their peers. And sadly, their violent fantasies and anti-humanist imaginations do indeed resonate with the temper of our times. While most young people are, of course, repelled by Auvinen/Strumgeist89’s murderous deeds, many are drawn to some of the sentiments he expressed in his anti-humanist statements.

The culture of death

It would appear that Auvinen internalised the extreme deep-ecological thinking that exists on the margins of Finnish society. His mother is allegedly linked with a movement that espouses the deep-green values of Pentti Linkola. Not well known outside of Finland, green thinker Linkola personifies today’s anti-humanism in a disturbingly consistent manner. He is an advocate of mandatory abortion and involuntary sterilisation and believes that millions of people need to perish if the planet is to survive. He told the Wall Street Journal that a Third World War would be a ‘happy occasion for the planet’ (1).  He believes that the ‘most fruitful way of viewing the humans is as an alien species’ and therefore ‘human mass deaths are always positive in the light of the population explosion’ (2).

School shooter Auvinen made a tribute video for Linkola before carrying out his killing spree. Auvinen’s mother has contributed to a deep-ecological magazine called Elonkehä, which Linkola also writes for.

What is striking about Linkola is the way that his misanthrophic worldview expresses the kind of ideas that motivated both Strumgeist89 and the Lyrical Terrorist, both Auvinen and Malik. Linkola is not simply a deep ecologist; he also loathes the West. In one article, he celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, since ‘those who died weren’t generally humans, but Americans’. So humans are bad enough, but Americans are even worse. That is why, according to Linkola, ‘the deep ecological protector of life, the guardian of life’s continuity, would certainly choose Allah when the going gets tough’ (3). In a language that the Lyrical Terrorist would readily comprehend, Linkola described the US as ‘The Enemy of the World’ (4).

It would be wrong to blame Linkola or any of Auvinen’s deep-ecological family members for the violent murder of eight people in a Finnish School. Ideas, even violent ideas, do not cause crime, and a democratic tolerant society recognises the right of people to harbour intolerant hateful views. It is not legitimate to blame children for the crimes of their parents, or parents for the crimes of their children. And tragically today, a venomous hatred for human civilisation is not confined to isolated groups of weird deep ecologists; rather such sentiments prevail in wider sections of Western society.

It is tempting to dismiss the ramblings of a Finnish deep green like Linkola as those of an eco-fascist, out of touch with reality. Unfortunately, however, his fundamental arguments about the dangers of human aspiration and achievement have achieved considerable influence in recent decades. Human beings are now regularly denounced for their impact on the planet. People simply living their everyday lives, especially those who dare to have ‘too many children’, are condemned for acting irresponsibly towards the environment.

Numerous international organisations (including the United Nations), as well as various environmentalist and Malthusian lobby groups, insist that there are too many of us on the planet, and that we make matters worse by living too hard or breathing too much. In a world where humanity is portrayed as a threat to the environment and the survival of the globe, the living of human life itself is regarded as a mixed blessing. Consequently, our concern with preserving and improving the quality of life of some individuals sits uneasily with an ever-shrill demand to prevent people from being born in the first place.

When ‘too much human life’ is looked upon as a negative thing, then life itself loses its special cultural meaning. Indeed, for some, reducing life is on the same ethical plane as upholding it. Some argue that ‘ecocentric ethics that value Earth and its evolved systems over species condemns the social acceptance of unlimited human fecundity’. From this perspective, reducing the number of humans that live on Earth is an ethical imperative. ‘This will be accomplished either by intelligent policies or inevitably by plague, famine, and warfare’, argue Ted Mosquin and Stan Rowe in their ‘Manifesto for Earth’ (5). Some seem to desire a non-human future. For deep ecologists, the issue is straightforward. In 1984, Arne Naess and George Sessions argued that a ‘substantial reduction in human population is needed for the flourishing of non-human life’. In a world troubled by the ecological footprint of humanity, such Malthusian sentiments are embraced by many thinkers and commentators. None of these commentators goes as far as someone like Linkola, much less Auvinen, but they all seem to find it difficult to endow human life with any special cultural status.

In modern times, young people have always been alienated and estranged from the world created by older generations. That is why they have often rebelled and sought to change the world for the better. No doubt there are many young people who continue to be motivated by a wonderful sense of idealism. But a rising number of young people today seem estranged not only from society, but from life itself. The nihilistic and misanthropic outlook that is so prevalent encourages a loathing for everything human. When a suicide bomber can inspire a shop assistant in west London who is struggling to find a voice, the consequences of our culture of death should be clear. Thankfully, incidents involving young people shooting their classmates remain very, very rare. But something has changed, and it is to do with the way young people are now encouraged to regard human life as a problem.

(1) Cited on Plausible Futures Newsletter

(2) See Elonkehä (The Biosphere),  26 September 2001

(3) See Elonkehä, 26 September 2006

(4) See Elonkehä, 26 February 2006

(5) ‘A Manifesto for Earth’, Mosquin & J. Stan Rowe , Biodiversity, vol.5, no.1

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