I’m weeks late to the instant reaction wave, but I finally just read Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s reflection on his countryman, the mass murderer Anders Breivik. The essay is titled ‘The Inexplicable’ and, I believe, perfectly expresses the innate randomness of the man’s unthinkable killing of 77 victims nearly four years ago:

I do not believe that Breivik himself has anything to teach us. I believe that his life is a coincidence of unfortunate circumstances, and what he did was such an anomaly that it makes no sense even to guard ourselves against it. We know that he grew up with a father who was not there for him, and with a mother who, without being aware of it, neglected him in ways that destroyed him so completely that, really, he had no chance. Part of his mother’s character was the inability to perceive herself in relation to others, even her own children. She had been abused as a child, and her narcissistic traits were reflected in her son. Nonetheless, the world is full of difficult childhoods—some people succumb, while others prevail, but no one murders sixty-nine people, one after another, single-handedly. The world is also full of people with narcissistic tendencies—I am one of them—and it is full of people who cannot empathize with others. And the world is full, too, of people who share Breivik’s extreme political ideas but who do not consider them ground to murder children and young people. Breivik’s childhood explains nothing, his character explains nothing, his political ideas explain nothing.

Knausgaard’s conclusions – ‘it makes no sense even to guard ourselves against it’ and, perhaps more boldly still, ‘his political ideas explain nothing’ – are as necessary as they are disturbing.

To be sure, I don’t exactly come to this with an unbiased perspective. Two years ago, after a ‘terrorist’ pair of brothers bombed the marathon in my hometown of Boston, I fretted about the budding consensus that the crime was somehow foreseeable.

Here there be dragons. The danger in parsing the thought-lives of Anders Breivik or Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in search of hidden clues is not in the specifics but in the theory. It follows that, if the heinous crimes of these deviant souls – acting alone or in concert with other, equally isolated persons – can be predicted with any accuracy, then it is our societal duty to do so.

But as Edward Snowden illustrated less than two months after the Boston Marathon bombing, setting ourselves such an exhaustive, and exhausting, task carries enormous costs of its own. Worse still, as we continue to learn on a frequent basis, even the extensive security apparatus with which we cloak our post-9/11 insecurities fails us time and again.

In short, we are simply unable to stop every last fanatic from exacting a devastating toll. And even if we had the capacity, at what cost the ‘victory?’

It does not matter, in the end, what created Anders Breivik.