In the book of Genesis, when God makes creatures to accompany man on Earth, he gives Adam the task of naming them.

Since even before Genesis was written down, from Ancient Egypt to the Harry Potter books, we have obsessed over the power of a name. We are still at it.

Opening a session of Parliament, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the accused Christchurch white supremacist and mass killer a "criminal" who was desperate for fame.

"That is why you will never hear me mention his name," she declared. "He will, when I speak, be nameless."

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In a 74-page manifesto the Christchurch accused sent out before he gunned down at least 50 people, including a 3-year-old child, he denied he did it for fame.

We should not, of course, simply take him at his word. No doubt, he is now well on the way to ascending some heroic, racist, mass-murdering hierarchy in the historical epic in which he has trapped himself.

So perhaps, you might think, the only appropriate response is indeed to diagnose a case of psychopathic narcissism and consign the killer to an ignominious anonymity while tightening up gun laws.

The awkward fact, though, is that the suspect is neither mad nor stupid. He is pursuing a coherent ideology and I'm afraid it is one that, although they would stop short of endorsing his violent means, a surprising number of people quietly support.

He sees the world through the prism of race.

The truth is that such notions of racial hierarchy are probably more common than uncommon in much of the world. Whether it's Kenya's Kikuyus and Luos, Han Chinese imperialism or American white supremacism, millions of people define themselves in tribal terms, though most of them aren't violent.

The accused's iteration of these ideas weaves together selective readings of genetic studies with folklore and nationalist history.

There are several ways to combat this hateful ideology.

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You can argue the science, in particular the false idea that modern racial categories correlate in any way to the population structures of the past.

You can examine the troubled psychology of people who have such a great need to believe in stark, black-and-white interpretations of human society (many of them, like the suspect, lost their fathers at a young age).


You can debate what socio-economic conditions make such beliefs more likely.

You can talk about the way ideas propagate via new media, video games and celebrity culture.

All of these are valid but I have yet to hear a coherent reason why refusing to name the perpetrator of a terrible crime, whose name, manifesto and murderous video footage is already embedded in the fabric of the internet, will help us to stop this sickness from spreading.

Ardern means well and, insofar as she is taking a stand against the nihilistic hunger for fame, there is a kernel of reason in her thinking.

But, it is ultimately a futile and empty gesture.

We have to engage not just in the meta-debate about sociological causes, but the content, the ideas, the substance.

We have to debunk the fantasy world of the modern "knights templar", gunning down toddlers and peaceful worshippers in the name of Europe's war dead.

If we refuse to name the criminal, we cannot address the crime.