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    Evil Schmevil

    Evil Schmevil

    (K McCaffrey) — I’ve read two really fascinating articles in the past twenty-four hours. In Politico, Roger Simon delved into some interesting territory by discussing coverage of the Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner. In “Is Jared Loughner insane or just evil?” Simon looks at our modern aversion to calling someone evil – explaining bad actions by mental illness, not malice.

    Simon makes a good point, though it seems that there is a lot of evidence that corroborates a theory of insanity in Loughner’s particular case. Certainly there are bad people in the world and certainly some actions are without any good explanation. However, any broad definition of insanity seems to connote a serious distance between reality and an individual persons understanding of themselves or the world. Acting upon that derangement yields actions that make very little sense or meaning to the rest of us, but work within a skewed framework. Evil, on the other hand, I would define as a dissent from what is clearly understood to be in violation of some sort of agreement – more than likely to only benefit one person or progress a different idea. A mortal sin, not venial or the product of a misunderstanding by any measure.

    In another great article by PJ Byrne, writing in the Christian Science Monitor blog, there is a discussion of voluntary charity as the “secret to a libertarian state.” Byrne recounts an argument I have all the time about “human nature” with my leftist friends:

    I argue that the state should be minimal, and financial contributions to it should be voluntary as far as possible. To this, a social democrat reacts with disdain, and suggests the libertarian solution is unworkable as (1) it is not in people’s nature to be altruistic and (2) such services would go unfunded unless citizens were compelled to pay for them through taxation. Thus, the argument goes, the state is right to compel them.

    I find this reasoning unconvincing, but the frequency with which it is encountered merits discussion. This common view is evidence of a deep distrust of the forces of production, and an affinity for common control of them, that has been written into British and European cultural consciousness gradually over the past two hundred years. Generations of intellectuals have regarded free-market or libertarian beliefs as malicious, oppressive and delusional, bound to “so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests” (Marx, 1848), or as simple “selfishness” and “one and the same thing [as animality]” (Badiou, 2010).

    To be sure, under the conditions in which socialism first arose — a harsher time with pronounced class divisions, child labour, and other unpleasantness — socialist ideas may have had a stronger case. However, these conditions do not prevail today….

    While Byrne is not addressing the nature of insanity versus evil, he looks at the types of assumptions we carry when holding others accountable for their actions. I wonder what role that plays in discussing Loughner’s actions: I fall into the camp that holds that any severe violent statement like his must come from a perverse understanding of reality – not an act of malice. I like to think that most people who are “evil” violate a contract and try to reap the benefit from it – be it through fame, glory, or wealth – in a way where any person could easily delineate their motive. Nowadays it seems much harder to get away with “evil” actions like this, though.

    Of course, I could be totally off and my definitions could be hotly contested. Is Jared Loughner crazy or evil?

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    Comments


    By the way, this post is also blocked by Facebook. I suspect the whole blog is being blocked.

    I'll be watching the trial with intense interest. The two questions that are asked with insanity pleas are 1) was the person so insane he/she did not know what he was doing and 2) was the person so insane he did not know right from wrong … or was unable to judge the wrongness of his actions. Defender Judy Clark, who has represented Unabomber Ted Kazynski and Susan Smith (and saved them from the death penalty) and will now represent Jared Loughner, has her work cut out for her. She is a formidable attorney, well respected by her peers for her strategy, razor-sharp mind, and professional demeanor (although she has defended some of the most notorious killers, she does not make media appearances or write tell-all books). But this may be her toughest case yet. Jared Loughner left notes in his room that clearly show he knew what he was doing — that he was going to commit an assassination. He actually used the term "assassinate." It is already being surmised that she will argue for the second route, that Jared Loughner was unable to judge the wrongness of his actions because he was unable to distinguish between sleeping and waking states.

    I find Simon's article perplexing. In my experience, I haven't noticed any hesitation on the part of others to use the term evil to describe people who commit horrific acts while sane. Hitler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, the Columbine mastermind (can't remember which boy) — they personify evil in many people's minds and are called so regularly. They were not psychotic, they knew what they were doing. Their perceptions of reality were not skewed or really any different from anybody else's. But they committed unspeakable acts for either power, fame, entertainment, or sexual pleasure. That's not insanity. That's evil. And people point this out all the time.

    Hmm. I don't think it makes sense to say that a person _is_ evil, just as it doesn't make sense to say that a person _is_ good. Good and evil exist, but they are things which people can choose to align themselves with when they act rather than things they can _be_.

    Calling a person evil is a careless shorthand for saying that he performed some especially significant evil act.

    Watched a program last night on mental illness in America, specifically those who are paranoid-schizophrenics. OK, it was on PBS, but it was wrenching never the less. It followed several men who are living with the illness and how our current system sort of leaves them to their own devices in between their stints at local prisons. I don't think prison is the place for the mentally ill. I don't think the streets are, either. And a social worker saying, "Now, don't forget: you have to take your meds every day," as the man is released from prison is laughable. That is not treatment, nor is it a solution. These people are quite dangerous to themselves and others at large.

    I believe Loughner is mentally ill and I initially hoped that the crime would initiate dialog about the much-needed overhaul of our mental healthcare system. Instead, it's turned into an Alinsky seminar on how to surgically remove the First Amendment.

    I agree with Prof. Douglas: the behavior of the left in this is demonstrably evil. It is heartening to see conservatives finally pushing back en masse.


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