(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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