Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech: A string of failures -- and one glaring failure tops them all.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, Nicholas Provenzo notes that "like most disasters, it seems that the [Virginia Tech] massacre wasn't caused by just one failure, but by a string of failures."

Perhaps "caused" might state it too strongly, after all it wasn't those who failed who pulled the triggers, but there was one signal failure that does top them all, as Dr Michael Hurd points out.

Hurd notes that same failure in all those had observed the killer in the weeks before the massacre -- the killer's room-mate; the killer's creative-writing teacher; the killer's poetry teacher -- all of whom saw something that deeply disturbed them, but all of whom failed to act. Specifically, says Hurd, what they failed to do was to pass judgement.
Come on... You can say it. Go ahead, I dare you. Say it. He was EVIL. He was BAD. He was not quantitatively different from your average, stressed out college student...he was qualitatively different. He acted with choice, no less so than the 9/11 killers, the Columbine killers, or the Oklahoma City killers. It's not mental pain or anguish. It's hatred and evil.
Yet as Hurd indicates [notes Provenzo], look just how reluctant these three individuals are to describe evil--that is, a substantive threat to the living and the good--as the thing it is.

If the take-way from this tragedy is that people like Cho--that is, the viciously amoral and depraved--are helpless victims who only needed our "love" and "compassion" understanding" to deter them from their path, I think we will only pave the road for the next unspeakable tragedy. There are people who choose to be utterly nihilistic, and it is our right to defend ourselves against them.
Evil exists, and it's right both to identify it, and to defend yourself against it. On that last point, more at my 32 Dead post. We are entitled to take nihilists seriously when they say they're intent on destruction.
You can't be friends with a nihilist hell-bent on destruction. Evil is not the same as emotional conflict. If you still don't understand this in the aftermath of the tragedy, then you're never going to understand it; and the way is paved for another one, and another one after that. Killers flourish in a psychological atmosphere where their potential victims think like this. This man didn't need counseling, and never would have benefited from it. He needed to be stopped, back when he was stalking women and making threats, and otherwise violating the individual rights of those on a campus.
But he wasn't stopped, and all because of a failure to pass judgement. To conclude here though, here's a timely quote from Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (contained in The Voice of Reason):
The next time you hear about a crazed gang of juvenile delinquents, don't look for such explanations as 'slum childhood,' 'economic underpriviledge,' or 'parental neglect.' Look at the moral atmosphere of the country, at the example set by their elders and by their public leaders.
What is the moral state of a culture in which it is too politically incorrect to pass judgement?

29 Comments:

Blogger Josh said...

I'm surprised to see libertarians so keen on the concept of evil. Appeals to "evil" are the moral equivalent of creationism -- they explain nothing.

Worse than this, they take away personal responsibility, both from the "evil" person (if someone is just evil, of course they're going to do evil things) and from the rest of us (since only evil people do these things, and I'm not evil, I don't need to examine my own actions).

Sure, go ahead and pass judgement, but try to give your judgements some substance. Evil is a concept best left in fairy stories - the real world is much more scary and complex.

4/19/2007 02:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

Appeals to evil explain *nothing*??

Right. So Josef Mengele wasn't such a bad sort. Neither was Peter Sutcliffe. And Fred West was a misunderstood sweetie at heart.

No fairy stories, there. Tragically for their victims, these evil individuals existed.

And how being 'evil' could ever excuse their being personally responsible for their actions, as you state in your second paragraph, is nonsensical. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Evil: morally wrong or bankrupt, wicked.

That's about as scary as it gets AFAIC.

4/19/2007 03:09:00 pm  
Anonymous jc said...

Let's *not* look at the moral atmosphere of the country and the elders and leaders. That's just doing more of the same blame ourselves attitude that sees us excusing false rape complainants as "tragic".

We've all got free will and the right and responsibility to exercise it. Do it wrong, and you get punished ASAP.

JC

4/19/2007 03:19:00 pm  
Blogger Josh said...

Sus: Um, what? Of course Mengele and the others were bad people who did horrible things; things which were obviously, inexcusably morally wrong. You don't need the word "evil" to say that.

The problem with "evil" is that it implies some sort of inherent quality that some people just posess and others don't (that quote from Hurd says as much). There's no explanatory power there - "Why did he do that?" "He's just evil."

I find it much scarier to think that ordinary people just like me are capable of horrible acts -- that, given different circumstances, maybe even I could be.

4/19/2007 03:23:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

PC defined Evil in his post Josh..

".... are to describe evil--that is, a substantive threat to the living and the good--as the thing it is."

Evil is objective where man nature is concerned...its that which acts to destroy human life and the ability to live as a human being should .Thats why Murder,rape,theft,slavery can be defined as evil....because they attack and destroy humanity.

"Sure, go ahead and pass judgement, but try to give your judgements some substance. Evil is a concept best left in fairy stories - the real world is much more scary and complex."


If you are using the Religious definition of "Evil" though its no wonder you are confused here...

4/19/2007 03:29:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

I said before that...

"Evil is objective where man nature is concerned...its that which acts to destroy human life and the ability to live as a human being should"
"
I should clarify that in defining Evil" I meant acts perpetrated by human beings against others....not acts of nature or non moral agents like hungry lions or the Ebola virus etc...while life threatening and nasty the actions of these things are without conscious thought or malignant intent....as far as we know!

4/19/2007 03:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Robert Winefield said...

Latest news is that some of those who recognised his problems did do something. After complaints about his stalking women Cho was examined by mental health professionals. He was lucid and articulate and intelligent enough to be calm and non-threatening at that exam. The doctors arranged for some out-patient treatment (because he didn't meet the criteria for his being detained against his will).

Had that information be logged into the ATF database it is possible that he would have been denied prevented from purchasing his guns through legal channels.

Though that probably wouldn't have stopped him. As a former Engineering student he had the intelligence and excess to construct practically bombs and such.

As I asked previously, this is partly a problem with the mental health system and the justice system. One of the reasons VT didn't do more is that they weren't allowed to by law. Virginia state law prohibits State Universities from expelling someone on the grounds of poor scholarship or disruptive behaviour (so FOXnews reported today).

There are also privacy laws that inhibited VT, the Police and others from being informed about Cho's visit to the psychiatrists.

And then you have the ligetious nature of America. Slander or libel someone here and you'll have civil lawyers crawling over you like flies.

I don't pretend to know what the answer to the Cho's of this world is exactly, but I think it lies somewhere in the issues I've outlined above.

4/19/2007 03:41:00 pm  
Anonymous george said...

Political Correctness is not one side of an argument in a clash of valid ideas.

It is a cowardly war against the truth where the PC side does not want to debate what's right or wrong. It just wants the truth to shut up.

4/19/2007 03:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

"Of course Mengele and the others were bad people who did horrible things; things which were obviously, inexcusably morally wrong. You don't need the word "evil" to say that."

Why not? 'Evil' in my dictionary is defined as, I repeat, 'morally bankrupt and wicked'. That's what they were; that's what I call them.

"No explanatory power"?

The definition's been given several times. I don't see your point at all.

4/19/2007 04:03:00 pm  
Blogger Lyndon said...

Surely the question is whether appropriate action was taken in the face of such evidence as there was.

I would have thought the doing-something would be so much more significant than casting judgement as to make the latter immaterial.

4/19/2007 04:04:00 pm  
Blogger Lyndon said...

And calling it 'evil' doesn't in itself suggest how one should proceed. You have to deal with the details of the matter.

4/19/2007 04:07:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

"And calling it 'evil' doesn't in itself suggest how one should proceed. You have to deal with the details of the matter."

Of course...but before you can deal with something you must define what you need to deal WITH...evil describes what we are facing...are we just squabbling over a word?

4/19/2007 04:14:00 pm  
Blogger Eric Olthwaite said...

Josh is absolutely correct. "Evil", like "Creationism" has no explantory power. All you do is move the problem back a step.

"Where did life come from?"
"God did it"

Explains nothing. Just moved everything back a step.

"So where did God come from then?"

It's the same with "Evil"

"Why did he do that?"
"Because he was Evil"

Explains nothing. Just moved everything back a step.

"So why was he Evil?"

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't pass value judgements. Of course we should. but "Evil" is just that - a value judgement, not an explanation.

4/19/2007 04:15:00 pm  
Blogger Eric Olthwaite said...

No James, "Evil" doesn't describe what we are facing, it judges what we are facing.

Describing what we are facing invoves doing just that, describing.

"Person 'x' is doing action 'y' for reasons 'z'"

4/19/2007 04:18:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Josh, you say, "Appeals to "evil" ... explain nothing."

And then you say: "Mengele and the others were bad people who did horrible things; things which were obviously, inexcusably morally wrong. "

Well, yes they were, and if I might ask you what, in a word, you might
call bad people who do horrible things? What, in a word, would be obviously, inexcusably morally wrong?

It starts with an 'e' -- and I don't mean a small pill with a happy face.

Evil is real, but it's nothing to so with religion, or the lack thereof. Evil is the virulently anti-life: the irrational, the blind, the destructive, the nihilistic.

Culturally, nihilism these days gets a free ride, largely because as Hurd says, too many people have been culturally disarmed from making judgements.

Evil on its own is impotent, all it needs very often is for good mean to do nothing -- or as Ayn Rand said it, in a way appropriate to our culture in which apologies and appeasement are our leitmotif, "The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles."

You might agree perhaps that Mengele was evil, but what about Che? Or that Hitler was evil, but what about Lenin?

4/19/2007 04:29:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"I would have thought the doing-something would be so much more significant than casting judgement as to make the latter immaterial."

But what one does depends first of all one's judgement of the facts before us.

4/19/2007 04:30:00 pm  
Blogger Lyndon said...

But what one does depends first of all one's judgement of the facts before us.

I think it's fairly clear my comment refers to moral 'judgement'.

It's partly that the post makes it sound like declaring him evil would have made a difference in itself. Which I don't see.

The natural facts are the ones you have to deal with.

4/19/2007 04:50:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

JC, you said, "Let's *not* look at the moral atmosphere of the country and the elders and leaders. That's just doing more of the same blame ourselves attitude that sees us excusing false rape complainants as "tragic"."

Well, I don't agree. The culture is awash with relativism, in which making judgements is unfashionable, in which all actions are judged as morally equal, (but some of which are just, somehow less equal than others). That seems unarguable.

Now, that culture didn't just appear from nowhere, and neither do the truly evil bastards who thrive in it. It was set by the so-called intellectual leaders of this and previous generations, those leaders who preached relativism, subjectivism and crawling appeasement to evil to successive generations of eager adherents of both appeasement, and of evil.

Seeing it was Ayn Rand's answer with which you disagreed, perhaps I should let her answer you (from her article 'Altruism as Appeasement'):

"The truly and deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser's intellectual abdication that that invites them to take over. When a culture's dominant trend is geared to irrationality [as our's is], the thugs win over the appeasers. When intellectual leaders fail to foster the best in the mixed, unformed, vacillating character of people at large, the thugs are sure to bring out the worst. When the ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes."

4/19/2007 05:06:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"'Evil' ... has no explanatory power. All you do is move the problem back a step."

Well, yes it does, just like every concept that has referents in the real world.

whatever you thing it might be, the nature of evil is something that's certainly worthy of study, and in a nihilistic culture it's something worth understanding.

Understanding the nature of evil gives it explanatory power; correspondingly, making the judgement that someone is evil -- identifying the fact that they are evil; ie., anti-life, or a threat to human life) -- should lead someone to taking the appropriate action.

Identification of the fact should necessitate action, not provide and an excuse for inaction.

4/19/2007 05:15:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Lyndon, in reply to my comment ("But what one does depends first of all one's judgement of the facts before us."), you said, "I think it's fairly clear my comment refers to moral 'judgement'."

Are you suggesting that moral judgement (which requires no scare quotes) is not an identification of facts?

4/19/2007 05:33:00 pm  
Blogger Oswald Bastable said...

Evil is there, Evil is real!

You can get into splitting hairs and go all philosophical about it, but it exists.

There are indeed people devoid of all moral worth.

If you don't believe that, take a job as a Policeman or Prison Officer...

4/19/2007 05:41:00 pm  
Anonymous Hamish said...

I have to agree Eric - saying something is Evil is meaningless.

But that isn't really the point. Even if someone was acting in an imbalanced way you cannot seriously think that the people around him could have expected him to take such extreme measures. I doubt that anyone who was in contact with him had any previous experience of mass-murder-suicide candidates, nor did they think that if he was to do something drastic that it would be on anything like this scale.

Saying it was predictable is grossly unfair to those without the benefit of hindsight.

4/19/2007 07:12:00 pm  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

Josh, sus, george, rw, Eric, PC et al.

Oh you proabaly are all evil. You just haven't been sufficeintly motivated.

If the classic unpleasantness of totalitarian Germany and Russia taught me anything it's that given the right stress most people will either join a police batallion or stand by and mumble.
Considering the results it could objectively be called "evil".

Also, it's just too easy to pin "evil" on the Nazis again, which locks it safely in history. False, naive, cloistered even, to think you/we/I are "post-Evil".

"Evil" doesn't have to be mythical. It's used here, I think, as an absolute rejection of what is considered loving, worthy, civil, and acceptable. If you reject evil you also blunten your ability to assess "good".

Also, by prohibiting "evil" you disable our ability to communicate about it. Why reject "evil" alone, go on and also reject 'good', 'beauty' etc.

Last, don't over-rate the psychiatric profession's ability to cope with and successfully treat such people.

4/19/2007 08:36:00 pm  
Anonymous Robert Winefield said...

"Josh, sus, george, rw, Eric, PC et al.

Oh you proabaly are all evil. You just haven't been sufficeintly motivated. "

Here's a judgement for you George: You're an idiot.

You argument belongs in the rubbish tin right along with classics like "all men are latent rapists/pedophiles (they have the ability, but haven't encountered the opportunity & motivation you see)" and "all heterosexual contact is rape (because unenlightened women have been conditioned from birth to tow the heterosexual line in this fascist male dominated society. Their free will has thus been retarded and they can't make fully informed decisions -- notice how this radical feminist argument trashes every heterosexual womans intelligence...)"

4/20/2007 03:37:00 am  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

Robert Winefield,

PC quoted Rand:
"Look at the moral atmosphere of the country. Look at he example set by the leaders and elders."

So if your were a boy born to an aristocratic Prussian family with a military pedigree around the year 1900 don't you think it likely that you might be placed in a position to do what most people would describe as "evil".

You might have been a hero, a righteuos person. You might have been part of the bomb-plot!
Chances are though you'd be running around eastern europe been a pest.

Apply similar scenario to being a commie mobster.

However, you're not a WW2 Prussian officer or commie mobster and neither am I, nor anyone else here. I'm glad I'm not placed to make such a dramatic judgement about evil. I suspect the euthusiasm to mock "evil" is becasue our modern moral choices lack the high drama of a totalitarian soldier.

RW, that is the point you miss by a mile. What contributes to your perspective on "evil" and how do you judge. How vigilant are you to the various evil behaviours and structures within society?

In other words, do you think your society put under economic, social, and military stress would produce grey-men mobsters, bovine mumblers, or white rose activists?

I'd wager we'd go for the grey-men and the mumblers.

4/20/2007 10:39:00 am  
Anonymous George said...

Dear Robert, thanks for that...always good for the humility to be corrected by those that are sage.

Am at a loss here though where you went with the argument. Help me out as I put it another way.

When being factually correct is superseded by being 'politically correct' the consensus should be called bullshit. Shouting down facts does not make them disappear. It just makes the holders of the reverse to be loud idiots.

4/20/2007 11:53:00 am  
Blogger Lyndon said...

There are indeed people devoid of all moral worth.

If you don't believe that, take a job as a Policeman or Prison Officer...


Part of my problem with throwing the word 'evil' around is that it's easy to throw around and probably won't help, especially when applied to whole people rather than behaviour. I think Police and Prison Officers treating people as evil has bad consequences.

...

Anyhow, I'm in this thread because I wondered if there had been some crossed-purposes earlier.

If 'evil' actually means 'opposed to life' (I'll accept that for the sake of argument) then 'they didn't recognise him as evil' means 'they did not recognise he was opposed to life'. They missed an unlikely fact that he was presumably trying to conceal.

That is only a failure on their part if they should have known - if they had enough information on him and enough knowledge of people to think he was an immediate risk of something horrible. And had any reason to ask that question of anyone in the first place.

That's not a judgment I'm prepared to make, and I think it show arrongance and a lack of imagination to make it.

The tone of your post seems to be suggesting they don't think evil is bad. That doesn't sound likely to me.

4/20/2007 05:13:00 pm  
Blogger Lyndon said...

Are you suggesting that moral judgement (which requires no scare quotes) is not an identification of facts?

Consider the quotes an anomaly. It wasn't to do with the 'moral'.

I find it sensible to draw a distiction between moral judgment and judgment of the facts of the matter. As in, people may agree on the physical details of the thing but disagree as to whether it's right or wrong.

Making a moral judgment requires an assessment of the physical facts but I think there is more to it. I don't want to get into meta-ethics just now, though.

4/20/2007 05:26:00 pm  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

Lyndon said:

"If 'evil' actually means 'opposed to life' (I'll accept that for the sake of argument) then 'they didn't recognise him as evil' means 'they did not recognise he was opposed to life'."

Curiously, we can not decide on what is life within our own species let alone what is valuable within other species...

"As in, people may agree on the physical details of the thing but disagree as to whether it's right or wrong."

This may tie in with my above ramble. People are very good at deciding on 'evil' when it is dramatic and/or locked in history but finder harder to discern when it is mundane, proximate, and may include their participation.

Subsequently 'evil' is kicked to touch as a philosophical conversation piece or something that criminals, or corporations, not something I am involved with.

4/21/2007 11:44:00 am  

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