The price of a humane society

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by Neil Godfrey

One bright light has shone out of the hideously incomprehensible crime of Josef Fritzl in Austria. His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, is quoted as saying that he was “not defending a monster but a human being, even if that is hard to take for some people.”

Mayer is also reported to have said he has received threatening letters and I don’t doubt that he has.

It’s the likes of Josef Fritzl that put our humanity, our civil society, to the test. If we try to distance outselves so completely from such a person by thinking of him as something other than a fellow human, whose acts are in some literal sense “inhuman”, then we are still living in a dark age of knifing sacrificial victims to our ignorant and murderous impulses.

It’s the fact that Josef Fritzl IS a human, that he IS one of us, that needs to sober us, not tailspin us into denial. It’s his humanity that makes him a mirror, or a teacher of what we are capable of, given his particular neuronal wirings. That sounds on the surface like a trivialization of his acts. But what it says to me is just how fragile we all are, and how important is the nature of our society.

This may all sound puerile academic abstraction out of touch with reality. But anyone who has personally been pushed to the very edge of extreme limits and survived to come back again to normalcy will know it’s very much in touch with exactly what we really are and can become.