2008-05-05

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.

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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “The price of a humane society”

  1. Even wolves kill their sick? What? How is that an argument for what human society should do. Even chimps throw their poo. Accordingly, we should all throw our poo.

    What sets humans apart is their ability to reason, and to have “bleeding hearts”–and when did empathy seize to be an admirable trait? If this guy is sick (an argument I buy) then we shouldn’t be killing him. We should be treating him. If not, then why have hospitals at all. If you get sick, let’s kill you. It’s what the wolves do.

  2. I feel no sympathy. I can’t help but hate him. That is why I am appreciative that we have developed societies that have systematized humane values.

    When we stop demonizing our villains we will understand more honestly what we really are — and stop kidding ourselves — we will have moved another step towards what makes the human species something special.

    To say he is a human being in the biological sense is to admit he IS one of us. Human beings are like all species biological from birth to death. Including our minds and personalities. (It only takes slight interference with our biology to alter or destroy both.) Some of us need to be locked away from where they can do harm. But I see no justification for being like him, which is what we would be if we treated him barbarically too. Unlike wolves, humans are capable of evaluating and directing their evolutionary heritage.

  3. Even wolves kill their sick. Culling the outliers of society keeps their infectious behavior limited. He is human in the biological sense, but not one of us. Your bleeding heart sympathy would change if you knew or were the victim. A culling of the herd is needed to keep the overall population healthy. He is essentially meat to be wasted.

  4. Why keep this man alive? To treat what? Maybe he will be a burden on Austria’s taxes. Very good. Maybe Ric can take care of him, or Sean can kill him. Everybody so worried about their own guilty feelings that they don want to take real action.

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