Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Nov 29, 2012

Some Musings on Crime and Sense of Life

So, the book I've currently got stored in the Porcelain Reading Room--isn't that a clever euphemism? I thought so, too! sometimes I kill me--is my massive leather-bound volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  One of the things that struck me about Sir Doyle's stories is how benevolent even most of the criminals are.  I am not kidding.  Even the most dastardly and vile of them are after something simple and wholesome like money or revenge.  No nihilists here, just purposeful people in pursuit (haha alliteration!) of values.  It's just that some of them get confused due to emotion and use some spectacularly ugly means of pursuing their goals.  Still, it says something about your view of mankind when even your CRIMINALS are rational.

Compare this to TV crime dramas, where the motivations are much, much uglier.  Every flavor of insanity, religion, hate . . . and then, people with the most rational of motives who aren't doing anything criminal are often portrayed as monstrous, and clearly the law HAS to be stretched to cover their case!  Ugh.  It's night and day.

So, there's that.  But it brought to mind a quote from Terry Pratchett (paraphrase): "Most people will shy away from killing a complete stranger".  Which, from what I've read (admittedly an unscientific survey of anecdotes), is pretty much true.  Generally, if you're going to get killed, it'll be by someone you know.

Now you're probably wondering, okay, what the heck does this have to do with sense of life?  But it occurred to me that this tendency for people to behave in a benevolent manner towards strangers (even MORE benevolent than their treatment of people they know) is not a universal of human behavior, it is, in fact, a cultural artifact.  There have existed (and still do exist, I suppose), cultures where the reverse is true, where people shy away from doing harm to someone who belongs to their "group", but gleefully embrace the torture and killing of strangers.

Which brings me to a third and final thought.  Civilization means not having to live in fear of your neighbors.  So what is it that we have now?

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