Taking aim at moral relativism


The Washington metropolitan area, my once and future home, is under siege. Hopefully the murderer(s) wreaking havoc in the region will be dead or in custody by the time this goes to print. Given the resources devoted to this investigation, it seems likely that whoever is responsible will be apprehended soon. In the meantime, those not grieving the loss of loved ones are living in terror of innocuous everyday activities such as pumping gas and going to school.

The media, when not antagonizing Chief Moose and risking innocent lives by releasing information detrimental to an effective investigation, have largely settled on the theory that the killer is a conservative white male with a McVeigh-esque antipathy toward America. While this theory is entirely plausible, there are numerous other possibilities, perhaps the most chilling of which is that the murders and attempted murders are a diversionary tactic to keep area law enforcement occupied while some larger scheme is executed. In any scenario, however, the killer is a seriously flawed human being. There is no question that whoever is shooting these people is somehow broken and thus lacks or chooses to ignore the basic moral sense and compassion for others that proper human beings possess. The truth of this assumption will inevitably be proven with the killer’s capture. At that point consensus will evaporate.

Right now everyone is hoping for a quick resolution of the matter. However, should the killer be brought in alive, within a day the familiar whining voices will attempt to turn the situation on its head. We saw it on September 12, especially around Cambridge: The sickness and hatred of an individual or a small group are suddenly held up as examples of the evil America has wrought. Somehow we are supposed to feel guilty and responsible. The failings of a man who takes his pleasure in killing innocents somehow become our fault. Unless, of course, the killer does turn out to be a white neo-Nazi or something similar, in which case his failings will be identified as my fault. In any case, people will seek to externalize the killer’s problem rather than condemn him.

The moral idiocy of our society is not a new thing. While September 12 may stand out as the most outrageous instance of moral depravity and the inability of elitist intellectuals to tell right from wrong, the problem can be traced back at least to the mid-century American Stalinists and those who worked to stop them. While demagoguery plagued the argument, there is simply no doubt that one side was right and the other wrong. Yet Whittaker Chambers is still excoriated as a stooge for tyrants while Alger Hiss is venerated as a martyr. Hiss’s defenders fail to mention that he was incontrovertibly in league with a regime that happily slaughtered twenty million of its own citizens and consigned surviving dissidents to the icy embrace of the Gulag archipelago. That doesn’t even begin to address what the Soviets did to Czechoslovakia and other countries under their “protection.” It’s similar to the silence of the Fidel-chic crowd on the subject of Cubans forced at gunpoint to walk through minefields or any of the other known brutalities of that dictatorial state.

W.H. Auden predicted this decay in For the Time Being, where he wrote that “Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions and justice will be replaced by pity as the cardinal human virtue.” Too many Americans have abandoned a commitment to justice qua justice and turned to pity as their guiding light. In some circles it is provincial and uncool to condemn what is wrong: The only condemnation is reserved for those with the gall to condemn wrongdoers.

This backward thinking is ridiculous: It is certifiably true that it is right to condemn what is wrong. Compassion is good, but it is not compassionate to exonerate the guilty by blaming the innocent. Such thinking is both stupid and evil. When nineteen men choose to take several thousand lives through craven acts of terror, we should hate them for it and exact righteous vengeance on those who helped them do it while taking every necessary step to prevent related evils.

Similarly, when the sniper is caught, we need to remember that he has wilfully and deliberately extinguished at least nine lives and deserves to be punished. The sniper chose to do what he did. He was not driven to it by America, or capitalism, or anything else. We must make him accept responsibility for his actions, except in the unlikely event (given the methodical nature of the killings) that the sniper is exonerated by meeting our rigorous test of insanity. Shifting the blame to others does not justify this man’s murderous behavior, but it does highlight the moral bankruptcy into which America has descended.

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