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Archive for December, 2008

Casus

I read this snippet on Google News:

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday night that it had missed repeated opportunities to discover what may be the largest financial fraud in history, a Ponzi scheme whose losses could run as high as…

and the first thing that came to mind was Social Security. (The actual article is here.)

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I recently encountered some of these images (of the staff at Auschwitz) for the first time. What struck me was how creepy they are, in particular those depicting the staff laughing and enjoying themselves. A friend I was with at the time made the same observation. And so I began to wonder, why are these pictures creepy?

The answer, I believe, is that, knowing the atrocities these people committed, we have a tendency to view them as Moral Monsters. Evil People. The Bad Guys. Them, as opposed to Us. Because of this, it is jarring to see them behaving like Normal People; it challenges our tendency to fit them into the other half of the mold, the side that we aren’t on. It’s creepy to see Them acting like Us.

It seems to me that this dichotomy is flawed. I really doubt that the citizens of Nazi Germany were somehow more depraved than the citizens of pretty much any other time and country, such that they were capable of assisting in the commission of widespread grave evil. The first sign of this is that other times and countries have (and have had) their own widespread grave evils. The nineteenth century U.S. had slavery, the modern day U.S. and many other countries have abortion. Pagan cultures have had all sorts of evil customs throughout history.

Certainly, this observation supports that of Chesterton, that original sin is the only dogma of the Faith that is empirically obvious, or something to that effect. But what I find interesting is this. We postmoderns tend to look back at things like slavery and Nazi Germany in a sort of high-minded moral disgust, utterly certain that We are better than Them and would never participate in such evils. But of course, as noted, we have our own grave evils going on all the time in which we do participate. This seems to me to be a kind of cognitive dissonance, and I think it is informative regarding the character of moral judgment in people generally. What can we learn from it? That’s a question for the latter part of this post.

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A prediction

This sort of phenomenon (which has always been obvious) will not inspire the self-described “Brights” who view religiosity as the pinnacle of irrationality to brave the wrath of the PC police and assert that therefore males are more rational (although the fact itself shows that males are, in some respects, less rational).

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Absolutely Stunning…

that anyone would be the least bit surprised when politicians begin distancing themselves from their campaign promises.

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