Discussions such as this are normally out of my league. But 'who dares wins' eh?
Am I alone in saying that I have a small number of 'cornerstone' beliefs that shape the other things that I comment on? In revealing them, we reveal our weaknesses, biases and prejudices. Regular visitors here can guess my own line on almost anything once my simplistic preference for representative democracy is understood.
The other one (that I usually sidestep) is the question of 'evil'. FYI, it doesn't exist. Nurture obviously has the whip-hand over nature in this respect. As a teenage Catholic, I thought that there were four things that we should always remember; death, judgment, heaven and hell and that despair is the worst sin of all. If there has been one defining moment for me, it was when I rejected this view for something equally contentious. After reading the classical psychological myths, it was easy to conclude that cruelty is fueled by peer-pressure or somesuch. If someone is bad, it's someone else's fault. Concentration-camp guards were the real victims! Etc.
Norm is reviewing a Theodore Dalrymple review of a book on Rwanda (that I haven't read). The outstanding piece of evidence, for him, is that - in Rwanda - victims didn't cry out at the extreme point at which they were murdered.
For the sake of argument, let's leave aside the dangers of totemic illustrations such as this (another error-prone 'concentration-camp guard' illustration). Norm is - I think - making an observation that most Papists would agree with: That evil is something that can't be negotiated with. There is, implicitly, a 'sin of omission' here. In killing someone, the most sinister aspect of it is not that you do the deed, but that your demeanor convinces your victim that you are impossible to reason with - and thereby, you leave them no alternative but to commit the worst sin of all - the abandonment of hope. An impassive murderer is, by definition, evil. Emote at bit - snarl, and so forth, and you communicate a dubious reasonableness to your victims. It's all relative, of course, but there is - by Norm's logic - a distinction, isn't there? Norm doesn't seem to be making a distinction between someone with a hugely distorted perspective, and someone for whom their perspective is irrelevant as they are being driven by a larger - more pernicious - animus.
Norm can only infer that this sin of omission is - in fact - a sin of commission. Something implicit. Evil. I'd suggest that a catholic would be nodding at this conflation between the two and saying "at last! A materialist finally understands us."
You see, 'evil' must always be a conscious 'sin of commission', but the notion of evil suggests that there is something atavistic in it as well. Something casual. That the nightmare in Rwanda arose from resident 'evil' as opposed to some cataclysmic cultural misunderstanding. Not an elegant argument, I'd agree. But one that it you could only refute by drawing arbitary lines.
I know little of the tensions that caused the butchery in Rwanda. But - unless Norm can illustrate that the murderers and their victims shared exactly the same data, and perspective on the situation that they found themselves in - I don't see how he can have the confidence to describe it as 'evil'. Could he be saying that most of us would be able to respond to the most extreme perceived provocation without reaching for a machete - and that the lack of restraint in Rwanda arose from something that most of us are not infected by?
I'm not convinced that I share his confidence. Or to invert his own argument, I'm not sure that I share his optimistic view of the human nature of non-murderers.
On another subject, Norm is right about right thinking people. In fairness, Norm is right more often than he's wrong, bless his little cotton shorts.