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Belmont Club

For Pity’s Sake

October 30th, 2012 - 5:10 pm

From Drudge we have the story of the great walnut caper. “Authorities are investigating two thefts of more than 80,000 pounds of walnuts from Northern California valued at about $300,000 … They have not identified the suspect although they do have a suspect description.”

Maybe the locals can organize a posse

Suppose the description fit that of a giant squirrel. Well who could possibly want to jail a squirrel? Wikipedia examines the case for cuteness as a survival trait.

Cuteness is usually characterized by (though not limited to) some combination of infant-like physical traits, especially small body size with a disproportionately large head, large eyes, a pleasantly fair, though not necessarily small nose, dimples, and round and softer body features. Infantile personality traits, such as playfulness, fragility, helplessness, curiosity, innocence, affectionate behavior, and a need to be nurtured are also generally considered cute.

Most people go all limp at the sight of cute things because they stir up protective emotions in us. For that reason we hesitate to hurt or even inconvenience them. Cuteness, the New York Times argues, often trumps beauty and even reason. For example, giant animals can be cute, simply because of how they look.

Cuteness is distinct from beauty … many Floridians have an enormous affection for the manatee, which looks like an overfertilized potato with a sock puppet’s face, Roger L. Reep of the University of Florida said “they watch this soft and slow-moving animal, this gentle giant, and they see it turn on its back to get its belly scratched,” said Dr. Reep, author with Robert K. Bonde of “The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation. That’s very endearing. So even though a manatee is 3 times your size and 20 times your weight, you want to get into the water beside it.”

But the problem with cuteness as a defense is that it seems to have no hold over evil. For example, the Nazis had no qualms about killing children. They made a careful catalog of the cute, beautiful, pathetic and pitiful individuals they were about to exterminate without a single shred of remorse. For Nazis, cute didn’t mean squat.

Please don't hurt me mister

In fact it may even accelerate their evil passions. Persons like Jimmy Savile whose recently uncovered pedophilia is now shaking the BBC appears to have felt a particular thrill in preying upon the helpless, the under-aged, retarded or disabled simply because they could not fight back.

Come with me to the abusement park

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the cuteness defense works only with those with a certain fineness of sensibility. In general neither Nazis nor a hardened pedophiles  — and any others of that sort — are susceptible to pity or appeals to high principle.

This poses a problem to those who imagine that terrorists, for example, will desist from attacking them after they have foresworn Christianity or even Western civilization, or perhaps have abjected themselves to such a degree as to be pathetic. The idea is that if one bows often enough in apology then the  malicious will pass you by.  This argument assumes that stone killers care about things like the “moral high ground”.

John Howard did not believe they did. When asked by an interviewer whether defending Australia aggressively might not be a ‘provocation’ to he argued that such men responded to an entirely different set of incentives.

If you imagine that you can buy immunity from fanatics by curling yourself in a ball, apologizing for the world – to the world – for who you are and what you stand for and what you believe in, not only is that morally bankrupt, but it’s also ineffective. Because fanatics despise a lot of things and the things they despise most is weakness and timidity. There has been plenty of evidence through history that fanatics attack weakness and retreating people even more savagely than they do defiant people.

He was of course, roundly reviled for these backward notions.  This was regarded as “dehumanizing” the enemy. In the view of the enlightened, the enemy was just a person with another point of view. Seen a certain way you could always sympathize. Nazis and pedophiles were simply individuals who had been blighted by bad childhoods. Therefore ideas like Howard’s were simplistic.

But does he have a point? Howard’s basic idea was that there was one type of discourse which applied to civil society and another sort of discourse for persons whose idea of politics was the car bomb and beheading knife.  They were to some degree disjoint sets. You could not treat one like the other.

That falls short of “dehumanizing” the enemy. Rather it recognizes a duality in man; the presence within the human race of what is conventionally called good and evil.

Where does this leave us with giant squirrels who steal lots of nuts? I leave it to the reader to decide.

He must have been nuts


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