Lack of pity:
A reason not to believe the “Ten Commandments” are an inspired list of exactly how one must behave – that they are indeed commandments – is because there is no law against cruelty.  That may be because there is no good word for the abstraction in Hebrew. And indeed those who have made a deeper study than I declare that the concept of pity or fair play or avoiding cruelty is an emergent abstraction evident only as one watches the text play out over generations. 

One reason we have a legal system is that no matter how wicked a person is, there is an irreducible degree of respect that person merits, not on his or her own account but on account of the fundamental principles of a society.  The possibility of doubt, the possibility of misidentification and the possibility of mercy must be considered.  That requires a judicial decision. 

Now I shall be the first to say that the courts are no place for legislation.  They should not be the dynamo for social change.  That requires new law.  But for standing between the accused and an outraged society, there is no substitute I know of that is as good. 

Now I have always believed that people are deep down good. That a legal system that is as fair as can be arranged and a legislative system that is as responsive to the actual will of the people as can be arranged and an executive power that respects the law together make up the natural state of humanity.

History may not give me a lot of comfort in this.

There is a book out, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Lane Basic Books, 2011 reviewed in The Empathy Gap by Stephanie Preston NATURE vol. 472 no. 7344 April 28, 2011 page 416. 

Both author and reviewer agree with me that cruelty is simply Not Normal. 

Yet as I have mentioned there was a recent extra-judicial killing in the name of justice of a man who was at the mercy of the men who killed him.  Without putting a word on it, this fact does not cheer me up a great deal, not so much as if he had been brought to justice.  The fact that the killers were answerable to a government does not make things better.  It means that as a taxpayer I am in my small way responsible.  That renders my mood gloomy.

But when I look at people around myself they do not seem to be gloomy.  They seem very happy, I mean much happier than they usually are.  And I hear no murmur of protest. 

Were I to accept the evidence at face value, I would have to conclude that mercy – or as the article says “a robust psychology that is normally developed through secure attachment” – is not common at all. 

This is of more than trivial interest to me.  I am trying to expedite a social change.  This change will have to be understood by and implemented by ordinary people.  And I don’t understand ordinary people at all. 

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