The moral logic of the deranged and the wicked

Do we all share the same moral logic?  This is related to the idea of what provokes you to act in anger, and why.

Take a recent mass shooter:

Elliot Rodger was jealous of men who had girlfriends.

Columnist Ann Coulter, who read his entire manifesto, concludes that:

The “cruelty” of women apparently consisted of the failure of any “tall, hot blondes” to approach Rodger and ask for sex. He would walk around for hours “in the desperate hope that I might possibly cross paths with some pretty girl who would be attracted to me.” …
Although Rodger repeatedly denounces the world and everyone in it for “cruelty and injustice,” he was the bully more often than the bullied, especially as time went on, and his rage increased.

This cruelty was a provocation that led Elliot to shooting people, stabbing people, and hitting people with a car. Some died, including Asian-Americans and at least one Blonde.

Now admittedly, Elliot was crazy, but my brother tells me he has met other disgruntled men – men who are angry that they can’t find women to love them.
I find this embarrassing.

Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter

In the next story again there is a question of what is a provocation:

I remember reading of two men, one Caucasian, and one Vietnamese.  They captured a good-looking white woman and led her in chains in a remote part of the Western mountains of the U.S.  Then they abused her, and filmed the abuse, and finally killed her.  At one point she asked them “Why are you doing this?”.  One of the men answered: “Because we hate you!”
When hearing that reply, I would think it would be reasonable to ask “why” again. Their behavior seems inexplicable, but Dr. Stanton Samenow says that the inexplicable becomes more explicable the more you know about the criminal.

I remember reading of a white family with their little girl in their car that took a wrong turn in California. They entered gang territory.  They were all shot dead.
Again, what was the provocation?  Was it entering forbidden territory?  Was it the crime of being the wrong ethnicity?  What was the provocation?

Anwar Sadat of Egypt was hailed as a great peacemaker with Israel.  He did make a peace deal where he gained the entire Sinai peninsula, in exchange for what he himself said was just a “piece of paper.”  But Sadat had also promised that he would “crush Israel’s arrogance and return them to the humiliation and wretchedness established in the Koran.”  We could ask “why.”  The Jews, he explained, “are a nation of liars and traitors, contrivers of plots, a people born for deeds of treachery.”
In other words, this man wanted another people to be in a perpetual state of humiliation and wretchedness.  The provocation – well – Jews, you know – those treacherous creatures deserve what they have coming to them.

Talk-show host Laura Schlessinger says this:

I talk to people every day who have performed the most egregious acts of hurt and betrayal, yet deny that their behaviors weren’t righteous. They try to give examples of what was done to them (usually innocuous) and convince me that their actions were necessary or justified.

Likewise, Stanton Samenow, who has interviewed many criminals, points out that they think differently. The way these criminals look at themselves for instance, can be totally different from the way we would look at them. He says that criminals consider themselves decent people with the right to do whatever suits their purpose. They view the world as their oyster and view people as pawns or checkers.  Moreover, they are capable of great cognitive dissonance about their own nefarious activities.

So that seems to bolster my point.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt believes that moral intuitions (including moral emotions) come first and directly cause moral judgments. It’s as if we “feel” rather than “reason”, when it comes to our attitudes to what is right or wrong, or on how we should behave.  Dr. Samenow seems to think that thoughts come first, and my own belief is that some thoughts are subconscious – and lead to feelings, and feelings also lead to thoughts.

We could put Haidt’s idea of moral feelings together with the finding of Yu Gao that children that showed no sign of fear conditioning at age three inevitably grew up to become criminals. I’m not sure what the latter finding means – does it mean you have to be afraid of punishment to be moral? Or perhaps is it just a lack of inhibitions that others have that produces criminals?

(As an aside, it has also been found that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative. This does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” says researcher Rose McDermott. So one could ask – are criminals (who even as children feel less fear) less likely to be politically conservative? Would a fearful politician be less likely to accumulate debt than a fearless one? Would conservatives behave differently at casinos? (see sources)).

Once I was in Italy and I stopped in an office run by a tall young woman to exchange currency. As I walked away, I thought that perhaps she had made a mistake, and given me too much money. But I was in a hurry to catch a train to a prettier part of Italy, and I didn’t think much about it. I got to the train station, and then realized the train would not leave for a few hours. So the thought at the back of my mind about the currency came back, and I looked at it, and sure enough, she had given me a fortune. I ran back to her office, and asked her if she had given me too much. She checked her book, and suddenly said “You SAVED me”. I returned the money.

Train thru Italy
Train thru Italy

The story shows how I suppressed a nagging voice of conscience, or inhibitions, or something in my hurry to get to a nice part of Italy and not miss a train.

Now consider a criminal who has a very strong desire to make money, or to hurt an enemy, or to control events. How powerful a role will moral inhibitions and feelings play in his decisions? What if he is morally constituted to not feel fear – and inhibitions are related to that in some way?

I myself got into a situation where I was told I would be “annihilated” – that I “would end up in a hospital” – and that I “must be kept down!” It was a provocation to these people that I could be happy, healthy, and free. It may have had something to do with my having made racist and anti-gay remarks, among other things, and I do regret some of my earlier attitudes, but still – one aspect of evil is what a bad guys considers a provocation and how he reacts to that provocation.

Sandra Korn is a leftist lesbian Jewish student at Harvard.  She got attention from the conservative world when she wrote in the Harvard Crimson piece that academic freedom should be limited when it conflicts with the political prejudices of the “university community”:

If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

She said she would prefer one of the few conservatives at Harvard, Harvey Mansfield, to no longer be on the faculty.
So what did Prof. Mansfield do, to deserve this budding totalitarian’s would-be dismissal?  He was guilty of having the wrong beliefs.

The founders of the U.S. felt that the government should interfere minimally with the rights of the population.  But government is just one institution that can interfere with your rights.  We live in a sea with many friendly dolphins but too many sharks.  If you bleed into the ocean, you will attract the sharks.  The sharks have a strange sense of “justice” which if applied to you, will interfere with what you consider your rights.

William Butler Yeats wrote a poem, “The Second Coming”, of which I will quote one verse:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity



Sources – fear in conservatives vs liberals – Thinking errors in criminals – compiled by Dr. Stanton Samenow – Adrian Raine and the Biological Sources of Evil

The “amygdala” is a brain structure that plays a major part of our emotional makeup, and is involved in aversive conditioning. and so it is interesting that psychopaths have smaller amygdalas. It was found that conservatives have larger amygdalas than leftists, but I would hesitate to conclude that makes conservatives nicer people (even though I am one). There is a somewhat disputed finding that gays have smaller amygdalas, but we do know for sure that straight men and gay women had more nerve connections in the right side of the amygdala, while straight women and gay men had more neural connections in the left amygdala.


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