Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Column on thanking a bad man

Appreciation for A Bad Man?s Words

Tibor R. Machan

This is something I would never have thought I?d write?words of
appreciation for the last words of a vicious murderer. Yet I believe they
are due, even though the man who spoke those words is now dead, executed
in Texas for murdering a nurse in the 1980s for a payment of $1500.00.

It is reported that George Anderson Hopper, who received a lethal
injection for the murder of Rozanne Gailiunas in 1983, was asked by the
warden if he had anything to say before he was to die and here is what
this man said:

I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. The things I did changed so many
lives. I can?t take it back. It was an atrocity. I am sorry. I beg your
forgiveness. I know I am not worthy of it.? And he is reported to have
uttered this ?with his voice breaking with emotion.?

Now this is today a rather remarkable event, with someone who has done
something morally terrible accepting his guilt and making an effort to
seek forgiveness for it. It shows, for once rather clearly, that some
people accept responsibility for their evil deeds instead of merely
putting up all kinds of excuses and ?explanations? for how they behaved,
as if it had nothing to do with them at all.

In our era it is fashionable to look upon human behavior as but the same
kind of event as the rain fall, an earthquake, a mosquito bite, or a
tsunami?an impersonal bit of motion in the course of the unfolding of the
multitude of impersonal motions throughout the universe. This idea, that
people are just bits and pieces of matter moving about without any hand in
their own activities, is unfortunately encouraged by a pretty dubious
report of what scientists, especially physicists, and by some evolutionary
biologists, have discovered. By this account of how the world is,
everything is fully determined to go the way it must. That doesn?t mean we
know how it will all turn out, although if we knew all the laws of nature
and had a full list of the stuff populating the world, that, too, could be
done. We don?t so, the story goes, there are going to be surprises?that is
how Stephen Hawking, the famous Cambridge astrophysicist, accounts for our
alleged illusion of free will.

But this story is more metaphysics?and a bad kind to boot?than science.
It simply assumes that the universe has no room for free will. It doesn?t
show this at all. And the evidence is clear that people cause much of what
they do, including the scientific work that supposedly gives them this
story, not to mention all the artistic, technological and ordinary, day to
day, production and creativity we witness from them, for good or ill. The
story so many people in the academy tell?that we just are moved objects
and cannot ourselves move anything of our own, that we lack the capacity
to initiate any of our behavior so cannot reasonably be held responsible
for it?is an extrapolation and a hasty one at that.
Instead, a much more credible, though a bit more complicated, story is
that in the universe there are many kinds of beings, and what they can and
cannot do depends on their nature. In the case of people, then, it is the
fact that we have minds that we can activate or leave dormant that
determines how much of what happens with us will turn out. If we make good
use of our minds, if we think things through, if we pay attention and
follow through with what we learn, including in the area of human
relations, things will go well, but if we are sloppy, lazy, thoughtless
and then try to act accordingly, things will go wrong and sometimes we
will end up perpetrating atrocious things, like Mr. Hopper did when he
took money to fill Ms. Gailliunas.

It is about time that some of us fess up to our complicit in the bad
things we produce, whether they be Draconian misdeeds or minor ones, like
failing to keep an appointment or turning in a class assignment on time.
All this explaining away how people act can only spell self-delusion. And
it perpetuates the myth that just fixing a gene here, or a social
circumstance there, or simply throwing a bit of money at a problem, will
make a huge difference and the world will function smoothly in a jiffy
thereafter. That, in turn, promotes the idea of the meddling government as
the God that will fix it all?with the paradoxical idea that people in
government do have the power of free will but no one else does.

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