Against Impersonality

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Here is an ethical question for gentle reader:

“Is it right to send pipe bombs in the mail to people you dislike?”

A supplementary might be, “But what if they are politicians?”

Then when we are clear on that, we might consider the matter from a more subtle angle. The mailings of pipe bombs, and similar activities, have been described as hate crimes. Is that what makes them bad — the hatred? Or is it the way the hatred is expressed?

Might it be okay, for instance, to mail pipe bombs randomly, to people you do not hate, indeed, don’t even know?

Or could we put that down to hatred too, making a crime of general misanthropy?

Let me admit I am being a little facetious. I don’t see how that is avoidable today. I listen in amazement to media moralists, and other talking heads, assigning praise and blame to the most remarkable causes. The last gentleman I heard blamed President Trump for all these pipe bombs.

Does he sneak out and mail them in the middle of the night? No, apparently there is no evidence for that (though we have yet to see the results of the Mueller investigations). Rather it is something the president said or says: something “hateful.”

That will serve as an obvious example, but I’ve heard sentences that are not obvious at all. At first one thinks that one has caught the (idiotic) assumption upon which the statement rests. But then one is less sure. The distinction we used to make between premises that were wrong, and those which were downright crazy, is becoming daily harder to sustain.

One thing for sure: they are not Christian. By “they” I refer to those talking heads. Some might be, or consider themselves to be, sort-of Christian in their spare time. But if I am to judge by what I hear and read, notions that could not possibly be Christian, let alone so refined as Catholic, are coming from all sides; this “hate crimes” thing for starters.

There is a kind of spiritual reassignment surgery, in which nothing is a sin or else everything is, and therefore no one can be blamed for his own acts, only for other people’s. Guilt consists entirely of absorbing hateful thoughts. But who the devil has been circulating them?

Just so: the “who” must be the Devil. And yet he is never criticized, at least, never on the air. Perhaps, I have sometimes suspected, this is because all the talking heads are working for him.


Yet vestigial traces of Christian belief may be spotted in all the madness. The idea of a supernatural source of badness will not entirely go away. We just stop short of naming, personalizing it. Ditto with the supernatural source of any contrasting goodness. We don’t name that, either. We do not even give it an abstract designation, such as calling it “The Good,” in our eagerness to avoid personalizing anything; for that would be only a short step from getting Very Personal.

To a Christian view, the person (persons?) who mailed the pipe bombs (or whatever they were) would be guilty. This was also the view of the law, at one time.

Should he be caught, and make some such excuse as “the devil made me do it,” or, “President Trump suggested the idea, in a dream,” he would not be forgiven. He might be escorted to a mental health facility, or to the gallows in the more traditional way, but the nexus of crime-and-punishment would stand.

Today, I’m not so sure. The very proposition, “You did this, so you should pay,” has been undermined, and even mocked in the media, the universities, and government agencies including the courts. Guilt is not so much proven, as assigned. Someone must still pay, but the search begins for who has the deepest pockets. (Usually it is the government itself.)

I say this as much from personal experience as from my admittedly excessive attention to the media. The victims of crime seldom receive any recompense, but if they do, it is more likely from suing the employer of the scoundrel than the (comparatively penniless) scoundrel himself.

The one, for instance, who recently took $8,200 from me, in a burglary, without even having the grace to be the tax department.

As a Christian, I need not hate this man. I merely want my money back. And I’d be happy enough to get it from the proceeds of the gentleman who stole it, breaking rocks. I will not even insist on interest, beyond the rate of inflation.

Now, that was a small crime, in relation to a large economy, but nevertheless significant in its small way. Call the police, and they will ask you to come down to their office and fill in some forms for insurance purposes. They will be quite candid that the chances they will even look for the culprit, let alone find him, let alone recover the booty, are approximately nil.

Compare the old-fashioned methods when I called the police in a certain third-world country. They came to my door, made a careful inventory of what was missing, smiled, bowed, and went off. A few hours later they returned with all the goods, beaming with pride, and politely accepting my modest gratuity.

In the meantime, I suppose, they had rounded up “the usual suspects,” plus perhaps some policeman’s rival in love, beaten them within an inch of their lives, et cetera. The “modern” Western mind cannot bear to think of it. Fortunately for me, I do not have one.

Okay, that was Bangkok, many years ago. But I give this contrasting example, and meekly praise it, because the service was so personal. The “medieval” – and Christian – mind would understand it, and contentedly play along.

To it, the burglar was a person, and his victim was a person, and finally, God was a person.


*Image: Virtue Defending Justice from Ignorance and Vice, c. 1700 by Antonio Balestra [Pinacoteca di Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza, Italy]

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: