If, unlike me, you’ve watched TV over the last couple weeks, you’ve probably seen a few earnest talking heads trying to “explain” the psychology of Anders Breivik, the man who murdered several dozen people in Norway a couple of weeks ago. Quick question: when was the last time you encountered a similar effort to explain the psychology of a person who has helped others tremendously?
Our obsession with understanding wickedness and comparative lack of interest in understanding goodness is the topic of an interview with Theodore Dalrymple published last weekend in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve been reading Dalrymple’s essays in various publications for several years now; the experience is a bit like having ice water thrown into your face unexpectedly. You’re shocked initially, but your senses are sharpened by it.
One thing that grabbed me in this interview was the critique of the modern view, stemming from Rousseau, of wickedness as alien to human nature, and something that thus needs explanation. Of course, the classical and Christian view is that wickedness comes to us quite naturally, and that self-control and divine grace are the means by which we overcome it and become good.
From that perspective, we don’t need explanations of evil; we look at an Anders Breivik and say, “What else is new?” Instead we need to study goodness and seek an explanation for it. Dalrymple, though not a Christian, agrees.
Read the interview for more info on how Rousseau has screwed up the world.