...But of these sophisms and elenchs of merchandise I skill not...
Milton, Areopagitica

Except he had found the
standing sea-rock that even this last
Temptation breaks on; quieter than death but lovelier; peace
that quiets the desire even of praising it.

Jeffers, Meditation On Saviors



Two sad stories and an ugly one with a lot of sadness around it.
The things I miss by not reading metafilter and electrolite!
But then, the time I'd spend in those pursuits is occupied just the same; and with what, you wonder?
Speculations like these.
The executed killer in Chris Clarke's story may have taken the lives of thirty or more young women. If it was close to a hundred Clarke would have said a hundred in the piece. His story picks the killer's life up in 1981, as it intersects his.
Twenty-five years ago, more or less. Say the executed killer had taken the lives of a hundred young women, or say a thousand. Say he'd never been caught. Twenty-five years makes it forty a year. An appalling statistic.
Between forty-five and fifty thousand people die every year in the US in traffic "accidents". So in twenty-five years the street/highway body count's at one to one-and-a-quarter million souls cut loose and gone into the afterlife.
That doesn't bother people nearly as much as thirty or forty young women killed by one man. So we need to look at what the primary differences are, to understand why the one, while so much smaller in magnitude, is so much worse in malfeasance than the other; to see if that's an appropriate distinction, or a symptom of a deeper illness.
Is it the youth of the victims? Probably a little - certainly people would be angry and revulsed if the executed killer had been taking the lives of men over 90 - but just as certainly they wouldn't be quite as horrified at the idea.
Yet we see from the statistics of the National Transportation and Safety Board that traffic "accidents" are the single largest killer of people under thirty in the US today. Now that we've eradicated most of the really pernicious childhood diseases.
Is it the randomness of the victims? It's safe to say that most traffic "accident" mortalities are random, in the sense that while the causative drivers may be unfit for some reason, the "collateral damage" - the victims, the passengers and other drivers - often have no other fault than being where they were when the "accident" took place.
One of the first excitements that these statements generate is the blood-lust for "drunken drivers" that's been the only real reaction of the American people to these statistics, with the result that, coupled with the blindness to the scale of death the automobile is responsible for, most people have a vague and unfounded sense that most traffic "accidents" are a result of drunk driving.
That isn't borne out by the statistics, even when any measurable amount of blood-alcohol in any involved drivers means that particular "accident" will be termed "alcohol-related", whether or not the consumption of alcohol had anything to do with its cause. And we'll set aside for now the historical context for that distinction - people having been using alcohol for millennia, and driving cars for less than a hundred years.
So youth and randomness, while clearly being the cause of much of the outrage at the executed killer's toll on society, somehow don't make the bridge. Cars are not only not seen as murderous and deadly, they're the single largest industry in the US, the backbone of the economy, and with the oil industry as partner they are the economy. So there's that.
The one difference that's clear here is "intent". The law makes this distinction, making manslaughter a lesser crime than homicide. And people do as well.
So it isn't the outcome, the what - it's the why. Why is important, as far as justice goes, it's the single most important factor. And that's where all this breaks down as rational moral response and begins its fade into religion. Especially Judeo-Christian religion, with its emphases on intention and rules, and the corollaries that unintended consequences are not as serious as intended ones, and that actions not covered by the existing rules aren't wrong; conscious choice contrasted with unintended, unchosen outcomes. So that a mistake that results in the deaths of hundreds of people is not nearly as horrifying as an intended act that has the same results. Why?
Why are we willing to accept the random harvesting of innocent people on the highway, on a daily weekly monthly and yearly basis, simply because no one intends it? Because that's really the only difference, unless we have to accept the use of the internal combustion engine and the automobile as an inevitable thing, something we have to be doing, a step toward an as yet unnamed goal - and this mortality, the randomness of it, and the absolutely non-evolutionary selection of it, is like a tax, the price we have to pay to get there.
But then if we're going to look at this honestly, we have to bring in the costs we pay in addition to lives lost in traffic - the poisoned atmosphere of the places we live, the unsafe streets any bicyclist will testify to, and the disruption of the weather cycles whose balance we've depended on, and adapted to, for our entire history.
And the wars currently being waged on behalf of oil, and those planned for the months and years ahead.
It requires a mindlessness, an intentional blindness, to cope with, or an active submission to whatever would and is arranging human progress to go in this direction.
And again that fades into religion, especially Judeo-Christian religion. God is doing it. God has a plan, and wants only our obedience to that plan.
God wants us to drive cars, wants us to burn oil, wants us to destroy the web of life everywhere we find it, wants us to sacrifice our children for the ease and power of roaring engines and tons of steel that fly whole families across the land wrapped in armor and sitting down.
It seems unlikely to me, that a loving and wise God would want that, and it fits neatly into the traditional imagery of the devil - as a life-hating cunning bargainer who trades on individual selfish desires, and provides insidious and unexpected forms of damnation in return.

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