Are Horrible Acts Always Horrible?

Reader Kinjal says:

People ought to be judged according to the times and social mores they lived in.

I disagree with this statement profoundly. I believe that horrible acts such as rape, murder, torture, abuse of children, and pedophilia are always horrible. Their evilness is immanent and does not depend on when the perpetrator lived and what his or her society sanctioned. If you abstain from doing horrible things only because you are afraid of retribution, what is the value of your morality?

Tolstoy raped his wife. In my eyes, he is as much of a vile rapist as anybody who lives today and does the same thing. He saw a human being in pain, crying, begging him to stop, suffering because of what he was doing to her. And he somehow didn’t know that it was wrong because nobody told him that it was? And then he continued doing it many times over because he kept not knowing? I just can’t buy that.

Major crimes like the one I listed are not relative. Some people are capable of them and some aren’t. Different times and changing social norms are just an excuse used to justify perpetrators and disgusting creatures who mask as human beings.

14 thoughts on “Are Horrible Acts Always Horrible?”

  1. I agree. This is a bug in my bum whenever people talk about the founding fathers of the United States, particularly Thomas Jefferson, as if they were infallible.
    Also, judging them “by their standards” in my opinion, encourages the whole “Oh we’re so much better now, things were so awful back then!” trope, which allows lazy people to ignore the evils of today, which are alive and well.

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  2. I’ve studied the right wing paradigm of gender and it seems that whatever women say or do in terms of this perspective comes under the category of “unreality”. If women per se are to be considered incapable of accessing the real world, then all of their cries and screams are not real either. They might be considered at best animal reactions to something, on an irrational plane. This is how I was brought up and this is what I eventually came to understand about patriarchal thought processes.

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  3. Jennifer Frances Armstrong :
    This is how I was brought up and this is what I eventually came to understand about patriarchal thought processes.

    And this is why, as I have implied before, my memoir became for me an exercise in destruction of my own patriarchal character structure. I fully succeed in destroying it. When I began writing it, I had a lot of male admirers, from the right. Now, I have succeeded in becoming incomprehensible to almost everyone — but very much admired and appreciated by myself.

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  4. And furthermore….

    You would be very surprised how widespread the bias against women is — the one that holds that they have no access to reality. If you are ever in a situation that is abusive in the way that Tolstoy was to his wife, it is inadvisable to express any doubt at all — about anything. You can’t be seen to be questioning your grasp on reality in any way, otherwise even seemingly nice, liberal friends, will adopt the stance that the man in the situation grasps reality accurately, but you don’t. Interestingly, the casual observer who draws such a conclusion does not even have to have been present in any of the aspects of your life for him (or sometimes, but more rarely, her) to be absolutely assured that your grasp on reality is compromised.

    After all, no loving humanitarian Christian Tolstoy, who wrote so well and gained so many admirers, could be an unsavory person in his own home!

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    1. I think your analysis pretty much covers it, and much more eloquently than I would have been able to!

      On a related note, I think the majority of evil in the world happens because the perpetrator sees the victim as not fully human. That’s why racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc. lead to so much abuse. The pattern can be extended all the way from massive historical events like the Holocaust or slavery down to individual acts of childhood bullying. With the exception of true sociopaths (who are few and far between, as far as I know), otherwise good people can rationalize committing terrible acts as long as the victim doesn’t really “count.” As long as the victim isn’t really human–at least not in the same way the perpetrator is.

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    2. Absolutely key on the question of doubt.

      Yet there is a double bind: if you do not show “compassion” or indicate that you know there “could be another side” then the abuse *also* isn’t real.

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  5. exactly, WTF do people think that somehow it was less awful to be raped because it was the “norm?” That is like saying the Holocaust wasn’t that bad because lots of Jews were being killed. Some moral standards aren’t relative.

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  6. The fact is, human beings are the ONLY CREATURES that are capable of committing acts that are beneath them. So, characterizing abhorrent persons as “sub-human” or even “non-human” is incorrect. Recognizing that human beings are seperate from nature is the first step in seeing things as they really are. If one insists on lumping humanity in with the rest of the natural world, with no spiritual distinction, perpetual confusion will prevail.

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