Re: RARA-AVIS: The Talented Mr. Ripley

From: Nathan Cain (
Date: 07 Apr 2007

>Nathan, the term "evil" assumes metaphysics which
cannot be established empirically. People who bandy about the word "evil" tend to be a little on the mental edge, themselves, in my experience. Because someone performs an act that is not of benefit to you or your extended group does not make them "evil," however inconvenient their actions may have proved to you. If they perform these acts based on twisted logic, though, they are very likely insane. <

Not really. You can apply the same logic to the term insane. Just because someone does something you don't like and comes to the decision to do it through a process you don't understand doesn't make them insane. Who gets to say whose logic is twisted? You? Are you the official arbiter of empirical sanity?

> When you say "Prisons are full of entirely sane people," how do
you know this? Do you vist prisions frequently?<

No, but I was, for a while, paid to attend criminal court at least twice a week. I've sat through trials for everything: Murder, rape, child molestation, drug dealing, armed robbery, you name it I've seen it prosecuted. Didn't see a whole lot of crazy. A lot of selfish, a lot of stupid, a lot of mean, but very little crazy. I once sat through the trial of a man who set his children on fire because his new girlfriend didn't want them around. He wanted his new girlfriend more than he wanted his kids, so he lit a match while they slept and, viola!, no more kids.That's not insane.That's just selfish. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway.
 And most people who are in prison are in for mundane things like selling dope or stealing. It's generally economically motivated crime. Hard to call them crazy. For every serial killer there are probably 500 murderers who killed for entirely mundane reasons. The horrible truth about most crime is that it's boring.

>When do you decide a person who's committed murder is "perfectly
sane?" Do you think Ilene Wournos was "perfectly sane." If you do, see the Biography Channel's Notorious episode about her with the actual footage of her trial. What about Edward Kemper who murdered co-eds in San Francisco before he killed his mother, set her head on the mantle piece and put her larynx down the garbage disposal? Or Alan Blackthorn who had his ex-wife and the mother of his two daughters murdered while she cared for her infant quintuplets, leaving her butchered corpse for his daughter to discover? The child, of course, knew immediately who'd done it! When do you think someone's insane? How bad does it have to get?<

These people are not representative of most killers. You can't draw any conclusions by looking at the sensational crimes that end up making the true crime shows, and books. They don't tell you anything about the reality of crime and punishment. You want that, go sit through arraignments, probation revocation hearings and plea agreements. You'll see the sort of people who end up in the system. They're not monsters, even most of the killers. And, to bring it back around to crime fiction, here's why I think Ripley isn't crazy: He goes to great lengths to get away with his crimes. He's an exceptionally rational human being. He sees what he wants and he goes for it, with no regard for the people who are in his way. He does have plenty of regard, however, for the potential consequences his actions could have for him. He can reason: He can say to himself, "I killed X, now I must do Y to avoid detection." Anyone who can understand the potential consequences of their actions isn't insane.

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