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Jailhouse interview with DC sniper Lee Malvo
September 30, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

“I was a monster,” Malvo said. “If you look up the definition, that’s what a monster is. I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole people’s lives. I did someone else’s bidding just because they said so. . . . There is no rhyme or reason or sense.”
posted by silby (158 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's amazing how so many monstrous people only seem to "see the light" and "regret their actions" after they are caught.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:23 AM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


The idea that he was trained to put his face on the victims and then shoot "himself" just boggles me.

. For all the victims and their loved ones.
posted by arcticseal at 11:25 AM on September 30, 2012


I try to put myself in people's shoes, but sometimes I can't. I didn't have an abusive childhood, and I haven't been brainwashed. I'm inclined to allow some compassion for the guy. But I guess I think some things are far too horrible to ever be forgiven.
posted by Glinn at 11:32 AM on September 30, 2012


It's amazing how so many monstrous people only seem to "see the light" and "regret their actions" after they are caught.

Stipulating that there are monstrous people in the first place, would you prefer that they remain monstrous forever?
posted by kenko at 11:33 AM on September 30, 2012 [31 favorites]


At the time of the shootings I was living in the area — less than a mile from the first DC area shooting — and it was a nightmare. I would gas my car up and get back in the car and recline the seats. My wife and I were planning our wedding at the time. Still seems like yesterday.

Malvo is a monster, but since he has no chance of parole and spends his life isolated from nearly everyone, I am glad he eventually realised just how horrible his actions were. It means he has to live with that pain and guilt for a long time.
posted by terrapin at 11:39 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stipulating that there are monstrous people in the first place, would you prefer that they remain monstrous forever?

No, I'd prefer that they respect our intelligence enough not to attempt these transparent attempts to seem like they've reformed. Or at least that a comedic slide trombone play in the background every time they say some ridiculously farfetched lie like "I never meant to hurt those people: I was manipulated and brainwashed by my partner." These interviews would be a lot more palatable that way.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:50 AM on September 30, 2012


Stipulating that there are monstrous people in the first place, would you prefer that they remain monstrous forever?

I read the quote to refer to the veracity of the statements of remorse, not strictly their timing.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:52 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's amazing how so many monstrous people only seem to "see the light" and "regret their actions" after they are caught.

I think most of these recantations are self-serving, it doesn't help to defend or justify what you did and recanting might just, at some point, lead to concessions. He's playing the long game now.
posted by epo at 11:54 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


What struck me about this was how similar it sounded to some aspects of military training. The imagery of breaking a young man's previous identity down and rebuilding it. The emphasis on obedience and loyalty. Drilling until the action of shooting becomes automatic. Dehumanizing the victims into "targets."

In a kill or be killed situation, these are the things that keep you alive. In some contexts they are the things that keep your family and your nation alive. They may be absolutely necessary. I am not here to advocate that anyone unilaterally disband their armed forces, or leave them vulnerable to enemies that have trained this way by offering them less effective preparation for the reality of war.

Still it's kind of chilling to think that the process that makes soldiers is so similar to the process that this guy says made him a monster.
posted by OnceUponATime at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


I think most of these recantations are self-serving, it doesn't help to defend or justify what you did and recanting might just, at some point, lead to concessions. He's playing the long game now.

And if he had sincerely recanted? How can you tell he's playing the long game?
posted by kenko at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


What can a man who is kept in a single room for 23 hours a day truly do that sheds evidentiary light on whether he remains "monstrous" or not?
posted by sendai sleep master at 12:04 PM on September 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't know that this guy should have any expectation of release so I don't see how his recantations can serve towards anything in the foreseeable future, but to deny him even the possibility of remorse, and thereby some semblance of connection to humanity, seems unjust. He's locked up for life already. We can't also claim how he feels or does not feel or is allowed to feel.
posted by deo rei at 12:05 PM on September 30, 2012 [47 favorites]


.

For the life he could have had.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:10 PM on September 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


I don't know that this guy should have any expectation of release so I don't see how his recantations can serve towards anything in the foreseeable future, but to deny him even the possibility of remorse, and thereby some semblance of connection to humanity, seems unjust. He's locked up for life already. We can't also claim how he feels or does not feel or is allowed to feel.

because you need to have monsters in order to maintain evil places like SuperMax. If even the worst confirmed criminal is at heart, a human being, then keeping a human being in isolation for 23 hrs a day, with a special constipating diet, 1 hr of exercise, every movement watched and analysed and limited access to any social interaction is well... monstrous.

it's ok to torture monsters.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:11 PM on September 30, 2012 [66 favorites]


Anyway what a sad article. The devil must be very content.
posted by deo rei at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2012


I mean yes, clearly (from the scare quotes) wolfdreams01 meant to doubt the sincerity of the recantation—but, whence this certainty? Isn't it possible that after a decade the guy might be able to reëvaluate his actions and regret them? People are so damn certain that the miasma goes all the way to the core.
posted by kenko at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stipulating that there are monstrous people in the first place, would you prefer that they remain monstrous forever?

No. That's why I favor capital punishment for monsters like this.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean yes, clearly (from the scare quotes) wolfdreams01 meant to doubt the sincerity of the recantation—but, whence this certainty? Isn't it possible that after a decade the guy might be able to reëvaluate his actions and regret them? People are so damn certain that the miasma goes all the way to the core.
Well, it helps us maintain the belief that monsters are out there and good people are in here, for one.
posted by verb at 12:21 PM on September 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


No. That's why I favor capital punishment for monsters like this.

Which the person whose accomplice he was received. The jury seemed to think that he was too much under the sway of that person to merit a judicial killing himself and that time in a penitentiary might make him penitent. Good to know that there are people who'd take a harder line.
posted by kenko at 12:25 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read the memoir written by Mildred Muhammed (John Allen Muhammed's ex-wife) a few years ago, and while I was skeptical about some of her conclusions about Muhammed's motivations, I think her take-away (that Muhammad was manipulative and abusive, and that the 'system' failed and continues to fail to recognize that spousal abuse isn't some isolated form of violence that otherwise-peaceful men perpetrate on their loved ones) is a very salient one.

Malvo was 17 years old, under the wings of a manipulative, violent, abusive man. I am not the same person, internally, at 28 than I was at 18, and I wouldn't expect Malvo to be either. Recognizing that Muhammed and Malvo were human beings isn't the same thing as arguing that they shouldn't be punished or contained.
posted by muddgirl at 12:26 PM on September 30, 2012 [34 favorites]


When asked what he would say directly to them, he implored people to forget about him.

“We can never change what happened,” Malvo said. “There’s nothing that I can say except don’t allow me and my actions to continue to victimize you for the rest of your life. It may sound cold, but it’s not. It’s the only sound thing I can offer. You and you alone have the power to control that. And, you take the power away from this other person, this monster, and you take control. . . .

“Don’t allow myself or Muhammad to continue to make you a victim for the rest of your life,” Malvo said. “It isn’t worth it.”
I mean, that's a strong bit of medicine right there, down to acknowledging that what he's suggesting sounds cold. But it's a fair suggestion: most killers would seek to stay immortalized and a constant source of distraction and awfulness and he's imploring them to not give him and his cohort the satisfaction.

Yes, this could all be some nice words to say, but he's never getting out of that box, regardless of what he says or how he presents himself. So if he were truly still ambivalent, why the dog and pony show at all? Simply to make himself feel better? Perhaps. But for some reason, it rings as slightly more self-aware and raw and honest than what I normally perceive from the typical jailhouse apologies I see.
posted by disillusioned at 12:27 PM on September 30, 2012 [27 favorites]


He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
posted by gerryblog at 12:30 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Malvo is a monster, but since he has no chance of parole and spends his life isolated from nearly everyone, I am glad he eventually realised just how horrible his actions were. It means he has to live with that pain and guilt for a long time.

He was fifteen years old. You people who are glad he's being tortured with solitary confinement are just as monstrous as he was. Maybe more so.

He, at least, had the excuse of an adult brainwashing him. You? It's all your idea. All that cruelty is yours.
posted by Malor at 12:31 PM on September 30, 2012 [83 favorites]


What struck me about this was how similar it sounded to some aspects of military training.

An interesting fact related to this is that John Allen Muhammed served in the Army in his youth.
posted by muddgirl at 12:33 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


If even the worst confirmed criminal is at heart, a human being

Evidence? I mean, it's nice to want to believe that everybody has some shreds of decency, but what if you're wrong? Wishful thinking doesn't pay the bills. I recognize that this may be perceived as "other-ing", but I'm just saying that from a logical perpective, it's irrational to make the assumption that every person shares certain emotional commonalities. In fact, studies of sociopaths seem to suggest quite the opposite. From an unbiased perspective, Malvo proved his monstrous traits through his actions, not his words. It seems to me that for him to have any credibility it should likewise be asserted through actions.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:33 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if he had sincerely recanted? How can you tell he's playing the long game?

I have no idea whether this recantation is genuine or not but I can say with absolute conviction "he would say that, wouldn't he?". As for playing the long game, this is about the only activity left in his life, he has to stay alive in prison and try and find some chink in the system. Playing the remorse and abuse card are the best hands he has, whether true or not.
posted by epo at 12:36 PM on September 30, 2012


I was living in the and working inside The Beltway in the fall of 2002. This was a surreal time to live in the area. In July of 2001 my business partner and I, along with dozens upon dozens of area residents, pulled off the side of the George Washington Parkway, practically in the shadow of The Pentagon, to watch the July 4th fireworks. It was fantastic.

By July of 2002, the same area was lit by flood lights all night every night and haunted by State Patrol cars sitting by the side of the road with their blue lights flashing 24 hours a day. All trucks passing the area were pulled over and inspected. If you had a flat tire along the same stretch of road from which we had watched the fireworks, you could expect a visit from at least two patrol cars.

I recall at the time pretending to be rather blasé about the shootings to folks at home so they wouldn't worry, but it was actually quite terrifying. When the sniper attacks started, we were making the trip out to Dulles to fly home for the weekends because National was still shut down. Because of the nature of our daily commute, this almost invariably involved a fill up. After the second shooting at a gas station west of town, this became a real test of courage.

Of all the things from that second-oddest month to live and work in D.C., there are two that stick with me. The first is area police dressed in all black, with no visible badges and covered faces trying to pull over every white van and truck one afternoon. It was mass confusion because, especially with the nature of the emergency, people didn't want to stop for someone who didn't really look like a police officer. The second is the image of a woman in a $1,000 suit crouching behind her car while pumping gas while my partner was just standing there as if there's wasn't a mad-man shooting strangers in the area.

I think it may have been worse for the folks at home though. My partner's husband told me confidentially to give him a call whenever I found out about another shooting because his heart would stop every time one was reported on the news.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:36 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, it's nice to want to believe that everybody has some shreds of decency, but what if you're wrong?

What is the harm in assuming a man who is locked up for life with no possibility of parole has a shred of decency?

From an unbiased perspective, Malvo proved his monstrous traits through his actions, not his words.

Are soldiers mostrous? We train millions of young men and women to dispassionately murder. From an unbiased perspective, we have proven our monstrous traits through our actions.
posted by muddgirl at 12:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


What actions can he do in prison?
posted by Miko at 12:41 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


He was fifteen years old.

He was 17 years old at the time of the crimes, though 15/16 when his mom left for the US, and left Malvo alone with John Allen Muhammad in Antigua & Barbuda.

I was living in the DC area at the time, and remember running to/from the car any time we had to go out, including on my college campus, and running between classes. Ducking at red lights. I was at the Home Depot in Seven Corners just a day before a woman was shot and killed in the same parking lot we walked less than 24 hours earlier.

But I am also honestly disturbed by the desire for needlessly torturing this kid. What does it accomplish? Most of us were pretty impressionable in our teens, but most of us had people that paid care and attention to us, besides self-serving 42 year old men looking to use us to fulfill their manifesto. I'm not excusing what Malvo did - not at all. He is absolutely guilty of unforgivable crimes. But i also absolutely feel compassion for him.
posted by raztaj at 12:41 PM on September 30, 2012 [23 favorites]


I find it very odd when bystanders discuss the possibility of forgiving or condemning someone who injured someone else. It's not your place to give or withhold forgiveness, you are not the injured party.

I understand that those who believe the justification for coercive treatment of criminals is punishment need to cling to their imagined moral rights, but those people are flat wrong. Coercion is everywhere in life, and doesn't require the creation of a special category of non-people in order to justify it. The absurd sophistry of punishment is simply unnecessary to the application of criminal law.
posted by howfar at 12:41 PM on September 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


He was fifteen years old. You people who are glad he's being tortured with solitary confinement are just as monstrous as he was. Maybe more so.

As far as I can tell he was seventeen. Regardless I don't share the opinion that minors are in all cases necessarily exempt from the most severe penalties just because there is an arbitrary age cut-off in the law. That's just an artefact of how law-based justice works. It's certainly true that mental faculties are not fully developed in most minors but it could equally be said that such development doesn't occur ever for some people, and conversely it seems plausible that at least some minors are perfectly able to be held accountable for their actions, certainly seventeen-year olds, notwithstanding whether they may undergo a change of heart later in their lives. Whether in this case his age should have made a difference I have no desire to pontificate on. The outcome would have been deeply unsatisfactory either way. It's a tragedy. And now I'll go listen to some Johnny Cash.
posted by deo rei at 12:43 PM on September 30, 2012


Whether or not terrorism was intended, people in the DC area were terrorized by these actions. I think it's legitimate to call those bystanders, at least, victims.

(But then again, I don't think I'm personally speaking of forgiveness. Compassion != forgiveness.)

It's certainly true that mental faculties are not fully developed in most minors but it could equally be said that such development doesn't occur ever for some people, and conversely it seems plausible that at least some minors are perfectly able to be held accountable for their actions

...which is why such determinations should be made by people who are trained to make them (such as the judge and jury who determined that Malvo did not deserve the death penalty), not armchair justices on the internet.
posted by muddgirl at 12:46 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


What is kind of impressive about this interview is that Malvo isn't whining. Nowhere does he copmlain about his own incarceration; he admits he deserves it. He blames Muhammad for stealing his life but he doesn't blame anyone else for holding him to account for the crimes he did. He comes across neither as a braggart nor as being sorry for himself. Of course it could be an act, but if so it's a very good one and one which wouldn't seem to be of much benefit to him.
posted by localroger at 12:47 PM on September 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yes, this could all be some nice words to say, but he's never getting out of that box, regardless of what he says or how he presents himself.

I daresay his circumstances probably require of him a more thorough soul searching than is the case of me and mine.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regardless I don't share the opinion that minors are in all cases necessarily exempt from the most severe penalties just because there is an arbitrary age cut-off in the law.

He is exempt from the penalties. The law assigns the penalties, and exempts him from it due to his age. If you want to make a moral argument, you've got to talk about something other than judicial penalties: hence, either no penalty, or an extrajudicial one. I hope you're not advocating for Malvo's summary execution, but I do not have enough confidence in human empathy to dismiss that possibility.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:52 PM on September 30, 2012


I mean, it's nice to want to believe that everybody has some shreds of decency, but what if you're wrong?

Well, these sorts of threads tend to convince me that I'm wrong but... there are two problems here:

1) You seem to think that your safety is somehow tied up with the dehumanization of someone else.
2) There is no rational reason to put Malvo in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.


There is no argument for deterence, for rehabilitation, or for safety. SuperMax was orginally sold as a way to keep "gang" members and lifetime violent criminals from wreaking havoc within the prison system. The only justification for the conditions within SuperMax facilities is safety, not justice. Malvo is clearly in SuperMax as a form of punishment and you seem to agree... why is this?

As to 1) there is a clear argument to be made that it was not 9/11, but the DC sniper killings (and the anthrax attacks) that led to the political climate which led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. the idea that invading Iraq as a response to attacks made my Saudi's that were planned in Germany (and arguably afghanistan) was never popular. it arose out the fever swamp of DC, and that fever was raised to a high pitch by the feelings of insecurity engendered by the sniper attacks.

So, what else has to be done in order for you to feel safe?
posted by ennui.bz at 12:54 PM on September 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


At the time of the shootings I was living in the area — less than a mile from the first DC area shooting — and it was a nightmare. I would gas my car up and get back in the car and recline the seats. My wife and I were planning our wedding at the time. Still seems like yesterday.

The article fails to address the zeitgeist of the time. Click on the dcsniper tag for this FPP and look at the threads from that October.

I grew up in the DC 'burbs and still knew lots of people up there when this happened. The anthrax mailings and the huge security presence that had started shortly after the WTC/Pentagon attacks had people in the area already feeling rather paranoid. You could not drive a rented moving truck up 395 without a good chance of having to unload and unpack everything. Especially with a last name like mine.

People I worked with were doctor shopping. Not for fun drugs. They were doctor shopping for anthrax antidotes and they created shortages for people who had legitimate needs.

I felt sorry for this kid when he was caught and details emerged. If the other guy had been Malvo's dad, would he have been tried as an adult? His mom? Should any kid ever be tried as an adult? I say no. Our collective paranoia demanded it and the prosecutors would have been lynched if they had done anything else.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you want to make a moral argument, you've got to talk about something other than judicial penalties

You are right, that was sloppy. I suppose I should have spoken in terms of (moral) culpability.

I hope you're not advocating for Malvo's summary execution, but I do not have enough confidence in human empathy to dismiss that possibility.

This is just posturing I guess, since my position is in the comment you replied to, but that's fine.
posted by deo rei at 12:57 PM on September 30, 2012


So, what else has to be done in order for you to feel safe?

The bombing of Iran will commence in 15 minutes.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2012


2) There is no rational reason to put Malvo in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.

Other than the fact that he was and is now an inhuman monster, because such people never change. We look at monsters through the perspective of our own lives and through that perspective we see redemption because we would want to redeem ourselves.

But that perspective is faulty as such monsters never had the kinds of feelings and empathizes that we have - and never will. Still though, we resist the idea that people like Malvo are inhuman monsters and we lean towards the idea that something made them that way and perhaps the right words, the right application of Religion or something can turn them back into beings like us - but we are wrong in thinking like that because once again we are only speaking from our own experience and can not hope to understand what goes on in the mind of such people.

Such people can never be redeemed despite what some religions may teach and preach. Malvo is exactly where he belongs , in a small cell isolated and forgotten by everyone.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 1:04 PM on September 30, 2012


we...can not hope to understand what goes on in the mind of such people.

And yet you seem capable not just of some insight but perfect understanding.
posted by howfar at 1:07 PM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


Other than the fact that he was and is now an inhuman monster, because such people never change

This is tautological. Malvo is currently a monster because he can never change. He can never change because he is a monster.
posted by muddgirl at 1:08 PM on September 30, 2012 [29 favorites]


I find it very odd when bystanders discuss the possibility of forgiving or condemning someone who injured someone else. It's not your place to give or withhold forgiveness, you are not the injured party.

I don't think people here are talking about forgiveness, but how he should be viewed and/or treated - and those things are not the place of the injured parties, but of the wider society.
posted by anonymisc at 1:09 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Other than the fact that he was and is now an inhuman monster, because such people never change. [Citation needed]

Not an expert on human behaviour or anything, but I would guess that there are a lot of reasons for people to do monstrous things. I believe that some of them can be done by people based on ignorance or lack of self-control (amongst other things). Both these things can be learned.

People can change. To squeeze all perpetrators of monstrous acts into the same bed feels wrong to me. If you cannot see the difference between someone ignorant, someone who has lost control and trusted it with another and someone who is psychopathic, then I believe that you are shortsighted.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


1) You seem to think that your safety is somehow tied up with the dehumanization of someone else.

I don't understand why you feel that I think that way. I'm simply pointing out that his regret comes at a point in time where nobody can benefit from it except himself. Kind of convenient, don't you think?

2) There is no rational reason to put Malvo in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.

When did I say anything to support putting him in solitary confinement for the rest of his life? My argument is limited to the sole point that Malvo is a horrible human being and people who believe his "remorse" without a single scrap of empirical evidence are demonstrating extreme gullibility. That doesn't have any implicit or explicit connection to his living situation.

There is no argument for deterence, for rehabilitation, or for safety. SuperMax was orginally sold as a way to keep "gang" members and lifetime violent criminals from wreaking havoc within the prison system. The only justification for the conditions within SuperMax facilities is safety, not justice. Malvo is clearly in SuperMax as a form of punishment and you seem to agree... why is this?

Again, where are you getting this idea that I argued for Malvo to be in SuperMax? Please show me the exact paragraph where I made the case for this. I think you may be suffering from a slight reading comprehension fail, or conflating something that I said with another person's comments.

As to 1) there is a clear argument to be made that it was not 9/11, but the DC sniper killings (and the anthrax attacks) that led to the political climate which led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. the idea that invading Iraq as a response to attacks made my Saudi's that were planned in Germany (and arguably afghanistan) was never popular. it arose out the fever swamp of DC, and that fever was raised to a high pitch by the feelings of insecurity engendered by the sniper attacks.

So, what else has to be done in order for you to feel safe?


These final two paragraphs are a complete derail because (as I already pointed out) they're based on a lot of unsubstantiated (and false) assumptions you're making about both me and my argument. I don't even know where to begin discussing this with you because it feels like you're not even talking to me or directly addressing anything I said; instead you're arguing with some stereotypical right-wing conservative who only exists in your head.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:13 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


from a logical perpective, it's irrational to make the assumption that every person shares certain emotional commonalities

It seems beyond reason to look at the fabric of human society and claim that it is held together by logic and rationality. Of course we accord each other fairytales of guilt, redemption, retribution, grace.
posted by deo rei at 1:14 PM on September 30, 2012


I think it's an awfully huge stretch to link the sniper shootings with the Iraq War.
posted by downing street memo at 1:14 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


how he should be viewed and/or treated - and those things are not the place of the injured parties, but of the wider society.

But how he should be viewed and how he should be treated, as I went on to point out, are, except to the childish mindset of retribution, entirely unconnected with each other. We don't lock people up because they have bad souls or wicked minds, or even because their crimes deserve it. The only good reasons for locking people up are deterrence and protection (and perhaps rehabilitation, but y'know, not really so much in the English-speaking world). Answering the question of whether Lee Malvo is 'a monster', or whether he truly repents is simply not relevant to questions of what we do with him. Is deterrence served by continuing to imprison him? Is society protected by his imprisonment? Does the continued rule of law require him to continue to be punished? These are the important questions. Discussing whether he is truly wicked is utterly pointless.
posted by howfar at 1:17 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Other than the fact that he was and is now an inhuman monster, because such people never change. [Citation needed]

Citation: The Milgram Expriement (and the Stanford Experiment) demonstrate that we are all inhuman monsters, which implies that none of us will never change (and also implies that it is human to be inhuman :-) ).
However, some of us have enjoyed the good fortune to have the fundamentally relative nature of our moral compass go untested and unrevealed, or to only be revealed under deceptively benign experimental circumstances.
posted by anonymisc at 1:21 PM on September 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


I think it's an awfully huge stretch to link the sniper shootings with the Iraq War.

Not at all. It created an incredible air of tension in the very place where decisions like that get made.

Of course, that does not excuse their actions. They really should be locked up.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:22 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Citation: The Milgram Expriement (and the Stanford Experiment) demonstrate that we are all inhuman monsters

Correct: the Milgram Experiment demonstrates that we are all inhuman monsters, except the red diaper babies.
posted by kenko at 1:24 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Correction, rather.

Moreover, I bet most of the people in the Milgram experiment who did go along—who, if they had really been doing what they were supposedly doing, would have severely injured and possibly killed the people they were supposedly shocking—expressed regret and contrition after the fact.

Of course, we know they weren't sincere—once they were caught, they just starting playing the long game.

(Yes, obviously these things are not equivalent, but really, if you're willing to accept the contrition of the the Milgram experimentees, who, again, thought they were doing something that was actually potentially deadly, and weren't subject to nearly the amount of control that this guy was, well, why?)
posted by kenko at 1:26 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Answering the question of whether Lee Malvo is 'a monster', or whether he truly repents is simply not relevant to questions of what we do with him.

Followed by

Is society protected by his imprisonment?

Does not compute. If he truly repents (and thus nolonger sees his actions as an acceptable course of action for himself in future), that is a legitimately relevant factor to the question of whether imprisonment is protecting society (and one that is routinely considered when those decisions are being made.)
posted by anonymisc at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Discussing whether he is truly wicked is utterly pointless.

Certainly, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. Reducing this to a utilitarian calculus of deterrence and protection ignores the ritualistic aspects from which a system of justice derives at least some of its authority.
posted by deo rei at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2012


It is probably worth remembering that Malvo was trained by an ex-soldier, using military techniques he knew from his own training. That training works very well, which is why militaries use it. For the most part we assume soldiers will come home after the war and quietly re-integrate with society. Of course that doesn't always work out so well but it does seem they can mostly get over the whole shoot first think later instinct that's drilled into them in Basic.
posted by localroger at 1:30 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I find it very odd when bystanders discuss the possibility of forgiving or condemning someone who injured someone else. It's not your place to give or withhold forgiveness, you are not the injured party.

This is the reason we don't let directly injured parties decide culpability or administer punishment. It is natural that a directly injured party may irrevocably condemn and never forgive. But society is also injured by these crimes, and society can determine when, how, whether and to what extent it is appropriate and beneficial to society to condemn and/or forgive.

Notwithstanding the fact (it seems to me) that genuinely evil people incapable of reform do exist, it doesn't necessarily follow that the participant in a terrible crime such as the DC sniper killings is one of these people. There are, for example, children and young people who have been exploited by elders and committee far more horrible atrocities (Uganda and Cambodia come immediately to mind) and we view these individuals as victims even though thee might also be monsters --the two not being mutually exclusive. Whether this young man is trying to exploit the system through rehabilitating his image is unknowable to a certainty, although he seems to stand nothing to gain by faking a change of heart. Considering that he will remain a guest of the state for the rest of his life, however, it doesn't seem to cost us anything to suppose it is a possibility.
posted by slkinsey at 1:31 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


In the corner of the DC area I was in, the sniper incited more visceral fear than 9/11 or anthrax did. The DC sniper was worse than al Qaeda, hands down, in that regard. More chilling than tanks rolling down the National Mall, more chilling than nuclear war.

They wouldn't let children out for recess. Field trips were cancelled. People were afraid to get gas or go about their daily lives. Fear of mass terrorism is a background process in people's minds, an abstract concept one deals with on a societal level...but the fear that you, and only you will be picked off one day by some random person while you're getting groceries?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 1:32 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or more to the point: no system of justice is just if it routinely locks up people who are perceived to be entirely unwicked, no matter how much deterrence and protection this affords.
posted by deo rei at 1:32 PM on September 30, 2012


People change all the time, and in far more dramatic ways than this. The sneering, cynical disbelief expressed here is justification only, it doesn't stand up to logic for a second. We do not have torturous prisons because people deserve them; we pretend to believe the notion that some people deserve them, because we have them, and we desperately want to see them used. The desire to punish someone who deserves punishment is what prompts the search for deserving sufferers.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:38 PM on September 30, 2012


It is probably worth remembering that Malvo was trained by an ex-soldier, using military techniques he knew from his own training. That training works very well, which is why militaries use it.

That is a very good point actually. I was young person in the military trained at the age of 20 which is not that different than Malvo's age. I feel very confident that should an officer of any rank what so ever issue an order to begin killing innocent people at random the vast majority of the young men and women in my Company would have refused such an order. You made an interesting comparison but I do not think it is a fair comparison.

I personally believe that here is a part of the mind we call empathy or perhaps conscience, that maybe is granted by a gene or perhaps by learning or perhaps both. I believe that the capacity to perceive such empathy either develops at an early age - or never develops at all and I believe that such capacities for such empathy or conscience is different for different people and for people who have little to no capacity for empathizing with another - we call them monsters or sociopaths or psychopaths and they do terrible things to people and will never ever change.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 1:40 PM on September 30, 2012


I'm sorry, but there's no such thing as monsters.
posted by grog at 1:43 PM on September 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Didn't take us long to get around to some biological theories of criminality and deviance here, did it? If only a pediatrician had measured Malvo's forehead early enough...

How would this all look if the shootings had been committed by a white woman, under the sway of a clearly abusive husband? Would we be so keen to judge, condemn, and incarcerate permanently?

There is no situation in which forgiveness and understanding is impossible.
posted by broadway bill at 1:49 PM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think it's an awfully huge stretch to link the sniper shootings with the Iraq War.

You have to grow neocon ideas in the proper environment, or nobody will think that the flower is pretty.

Look at the comments on the WAPO article. There were several people linking this to Farrakhan and Bin Laden.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:51 PM on September 30, 2012


I personally believe that here is a part of the mind we call empathy or perhaps conscience, that maybe is granted by a gene or perhaps by learning or perhaps both. I believe that the capacity to perceive such empathy either develops at an early age - or never develops at all and I believe that such capacities for such empathy or conscience is different for different people and for people who have little to no capacity for empathizing with another - we call them monsters or sociopaths or psychopaths and they do terrible things to people and will never ever change.

I agree absolutely that there are ways that the brain can develop abnormally or become abnormal to such an extent that no abhorrence is attached to monstrous actions. I disagree that that is the only way that monstrous actions could come about.

There have been plenty of examples of disciplined troops of normal people following very bad orders or making very bad decisions. (Sorry, was going to list a lot more of them, but got to the Wikipedia page of massacres and I just couldn't bear it - it isn't rare).

The Milgram experiment has shown that even though most people think that they are moral and would never descend to darkness, many, many people do. History has also proven that point - a long time before Milgram.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:52 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Dismissing people as monsters is an easy way to avoid reflecting on the susceptibility of the inner self to the voice of authority.
posted by schroedinger at 1:52 PM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Podkayne, military training is expressly designed to turn empathy off. The US tries to at least make a show of training soldiers in ways that are less horrifying, but while Malvo was trained like a soldier, he wasn't trained as a soldier and you can bet Malvo didn't get those lessons in the laws of war. Also, most soldiers don't get the one-on-one intensive course Malvo got.

The interview contains several examples of Malvo recalling exactly thet kind of reactions soldiers are trained for. After WWII it was realized that a lot of US soldiers were ineffective; they simply wandered about the battlefield in a kind of a state of shock, not shooting at or caring much about anything. The generals were of course horrified by this and they spent some big bucks improving Basic Training as a result.

One of the big techniques introduced was reflexive shooting. Soldiers were conditioned -- literally like Pavlov's dogs -- to shoot at anything even remotely resembling a human if they had a gun in their hand. This way, even if they were overwhelmed by the circumstances of battle, they'd continue to be effective. This technique proved very effective when the results started to come in from Vietnam and it's in use to this day.

This is how Malvo was trained. Your assertion that most people would refuse an unlawful order is, in practice, not very well supported; you might have heard of a little village called My Lai.
posted by localroger at 1:53 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


How would this all look if the shootings had been committed by a white woman, under the sway of a clearly abusive husband? Would we be so keen to judge, condemn, and incarcerate permanently?

There are some cases where race absolutely and obviously matters. But when it comes to a sniper indiscriminately shooting at dozens of men, women and children for weeks on end then no I don't think race is in the minds of nearly anyone here (save yourself) and I think that you are simply parroting arguments that you heard appropriately applied elsewhere.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 1:54 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
Socrates taught us: "Know thyself."
Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't…
From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb.
And correspondingly, from evil to good. —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


he does come across as quite reasonable, if it is genuine then fair play to him for making the best out of an unpleasant situation, doesn't excuse the crime obviously but you can respect how he seems to be conducting himself
posted by Damienmce at 1:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's an awfully huge stretch to link the sniper shootings with the Iraq War.


It's not a cause-effect relationship, but it is linked in the abstract. Think of the absurd, terrifying climate that the first term of Bush 43 was in the DC area.

9/11, an attack on Washington not seen since the War of 1812, an attack on the headquarters of our defense. The Pentagon, an iconic, imposing building that tens of thousands worked in, and tens of thousands more commuted through on the bus terminal attached to it, projecting both military might and the safety of everyday routine, scarred by a civilian aircraft.

Anthrax attacks, random killings by an obscure bacterium that literally took one's breath away, attacking postal workers (more parts of what were once orderly, safe systems) and into the heart of the Capitol offices.

Every single person in the DC area either works at the Pentagon or the Capitol offices, or knows someone that does. Every single one.

We only had the faintest clue what al Qaeda was, and the anthrax attacks were never solved. Then came the sniper, indiscriminately attacking anyone who wasn't even connected to the government. The motives for 9/11 and Anthrax were pretty clear, enemies disliked our government and what we stood for, but the sniper was unmitigated and random death hailing from the sky. As far as we knew it was an act of an angry, furious, and irrational God.

Is it any surprise we ran headlong into an absurd war on pretenses of WMDs? Such a thing was totally believable after two years of intense terror and insanity. It became entirely believable that Saddam Hussein could drop anthrax and random death on us, and people who should have known better, the leaders we trust with intelligence and our defense, exploited this to take us to war.

There was a climate of terror and absurdity surrounding the early Bush years that seems unthinkable today, 10 years later.

So no. I am opposed to the death penalty. But I am fine with leaving him in prison for the next century. There was concrete, indiscriminate killing and an unprecedented atmosphere of fear that the DC sniper created or exacerbated.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 1:57 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


An honest question: How many of you who are decrying him as inhuman scum have actually interacted with prisoners?

I have. I am involved with the Alternatives to Violence project, which conducts 3-day seminars inside (and out) of prisons across the US. I spent 3 days talking to maximum-security inmates about how violence affects all our lives and it was a truly, transformative experience. I have trouble putting words to what we went through together, but suffice it to say I was not the only one who cried, repeatedly. I watched people struggle with massive guilt for the people they hurt and the crimes they committed.

Prisoners are *people*. They have all done horrible things, but the biggest impression that I left with was that nearly everybody was a normal person who made a horrible choice under difficult circumstances. Are prisoners self-serving at times? Sure. Are they, as a general rule, monsters? Unequivocally no.

The prisoners I interacted with are people who were beaten and abused and raped as children and were subjected to extreme violence in every aspect of their lives from a very young age. They came from broken homes, with drug addicted parents who left them to fend for themselves. Every person around them modeled violence as a solution to problems from the time they were small children. They chose to continue that violence rather than finding a way out, but finding a way out meant leaving behind their entire support structure, their neighborhood, their family, their friends, everything. For the most part, they are deeply ashamed of what they have done. They are desperate to leave those ways of living behind, but they often don't know how.

Please remember this before you dismiss prisoners as subhuman.
posted by zug at 1:58 PM on September 30, 2012 [56 favorites]


That is a very good point actually. I was young person in the military trained at the age of 20 which is not that different than Malvo's age. I feel very confident that should an officer of any rank what so ever issue an order to begin killing innocent people at random the vast majority of the young men and women in my Company would have refused such an order. You made an interesting comparison but I do not think it is a fair comparison.

Malvo was first exposed to John Muhammad When he was 14 years old, and participated in the crimes when he was 17 years old. You don't think there is a meaningful difference between an ethically-trained 20 year old and an unethically-trained 14 to 17 year old?
posted by slkinsey at 1:59 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel very confident that should an officer of any rank what so ever issue an order to begin killing innocent people at random the vast majority of the young men and women in my Company would have refused such an order.

There is very strong historical evidence from the beginning of recorded history until, well, now, that you're wrong about this.

We can't all be in the "good" 40% in a real life Milgram experiment.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:00 PM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


"There are some cases where race absolutely and obviously matters. But when it comes to a sniper indiscriminately shooting at dozens of men, women and children for weeks on end then no I don't think race is in the minds of nearly anyone here (save yourself) and I think that you are simply parroting arguments that you heard appropriately applied elsewhere."

So, in a case involving a black Mulsim youth "terrorizing" Washington DC in a post-9/11 America, race and social standing are not factors in our considerations?

I'll also ask that you not accuse me of "parroting" an argument I heard elsewhere. You know nothing of me.
posted by broadway bill at 2:02 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's also worthy if note that Podakayne's supposition that his co-trainees in the military wouldn't "kill innocent people at random" or do similarly horrible things if they believed they had received an order or were under a mandate to do so is contradicted by a few thousand years worth of history, including right up o the present day.
posted by slkinsey at 2:04 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Podkayne, military training is expressly designed to turn empathy off.

On this we agree because no sane, rational, moral person can survive killing many others unless you manage to turn empathy off somehow. Which is why so many of our Vets turn to drugs and have psychological issues. Unless you are a monster you cannot kill children (children who are shooting at you mind you) without consequence.

The US tries to at least make a show of training soldiers in ways that are less horrifying, but while Malvo was trained like a soldier, he wasn't trained as a soldier and you can bet Malvo didn't get those lessons in the laws of war. Also, most soldiers don't get the one-on-one intensive course Malvo got.

Here and what you say later lead me to believe that you have never actually received such training yourself. I was in the military , in the U.S. Army and I did and I have mixed feelings about it to say the least. You are incorrect in that the military "makes a show" of training. Even back in the 70's (when I was trained) we received at least 10 hours of instruction on the Geneva Convention, what was a legal and illegal order and we were told about Mai Lai and were heavily instructed that if we received an illegal kill order we were to refuse it (along with a lot of warning about being darn sure it was an illegal order). Back then, at least, we were told that killing unarmed civilians would result in our imprisonment.

The interview contains several examples of Malvo recalling exactly thet kind of reactions soldiers are trained for.

An inappropriate analogy as per what I mentioned above.

One of the big techniques introduced was reflexive shooting. Soldiers were conditioned -- literally like Pavlov's dogs -- to shoot at anything even remotely resembling a human if they had a gun in their hand.

Forgive me but from my actual time in Basic Training that is nonsense. No such "reflexive training" philosophy existed or was taught during my time .

This is how Malvo was trained.

You don't know that and I don't know that but I personally feel it far more likely that his mentor, Mohammad, a psychopath himself merely sought out another psychopath to train under him.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:06 PM on September 30, 2012


anonymisc: Citation: The Milgram Expriement (and the Stanford Experiment) demonstrate that we are all inhuman monsters,

I wish I could favorite that comment about five times. That inhumanity is on display in flashing neon letters in this thread, let me tell you.

Americans have a truly frightening empathy deficit.
posted by Malor at 2:07 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Reducing this to a utilitarian calculus of deterrence and protection ignores the ritualistic aspects from which a system of justice derives at least some of its authority.

You do realise that is a utilitarian argument, don't you? One that I am wholly amenable to, and in fact one I have already referred to when asking whether the punishment is necessary for the continued rule of law. However, the pretence that we need sophistry and moral superstition to protect reason is in fact a spurious appeal to reason as a prop for sophistry and moral superstition. Pretending we can't pull back the curtain to show the workings, as if the criminal justice system is some sort of magic trick is simply ridiculous.
posted by howfar at 2:11 PM on September 30, 2012


Podkayne, you're right that I've never gone through Basic myself but I was very close to someone who did as she went through the process of washing out. The reflexive shooting thing may not be taught in all contexts but some time back (in the 1980's) I read an article that positively gushed about what an advancement it was. There were statements in that article (which was written for military leaders) eerily similar to things that came out of Malvo's mouth in this interview.

Also, and while this might be an unwarranted assumption -- I don't know anything about Podkayne of Pasadena, but I do know that Podkayne of Mars was a woman -- the Basic you got might not be quite the same as that given to infantrymen who are expected to be sent into combat.
posted by localroger at 2:14 PM on September 30, 2012


There is very strong historical evidence from the beginning of recorded history until, well, now, that you're wrong about this.

You have no idea how many illegal kill orders were refused do you? This is because you were never in the military and only hear of the times when things which went wrong get leaked to the military. The military does not make a point of publicizing when soldiers refuse orders , especially when soldiers are right, for a variety of frankly good reasons. So you are basing your suppositions on a very biased set of reports that you, as an outsider, come to hear.

Shit happens during a fight. Things go wrong. Mistakes get made. Innocents get killed. Bad people sometimes give bad orders. All these things are an unfortunately normal consequence of war which is why I believe that war should be a last resort not engaged upon as freely as America has been doing these past 20 years. However just because bad shit happens does not mean that people were trained to make it happen or that they did it intentionally, Yes I know that sometimes they do (Abu-Girab) but the vast majority of times they do not.

Just because you are only privy to the times that shit went wrong and got into the media does not mean that more times than not , this does not happen.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:15 PM on September 30, 2012


should be "get leaked to the newspapers" not "get leaked to the military"
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:15 PM on September 30, 2012


Does not compute. If he truly repents (and thus nolonger sees his actions as an acceptable course of action for himself in future), that is a legitimately relevant factor to the question of whether imprisonment is protecting society (and one that is routinely considered when those decisions are being made.)

The fact of repentance is, as you say, a factor that should be considered in assessing risk, but the moral status of that repentance, or of the person expressing it, is, in and of itself, not relevant. A criminal could come to see his actions as not acceptable for all kinds of reasons apart from genuine repentance. Soldiers returning from war do not generally have to repent the killing they've done in order to not be at risk of doing it again.
posted by howfar at 2:16 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have no idea how many illegal kill orders were refused do you?

Yeah, but you don't know how many many illegal kill orders were obeyed, and then covered up, either.

And 'more times than not' isn't a proof of jack shit, Podkayne. It means it still happens. A lot. Soldiers that you think of as being fine, moral, upstanding people would do things very similar to what Malvo did. All it would take is some conditioning from someone they trust, like, say, the government, telling them that the enemy is surrounding them, and may be disguised as civilians.

People you know personally would have participated in My Lai. I absolutely guarantee it. Probably even you.
posted by Malor at 2:18 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Podkayne of Mars was a woman -- the Basic you got might not be quite the same as that given to infantrymen who are expected to be sent into combat.

I was not the same gender then as I am now so your argument is understandably presumptuous. The article that you read about "reflexive shooting" is just an article that you read somewhere. There are SO many reasons why in the vast majority of real instances, shooting at anything that moves, is a really really bad idea. There is no such training which educates soldiers to so such.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:22 PM on September 30, 2012


All this is derailing the point of the article and so I won't comment further. My only point is to say that anyone who claims that Malvo's actions resulted from American "military-style" training by his mentor is speaking from a position of ignorance and likely has never received such training themselves.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:24 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And also, it's not really fair to compare all soldiers, from all different backgrounds, to one kid who was specifically selected and groomed. Again, looking at the Milgram experiment, about 3/8 of participants did refuse to continue. But if I were a deranged general in the army, I'd look for the other 5/8 of soldiers.

Is the claim really that 5/8 of Americans are monsters?
posted by muddgirl at 2:25 PM on September 30, 2012


(And heck, among some populations such as nurses the ratio of monsters is closer to 80%. I would assume that a random population of soldiers would be mentally closer to nurses than to the general public.)
posted by muddgirl at 2:26 PM on September 30, 2012


Podkayne (point taken on the gender thing) I never said American style military training. The very point is that Muhammad didn't want a proper American style soldier. If you understand how the techniques work, though, it's not hard to pervert them into something more effective should you be, say, Serbian or Rwandan, or a psycho grooming a Robin to your Batman for your tilt at the windmill of the world.
posted by localroger at 2:27 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Other than the fact that he was and is now an inhuman monster, because such people never change....such monsters never had the kinds of feelings and empathizes that we have - and never will....Such people can never be redeemed...Malvo is exactly where he belongs.

If you have a magic test that can suss out who has the internal life of an irredeemable monster and who is redeemable, why bother with prison, why not kill him? Lifetime solitary confinement in a supermax prison without the possibility of parole is just brutal, punitive, and monstrous itself, especially at a prison that has, according to Human Rights Watch, "failed to embrace basic tenets of sound correctional practice and laws protecting inmates from abusive, degrading or cruel treatment [cite]."
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:35 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


In related news, in California, Jerry Brown just signed a law that would allow people serving life in prison for crimes that they committed as minors to petition for a change in their sentence. They can initiate the petition after they have served 15 years, and they must serve a minimum of 25 years before release.
posted by salvia at 2:39 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I object to the use of the word "devastated" ("Malvo said losing the children devastated Muhammad....") in cases such as this where an offended party in a custody decision murders his ex-spouse, children or perfect strangers, as happens distressingly often.

The word implies a sorrowful, numb or confused reaction to loss. John Allen Muhammad's reaction would be more accurately described, in my opinion, as "filled with rage."
posted by Morrigan at 2:41 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the claim really that 5/8 of Americans are monsters?

The claim is that something like 60% of people (and this is consistent across various studies) are so susceptible to orders from authority figures that they would kill someone they wouldn't otherwise kill.

These people aren't monsters. They have a moral compass and if you asked them beforehand whether there were any situations in which they would shock an innocent person to death they would laugh at you and say "of course not".

If Malvo did what 60% of people his age would have done in his situation ... well, I'd say he still deserves to be punished and still deserves to be in jail. But it's pretty damn hard to call him a monster.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:48 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went to the landmine museum in Cambodia. The founder of the museum told his story - he was a young soldier for the Khmer Rouge and planted over a thousand unmarked landmines. Later, he realized that he had committed a great crime. He devoted his life to removing mines - he and his wife have removed over 50,000 mines. I doubted that number till I saw, first, a video of him defusing (at high speed with a screwdriver), and second, saw the huge piles of empty cases of landmines (and as the museum points out, about 90% of them were too dangerous to remove and had to be detonated onsite).

If history has shown one thing, it's that strong older males are easily able to brainwash younger males into doing their bidding. John Allen Muhammed took Malvo as a neglected 14-year-old with no fixed address, worked on him for three years, and made him into a killer - it would be surprising if he couldn't have done it.

The fact that America takes such great glee in wreaking the maximum possible punishment on Malvo says little about Malvo but speaks volumes about America. America's about the killingest country there is - it flaunts the law and deals death in wholesale quantities all over the world, and the idea that anyone in charge should be legally responsible for this or even express the slightest regret is considered laughable, but if some poor black kid is brainwashed over years into committing murder, he's a monster who can never get out again no matter how much he's changed.

"And why behold you the mote that is in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye?"
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:01 PM on September 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


You do realise that is a utilitarian argument, don't you? One that I am wholly amenable to, and in fact one I have already referred to when asking whether the punishment is necessary for the continued rule of law

I am not arguing from a consequentialist point of view but from an ontological perspective. I don't think you can remove the notion of "wickedness", problematic and undiscoverable as it may be, from the concept of justice without denaturing it. I think that has three problems, the first already noted, the second outlined in a comment above (a system of justice that maximizes deterrence and protection but does so by locking up the unwicked is unjust), and thirdly, it seems hard to answer the question "protection against what?" without ending up at "protection against the wicked".

Pretending we can't pull back the curtain to show the workings, as if the criminal justice system is some sort of magic trick is simply ridiculous

I agree, but I believe that until we acknowledge there are many unsatisfactory undiscoverables (in your words, magic) are at work, we haven't pulled back the curtain at all, just draped things differently.
posted by deo rei at 3:03 PM on September 30, 2012


I don't think you can remove the notion of "wickedness", problematic and undiscoverable as it may be, from the concept of justice without denaturing it.

Which is something I think we probably have to do. I'm very wary of the notion of justice generally, and retributive justice in particular, which is typically presented as a deontological principle but only seems to find expression in morally relativist and socially pragmatic ways. I doubt very strongly that justice, as you believe in it, exists at all, and I feel no need to defend the notion of wickedness in order to protect it.

a system of justice that maximizes deterrence and protection but does so by locking up the unwicked is unjust

Two points. Firstly I think this rather begs the question. You seem to be basing the need for wickedness on the need for fair retributive justice, without telling why we need fair retribution except to punish the wicked. You then tell us that we need to identify the wicked in order to avoid unjustly punishing the non-wicked. The whole argument seems predicated on the claim that there are wicked people in the world, without ever telling us why we should believe this.

Secondly, is the claim really true? Is a system that locks up people suffering from mental illnesses for the protection of society (including them) an unjust system? They are non-wicked prisoners, and yet I doubt many people would question the reasonableness of removing their liberty. What proponents of deontological notions of justice frequently neglect in their criticism of utilitarian views is that the welfare of the prisoner is an integral part of the calculus, precisely because they are not othered by the application of the notion of wickedness. I should also probably note that I favour a form of liberal consequentialism or preference utilitarianism, and think we have to place the highest value in individual self-determination, which rather undercuts some of the more howling dystopias that might be conjured up as a thought experiment.

it seems hard to answer the question "protection against what?" without ending up at "protection against the wicked".

Oh fie! We put lions in enclosures not because they are wicked but because they are dangerous. We don't have a trial where the judge tells the lion "You are an unrepentant menace to gazelles" before handing down a 5 year sentence with 2 years off for not eating its cellmate.
posted by howfar at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've noticed a lot of people speaking in absolutes of 'always', and 'never', and 'total monsters', and etc etc. These statements are very frequently paired with 'they'. This is very telling.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Jesus. What does it matter if he's a monster by anyone's subjective checklist? He and John Allen Muhammad shot around 25 people, killing about half of them. It doesn't make someone inhumane to want that person to stay in prison for the rest of his life. Some people here are so full of holier-than-thou compassion it's making their brain swell.

And solitary is bad for him? If he were put in general population, someone would kill him in the first week.
posted by stavrogin at 3:45 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Stavrogin, I think you've missed the major thread of the argument, which has nothing to do with whether he should be released, but is instead about whether it's possible for somebody in his situation to actually feel remorse for his actions and compassion for his victims.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:50 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


> We put lions in enclosures not because they are wicked but because they are dangerous.

Did reading that article really convince you that this was a dangerous man - that keeping him jail for the rest of his life is a better use of the taxpayer's money (about $2 million) than, say, sending 70 kids to college for four years?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:53 PM on September 30, 2012


Did reading that article really convince you that this was a dangerous man - that keeping him jail for the rest of his life is a better use of the taxpayer's money (about $2 million) than, say, sending 70 kids to college for four years?

No. I can't say that it did. His words, the circumstances of the case and the opinions of the professionals involved all suggest to me that this is likely somebody who should be released at some point, possibly even soon. It seems to me a stupid waste that there is no possibility of that happening.
posted by howfar at 4:04 PM on September 30, 2012


stavrogin: Some people here are so full of holier-than-thou compassion it's making their brain swell.

There is never a need for cruelty. Never, never, not ever. Keeping him in jail if we really think he's a menace is one thing; actively going out of our way to hurt him and make him miserable is evil.

If anything qualifies for the label of 'evil', that thinking sure as heck does.
posted by Malor at 4:08 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I moved to DC in August of 2002 as an intern. And stayed. (Holy what, it's been 10 years since then???) It was terrifying. We were all pretty fatalistic about it-I mean, how can you prevent such a thing? That being said, a friend and I left our building one night (16th & Rhode Island NW-the UCDC building next to the HRC) to go weekday drinking (I did mention we were interning, yes?). About a block toward Connecticut Ave, we both stopped suddenly. Because a laser-pointer red dot was on my chest. Then her head. We were deer in headlights waiting for the end. It felt like an eternity-I really understood what people mean when they say "time stood still"
Then the laser-point light thing left and we fell into a heap of hysterical giggles (and a little bit of pee) on the ground. Laughing, laughing for 3 or 4 minutes. And then went to drink. More than we had planned.
It's a mostly office-building neighborhood, so some bored dickwad was probably having fun, but at the time we both thought it was over and the DC Sniper had found us.
All of that (and the attendant weeks long reflex to, what...duck? run in a zigzag? every single time we saw a white van or box truck) said: I don't think the kid should necessarily be in jail forever.
But, I admit that I don't think jail should be about punishment, per se. Therapy in prison, half-way house, heavy probation with guidance-and there;s no reason necessarily this kid can't be a harmless if not productive adult.
Punishment and remorse don't interest me much. If he couldn't be a nonviolent member of society or messed up any of those steps, sure, send him back to prison, but I think that if we can make people functional members of society, we should-doesn't do me any good that he's locked up. He either feels bad or he doesn't and bars don't really change that. [Ah, my pie in the sky vision of incarceration]
posted by atomicstone at 4:23 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole argument seems predicated on the claim that there are wicked people in the world, without ever telling us why we should believe this.

Because it is the requisite counterbalance to the equally nebulous notion that there is grace and compassion in the world. I don't disagree in principle with your overall contention that there is no "justice" and I am pragmatic enough to entertain broadly utilitarian perspectives but in the end I don't see how you can escape the metaphysics of it, i.e. what kind of world do we wish to live in? Looking to at what's actually going on is certainly no guide, and I'd rather go from doubt to faith instead of whittling away until there's nothing left.

Is a system that locks up people suffering from mental illnesses for the protection of society (including them) an unjust system?

If is if it does so disproportionally and without at any point paying any regard to a confluence between the supposed wickedness and the (presumably objectively discoverable but the examples of abuse and hubris are abundant) mental illness. I believe that this is why diseases such as sociopathy and psychopathy are invariably described in terms relating to conscience and moral agency.

I think we have to place the highest value in individual self-determination

I agree mostly, the question is what framework can uphold or even given content to that notion in the first place.

We don't have a trial where the judge tells the lion

We don't put lions on trial, although, as I'm sure you're aware, we used to.
posted by deo rei at 4:58 PM on September 30, 2012


I'd rather go from doubt to faith instead of whittling away until there's nothing left.

Faith is interesting and troubling. I suppose I tend toward a vague sort of Kierkegaardian irrationalism in my old age. I have no hope left that I will ever find a framework that can uphold my moral faith, my belief that there is a difference between better and worse actions, and yet I feel that the absurd act of continuing to believe in the face of despair is precisely what faith must mean, at least for me. I don't have faith that there is a framework lurking somewhere out of sight that makes it right to be kind, I just have faith that it is so. I certainly don't think I have a rational answer to the problem of faith that those more usually identified as faithful don't, and I know I can't do without faith, even though I'm clinging to it like a drowning man to a lolly-stick.

if it does so disproportionally

Proportionality in law, particularly human rights law, tends to be precisely that utilitarian calculus whereby we justify abridging the liberty of others. I suppose my point is just that there are sometimes good reasons for locking people up, even if they're not wicked. The question as to when we may do this would seem to me a utilitarian one even if I were to accept the notion of imprisonment for the purpose of retributive justice as a separate strand of justification applicable to the wicked.

We don't put lions on trial, although, as I'm sure you're aware, we used to.

And the people of Hartlepool are known as "monkey hangers" to this day.
posted by howfar at 5:27 PM on September 30, 2012


The world is messy and people are complicated.
posted by localroger at 6:05 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


If Dillinger had understood what he was doing (which seemed incredible) then he got what was coming to him...

But suppose, as seemed more likely, that he was so crazy that he had never been aware that he was doing anything wrong? What then?

I couldn't see but two possibilities. Either he couldn't be made well in which case he was better dead for his own sake and for the safety of others—or he could be treated and made sane. In which case (it seemed to me) if he ever became sane enough for civilized society... and thought over what he had done while he was "sick"—what could be left for him but suicide? How could he live with himself?.

-- REH, Starship Troopers

I didn't want to post this spiel in it's entirety but it's well worth a read, I found it online here, you'll have to Ctrl+F and scroll up a bit for the whole thing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:15 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are soldiers mostrous? We train millions of young men and women to dispassionately murder.

Because killing the enemy before he kills you is just as 'monstrous' as killing civilians going about their lawful business, and all soldiers are 'dispassionate murderers'.

Context. Get some before you attempt to argue by analogy.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:27 PM on September 30, 2012


I don't know if the kid is/was a monster, but I'm convinced a few cruel people in this thread are.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I grew up in Northern Virginia (moved away mid-90s) and my mom and brother still live there. One of the people that was killed had the same name, first name and last name, as my mom. That was disconcerting.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:34 PM on September 30, 2012


His desire to be forgotten, in my opinion, speaks well of him:l he wants people to forget him, to no longer care about him, to move on with their life. Compare him to, say, Charles Manson, who will talk and talk and talk until the urge to shove a pillow in his mouth long enough for him to stop talking and let you walk away.

Was he brainwashed, or conditioned? Almost certainly.

The two big questions in parole reviews are: does he admit culpability? Does he show some form of remorse? I feel that, in this interview, he does.

And if he can find that in his heart, I think he can be made into a reasonable, productive member of society. He'll be in Witness Protection, because there is no way at all he would survive if people knew who he was - someone, somewhere, would think that he deserves to die no matter how much he'd changed and grown and learned what he did was wrong and tried to find something to show his regret and remorse, and would work to make sure it happened.

I kind of wonder if part of the reason he may remain in a supermax cell for the rest of his life is not so much to protect us from him, but to protect him from those amongst us.
posted by mephron at 6:39 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


But I guess I think some things are far too horrible to ever be forgiven.

Why? What's accomplished by not forgiving, except the temporary satisfaction of the sort of impulse whose transcendence is the prerogative of rational conscious beings who understand that, as localroger said, the world is messy and people complicated and, like, why contribute to it by allowing unhelpful, oversimplified, but complicating notions of desert and justice and inherent monstrosity and whatever to rent the mental space that should be reserved for justice and practical solutions to actual extant problems and whatever?
posted by kengraham at 6:40 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I kind of wonder if part of the reason he may remain in a supermax cell for the rest of his life is not so much to protect us from him, but to protect him from those amongst us.

It might be instructive to look at what happened to Jeffrey Dahmer, who was put in general population. He got hisself a daddy, somehow got hormonal drugs imported so he could grow breasts, bragged about how much fun he was having, and then got killed.
posted by localroger at 6:45 PM on September 30, 2012


I'm not advocating that Malvo be released at this point, but I do advocate that he, and every other prisoner, be given the chance to rehabilitate in a humane environment.

Just as you can learn almost everything important about a person by how they treat "inferiors" and service workers, you can tell everything important about a society about how it treats its less-advantaged, ill, children, elderly and especially those remanded to its care.

I guess the "F" on our report card will just be touted as standing for "freedom."
posted by maxwelton at 6:58 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't recognize the name. When I read "I was a monster...a ghoul a thief. I stole people’s lives. I did someone else’s bidding just because they said so. . . . There is no rhyme or reason or sense”, I assumed that Malvo was involved in some Wall Street-related financial debacle. I skimmed through several comments (missed at least one reference to "shooting") before I realized my error.

In retrospect, I have no idea why I thought someone involved in such a financial debacle would feel remorse for his actions.
posted by she's not there at 7:06 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


In American legal systems (and elsewhere, I would imagine) there are specific goals for punishment you see articulated: Retribution (a/k/a "just desserts), Rehabilitation, Deterrence, Incapacitation (i.e., removing the offender from society to protect the public), and, sometimes restitution. Every legal system struggles to find the balance between these goals for each particular crime, and a common critique of the American legal systems is that our system doesn't adequately provide for rehabilitation. Generally, in capital cases you see more emphasis placed upon the policies of of retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation, but when a minor is involved in a capital offense, then the argument becomes whether or not rehabilitation should be a goal that takes precedence over the other goals.
So looking at the above discussion, you see people coming down in favor of emphasis on retribution/incapacitation versus those arguing in favor of more emphasis on rehabilitation. Typically, when I hear people describe offenders as "monsters," I assume they are describing someone for whom there is zero possibility of rehabilitation. After reading that interview with Malvo, I'm just not seeing a monster. Remember, at the time of these murders, the law considered this kid too young to drink, to young to have the capacity to legally form a contract, too young to enlist in the military without consent of a parent or guardian, and in many jurisdictions, too young to manage his own property without a parent or guardian. From this interview, this kid seems worlds apart from famous sociopaths like Manson or Dahmer or other names we typically associate with "monster."
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:10 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I strongly disagree with the notion that Starship Troopers and Heinlein's view of society should be models of the criminal justice system. His conceptions about law and order, men and women, have only ever existed in the Just-So Stories that fill his books.
posted by schroedinger at 7:20 PM on September 30, 2012


In the interview, Malvo did not make any fanciful claims, as he did in his only other media contact. In a summer 2010 interview with William Shatner for the A&E Cable network, Malvo claimed that he and Muhammad shot 42 people and had accomplices along the way. Authorities have discounted those assertions.

It's true he was only 17 when he was involved in all those murders (and lied in taking responsibility for all of them to deflect blame from Muhammad), but as recently as 2 years ago, he was still fabricating stories about that time. What a strange person and story. And for all the victims,
.
posted by bluefly at 7:26 PM on September 30, 2012


"Malvo is exactly where he belongs."

My husband had just moved to D.C. at the time and it was horrifying. We were recently married and living in two different cities while I finished school. I was so scared. SO scared. But I am never made less, as a person, by treating other people and animals with kindness and respect. One does not let a vicious dog run around biting people, but one need not force the dog into a cruel confinement either; one can ensure the dog's confinement is as humane and and gentle as possible while not abandoning prudence and letting a dangerous dog run loose. I don't suppose the dog has the higher-order thinking skills to appreciate that while I won't let him run free, I am making his confinement as comfortable and kind as possible, but it only partly about the dog: It's also about me. You can't be cruel to others without damaging something inside yourself, even if those others are cruel to you first. Locking Malvo up in SuperMax not only damages him; it damages us. It makes us cruel. It renders us monsters.

“You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.” – Dag Hammarskjold
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:29 PM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I told my friend that malvo sounded like someone who had gained some insight into living honestly in light of all that he had done. His words at the end specifically struck me that way when he urged his victims to be strong and not let his offenses haunt them forever. I suppose it's possible he hopes they will forget him because he does long for that exponentially increasing circle of harm that he noted to fade. He wants maybe not forgiveness, but just peace. It's interesting that he has taken to yoga and meditation as he struck me as someone attempting to practice a kind of mindfulness.

But, I also think while it's conflicting to utter this aloud when you are the offender, it is nonetheless true. There is a secret to contentment. It comes in knowing what you can and cannot control, and the past is one thing beyond ones control. So is the future. Neither the past nor the future exist technically except in the minds of those of us suffering with them. I think malvo is in fact right about one thing. His victims owe it to themselves to find some way to stop him from offending them over and over through their memories and pain.

It all sounds glib when I write it down. I have never lost someone so close to me as to destroy me. To see my wife murderered in a parking lot by a random snipers bullet -- I don't know how one lives honestly with that memory. I do think though forgiving malvo is probably one of the only chances I could ever have at healing if that happened.

I do think people like malvo convicted of murder justify the construction of prisons. Doesn't mean all inhabitants of prisons do, but Malvo is a murderer. That said, it's not true that murderers are monsters. The sad reality is that murderers are people who to quote george Bernard shaw had their reasons. They had reasons. That is the hard thing about society.
posted by scunning at 7:40 PM on September 30, 2012


It might be instructive to look at what happened to Jeffrey Dahmer, who was put in general population. He got hisself a daddy, somehow got hormonal drugs imported so he could grow breasts, bragged about how much fun he was having, and then got killed.

Dahlmer? Sorry, you've got the wrong notorious murderer there.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:02 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know if the kid is/was a monster, but I'm convinced a few cruel people in this thread are.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on September 30 [5 favorites +] [!]


Yup. You, and the people who agree with you, are the monsters because you equate words with multiple murder.

Got that everybody? I'm the morally superior one! Gotta make sure everyone in the thread knows how much better I am, as a person, than they are!
posted by Snyder at 1:22 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, seriously - that's a pretty judgemental and unreasonable attitude to take, Five Fresh Fish. You can forgive multiple murderers all you want, but when you call other people monsters for not doing likewise, you're making it pretty clear that your common sense checked out of the station quite a while ago.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:42 AM on October 1, 2012


You're not a monster for not forgiving him. You are a monster for wishing him to be treated inhumanely.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:52 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's amazing how so many monstrous people only seem to "see the light" and "regret their actions" after they are caught.

Are you exactly the same person you were ten or fifteen years ago?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on October 1, 2012


You're not a monster for not forgiving him. You are a monster for wishing him to be treated inhumanely.

Geez, another person with a reading disability?!? How many of you are out there?

Reread my comments on this thread and tell me where I ever advocated for Malvo to be treated poorly. The answer is "never." I never said he should be in SuperMax, nor did I advocate for any type of cruel treatment.

In fact, the fact is that I already corrected another reading-impaired person who claimed (incorrectly) that I was advocating for him to be kept in SuperMax when I had actually implied no such thing. So if you had taken the time to read what I'd written, you'd see that you're not actually addressing any of my comments. You're addressing a fictitious character who lives only in your imagination.

But you're not much good with "facts", are you? You don't really care about what I actually said or didn't say - you just want to call somebody else a monster so you can get a sense of holier-than-thou self-righteousness. Taking the time to bother reading what that person actually said would get in the way of your rabble-rousing sermon, so why bother when you can simply put words in my mouth?

Maybe I should do that same thing to you sometime, just so that you have a clear understanding of how badly you're distorting other people's comments. I'll say "Hey Five Fresh Fish, I think you're pretty sexist for saying that women are inferior to men." I'll probably get a ton of favorites because clearly people are idiots and they're not going to take the time to read through the entire thread to figure out that you didn't actually say what I attributed to you.
Then when you say "Um what, I never said that" I'll just ignore you and continue talking about how you hate women.

And also puppies, kittens, and freedom.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:45 AM on October 1, 2012


you just want to call somebody else a monster so you can get a sense of holier-than-thou self-righteousness.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:45 AM on October 1

--

It's amazing how so many monstrous people only seem to "see the light" and "regret their actions" after they are caught.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:23 AM on September 30
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on October 1, 2012


I've lived in the VA/DC area all my life. I remember getting gas under tarps and doing 'serpentines' across parking lots, and being afraid of white ladder vans.

What I remember most vividly is before we knew who the shooter(s) were, and how all the speculation and "evidence" pointed it to be a loner nerd/gamer, reporting such gems as how "Dear Mr. Policeman, I am God" might refer to "God Mode" in popular FPS games, and how a serial killer with a background in such video games might similarly feel "invincible" or "godlike", also violent influences, also Columbine.

...then when Muhammed and Malvo were caught, they went into all the violent influences surrounding them, but only the fact that they were some kind of "Muz-lum", and how it was their RELIGION that drove them to shoot people. Nothing to do with Muhammed having a psychotic break from losing his kids, nothing about him being a decorated USMC sniper, nothing about the military style training program he ran in his backyard, with three-point target shots found in the trees on his property, no no, none of that could have POSSIBLY come into play, so it's good that no one in the news media reflected on any of it for more than a second and hammered the "Islamic Terror" angle that was trending at the time. Same thing with the Fort Hood shooter.

AND I say this as someone who was raised by a retired Marine, with family and friends in active duty currently. It's like people are so in love with the IDEA of the military and every solder as Captain America that they don't want to acknowledge that sometimes the wrong person gets turned into an efficient killing machine.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Empress, let me be clear - I'm not upset with Five Fresh Fish for calling me a monster. After all, I called Malvo a monster. Everybody's entitled to their own opinion.

However, one thing I never said was that Malvo should be punished more. Nor did I ever say that he should be locked away in Supermax (in fact, I don't believe he should be). Malvo may be a monster, but that doesn't mean I think we need to treat him with added cruelty.

So when Five Fresh Fish tells me that I said Malvo should be punished more than he is already, he is demonstrating a fundamental inability to read what I wrote. Reading comprehension is a basic skill. Even five year olds can do it.

In short, I'm upset with Five Fresh Fish less because of his moralizing and more because of his ignorance. If he's going to claim that I said Malvo should be punished more, then he should either point out exactly where I said it, or admit that he's wrong and consider practicing his reading skills.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:05 AM on October 1, 2012


But there are a number of people who are directly saying that they're happy he's being abused, wolfdreams, and since that's what's five fresh fish (and I, and others) are arguing against, and calling evil, then if you jump into the middle of that and start calling Malvo a monster, well -- you're just dehumanizing him again.

In that context, FFF assuming you mean he should be abused is not that unreasonable, even if you didn't directly say so.
posted by Malor at 8:19 AM on October 1, 2012


Wolfdreams, I'm not actually talking about what's going on with you and FFF. That's between you two.

I was just struck by the irony of you calling someone else a monster, and then turning around and later saying "Oh, I suppose some people like to call other people monsters if it helps them feel better."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on October 1, 2012


But there are a number of people who are directly saying that they're happy he's being abused, wolfdreams, and since that's what's five fresh fish (and I, and others) are arguing against, and calling evil, then if you jump into the middle of that and start calling Malvo a monster, well -- you're just dehumanizing him again.

OK, let me get this straight. You're saying the following:

1) I believe that Malvo is a monster.
2) Other people believe Malvo is a monster and should be punished more.

Therefore, because I agree with other people that he is a monster, I must ipso facto agree that he should be punished more.

===

That's not logical at all. In fact, it's just dumb. By conflating multiple people's opinions in this way - until you only have two "opposing sides" whose opinions can all be reduced into a single "party platform" you're failing to engage with them in good faith - instead you're creating a stereotype and engaging with the stereotype instead.

I appreciate your taking the time to explain to me the flawed logic behind Five Fresh Fish's ignorant assumption, but that changes neither the fact that it was ignorant, nor the fact that it was a false assumption. I guess I feel slightly better that his distortion of my statement can be attributed not to malice but rather due to a comprehension fail on his part, but generally when people say completely incorrect things that are hurtful it's good form to apologize for them, and you'll notice that he still hasn't done that yet.

I was just struck by the irony of you calling someone else a monster, and then turning around and later saying "Oh, I suppose some people like to call other people monsters if it helps them feel better."

I guess that makes sense, if you perceived me as being angry at being called a monster. But I just want to clarify now that this isn't the case. The "monster" thing was peripheral to my argument. It was the ignorance and willful lack of reading comprehension that bothered me.

Just to be perfectly clear, I'm not arguing with you about what should happen to Malvo - as long as he stays behind bars, I feel like the public is safe. To me, this issue is entirely about Five Fresh Fish's ignorant attribution to me of statements that I did not in fact make. Vigorous debate is one thing, but Metafilter becomes a poorer place when people are allowed to make gross misrepresentations llike that, so we all benefit from calling out crap like this when it occurs.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:46 AM on October 1, 2012


That's not logical at all. In fact, it's just dumb.

No, it isn't. Not in context. People are making these arguments, and jumping into the middle of it, and explicitly declaring that you agree with the major reason for why the abusers are claiming they should be able to abuse Malvo, makes it look like you're an abuser, too.

If you want to be perceived as having a nuanced position, then you need to actually express that nuance, not throw in driveby one-liners and expect to be understood.
posted by Malor at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dude, I suggest that if you don't want to be part of the "monstrous mefites" class of people, that you not sleep so intimately with them.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:15 AM on October 1, 2012


metafilter: the "monstrous mefites" class of people
posted by localroger at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2012


I guess that makes sense, if you perceived me as being angry at being called a monster. But I just want to clarify now that this isn't the case. The "monster" thing was peripheral to my argument.

But you calling Malvo a "monster" was the very first comment in this thread.

Frankly, I haven't been paying attention to your argument with FFF, so it looks more like you're backpedalling about getting called out for calling Malvo a monster.

Just to be perfectly clear, I'm not arguing with you about what should happen to Malvo - as long as he stays behind bars, I feel like the public is safe.

Then I question why you felt the need to snark about the sincerity of his statement in the very first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, he calls people monsters for advocating cruelty.

If the term applies to Malvo, who was underage at the time he committed his crime, it certainly applies to them, who are presumably adult and not being mentored by psychopaths.
posted by Malor at 10:13 AM on October 1, 2012


It's totally forgivable to kill random people (causing untold pain to their loved ones), but not to "advocate cruelty."

One of these has shown remorse.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:07 AM on October 1, 2012


[Cool it, thank you.]
posted by cortex at 12:51 PM on October 1, 2012


While i think wolfdreams does need to cool it, I also find it reprehensible that several people on here are putting people have a (meaningless) opinion on how a KNOWN, CONVICTED mass murder on the same moral plane. That is reprehensible and shows a lot about you also that you think words on a internet message board make you worse than a cold blooded killer.

My personal feelings are I don't give a fuck whether or not Malvo feels remorse. His remorse won't bring back the people he shot. I think after such a monstrous crime the only way to deal with such...an individual is execution. That way he can't do it again, no matter what. The deterrence effect from capital crime is small at best but society has, HAS to send a firm message about this kind of thing happening. And it ain't you can have your life back after 10 years and saying 'I'm Sorry'. I also feel that is much, much more humane to him than what he currently sentenced to. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to you(and there is no excuse for cruelty for its own sake). And Muhammad (his...mentor for lack of a better word) should be killed twice for destroying malvo's life as well, if such a thing were possible. Maybe I am a monster for thinking this, but its a hard old world, people are messy and we are all trying to do the best we can. I actually do feel some compassion for malvo and his story, think he is probalby showing some real remorse, but it doesn't change his crimes, and at the age of 17 you (should) have enough moral culpability to know not to shoot people.

And no matter how I feel about it, it won't change his sentence. However no matter how much understanding, compassion or empathy he is shown his victims ain't coming back, or the hole in their families lives be filled. My words (or wolfdreams or anyone's) mean very, very little next to that, and Malvo's even less due to the very actions he committed.
posted by bartonlong at 1:50 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Less that he has shown remorse, and more that we, society, gain nothing and lose much when we treat people badly. It is enough that he is imprisoned, removed from society.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:51 PM on October 1, 2012


Modern legal systems are designed to scare people away from doing bad things -- Or Else! Obviously this doesn't work very well. On the other hand, many tribes (hunter-gatherers, etc.) expect people to do bad things, yet still manage to deal with the occasional trouble-maker in a way that is best for everyone. At least that's what Daniel Quinn thinks. Roughly...
posted by gray17 at 2:03 PM on October 1, 2012


[Folks, there appears to have been a bit of a dust-up while we were recording the podcast. Please, of your own accord, dial this stuff back significantly earlier.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:10 PM on October 1, 2012


"people are messy and we are all trying to do the best we can."

If what we have come up with is incarceration and execution, I would posit that we are not trying the best we can.
posted by broadway bill at 4:24 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Louis Theroux, Miami Mega.. We must do better than this.

Look at Norway. Not the recent extreme case, but the more mundane murderers they deal with up there. They are treated compassionately. Removed from society and given the best chance to rehabilitate.

Seems to work better than what we do. One should think there's something to be learned there. Admittedly, it's much easier to just keep doing what we do. Watch the video.

Someone famous, smart, and humanitarian said something to the effect that the morality or civilization of a people is measured by its treatment of its poorest, weakest, and worst members. Watch the video.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:35 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


~38m in, an inmate quotes Twain as the source for that idea. I posted after watching the first 15m. It just gets insanely worse.

If one-hundredth the money spent on war were spent on internal humanitarian aid… well, if unicorns pissed candy rainbows.

Fuck me, 20m more of this horrorshow. After, I think I'll skip supper and just curl up in a warm dark corner with my pillow and a puppy.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:22 PM on October 2, 2012


five fresh fish: thanks for linking that. I watched it at some point, but not recently, and I've been wanting to see it again and kept forgetting.

Whatever you do, don't read the youtube comments. They're the worst I've ever seen.
posted by broadway bill at 7:16 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the Theroux video, the conversation from 16:42 to 17:36 is appalling. WTF?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:40 AM on October 3, 2012




That cracked article is depressingly spot-on, even when: I don't want this article to seem like it's coming off as cynical -- after all, the rocket that took us to the moon ran entirely on hatred of communists.
posted by localroger at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2012


I am sorry that you, wolfdreamer, took such great offense. You are perfectly correct. You are not as "monsterly" as those who wish greater harm to the kid, and not as "monsterly" as the kid himself, for certain values of monsterly belief and in/action.

*
posted by five fresh fish at 10:07 PM on October 3, 2012


*
And note that I'm trying to respond to text I cant quote. I do think that's the gist of it: you feel unjustly accused. For that, sorry.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am sorry that you, wolfdreamer, took such great offense. You are perfectly correct. You are not as "monsterly" as those who wish greater harm to the kid, and not as "monsterly" as the kid himself, for certain values of monsterly belief and in/action.

I wasn't really offended by you calling me a "monster." You're welcome to think what you want - opinions are free. What frustrated me was having my opinion misrepresented by conflating it with other people's.

Please understand, social media play an increasing role in our lives. I suspect that in ten years time, search engines will be refined to the point where people will be able to find anything somebody has said about you, regardless of your user-handle, just by automatically correlating places where your name and username are mentioned in conjunction. That means that it's very important to be conscious of your online persona. If I allow you to incorrectly attribute a set of views to me that I do not in fact support, in the long term it devalues my "brand." Therefore, your misquoting me means I have no choice but to hammer down on you to expose all the weaknesses in your argument and personal values. Retaliating at that point isn't even personal: it's just a professional obligation.

Regardless, I do appreciate your apology. It takes a very mature person to admit that they were wrong, especially in public. I greatly respect your willingness to do so. Likewise, I'm sorry if I was too hurtful in my response. I hope you weren't personally offended.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2012


In my opinion, no one in real life will ever give a shit about your alias, and your dramatic response caused more harm to its supposed value than anything I posted.

I'm glad you're pacified now, though. Good luck with your future interactions. You've certainly attracted others' attention.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2012


Women I've dated have looked me up on MetaFilter (and made judgements about it), so it affects my love life. And I'm pretty sure HR departments would too, if they had the capability, so it'll eventually affect my career as well. Some people I've met here have even looked through my entire comment history, based on their knowledge about me.

But hey - like I said, opinions are free. You are welcome to operate on yours, and I will operate based on mine.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:52 AM on October 4, 2012


[You two need to, from this point on, take your odd squabbling dance out of this thread. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 AM on October 4, 2012


Washingtonian : Terror In October: A Look Back at the DC Sniper Attacks
Ten years later, survivors, victims’ loved ones, police, doctors, and others tell an oral history of the month when fear ruled Washington—and how the shooters were caught.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:55 AM on October 5, 2012


That's a great article (in the Washingtonian), thanks. I was especially struck by Iran Brown's (the 13 year old victim) thoughtful tone - interestingly, it reminded me of Malvo's tone in the original article.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:14 PM on October 5, 2012


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