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The moral incomprehension of Richard Cohen

Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post, is morally incoherent; no softer words will do to describe it. Writing of yesterday’s act of multiple murder at Virginia Tech perpetrated by Cho Seung Hui, Cohen opines


Cho Seung Hui was just mad. Other terms will be applied to him and, of course, he's already being called a loner, but the simple fact is that he was mad -- maybe not for long, but when it mattered, long enough … He wanted only to do something totally mad … Osama bin Laden is mad as well. Look what they did. They harnessed technology, the power of the airplane, and killed almost 3,000 people in a morning's work. Hitler was probably always mad, but when he got to be dictator of Germany, he could exploit the technology and organizational ability of the most advanced nation in Europe to murder people without reason. Yes, of course, he had his reasons – but they were mad

Readers will note how the word ‘mad’ is brandished like a talisman, as though it is the key, something which explains that which has eluded lesser lights. I would say however that wisdom has eluded Cohen, for this reason: madness is a psychological category, not a moral one. And, barring a mental state of literal insanity that renders a killer morally unaccountable, the deliberate murder of 32 innocent victims chosen at random is first and foremost a moral obscenity. Cohen makes a celebration of ignoring this cardinal issue, not only in reference to this crime, but also in reference to those of Hitler, Bin Laden, Idi Amin, and others.

When one refuses to recognize evil, the common result is to substitute psychological categories for moral categories. Moral coherence goes out the door and with it, the ability to pass intelligible moral judgement – well in evidence in Cohen’s belief, expressed in the same piece, that the West’s response to Bin Laden and Saddam consists only of a lesser degree of madness.

Cohen contends that “Maybe evil is just another name for madness.” Perhaps imbecility is just another word for moral incomprehension.

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Mr. Cohen's comments come as no surprise. The basis for an "opinion" usually comes from the foundation of one's world view. If one has their foundation in shifting sand and not established in the Word of YHWH, then every thought and opinion has "merit", no matter how ridiculous it may seem or is. Mr. Cohen's comments appear to come from one who believes that "normal" humans are incapable of evil and wicked deeds. With this outlook what else is he going to say about people such as Bin Laden, Hitler, Hui etc. other than that they are mad and not responsible for their evil actions. Mr. Cohen has in fact labelled people who are mentally ill/insane/mad as wicked evil murders, when in fact this is far from the case. Both he and the Washington Post should be held accountable for such dribble. Bin Laden is following a religion headed and founded by a murderer, rapist, thief and thug, Hitler was following a similar path. Hui it appears was filled with hate. Are these people just mad, I think not, wicked and evil is far more truthful.

Posted by Philip Hammond. on 2007-04-21 11:43:04 GMT

Mandel's summing up of Cohen's nonsense article says it all: Perhaps imbecility is just another word for moral incomprehension. Cohen fails to distinguish between mad and bad, because in our age of moral equivalence "bad" has been expunged from the lexicon of psychobabble.

Posted by paul2 on 2007-04-19 11:20:09 GMT