Rescuing Evil: What We Lose (Kindle Single) Kindle Edition
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Setting aside the desperate need for copy-editing, the most significant problem is that he repeatedly substitutes a snarky attitude for making cogent, well-supported arguments. I can do snark with the best of them, but I recognize that I need to make actual arguments if I expect others to share my conclusions. Rosenbaum, however, repeatedly makes snide comments about neuroscience and other fields without ever bothering to present substantive arguments that would suggest they are wrong. I share his view that there is a determinism underlying much reporting on neuroscience research, but that does not invalidate a whole field of scientific research. If studies find a correlation between particular neurological features and people who commit heinous crimes, that does not automatically mean that they caused the criminal acts. Rosenbaum writes as if that is, indeed, the only conclusion one could reach, and then dismisses the research as a modern form of phrenology. He doesn't cite any neuroscientists making such deterministic claims, just news headlines that do, which rightly should lead to criticism of journalism. If there are scientific studies making sloppy claims of causality, then he should tell us about those.
The biggest problem, though, is that much of the essay is driven by an a priori judgment that unless people who commit evil acts see what they do as evil, we cannot hold them responsible for their actions. Coupled with his belief that this is an unacceptable outcome, this leads him to dismiss any evidence that might suggest that people who commit evil acts may see those actions as justified -- perhaps even as admirable. While he acknowledges that people have made such claims, he quickly pushes them aside to return to his false dichotomy. This isn't a reasoned position; it's dogma. Rather than seeking to learn how evil-doers understand their actions and moving from there, he determines what he wants the answer to be in advance and clouds the issue by making a false dichotomy: either people consciously choose to do evil or people who engage in evil acts cannot be held responsible. Understanding why people act as they do does not logically entail forgiveness, no matter how many times Rosenbaum suggests that it must.
On the positive side, Rosenbaum (energetically) covers a lot of turf in his brief essay. And he drops a lot of names along the way, giving the interested reader hopeful leads for further reading and exploration. People interested in contemplating the reality of evil might prefer M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.
But for $2, the meat of the argument is worth putting up with the gristle. Rosenbaum's essay touches on deep questions that have been with us for as long as we've been able to formulate abstract thought and offers an entry point to the discussion of evil. And that's the way to look at this Single -- as an entry point, leading one to look at the other works he mentions, whether he agrees or disagrees with those authors' conclusions on the subject.
It's a shame because once I suffered through to the latter half of the essay, he does make some provocative and helpful points about evil and the study of evil. And I do intend to read some of his longer work, partially as a result. But Amazon will have to be careful about better quality control, otherwise they'll lose customers from what should be a popular format in these busy times.
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