Thursday, December 10, 2009

Caveat Lector

My mother told me that when she was little, the Catholic church discouraged reading the bible by yourself. It was considered too big, too complex, could bring up too many issues... so you were supposed to have a guide. Someone educated in what the book was supposed to mean, so that you wouldn't stumble over all the things that it inconveniently said...

There have been a lot of books written by criminals, and I catch myself wanting to fall into the same trap- they should be read, but they should be read with guidance. That's silly. It offends me when a power group says it about the bible... but I catch myself wanting to say the same thing.

People, the people who buy and read books are largely good people. They know good people. Consciously or not, they extend their assumptions about the people around them to authors.

Criminals, especially those doing serious time are not good people. They have gone into that place where they can kill or rob or sell drugs (the rapists almost never write books, or if they do they leave the rapes out) and are okay with it. When they write the books, they want you to be okay with it, too.

Violent criminals do a lot of mental gymnastics to justify their crimes. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to rationalize sodomizing an eighty-year-old woman or stabbing an eleven-year-old girl or blowtorching another criminal to death. But not only are they good at living with themselves (most like themselves and some will brag about their stabbing a child as a proof of iron will) but they are good at getting other people to be okay with it as well. There is a reason that even after a savage, vicious killer dies resisting arrest his family will go on TV to say he was a "...good boy." It's not just looking for a settlement. Some really believe it.

They are master manipulators. It is how they survive. And the ones with the skill to write, to really write, are better at manipulation. Literati seem to want to believe that beautiful writing can only come from a beautiful soul. It's not true.

So I will, reluctantly, include a few books written by criminals in the bibliography of "7". But read them at your own risk. Don't read them for how the criminal sees himself, his victims or the world because he will almost surely be lying about that. Read for how he manipulates you, the reader. How he convinces you that he is either the victim, the hero, or both. How he gets you to question your ethics... even though you have never murdered, robbed or raped.


Ann T. said...

Dear Rory,
Oh, this is so much what I believe. You have to read everything very carefully. That goes for books, newspapers, film clips of speeches, everything.

There is a massive legitimacy conferred on sources. We figure if they got to print, they must tell the truth. On the Web, i keep finding unreferenced sources for supposedly expert information.

When you read, you hear what they're putting forward. You also have to listen for what they're holding back. That's true for everything.

If you used something as a reference, you add it in--but it's okay to preface your bibliography, recommending a critical reading.

Sincerely, and way to go!
Ann T.

Kai Jones said...

I certainly read your stuff that way. :)

Unknown said...

I hate that phrase "sure he killed/beat/raped someone, but he's really a good person". Bullshit. People are what they do. They are the sum total of their decisions.
Like Tiger Woods saying that he "failed to live up to his values". That's crap. He lived up to precisely what his values were. It would be more accurate to say that he failed to live up to what he would like his values to be.

Illogic said...

I'm not sure if it holds any water, but I've always liked the "Everyone view themselves as good" saying. (Might not be a saying at all.)
Combine that with the need for people agreeing with our point of view as confirmation of who we are, then apply that to a person which has managed to bend an twist their moral into something that not only allows horrible things, but might in fact even encourage them.
The Nazis believing they were saving the world would be an example.
But I don't have any idea what you could possibly tell yourself to make stabbing a child alright.
I'm sure there's something, but I don't think I'd want to know what it is. It's doubtful I'd understand it whiteout having the rights "filters" anyway.

And thanks for sharing your thoughts Rory. I'd like to think I'm learning something from them.

shugyosha said...

The Catholic Church didn't only discourage, it forbid reading the Bible until Vatican II, in the 60s, unless you could prove you were ready for it. My parents still keep the one they bough after V-II, mostly unread. Their generation --and earlier-- hardly knows the book, in Spain [back then, under a flavour of fascism that named itself "national-catholicism"].

Keep well.

suek said...


I'm probably of the generation of your parents. I attended Catholic schools from Kindergarten to high school graduation with the exception of one year. Five of those years were in a Catholic boarding school which was also the mother house for an order of nuns.

We were _not_ forbidden to read the Bible. It was not encouraged, perhaps, except for the readings in the Mass. It _was_ encouraged that we read the New Testament - from which most of the Mass readings were taken, but Catholics in that time period (before Vatican II) were _not_ forbidden to read the Bible.

There's a misunderstanding there somewhere.

shugyosha said...

Parents born in 32-33. Catholicism has a weird love-hate relationship with Spain. _If_ the Spanish hierachy didn't go overboard and forbid it on their own [big if; remember the _Spanish_ Inquisition, apart from the Church in all but name?], they certainly made every effort they could to propagate the idea. My parents are not the only ones from that time who got the idea they _could not_ read the Bible. You don't get such a widespread "misunderstanding" by accident when you see such people at least once a week. Once a day if they went to a Catholic school --which, bach tehn, meant most of them--.

Keep well.


Steve Perry said...

What's the old saying? Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear (or read)?

Everyone of of us who puts pen to papyrus or electrons to computer screens has an axe to grind. Some of us like to think we are fair-minded and objective, and some are more than others, but by the very nature of what words you use and what subject you choose to speak upon, you can't be.

If you write something, it will be subjective.

You do the best you can with what you got. If you put that warning into your book, then its caveat lector all the way ...

Ann T. said...

Dear Rory and Shugyosa,
Part of the way they kept people from reading the bible was offering the dryest, most forbidding translation ever. Ick.

Ann T.

shugyosha said...


sure. A version translated into Latin by half clueless translators, from Greek. The Greek version, itself, having been translated by a bunch of converts that didn't quite grasp Judaism nor Hebrew (Aramaic?). And so on.

Problem is, if you translate it properly many extranatural pillars fall down. Which means a lot of these last 20 centuries castle of cards falls (same natureness --homouisos?--, trinity...). If it falls, and Christianity becomes simpler, you no longer need robed guides but effort. And I'm afraid people being people --both the robed and the robeless--, they much prefer following a lead that working it by themselves day to day.

Jay Gischer said...

You know, it's not just literati that believe that sort of thing. How many martial arts instructors do you know who believe that training in martial arts makes one more moral? I know a lot. But it isn't really true.

It promotes psychological health, but moral does not equal psychological. Martial Arts will also teach one how to be more powerful socially and physically. Moral choices become involved with the conferral of such power.

Justthisguy said...

Have you ever seen any accounts by honest evil people, along the lines of "You silly sheep are my natural prey, and I get a real charge from hurting and killing you and taking your stuff."?

I'm thinking about Alex, in "A Clockwork Orange."

Rory said...

No. I've heard it, but it was always attention-seeking behavior. You get the 'victim' the 'misunderstood hero' the 'I had no choice' and some of the ones who are scariest are 'we do it for your own good'-- scary how close the minds of tree spikers and child beaters are.

Justthisguy said...

Not always. I think Genghis Khan was honest about what he did for fun. Of course it's good to be the King. (There are LOTS of people with his genes in them.)