A new study has come up with unsurprising confirmation that bullies actually derive pleasure from hurting people or seeing them in pain, the New York Times reports. The great novelist Anthony Burgess pointed out the dangers of assuming that the presence of such impulses absolves individuals of responsibility for their actions.
The Times‘ conclusion is certainly a truism, as anyone who grew up among other human beings has observed that some people just like to hurt others. Nonetheless, I suppose it is good to get scientific confirmation of the fact, for those who just have to doubt everything.
What is of immense importance, however, is what we do with such insights. As Anthony Burgess illustrated in his classic novel A Clockwork Orange, during the twentieth century the impulse was to treat evil actions as if they were simply manifestations of diseases, not choices. Throughout most of human history, on the other hand, people have assumed otherwise.
Burgess’s novel sees the "therapeutic state" as an atrocity in which an all-powerful government "cures" criminals instead of exacting retribution on them. This policy destroys freedom of the will and turns the entire government into a criminal enterprise under the protection of "rehabilitated" thugs.
All of this was done, Burgess’s novel makes clear, in an attempt to relieve the state from assigning moral responsibility to individuals—an avoidance of social responsibility that has been central to the agenda of modern liberalism, the exact opposite of the goal of classical liberalism.
If the insight into the pleasure some people take in seeing other people in pain incites society to absolve people of responsibility for their actions, the consequences will be real and immensely damaging both to social order and to the countless individuals who will be left to the depredations of sadists who know the worst potential personal consequence of their actions will be a little therapy and a quick ticket back to the streets.
Burgess’s brilliant novel remains well worth reading.