Sunday, May 25, 2014

What We Can Learn From Mass Murderers

Some would like to see the young man who killed four people on the MRT last week put to death as quickly as possible, but doing so would be a mistake 

“Nothing made me happen. I happened.” Thus spoke Hannibal Lecter is Thomas Harris’ masterly psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs. This was perhaps Hannibal the Cannibal at his most disingenuous, or at his weakest, as he refused to discuss what made him into the psychopath that he was. The seemingly inexplicable act by the 21-year-old Cheng Chieh (鄭捷) on the Taipei MRT last week, which left four people dead and 22 injured, raises the same question that Hannibal Lecter wanted to avoid answering: What made him happen? 

Such inquiry is more than sheer intellectual curiosity. Identifying the factors that shape and motivate individuals like Cheng to commit random acts of violence is a necessary endeavor that can help us prevent future atrocities. That is why we should avoid yielding to vengeful impulses or political expediency and not seek a swift trial and execution for Cheng, however tempting doing so might be as society recoils from his actions. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

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