If I Comprehend All Knowledge...

A couple of years ago, in Seattle, some tourist returned from the former Soviet Union with an odd souvenir of the old regime: a ten ton statue of Lenin. Shortly thereafter, this eccentric person died and the statue somehow wound up in the hands of the city, whose Wise Elders decided that, instead of being melted down and turned into something useful like a bedpan, it should be erected in a public location for all to admire.

A few sensible people protested this, pointing out that Lenin, after all, fathered a system that butchered more innocent people than any other creation of the human mind in all of history. These protesters had the curious sense that the funny hats and cute little signs which quickly adorned this hunk of slag somehow gave the impression that sophisticated, cosmopolitan Seattle giggles over its lattes at the fathomless pit of human agony Lenin dug. Such critics suggested that if Seattle is now spending public monies to honor architects of mass murder, perhaps Seattle would also find it doubly cute to erect a statue of Hitler.

At this point, somebody wrote to one of our local papers saying it was ridiculous to compare Lenin with Hitler. After all, Lenin was an intellectual.

Fast forward to last year, when an unknown maniac called the Unabomber was in the final phases of a reign of terror which killed three human beings and reaped a rich harvest of widows, shattered children's psyches and innocent people with stumps where hands and fingers once had been. We all recall the Unabomber's "Manifesto" just as we all recall the American media's habit of characterizing it and him as "rambling" (a favorite description) and vaguely illiterate. In short, last year's standard media picture of the unknown madman was of a rather dumb guy.

Now we know better. Theodore Kaczynski is a very intelligent man indeed. A Harvard graduate, a former Berkeley math prof and a man who eluded the law for 18 years. What do we make of it?

This is a question which the media are hard put to answer. Why? Because like the woman defending Lenin's statue, media culture is imbued with the thoroughly pagan conviction that intelligence is somehow intrinsically virtuous and that evil is somehow intrinsically rooted in stupidity. Thus, when Kaczynski was an unknown quantity, the press assumed he was dumb, but when his genius came to light, the media were thrown into a quandary, a quandary which got deeper when it became apparent that Kaczynski, like Lenin, was an exponent of themes the intelligentsia hold near and dear.

So within days, we began seeing ambivalent stories like USA Today's "Unabomber: A Hero to Some" featuring quotes from sympathetic people saying things like "I would have loved to have met him. He's so intelligent. He must be a fascinating person. I admire him in some ways..." To be sure, of course, the stories include modest qualifiers ("I don't admire the bombs" say the prudent people interviewed, and a couple of people are thrown in for "balance" to say that Kaczynski's a serial killer), but the overall tone is of a kind of grudging admiration for a man of principle and great brilliance who, yeah, okay, let his basically good intentions run away with him. "He played chess and won with the biggest media in the world." "He's not the real problem. The real problem is this damn gold mine they want to put in our valley." "Kaczynski offers the portrait of a monk, a man with a religious zeal."

What is going on here? Would a butcher like Timothy McVeigh receive such schizophrenic treatment for his bestial crime by a reputedly respectable newspaper? ("I admire him, not for the bomb, but for his downsizing government philosophy.") Why then do we dally with the absurd notion that Kaczynski's (or Lenin's) clever brains exempt them from sin or guilt any more than McVeigh's dimpled chin? We would do well to remember that Hitler's minister of propaganda had a Ph.D. and that the Gulag was not constructed by numbskulls. Good and evil, as our Lord says, proceed from the heart, not the head. This is why our Catholic Tradition points us to Christ, Savior of the darkened human mind as well as the sinful human heart and to the sobering words of St. Paul, "If I comprehend all knowledge, but do not have love, I am nothing."

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea