A murderer's philosophy: the Loeb and Leopold case. Part II.
To continue this little thought experiment, let’s take abortion as an example. Have you grown up your whole life believing that abortion is murder? That it is wrong and morally reprehensible? Most people in the current Canadian society say “no,” but some would clearly say “yes.” How do I know this?I see the protestors against abortion in front of the abortion clinic. Their message is very clear. What would Nietzsche say to them? I would like to think, based on the concept of superman, that Nietzsche would urge them to stop focusing on what others are doing “wrong” and bring that focus inward, to ask themselves dangerous questions. These questions are dangerous to authoritarianism and tendencies to follow others blindly, but they are friends of authenticity and self-awareness. Some such questions might be, why do you believe abortion is morally wrong? How did you come to believe this? On whose authority have you accepted this belief? Have you considered the other side of the argument, or considered what it might be like for a woman to consider abortion, her reasons, her circumstances, her rights? Have you thought critically about this right and wrong, or is someone just renting space in your head?
Now back to murder. Some people may gasp at the suggestion that some people are permitted to do murder. Surely, all murder is morally wrong. I would invite the reader to consider a) wars; b) police forces; and c) murder in the cases of self-defense. Clearly, there are some people who we actually pay money to do murder – we may not call it that, but whatever we call it does not matter, the action is the same. The society pays some people to end the lives of others. In fact, Western North American society has an intricate system in place to figure out who should qualify for such a role and who should not. I won’t be arguing that murder is either good or bad, I just want to point out that we may be horrified at Leopold and Loeb’s crime because they elected themselves the deciders of who is allowed to take life. However, when that decision is made through an established societal process, no one recoils with horror. What does this tell us? Good and evil is not absolute, as Nietzsche discussed. Good and evil are concepts we make. Considering Nietzsche’s writings as a whole and not just his isolated comments, I would say that Nietzsche warns us about the likes of Loeb and Leopold. But he warns us about the likes of Loeb and Leopold not just committing one murder, but plunging entire countries, entire world into a cultural system that is devoid of critical thinking about its values, about good and evil. We’ve seen one example of such a plunge in World War II. We continue to see others, as war and genocide do not abate. As I watch the events unfold in Gaza, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine, among other countries, I feel the cool touch of fear that humanity will make the same mistakes again, but the consequences will be more dire because we have built weapons that make us feel like the five-year-old’s definition of superman – the physically superior man, the strongest one, in the basic, most physical, most childish sense possible.
What Loeb and Leopold do in “Rope” and, as far as my understanding goes, what they did in real life as well is blame the messenger, the person (Nietzsche), who, in common parlance yells from the backseat “oh s!@#, look out, you are heading straight for that nihilistic ditch and you are taking the critical thinking skills of the entire world with you!!!” as if he was saying, “what a marvelous nihilistic ditch this is, let’s dump our critical thinking, freedom, responsibility, and accountability in it altogether and drive away!” The problem with perpetuating this understanding: we do not hear the warning and we judge Loeb and Leopold, but we do not consider the consequences of our own actions. So no, I do not think that murder is beyond good and evil and should be available as a pastime to bored law school students. Beyond good and evil is a state of self-awareness in which you create good and evil inside your mind in the first place. As a Russian living in Canada, it is sad to me when I see the countries and people I care about fighting over who gets to be called the superman, who gets to be recognized as the strongest on the playground, when that playground is the world, the toys are nuclear weapons, and the sand that gets carelessly kicked around is the lives of people who do not have power to influence the decisions of the mighty supermen. Some self-transcendence may be too much to ask for from people in the rat race for the ultimate power status, so perhaps self-transcendence can start with the bottom, the least powerful, those who in fact do not want the power, and perhaps we can have hope that it moves up.