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Killing the Good Samaritan

Wendy McElroy is a long-time activist within the American libertarian community. Her piece here uses the example of an innocent young man accused of stalking to make her point and to particularize it to the dangers of being found living while male, or indeed while being a member of any number of suspect “classes.”

But the principle applies much more broadly, to the fact that private snooping, spying, and snitching to The Authorities seem to be more and more common in our U.S. society at least. This kind of thing can destroy a person: his bank account, his job or career, his family relationships, his friendships, his reputation, his very sense of himself…. And some of these people are so eager to find fault and, in some cases, to just plain make trouble, that they will not take the simplest, safest steps to see if there are valid grounds for their suspicion.

Herewith what I consider the meat of the article. (The boldface is mine.)  Better yet, read the whole thing (kidney basin in hand) at

Killing the Good Samaritan

October 21, 2003
by Wendy McElroy,

The incident reflects how paranoid our culture has becomeafter decades of political correctness that defines and divides us into categories eternally at war: female against male, whites against minorities, heterosexual against gay.

I was once asked to describe the devil. (I interpreted the question to be about the general nature of evil in man rather than about religion.)

I replied: If the devil is the living flesh of evil, then here is who I think he is. …[H]e is the average-looking person who walks into a room and shakes your hand with a smile. By the time he leaves, the standards of decency of everyone within that room have been lowered ever so slightly.

Perhaps he offers general statistics on divorce or child abuse to convince you to suspect your husband of infidelity or your neighbor of molestation. No evidence of specific wrongdoing is offered, of course. But since such “crimes” do occur, you are advised to be vigilantly on guard against them in your personal life. And so, you begin to view your spouse and neighbors with a bit more suspicion, a little less trust and with the tendency to interpret every action as possible evidence of wrongdoing. The very possibility of an offense is taken as evidence of its presence.

…[Y]our co-worker is no longer an individual….

Slowly, you come to view the world through the eyes of the devil. People are guilty until proven innocent. Acts of kindness and common decency are meticulously dissected for hidden motives and agendas. People are not individuals but categories. Those closest to you — family, friends and neighbors — do not receive the benefit of the doubt; they receive the “benefit” of your suspicion.

With no religious implication, I say: a devil is at large. He tells us that acts of kindness and common decency do not exist; the worst possible interpretation should be placed on acts that appear to embody those values….

In short, the Devil is the one who is selling us on the evil of others.


  1. john in cheshire says:

    “In short, the Devil is the one who is selling us on the evil of others.” Doesn’t that just describe socialists and muslims? The easiest religion in the world to adopt is that of Jesus Christ and yet it is the most vilified and misrepresented. Whereas, socialism and islam are thought to be ‘cool’. Where’s the logic; where’s the commonsense that we used to have?

  2. Daphne says:

    I’d like to see a link to the actual news story, which your blog source doesn’t provide, Julie.

    I also don’t get the devil shit, as an atheist I find this sort of hokey religious political soul grab complete nonsense. Were you being ironic? Please tell me you were being ironic.

  3. Julie near Chicago says:

    Hi, Daphne,

    In the first place, I’m an a-theist. And so is Wendy McElroy, who wrote the article. And with whose statements I have often disagreed, but not with this one. In this one she is right on.

    But I do believe in evil: That evil exists. I see nothing wrong with using what has come to be a standard name in our culture for the fictional embodiment of that which is profoundly evil. And I think that the more people we can reach, the more real we can make this particular evil, the better. Not all those who need to be aware of the evil inherent in the idea that Others Are To Be Suspected (or even merely that Males Are To Be Suspected) are militant atheists, after all; they include theists, pantheists, and who-knows-what-else as well. The message is, simply, to be on guard against accepting the Big Lie just because you hear it so often, told by people who are so presentable, so well-spoken, so credible in their expertise, their presumed authoritativeness, or even their guy-or-girl-next-door-ness.

    Isn’t it Thomas Edison who is supposed to have said, roughly, “Most people fail to recognize opportunity because it arrives wearing overalls and looks like work”? Well, too many people fail to recognize evil because it arrives wearing a badge that says “Trust Me” and sounds like Ronald Reagan.

    As to Miss McElroy’s failure to provide the news source, that’s her problem, not mine.

  4. Julie near Chicago says:

    But I am a little puzzled. In your very first posting, you wrote, “God and I get along just fine….” So what’s wrong with people who believe in the Standard-Model (at least) Christian or Jewish God?

    Daphne, are you really upset with me, or with people who believe in God, or maybe…never mind. You see the damage done by people who looked the other way; I’ve seen the damage done by people who make it their business to root around until they find a way to cause trouble.

    If that’s the difference, if, then I can only say we’re both right.

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