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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.