Thursday, January 04, 2007

Richard Dawkins on Saddam

The eminent professor D offers another reason why Saddam should not have been executed:

Hussein's mind would have been a unique resource for historical, political and psychological research, a resource that is now forever unavailable to scholars.
Actually I think this is a far more valid argument against the death penalty than the "oh, it's so barbaric" line. I didn't feel any pity for Saddam as he swung the other day: he was a murderous old bastard and for him to suffer in the same way as so many of his countrymen seemed only just in the grand scheme of things. I think it reasonable to oppose the death penalty but not always mourn its application. A bit like opposing smoking, but enjoying an infrequent cigar.

Dawkins, though, raises the tantalising prospect of being able to explore Saddam's mind, or Hitler's, to see if there was a common trait or trigger for their evil:

What were the formative influences on these men? Was it something in their childhood that turned them bad? In their genes? In their testosterone levels? Could the danger have been nipped in the bud by an alert psychiatrist? How would Hitler or Hussein have responded to a different style of education? We don't have a clear answer to these questions. We need to do the research.

Are there lots of Husseins and lots of Hitlers in every society, with most ending up as football hooligans wrecking trains rather than dictators wrecking countries? If so, what singles out the minority that do come to power? Or were men such as these truly unusual? What can we do to prevent them gaining power in the future? Are there changes we could make to our political institutions that would make it harder for men of Hitler's or Hussein's psychological types to take them over?

Interesting. I don't know if the men had anything in common (Did Saddam only have one too?), but now they're both dead, we won't have a chance to gather any primary evidence.

I find it hard to disagree with his analysis:

These questions are not just academically fascinating but potentially of vital importance for our future. And they cannot be answered by prejudice or preconception or intuitive common sense. The only way to answer them is by research. It is in the nature of research on ruthless national dictators that the sample size is small. Wasn't the judicial destruction of one of the very few research subjects we had — and a prime specimen at that — an act of vandalism?

Personally, I quite like the idea of Saddam as some sort of Hannibal Lecter figure, helping future leaders of the free world combat the latest mad dictator. Let's hope that if we do go after Kim-Jong Il, Robert Mugabe or Mahmood Ahmedinijad, we take them alive and can use their evil for good in the future. After all, even Darth Vader danced round the fire at the end of the Return of the Jedi.


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