Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Murder Metaphor

I read this interview with Bill James, the inventor of baseball's sabremetrics who is also mildly obsessed with crime, regarding his new book Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence. In the book, James seeks to understand the criminal mind and analyzes our society's fascination with criminal activity. While the interview was about the book (one that actually sounds like something I'd enjoy reading), what stood out to me was a metaphor James used to describe how one might come to be a murderer. Though I don't know if James intended it to be interpreted this way, I see the metaphor as a profound description of how humans fall into any sin and personal moral failure. The following is the question by interviewer Chuck Klosterman and James' response:

Wait — are you suggesting the addiction to cocaine or heroin is greater than whatever internally stops us from committing murder?

Sure. But what I'm really trying to say is that this is probably how we need to think about these types of things: It is not as if we walk through one doorway and decide that murder is acceptable. You have to walk through many doorways. The first doorway leads to a party, where people are doing drugs and having fun. The second doorway leads to more partying. It's a long, long series of doorways, until you end up in a room where a terrible thing happens. So the question is, "How many doorways away are you?" It's not a question about a person's capacity to commit a murder. It's a question of how many doorways we keep between ourselves and that situation.
To fully appreciate the context of the metaphor, it would be helpful to read the full interview. Basically, James is describing how a drug addict might turn to murder to sustain his addiction. The idea is that we all possess the capacity to commit terrible acts - be it murder or some other type of personal moral failure. The likelihood of realizing our full capacity for wickedness increases as we allow certain events to take place or mindsets to be entertained. A drug addict who commits murder made many decisions (walked through many "doorways") along the way that ultimately presented murder as a viable option. This same idea could be applied to any sin and moral failure. The key is to keep as many doorways between ourselves and moral failure as possible. I find the practicality of James' metaphor to be powerful.

- Joel

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