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Where’s the Limit?

November 20, 2010

I went out for breakfast with my mother today and she was leafing through Le Journal de Montréal when she came across an article about Colonel Russell Williams. You know, the army guy who raped and killed a bunch of women.

My Mom commented on what a monster he is and in my usual sunny demeanor I pointed out that there are plenty of other people out there just like him.

The conversation took a slight turn when she brought up a man, a friend of hers now dead, that had a less than squeaky clean past when it came to his relationships with women. Something I was unaware of.

I wanted to know why one guy is a monster while the other became her friend.

Apparently, there’s a limit. Where is it? When does someone become a monster? That you disregard? That you write off?

I want to know. Where’s the limit? Where’s the line?

It’s easy to look at the actions of someone like Russell Williams and call him a monster. Maybe it makes us feel safer somehow. Calling someone a monster separates them from us, others them, and takes away a little bit of their humanity. We feel better because it’s far removed from our lives and becomes this thing that can no longer touch us.

We isolate it and put it away. In prison if we can.

And then what? It’s life as usual.

Only there are people who do bad things all the time and all around us. We know them. We know the shitty things that have happened to them as well as the shitty things they do to other people. We even love some of them. What then?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2010 11:36 pm

    As you said, it’s about us and them. When it’s people we now, we just can’t fathom that they can be like that, especially if consider ourself ‘good’. So, we’d rather make ourselves feel better by saying thins like I’m not a bad person, so my friends/people I know can’t really be that bad. The strangers are the ones who are bad.

  2. November 21, 2010 4:51 am

    Most rape and abuse happens at the hands of family and friends. True stranger danger is very rare, thus, we label it monstrous to avoid dealing with the horror in our own lives.

  3. jessie permalink
    November 21, 2010 9:48 am

    what limits are you’re talking about? personal/private vs. public.

    Law regulates the limits of what is acceptable on levels that people don’t even realize (whether it’s done successfully is debatable), but they do come from what a community/society/culture values as normal, acceptable, moral, and just… they come from somewhere. They have a history.

    The two (personal/private) are related, but I think that the personal gives you just a bit more free agency to decide your own limits for certain things that either fall outside the regulated law, or are not enforced by the law. It serves, like you said, on a personal level to lable someone a “monster” and separate yourself to DEFINE yourself as “Other” and say to yourself that you belong to the greater good. Also, I think that the “monster” lable reinforces our beliefs, reminds us that we DO have limits to what is acceptable and that as a collective, we do not relate to violence to that extreme. I’m not saying it’s right (although I think it makes sense), but I think that’s part of the purpose for that lable.

    Also, I think that MANY people think about who that person is, why they became that way, who their parents were, and wonder if someone acting that “monstrous” might be mentally unwell. “monster” is a term that flies around but doesn’t really rest anywhere. Maybe it’s just a sensationalized use of the word to evoke interest.

  4. November 21, 2010 2:36 pm

    @Dazed Little Miss: I think that when its people we know who do bad things (whatever those might be) we are much more forgiving or we have an understanding that just because someone does something bad it doesn’t make them “bad” through and through. It’s all about whether or not you think people are defined by their actions and what’s the expiry date on those actions. If I lied to my parents when I was a teenager, does that make me a liar now? Are we perpetually defined by single actions over and over?

    @Brian: You’re absolutely right.

    @Jessie: I was talking about the personal. And the personal on a larger scale. Not laws. I’m much more interested by the limits people set themselves outside of the law and outside of religion. I think our values should be able to stand regardless of those two institutions.

    I don’t think we define ourselves as other when separating ourselves from the “monsters”, to say that would mean that the “monsters” form the majority from which we wish to cut ourselves from. By calling someone a monster we’re saying that our way of life is the status and that they live outside those margins.

    People who do “bad” things (even to the violent extreme of Russell Williams) are ordinary people. It could just as easily be you or me. The SS and other governing bodies who participated in the genocide of six million people were ordinary people. We’re they wrong. Fuck yeah. Is it scary as hell to think they these ordinary men did such horrible thing? Hell yeah. But they weren’t monsters. They were and are made of the same stuff as all of us.

  5. jessie permalink
    November 21, 2010 9:35 pm

    I think there’s a reason why not EVERYONE is inclined to make choices such as say…killing people, or torturing them and then killing them, etc.

    I don’t think you can be TOO sympathetic, or empathetic towards individuals who have such tendencies, but I think that it’s important to be uber aware of the victims, who are also people just like you and me.

    Yes, there’s too sides to the story – we could have turned out to have different circumstances/events, or mental health issues, or both that led us to make different choices, but we instead, chose with what we had to work with to not hurt other people consciously.

    Victims (again arguably in some instances) do not consciously choose to be victims…
    so perhaps that is where the difference lies. Maybe that’s why there’s a distinction.
    Anyway, I’m all about acknowledging the humanity behind violence and torture, but the truth is we lable people for a reason. We lable them to put them into categories that we understand. That’s language for ya. We lable wars, we lable actions – to identify them in our minds and look out for them (ex. if there come to be more than one or two people you put in that same category, you might want to start paying attention to them) and i think also to relate them back to ourselves (which can mean either separating them from us , or connecting them to us)

    furthermore, the ordinary people who played a part in the genocide most always have a political regime behind them that dictates and rationalizes their actions very very strategically. The public BLEEDS into our private lives…we are so affected by our culture in my opinion.
    and, rational thought is our religion in western culture. Our whole economy is based on rational/logistic thought, so it’s a pretty strong convincing tool in getting people to do just about anything they need to do to “rationally” get to the promised land. that an a really charismatic powerhouse-crazy individual doing the convincing.

    you should read Hannah Arendt…you would really like her, she was an amazing writer, passionate and super into figuring out why things like the holocaust happen/happened.

    also the BEST lecture I’ve ever seen on this topic:

    i know it’s wikipedia, but just to get the general idea.

  6. November 21, 2010 10:15 pm

    @ Jessie: I see where you’re coming from when you say you can’t be too sympathetic or emphatic towards people who have these tendencies, but my point is that we should try to understand people. To come from a place of understanding I guess, instead of separating people into “monsters” or “victims”. I don’t like label that are fix in nature. And again, it brings back my earlier question of just how much are we responsible for our choices and just how much are we defined by our actions. A person might not choose to be the victim of a crime, but they still have their own agency.

    Going back to the idea of emphasizing with “monsters”, I always find it very difficult when movies show the “bad” people in a light that makes you pity the hell out of them. The movie Little Children (which is amazing, I think) has a pedophile as one of its characters and he is so pathetic, and full of hurt that you can no longer simply view him as a monster, which would be much neater and much easier, because then you don’t have to deal with him as a person who as feelings and or rights. You feel bad for the guy and feeling bad for a guy that does such horrible things is pretty freakin’ gut wrenching. I hate it, it’s not a nice feeling, but these contradictions and/or feeling things that are unpleasant is sometimes necessary.

    I also recommend this book:

  7. November 21, 2010 10:19 pm

    Also, I can’t recommend this book enough:'s_Search_for_Meaning.

    It’s very short and amazing and everyone in the world should read it.

  8. jessie permalink
    November 22, 2010 11:53 am

    no…I literally meant, I don’t think you CAN be TOO sympathetic to anyone…

    I think it’s a scare-tactic.
    like “if you’re too sympathetic, you’re allowing this behaviour to occur”

    which I don’t believe is true.

    I think it makes way for better understanding in order to change things.


  9. January 23, 2011 7:22 pm

    So, I just found out that one of my brothers sexually assaulted another of my brothers.
    Yeah. What then? Neither of them are monsters. They are sweet, lovable guys who love kids, music and animals.
    And yet…
    I tell myself that the one was also a victim of something similar. It doesn’t make it go away, but it lets me deal with the fact that he would do something like that.

  10. Kathleen permalink
    March 18, 2011 8:16 pm

    This is one of the main reasons why rape persists. We people in this society refuse to aknowledge that someone we love can do horrible things to other people and that they need to be held accountable for it when they do. So instead, we blame the victim or call her a liar. The problem is, most rapists have somebody who loves them and were the last person anyone would have suspected to commit such a crime. Because, y’know, only monsters do something like that. Unusual (rare) and lonely monsters that nobody liked to begin with. The thing is, rape is more prevelant than that and people who have committed rape are everywhere and could be anyone. I’m not trying to be scary or alarming, but it is a fact that needs to be addressed. Hopefully, if it is addressed it can be prevented.

  11. April 16, 2011 9:16 am

    I have followed the case of Russel Williams a fair bit I remember seeing him on the news numerous times before any of this surfaced, Seemed normal enough then … now? Do you know when he confessed, when he was told his home was being searched at that very moment. It was his concern for his wife and the fact that she knew nothing about his crimes. As much of a disturbed fuck as he was he was worried about his wife. Its humanizing. Its easy to hate the monster but we forget the man and media isn’t interested in the whole story. He was likely a normal freckled little boy with a brush cut and Gi-joes. Hell I was and look how I turned out.
    My whole family for a couple of generations is military Air,Sea and Land. I grew up on bases, moved way to much lost my mom to cancer at 6 got transplanted into a much lager family. I was exposed to porn at a young age. Hell I’m reading a blog called “cuntlove” and my handle is Cruel Intention. How fucking normal am I. My vannila compatriates consider me to be a compassionate person and I belive I am. Could I honestly say I would never do those types of things to another person. YES empthaticly and with great conviction.
    Go a little farther. Right up to the point where he took a life, had all of his behaviour been consentual would he still be a monster. Stealing underwear for a masturbating aid ? A fetish to some, you can buy them on line even at private parties “models” sell them after “dancing” in them and have sealed pouches of the same ones hermetically sealed to keep them spring fresh.
    Bondage, Sensory depraivation, breath play. If I was to take one more smack after hearing a safe word what does that make me ? Cruel or a monster. I like to think Cruel, but some of you ladies like that about me. I understand the limits of acceptable behaviour and the difference between fantasy and reality. So when she starts to faint I pull the tape off and let her breath again. She trusts me to do that and it was consentual and more inportantly I kept my part of the bargain. Russel Williams had neither trust or consent. If I was to make my predilictions public I would become the monster to most of the “Normal Public”.

    What gives them the right to judge me and the people I consider normal. The basis of our legal system is to be judged by a group of our peers, lets see any self admitted D/s get on a jury for a rape case. And thats too bad because I think we would be a little harsher than normal society 99 % of the time.

    Try and Google a book called ” God wants you dead” its free the publisher has released it to the web for public use has it for sure. You want to know how society really controls us read it If you dare.


  12. April 17, 2011 2:32 am

    @Cruel, thanks for your comments, Cruel. I’ll be checking out “God Wants You Dead”.

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