Moral dilemma - reading the works of monsters (spree killers etc)

I’ve just had a conversation with an online friend where she stated that she is currently reading though the manifesto of Elliot Rodgers, in an attempt to understand his mindset.

Personally I’m never entirely sure how this stands morally, I remember reading the Unibombers manifesto, I was about 3/4 of the way through that one when he basically stated “You’re only reading this because I killed people”, and I thought that he was right, absolutely 100% right. So I stopped reading, though he was actually kind of interesting and made some relevant points about stress and modern society.

I also have a downloaded copy of the manifesto of Anders Breivik but while I think it would again potentially make interesting reading I think its questionable to give these people the oxygen of publicity and the time and attention of reading their attempts to justify their actions.


You’re not going to understand the mindset of a psychopath from reading a psychopath’s writings, because they’re a psychopath. Pathological lying, superficial charm and manipulation are diagnostic of the type, in fact.

There is always something to be said for first-hand research to reach your own conclusions, instead of relying solely on say a book* about them *written by someone else. As said above just keep in mind that this person is to some degree, ah, crazy, and to some degree his writings will reflect that.

Attaining knowledge by simply reading something, anything, is ***never ***immoral. Conversely banning or burning books, any books, is always wrong.

I read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto, and I thought it was fascinating. Not because he had anything useful to say, but to observe what kind of mindset could lead up to his actions. It’s not like I was swayed by his compelling arguments in favor of murdering people.

I could see not reading something that allowed the person to profit somehow, but he’s dead and it’s on the internet for free, so who is being harmed?

If society won’t understand what motivates killers, it’ll be harder to prevent future similar killers.

I don’t really see the moral dilemma. It’s not like you’re giving them money to read their rantings. And it’s only publicity if people know about it - if you download the Unibomber’s manifesto and read it in private, that’s not giving him any additional publicity.

Unless you start a message board thread about it, of course.

Well, the idea is similar to this board’s policy of discouraging discussion of banned posters, and the mods’ practice of immediately closing the ATMB threads where a ban is announced. Also related to the idea of DNFTT. Not even dead trolls.

Nikita Khrushchev, in Khrushchev Remembers tells of his attempt to read Mein Kampf which he described as being so disgusting he couldn’t get more than a chapter or two into it.

(I had the same reaction when I tried to read The Pascal Report by Niklaus Wirth.)

I think the whole idea of not rewarding murderers with attention, while logical on its face, is simply not realistic. It’s perfectly natural to be fascinated as well as horrified by such stories, and if our society produces people like Elliot Rodgers, we owe it to ourselves to at least attempt to figure out who he was and how he was able to do what he did.

I get the argument about figuring out people’s mindset, but my point was that, if they’re a psychopath, a layperson just* isn’t* going to get at their real mindset from their writings. I doubt even an expert would. Because psychos lie.

This is separate from the “not reward them with attention” argument, even though I agree with that one too.

Well it’s even worse than MrDibble says. There is plenty of research that shows that a complete stranger can more accurately explain someones motivation than they can themselves.