Who is crazy?

Posted: May 16, 2002 12:00 AM

Accused pipe bomber Lucas John Helder had barely been taken into custody before people began saying that he was crazy. Apparently no one is responsible for doing wrong things any more.

Some of young Mr. Helder's comments may sound illogical to many of us. But they are the kinds of things being said in our educational institutions at all levels and all across the country.

"Mailboxes are exploding," said a letter signed by Helder. "Why you ask? You have been missing how things are, for very long. I'm obtaining your attention in the only way I can."

The very tone of moral and intellectual condescension will be familiar to anyone who has been following ivory tower talk about raising other people's consciousness or making them "aware." The trick is never to argue on the same plane, by the same rules of logic or evidence, with those who disagree with you, but to pronounce from on high that others are, as Helder puts it, "missing how things are."

In other words, those who differ with you "just don't get it." Helder has apparently learned that trick, but he did not invent it.

The passive sense in which Helder says that mailboxes are exploding, instead of saying "I planted bombs there," is a classic evasion of responsibility. "The knife went in" is the way a British thug described his attack on another person in Theodore Dalrymple's account of slum life in his book "Life at the Bottom."

Then there is Helder's claim that he had to get our attention "in the only way I can." Since when are you entitled to someone else's attention? And since when does that presumed entitlement also entitle you to risk other people's lives for the sake of your own self-expression and self-importance?

But again, none of this is peculiar to this particular young man. Even our elementary schools are fostering the notion that kids who have not yet lived a whole decade ought to be getting the attention of the media and public officials, in order to promote their views of the world.

No one in public life, not even the president of the United States, can escape letters that school children have written as class assignments to advise us all on complex issues that neither they nor their teachers have had time to study with even moderate care. Everything from nuclear power to Middle East conflicts are fair game to the young Solomons, with their "educators" egging them on.

When Lucas John Helder said "I'm dismissing a few individuals from reality" in order to "change you all for the better" that G-d-like presumption might have seemed a little much. But it is completely in tune with the zeitgeist. Note how poetically the prospect of killing people is expressed -- and how casually he assumes the role of defining for other people what is "the better."

Running other people's lives is a major part of what the intellectual and political crusades of our time are all about. All sorts of local, national and international organizations, movements and miscellaneous busybodies do it all the time.

Headstrong and half-baked messiahs are everywhere. Lucas John Helder is in tune with his times. If he is crazy, then the rest of us are crazier to let all this happen and let it pass unchallenged in our educational institutions and in our political institutions.

Yet today who dares to say what was once too obvious to say -- that young people who have not yet reached the point of taking on even the basic responsibility to support themselves, much less carried the burden of responsibility for raising a family, are in no position to presume to tell more experienced people how to live their lives? Kids who have yet to master spelling or basic math are in no position to dogmatize about scientific questions like global warming or nuclear power. To have them try to teach before they have learned is preposterous in the literal sense of putting in front what belongs behind.

It seems far less likely that Lucas John Helder is crazy than that we are crazy to ignore, much less condone, a set of attitudes and practices that produce the likes of Lucas John Helder.