I recently reread Albert Camus’ iconic novel, The Stranger. It struck me as I was reading that Meursault’s detached personality and precise, yet objective truthfulness would probably place him somewhere on the autism spectrum today. As most people know, the bizarre cultural mindset of the time in which the novel is set (1950’s French colonial Algeria) has Meursault sentenced to death essentially not for the crime committed (unpremeditated murder) but for his not being a sufficiently good and empathic son to his recently deceased mother.
Compassion, remorse, regret – these are certainly human attributes for all time, and we (in the court of public opinion) tend to harshly judge those in whom these characteristics appear to be absent. And yet, when we judge, are we demonstrating the compassionate attributes for which we are so quick to judge the absence in those who have committed unfortunate or unspeakable acts?
In current events, there are two horrific crimes that have recently been in the news which seem especially relevant to the question of how we, as human beings, deal with the stranger. One is Dylann Roof, the now 22 year old self-declared white supremacist who ambushed and killed nine members of a bible study class in the historic Mother Emmanuel Church in South Carolina on June 17, 2015. He was just convicted and unanimously sentenced to death by a jury in South Carolina. Roof refused attorney representation in the final sentencing phase of the trial. He spoke little, and offered no defense for himself. He did make a short final statement:
Roof: I had no choice
Even now in America, you know, when people say they hate immigrants, they’re not referring to a Canadian immigrant. You know, they’re not referring to somebody who has an accent who’s slightly different to theirs.