There are always worse crimes than a given crime, and worse sins than a given sin, in one person’s eyes or another. That is something I absorbed from “The Radleys” by Matt Haig.
Spoiler alert, my dear fellow absorbers, spoiler alert. Everything on this podcast is on spoiler alert—the alert is on the website’s front page, on the individual transcript pages, and in the description fields of the podcast platforms.
But, since “The Radleys” is a fiction story, and we’re not only talking about the initial premise but also about the plot points that occur deeper into the story, I thought I would give you another, extra, crystal-clear spoiler alert.
Do not listen to this episode if you plan to read “The Radleys” by Matt Haig and are concerned about spoilers.
With all that warning out of the way, let me reiterate. There are always worse crimes than a given crime, and worse sins than a given sin, in one person’s eyes or another. I think this is the theme of this book.
At first I picked it up because it had vampires in them. Yes. I like vampires. I like vampire stories. I even enjoyed Twilight the book, although I didn’t enjoy Twilight the movie, but that’s not because of the vampires, and more because of how much the movie emphasized the supposed sexiness aspect of vampires.
See, I’m not interested in vampires because they’re sexy. They could be sexy, but so can be humans. Sexiness does not make vampires special.
What does make vampires special is the time aspect. Whenever I think about vampires, I associate them more with rocks than the somewhat sadomasochistic sexiness resulting from their fangs, which in turn is tied to all the blood and power and so on and so forth. These creatures are closer to fossils, basically. They may be enveloped in flesh, bones, and blood like us, but at heart, they’re completely different beings from us—if they have a heart, which isn’t always a given. It could depend on the story. I mean, these are supernatural creatures from our imagination, so there may be a kind of loose canon around vampires, but there are no requirements; there are no officially set rules on what they can be like. Hey, there could even be robot vampires. You know, like space witches. Warlock aliens. All that stuff, where the supernatural meets science fiction.
So, robot vampires. Entirely possible.
But whatever kind of vampire they are, there is one canon that is always abided by, and that is that they live wayyyy longer than humans. They either live forever or close to forever. They, compared to humans who can die of any number of diseases before they reach their tenth birthday, are like rocks. Minerals. Mountains. They’re so bulletproof, sometimes it seems to me that there’s absolutely no way they could be sexy.
All this, of course, is personal taste. Clearly, I associate some amount of vulnerability with sexiness. I find rocks… patently unsexy.
Still, when the vampires themselves realize this aspect of themselves, or if the story deals with this rock-like eternality of vampires in general, then I tend to be fascinated, because that’s also a kind of vulnerability. And thus, unless a vampire story is purely about the surface-level sadomasochistic power play, I tend to pick it up. Usually you can tell, from the book cover, from the poster, or whichever other promotional material that the story uses as its… bait.
So, I was delighted by the theme—in my opinion—that I found in this book. Again: There are always worse crimes than a given crime, and worse sins than a given sin, in one person’s eyes or another.
When we live in a particular legal system, sometimes we forget how relative the idea of crimes can be. Furthermore, even when excluding the law, just by moving through the world in a particular spacetime, we forget how relative the idea of sins can be.
Here is an example. Let’s refer back to “The Mirror and the Palette,” which is a book we talked about in the earlier episodes of this podcast. In it, the author brings up an artist named Artemisia Gentileschi. She was born in Rome in 1593. In 1611, her father worked with a so-called artist named Agostino Tassi. This man was supposed to teach Artemisia, but instead, what he did was to harass her, and then to rape her. And for months after the rape, Artemisia kept sleeping with the rapist. Why? Well, in a trial, she said, quote, “What I was doing with him, I did only so that, as he had dishonoured me, he would marry me.” End quote.
Can you believe it? In that era, in that place, apparently, rape didn’t even count as enough of a crime. The best you could hope for, if you were raped, was that the rapist married you. Otherwise, Artemisia could forget about being hired to make art. Quote, “…it was essential to be viewed as virtuous. To be otherwise meant to be spurned by polite society – and the patrons, who had to be convinced of your moral, as well as artistic, worth.” End quote.
You know what happened after that? Artemisia had to prove that she was a virgin, prior to the rape. That was the critical point to these people in this spacetime. Basically, I guess, they didn’t believe in the concept of a rape of a non-virgin.
The concept of virginity seems to have been so critical, because that was the only way in which they could determine if Artemisia, as a property, was damaged. In other words, the victim wasn’t Artemisia. It was her father. She, as the daughter, was his property. And if she wasn’t a virgin, then there was nothing to damage, so she had to prove that she was a virgin prior to the rape.
But wait for it, it doesn’t end there. Tassi the Rapist was eventually, quote, “found guilty of the rape of a virgin.” End quote. He did some prison time and then was exiled to Rome. But, quote, “as he was close to the Pope and his nephew, this was never enforced. The trial didn’t seem to have affected his career.” End quote.
What a timeplace to find yourself in. Apparently, you could call yourself a pope with this rotten moral standard.
Whenever I see clear examples like these, of places in which the definition of crime and sin are severely lacking, by my standards, I am incredibly relieved that I live when and where I live now. I probably wouldn’t have survived long in a world like this. I would’ve attempted to castrate this freak of a rapist and then set fire to his body, and maybe set fire to the Pope’s place, the Vatican.
Of course, if I had been alive in Artemisia’s timeplace, I might not have thought this way. So I accept that it is pointless to talk about “what I would’ve done, had I, dot dot dot.”
The expectation I have regarding crime and sin is just so completely different from the people of that timeplace. To begin with, considering a person a property is a shock to me. But back then, it was perfectly normal, apparently.
And rape. Rape is about the worst, the absolute worst crime and sin that I can think of. Because, most other crimes besides rape can totally have excuses for them. They might be poor excuses, but they will be commonly accepted excuses nonetheless.
For example, stealing. If someone is starving to death, I think I would understand if they were to steal a bread. Jean Valjean did it. I feel for him. In fact, I hate the then-bureaucrats more than I blame Jean Valjean. What was he supposed to do? Die? What about his family? Of course, Jean Valjean should have been punished in some way, but not as severely as he was in that book. What were the bureaucrats thinking?
Speaking of bureaucrats, they are also great examples of how, even though sometimes their incompetence reaches criminal heights, there are often excuses. Bureaucracy, by definition, is an entity consisting of many many people. So, the blame can always be put on someone else. It’s bizarre, really. This blaming might be the precise reason why bureaucracy always tends towards getting bloated. It’s for self-preservation. The things that living organisms as well as unliving entities such as bureaucracies commit in the name of survival are amazing.
On top of this frequent impossibility to clearly pinpoint the blame, the crime, the sin on one or a few people within the bureaucracy, there is the other side that actually isn’t doing its job any better: the voting public.
See, the voting public doesn’t get paid to vote, but the expectation is that they will still perform the job of electing officials who will make bureaucracy less incompetent. Or more competent, even. If those officials fail, then isn’t some of the blame on the voting public? Whose sin is greater? That of the corrupt politicians and the bureaucrats they hire? Or that of the masses who actually believed that after the elections, the politicians and their bureaucrats would continue to be interested in doing their jobs?
See, this is the difficult thing with democracy. Elections are never the end. It’s one of the reasons I have doubts about democracy as a system. It’s a system that requires a significant time commitment from people who aren’t paid politicians, not only around the elections, but all the time. Because, if the people of a democratic entity only pay attention during the elections, then the rest of the time, all those years between the elections, are ideal times to get some really ambitious corruption business going.
Add to that the near impossibility of immediately figuring out corruption. And it’s just… it’s not possible to notice corruption right away, otherwise, it wouldn’t even qualify as corruption.
What makes people trust politicians? Or even their neighborhood law clerk? Or anybody, really?
Democracy looks democratic until one realizes that only the richest people with the most time and money resources could possibly keep up with all the responsibilities of the voting public. The constant monitoring. The constant following. The constant updating.
Do I have a better alternative to democracy? No. I think that’s not a reason not to talk about democracy’s problems—unless this actually isn’t a democracy, in which case it explains a lot of things. But there might be others who think that pointing out the flaws of democracy is a sin, a crime, or at least, something to blame me for.
In general, why do people let themselves be told what to do by elected officials? Yeah, theoretically, when you elect officials, it’s the voice of the people, the voice of the majority. But what if they’re corrupt? What party, what government wasn’t ever corrupt to one extent or another in the history of democracy?
The argument could be that the democratic governments are less corrupt than other kinds of governments, but are they really? How do you measure that?
I mean, I get that there needs to be some division of labor, because we can’t be engineers, cooks, garbage collectors, food deliverers and on top of that, be politicians in an effective way. To some degree, we cannot help but trust that other people will do their jobs.
But the thing is, even the concept of a job, in the case of politicians, is up for debate. What is their job? To better the lives of their constituents? What does it mean to better the lives of one’s constituents? Is it to stick to the campaign pledges? How many times have you seen those come true? Do you keep track of them?
Most people don’t. But they have many valid excuses. As I’ve said, you can’t be what you are and on top of that, be a politician in an effective way. If one has limited time on this earth and must divide that time between doing one’s actual job and monitoring whether another person does their job or not, then I won’t blame a person who chooses the former over the latter. Because, the more one chooses the latter over the former, one becomes a bureaucrat of one’s own—and not even a compensated bureaucrat at that.
Ah. All this to say: it’s often difficult to determine who committed a greater crime, a greater sin. Different situations, different people, different cultures, all those influence the question of relative crime and sin.
But, let’s go back to rape, because that is related to the book, “The Radleys.” An event revolving around rape is what starts everything in this book.
As I’ve said, rape is about the worst, the absolute worst crime and sin that I can think of. Rape is the crime and sin that I treat with disdain and contempt, and that’s because it is the one thing that has no excuse. Absolutely no excuse. You don’t rape someone for survival. That’s nonsense.
Rape is such a pointless, cowardly, cheap kind of crime. Even compared to all kinds of white-collar crimes, rape is more unintelligent, more impotent, and more spineless. If I ever feature a rapist in my stories and I don’t give them the death they deserve by the end of the book, you can write me and accuse me of being a pointless, cheap coward and an unintelligent, impotent, and spineless writer. Okay? I promise you, there will never be a rapist who goes unpunished within my stories. EVER. There might be murderers who get away with it, but never rapists.
There. I’ve said it. I consider murder less of a crime and less of a sin than rape, depending on the situation. I’ve thought about this occasionally in my life: that I am capable of murder. I can think of various scenarios in which I would want to kill someone and probably will, if I could. For example, if someone were to rape a person I love, I will kill the rapist if I can. If someone rapes me, I will kill the rapist if I can. Frankly, if I had the wherewithal to kill the rapists of strangers, I would do that too. But I don’t have the wherewithal. I think I would have to be… a sniper, or something, or at least someone with experience in tactical warfare.
I can imagine that I might kill in other scenarios too. I mean. John Wick. Someone kills his beloved dog and he goes after them. I totally understand. Don’t kill other people’s dogs. Of course, the dog shouldn’t attack a human either without expecting some kind of antagonistic reaction, but how is it that some people seem to think that just because they’re human, they’ll be better than all dogs, equally? If I had a dog, which I don’t, but if I had one, of course that dog is more important to me than some rando human. It’s the same as my dog thinking that I’m more important than some rando dog. I’m my dog’s human. So of course we’ll be more important to each other than any other specimen from our respective species.
And, I think if someone were to forcefully enter my house and threaten my life, I could kill that person, if need be. If they don’t leave when told to leave, what am I supposed to do? Wait until they make themselves comfortable?
See, for all these reasons, there’s a difference between killing someone and rape. I cannot rape someone. I would kill myself first before I rape someone. I think to lead such a worthless existence would make me want to kill myself.
This. The fact that I consider rape to be the lowest form of crime and sin, while others don’t is why I got hooked on “The Radleys.”
In the book, “The Radleys,” there is a vampire couple. A mom and a dad. These are the Radley parents.
They have two children. A son and a daughter. These are the young Radleys and both are in high school.
The interesting thing about vampirism in this book is that it can be inherited. Meaning, there are multiple ways to become a vampire. Number one: you can be a normal human who gets bitten, either voluntarily or against your will. This route is common in vampire canon. But there is also number two: you can have a vampire mommy and a vampire daddy, and as their child, you will be a vampire by default.
But the thing is, at the beginning of the book, the young Radleys have no idea that they’re vampires. Their parents are vampires who stopped drinking human blood a long time ago. They didn’t tell their children yet that they’re all vampires. And the children are undergoing all these physical changes. Within the story, while a person is young, vampirism doesn’t affect them as much, but it seems to become more prominent with puberty. So, these teenagers develop an aversion to excess sunlight, they keep needing to eat meat, and in general, they don’t feel well, because they’re creatures who need blood and they aren’t drinking it.
With all this context, now the moment that hooked me arrives. The young Radley girl is at a party. And this one boy comes up to her. He is drunk. She tells him to back off. He doesn’t. She’s not feeling well, so she vomits on him. He still doesn’t back off.
And now, I will read you a passage from the book. The drunk boy’s name is Harper. There are only two people in this scene. Harper and our Radley girl.
“Help!” she shouts again, her head turning toward the way she came. The words only reach cows, who are watching her with a fear she shares. Harper too is now in a panic. She can see it on his face, his desperate smile and frightened eyes. Unable to work out a better solution, he places his hand over her mouth. Her eyes scan the road. No cars. No sign of anyone. She screams through his hand, but only a desperate muffle escapes. The sound causes him to press harder, hurting her jaw.
He presses at the back of her legs, behind her knees, and pulls her down to the ground.
“You’re not better than me,” he says, his hand still suppressing her screams. “I’m going to show you.” All his weight is on her as his hand goes for the top button of her jeans.from “The Radleys” by Matt Haig
And that is when she bites him, our brave big Radley girl. She bites. And bites. And drinks his blood, without giving her own, so he dies instead of becoming a vampire himself. And while he dies, our Radley girl, without knowing that she is a vampire, becomes one—fully manifests.
This was oh so very the point where I got hooked by the story. And everything that happens after this almost-rape scene revoles around this idea that there are always worse crimes than a given crime, and worse sins than a given sin, in one person’s eyes or another.
Let’s begin with the reaction from the family. Fortunately, Mama Radley and Papa Radley are both normal people, or, normal vampires, and are extremely worried for their daughter, as they should be. The girl was almost raped just now. Who cares if the boy is dead?
Even if the Radley girl were a normal human who killed her would-be rapist in self-defense, her parents should put her well-being first and foremost. Of course, without all the tricks that vampires have up their sleeves, the Radleys would have a hard time proving the innocence of their girl, but within a fiction story, that’s hardly a problem. The readers would know that the Radley girl is innocent and that she killed the boy in self-defense. That’s what matters. The readers are the judges. They are the ones who can ultimately absolve someone of a sin. They are the ones who can sentence a character to the eternal hell that is the fate of asshole characters.
Anyway, even given that their girl is a vampire and thus, in a way, a rape couldn’t have happened—because, literally, her vampirism manifested in self-defense—even so, Mama Radley and Papa Radley are worried, as they should be. I was pleased with this. I do not read books where parents mistreat their children. Everyone else in the world can mistreat the child, but not the parents. They don’t get to do that. They made the child exist.
Anyway, the only reason the girl got out of this crime—which wasn’t rape, but it’s still a crime to threaten someone like this—the only reason the girl got out of this crime without getting raped was because she was a vampire who had enough physical strength to overwhelm the enemy. Without biting Harper, the girl would have been raped. Who knows, she might have been killed, too, because this Harper character is an especially unintelligent one. He is exactly the kind who will kill in panic. He won’t think about how rape, in most places, isn’t as severely punished as murder, regardless of what I, Ithaka, think. And thus, the parents, even though they knew that the Radley girl couldn’t really have been harmed, were relieved. That’s what normal parents do.
But, for one family member, it matters more that the girl killed someone, than the fact that she would have been raped, if she hadn’t. It’s the brother of our Radley girl, meaning, the Radley boy.
His reaction. Wow. Criticizing his sister for killing her would-be rapist. How dare he? What is he? Is he from the timeplace of Artemisia Gentileschi?
In my world, the normal reaction of a brother whose sister was almost raped, but fortunately, instead she killed the would-be rapist, is to storm out of the house to kill the rapist again. I would do it for my sibling. I would need to see the body of the imbecile who dared lay a finger on one of my people and, who knows, depending on the severity of the trauma that my loved one must go through, I might do certain things to the body.
The whole idea that all humans deserve respect so fascinates me. No, all humans don’t deserve respect. There is no such thing as “all something needing to be something.” You can plug in any word in the sentence. All flowers don’t need to smell nice. All oceans need not be blue. All swans aren’t white. Same with people.
Anyway, after this point, in which Brother Radley blamed Sister Radley instead of getting mad shit angry for her, everything I saw in this story was about the theme: There are always worse crimes than a given crime, and worse sins than a given sin, in one person’s eyes or another.
To Brother Radley, I guess it was embarrassing that his sister dared to kill someone as a vampire. He acts as if she is impure for having defended herself. And everything hereafter revolves around this idea that crimes and sins are relative, depending on who is making the judgment.
Let’s start with the birth of these children. Think about it. Think about being born a vampire. Think about not having a choice. Not even having a chance to defend yourself against a vampire. You’re just born one. You’re doomed to a life of craving blood, in a world where killing humans for blood is considered a crime, and moreover, a sin in every major religion.
But then, let’s go one step further. What about being born at all? Whether vampire or a normal human, none of us are born the way we are because we chose anything. Someone decided to make us exist one day—or more like, someone decided to make some random person exist one day, and the random person happened to be us. It’s not like our parents chose us either. We were just sperm and egg. A total chance event. Even in a scenario where the sperm and egg are chosen—no parent chooses the sperm and egg thinking that it is us. It’s not possible to know us from sperm and egg.
So, considering that, is being born a vampire so different from being born human? Nobody is born because they want to. There was no entity who could’ve done the wanting prior to the birth. The reason that being born a vampire is worse than being born a human, within this story, and within the context of our real world, is simply a matter of who is the majority. If this were a world where vampires were the majority, it would’ve sucked to be born a human.
And how about this? Do you call a tiger evil for killing a deer? If someone is born a vampire, or if someone was attacked and became a vampire, how much can you force them to abstain from their craving for blood?
What about all the other cravings we have in life? What if some people need their blood to be drunk by vampires? And what if a vampire only drinks blood from volunteer humans? Is that still a sin?
This does feature in this story briefly. There are people who’re sort of vampire wannabes, so they let vampires drink blood, not to the point of dying, but only a little bit. And also, there is blood that is sold.
Should the sale of blood be prohibited? Is drinking blood bad, by definition? If so, why?
Is it a sin to have vampire children?
Is it a sin to have human children?
Is it a sin not to have human children?
What about vampire children?
When vampire or human children are born, to what extent do they get to do what they want to do?
And to add even more to the list of fascinating crimes and sins: in this story, there is adultery, and betrayals in general. There’s loving the brother of your husband. And loving the wife of your brother. It’s one big mess, but the story covers it in such a way that it’s not melodramatic. It’s just me obsessing about these questions. I mean, oh my gods. What are they gonna do. This would-be rapist is dead, the only person who can help is Daddy Radley’s brother, with whom Mommy Radley had a child, who is Brother Radley. One messed up little family.
I don’t have answers to any of the aforementioned questions. I don’t think there can be answers. My conclusion will not be the same as other people’s conclusions.
Mostly, I just hope that I won’t find myself in a timeplace where the vast majority of the population disagrees with my definition of crime, sin, punishment, and vengeance.
And, I do hope that one day, the crimes that I consider to be the worst that a human can commit will vanish from this planet. I think there are crimes and sins that humans shouldn’t commit if they want to stay in that category. And similarly, I think there are punishments that shouldn’t exist. For example, I don’t think there should be a single place on this earth where a thief who steals purely for survival, say, one Chicken McNugget, gets their hands cut off.
Realistically speaking, I think all that each of us can do is attempt to make the world such that our perspectives becomes the majority. Now, I don’t know if you agree with me or not, on which specific crimes and sins are worse than the others. So what I’m saying is, we, each of us, individually and separately and freely, can try to sell our ideas to the world. Not necessarily “sell” as in for money, but “sell,” as in convince. We can each try to convince the world to become the version that we want it to be.
Also, we shouldn’t let cultural relativism be the excuse for terrible people from other places demanding that their relative values be absolute where we are. For example, women and girls who’re raped are burned alive in some places of this planet. This actually happened recently. It’s terrible for the women in that place that such things happen, and that is enough. Nobody gets to come to where I am and demand that they be allowed to burn their victims, claiming that “that’s their way”—which is nonsense, because clearly, not everyone in that timeplace agrees with that either. Protests have been going on, against sexual violence and caste prejudice. And while I cannot solve the problems for the people who are in that timeplace, the least I can do is to prevent criminals from claiming that their crimes and sins can be protected under the idea of cultural relativism.
And also, nobody gets to tell professionals from our country to dress in a particular way to follow their culture within our country. This actually happened, too, recently. And… Well, I was never much of a politically correct person, if there can be any correctness regarding such a nonsense occurrence, because the occurrence itself is incorrect, in my worldview.
So, I’ll just say it. If some little dude from someplace thinks he’s so special because some people in that place make him delude himself that he’s some sort of god? And if he convinces himself that a woman needs to be dressed in a particular way for him to be interviewed? Then well. He can go back to his country, where he can throw his little impotent tantrums and turn a blind eye to all the protests going on over there.
This interview that was supposed to happen with this dude was supposed to be done by a woman interviewer. You can look it up if you want, since it was a pretty big deal in September 2022. I won’t link to any news articles about how this dude has made a fool out of himself, because I don’t want this podcast stained with a link that contains his dirty name or his laughable title.
The interview was supposed to happen in New York, and as far as I know it is a city in the United States of America. This dude doesn’t get to tell us how to run our things. Or, I guess, he can try to, but, would be an idiot to expect that we’ll listen—which he proved. That he is an idiot.
If the little dude and his underlings think that what I am saying is disrespectful, which is always assuming that they’re capable of thinking, then, well, they can think about the disrespect that they showed first.
If you’re in Country A, don’t bring your culture from Country B and expect that that will count as cultural relativism in an absolute way. I mean, you can attempt to bring your culture. For example, if a culture prefers a particular kind of food, then often, bringing that enriches the recipient country’s cuisine. That is beautiful. But see, it’s not that the cooks from one country forced the restaurant-goers in another country to accept the new food as part of cultural relativism. Those who wanted to eat it ate it, and those who didn’t want to eat it, didn’t.
This is the only way cultural relativism can work. You can’t force culture in the name of respect and relativism. Otherwise, it’s just an excuse for the so-called minority to impose their absolutism on the majority.
I’m not saying that all outside interferences are bad by definition. I’m talking about the expectations. Expecting someone else to accept your values because you claim it’s culture and culture is relative and therefore people who aren’t part of that culture must value it by default is not cultural relativism, even though it may abuse that word. It’s cultural absolutism.
Expectations. See, say, if a hypothetical country were to allow the rape, mutilation, and murder of children, I think most other countries would want to do something about that, if they can. Then, I don’t think intervention is bad. But even in this case, to expect that the raping, mutilating, murdering country would just sit there and go “oh, culture is relative, so you can invade us,” would be foolish. No matter how justified an intervention, the party that is being intervened will push back. Everyone has a different opinion about what’s a worse crime or worse sin than another.
All this said, I am a personal absolutist. I don’t care what other people believe in, but I will attempt to live in the way I want to, or not at all. And I live in a country where I can more or less adhere to this belief system. There are many problems in the US, but compared to some other places in this world, oh, I am grateful that I can say what I please.
In my timeplace, if someone doesn’t like what I say? They don’t have to listen to me, they don’t have to read what I wrote. That’s the beauty of all this. Nobody gets to stop anybody from talking or writing, but nobody is forcing anyone’s talks and writings on anybody else either.
And if someone threatens this freedom, this power, not only for me but also for others who live in the particular timeplace where I am? Then personally, with absolute passion, I will do what I can to present such threatening behavior as a crime, a sin. Here, in this little corner of the world, my rules prevail.
- “The Radleys” by Matt Haig: http://www.matthaig.com/books/theradleys/
- “Twighlight” by Stephenie Meyer: https://stepheniemeyer.com/project/twilight-book/
- “The Mirror and the Palette” by Jennifer Higgie: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Mirror-and-the-Palette/Jennifer-Higgie/9781643138039
- Jean Valjean from “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables
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