It was 35 years ago that the Canadian anthropologist Elliott Leyton sat down to write the “acknowledgements” for his book, Hunting Humans, that was first published two years later, in 1986.
After all the thanks, he apologized to the reader for the human suffering and degradation he or she was about to endure.
“We can only bear it if we remind ourselves that the eradication of a disease requires the intensive study of all the disorder’s pus and blood and deformed tissue.
“So far, the only reliable cure we have discovered is madame guillotine.
“Regrettably, while her use may provide us with some arcane satisfaction, she can do little on her own to staunch the outbreak of this most modern and virulent of social epidemics.”
A central thesis of Hunting Humans, subtitled The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer, is that serial killers and mass murderers aren’t freaks or cultural outliers, much as people may wish them to be.
Rather, Leyton says, “they can only be fully understood as representing the logical themes in their culture — of worldly ambition, of success and failure, and of manly avenging violence … they can only be accurately and objectively perceived as prime embodiment of their civilization, not twisted derangement.”
And so to Christchurch, New Zealand, where Friday a 28-year-old Australian terrorist who used the name Brenton Tarrant online shot up two mosques, killing 49 people and injuring scores of others, some critically.