Is it a safe assumption that a society formulates laws against certain behaviors that are considered bad because some of its citizens would be inclined to do them? As a child, I was amazed that Leviticus included this statement: Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.

The part about the deaf made sense; it would be bad manners, even today. But our teacher had to explain what a “stumbling block” was. Even in a neighborhood full of sick-in-the-head people (one teenager grabbed the football we were playing with in the street in order to throw it viciously at my dog), I had never heard of anyone doing that business with a stumbling block.

In Biblical times, were they so starved for entertainment, that you could delight your buddies by doing this?

It could be taken as a metaphor for other behaviors, and it has, over the centuries. But I was haunted by the literal meaning—to think that my fellow humans could sink so low.

I had witnessed senseless cruelty to a dog, but I knew enough to ascribe it to some adolescent mental illness. To think of grown men (presumably) finding yucks in such cruelty!

Clearly, it was just the beginning of my education.


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