June 27, 2005


BTK killer waives trial, admits 10 slayings (Associated Press, June 27th, 2005)

In a surprise move, Dennis Rader pleaded guilty Monday to 10 counts of first-degree murder before delivering a chilling matter-of fact account of the BTK slayings that terrorized the city beginning in the 1970s.

Rader, 60, of Park City, entered the guilty pleas as his trial was scheduled to begin Monday.

Referring to his victims as “projects,” Rader laid out for the court how he would “troll” for victims on his off-time, then stalk them and kill them.

“I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn’t know how much pressure you had to put on a person or how long it would take,” he told the court in describing his first killings in 1974, a couple and two children.

No point in getting our knickers in a knot. The cooperative gene may have skipped by him and we may need to dispose of him to keep the survival imperative going, but why else would we get lathered over this one, Dude?

Posted by Peter Burnet at June 27, 2005 7:18 PM

Because he is utterly incomprehensible to most rationalists. Sweet irony.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 27, 2005 9:28 PM

a rationalist, is a rationalist, is a rationalist. the only difference between any of them, is their personal tolerance for doing the dirty work themselves.

Posted by: cjm at June 27, 2005 9:41 PM

On Day One of confinement, this charming fellow needs to be wrapped into a neat ball with barbed wire, rolled down a long, flinty slope onto an anthill, then basted with corn syrup and left to meditate in the hot sun.
On Day Two, we get mean.

Posted by: Axel Kassel at June 27, 2005 9:51 PM

And all his neighbors and church friends were shocked when he was arrested.

here be monsters....

Posted by: ratbert at June 27, 2005 11:14 PM

We all be monsters ... or at least latent monsters. That's what the rationalists don't get.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 27, 2005 11:39 PM

I watched some of this on tv yesterday. It was an odd juxtapositon. Came off like like a dull procedural interview but was about all these awful things.

Posted by: RC at June 28, 2005 3:50 AM

What does any of this have to do with 'rationalism?'

For us to live in a society and gain the benefits therefrom both in terms of personal security and general utility, we need to refrain from doing undue harm to each other. You don't need G-d or the Bible to tell you that and it really isn't brain surgery either.

Posted by: bart at June 28, 2005 6:58 AM

Well, yes, although G-d and the Bible are useful for suggesting that our actions (good and bad)have consequences beyond our earthly lives.

Saw this guy briefly during the Factor. They should coat him with bait and dump him off the Florida coast.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at June 28, 2005 7:33 AM


"Undue harm"? Oh, please, do share your theory of undue harm with us.

Posted by: Peter B at June 28, 2005 7:44 AM


I'll give you an example. A really easy way to make a ton of cash fairly quickly is to buy a mortgage being foreclosed from a bank and finish the foreclosure. You buy the loan at a discount and finish the procedure. If you know how to evaluate property and you pay attention to detail, it is very simple. The defaulting borrower is certainly harmed when you boot him out of his house, but as he failed to pay his mortgage that harm is certainly not 'undue.'

Posted by: bart at June 28, 2005 8:27 AM

It doesn't have anything to do with rationalism per se, Bart. There is an expectation out there amongst ordinary people, who are mostly and modestly rational and also robustly kind and decent, that anyone who shares their rationality will also share at least a bit of their kindness and decency. That's manifestly not the case, correlation is not causation, people like Rader are walking proof of that, but it still shocks. Ann Althouse for example is gobsmacked, though she's plenty smart enough to know not to be.

Posted by: joe shropshire at June 28, 2005 10:06 AM

I read that although this was unsuspected of being the BTK killer; coworkers said he was a real asshole and a petty, arrogant and controlling guy.

Posted by: pchuck at June 28, 2005 11:22 AM

So they elected a petty, arrogant, controlling guy president of the church?

Must be a message in there, someplace.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 28, 2005 2:24 PM


Dr. Johnson said people need to be reminded much more often than they need to be instructed. The moral message of the Bible is pretty simple and any reasonable 8 year-old could spell out the 10 Commandments and the gist of the Sermon on the Mount without really breaking a sweat. But we 45 year-olds need reminding, sometime. Gravitation is a difficult thing to fight.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 28, 2005 4:16 PM


Fair enough. Every day as I commute to and from downtown Manhattan, I come across easily a dozen people I would happily shoot knowing that I would be improving the gene pool by doing so. What prevents me from executing people who give me visual, aural and, especially, nasal displeasure is the fact that granting other people the same right to execute the displeasing would result in a very messy society. My refraining from acting out my basest desires does not require a reference to the Divine.

Posted by: bart at June 29, 2005 8:17 AM


Maybe not the Divine, but that answer shows you do refer to a faith. C'mon know, you want us to believe that the only reason you refrain from killing people who disgust you is that someone might kill you (But, Bart, who could possibly dislike you?)and that you conduct careful, utilitarian cost/benefit analyses of all the big moral and political issues you face? I guess that explains why you are so steadfast in your support for one tiny resource-poor country of six million in its interminable struggle against hundreds of millions of people awash in oil. It's because Israel is just so...useful.

Posted by: Peter B at June 29, 2005 9:16 AM

Wow Peter, you have a real gift for deflecting the truth, you can be my defense attorney anyday! A guy who is the president of his local church turns out to be a cold blooded serial killer, and you somehow turn it into an indictment of secular rationalism. You're like that lawyer in "Chicago", doing your tap-dance of semantic freestyle gymnastics.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 29, 2005 9:48 AM

A nation that is among the world leaders in military technology, is the third largest national presence on the NASDAQ(behind the US and barely behind (GASP!)Canada) and has Intel as its largest private sector employer is hardly 'resource-poor.' The Pentagon which has used Israel, in places like Latin America and West Africa, for the better part of the last 3 decades and works together in R & D with Israel for all manner of the most modern weaponry, is perhaps a better judge of its overall 'usefulness' than I am.

Also, my standard is what is good and bad for me, and my family, not what is good for other people. A society where we could kill those whom we do not like, for whatever subjective reason we chose,would not inure to the benefit of disproportionately well-educated and affluent members of ethnic minorities.

Posted by: bart at June 29, 2005 10:01 AM


Silly me. As I wouldn't in a million years attribute this kind of a gruesome crime by a sicko psychopath to any faith or any creed, including secular rationalism, I naively assumed thinking atheists like you wouldn't either. Silly me.

The issue is why is it wrong and how do we know, not why humanity has detritus on the extremes.

Posted by: Peter B at June 29, 2005 10:05 AM


A particularly memorable quote of Harry's is, roughly: "The concept of a lone human, like a lone ant, is absolutely meaningless."

As social animals, therefore, we have to have some pre-existing notion of right and wrong. It predated religion, and Christianity certainly didn't make it up out of whole cloth.

I'm looking forward to an apology from cjm and ghostcat.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 29, 2005 12:01 PM


Yes, that is a memorable quote. Absurd, but memorable.

You are, I presume, talking of the altruism gene, that sturdy genetic constant that is growing in influence through natural selection as those nastier malevolent genes die off. As the Beatles sang: "All you need is love" and, now, here is magisterial science proving how right they were. Who could gainsay that the twentieth century proved just how cooperative and altruistic mankind is steadily becoming (except for all those religious nuts, of course)? And the beauty is that we can pretty much do whatever we want, secure in the knowledge that genetics and non-teleological, random evolution will keep us on the straight and narrow.

I'm currently trying to fight my way through Stephen Pinker's book on human nature, which is tough because I still can't figure out why he wrote it. He is obviously big on evolutionary altruism (without actually endorsing it as a proven fact--he's more careful than you, Jeff) but he thinks it all fits beautifully and explains our growing humanity. That evolutionary timelines must suddenly shrink to hundred of years, if not dozens, to make it work seems to trouble him not at all. Nor does the fact that whatever species he thinks he is describing, it sure isn't man.

Posted by: Peter B at June 29, 2005 2:15 PM


Silly me, I'm sorry. I have trouble keeping the various layers of your indictments against materialism straight. I assumed that materialism = secular humanism = science in your vocabulary, and that "another day at the lab" is just a euphemism for "another day in the secular worker's paradise that is our modern world".

So what you are really saying is not that materialism is to blame for someone like Rader, but that materialism cannot formulate a reason to judge Rader's behavior as aberrant. You might be correct, but materialism is a philosophy to describe what animates the universe, not a guide for behavior.

So to answer your question as to how we know what Rader did is wrong, I'll allude to what the Supreme Court justice said about pornography: "I'll know it when I see it". We have morality because human beings are pre-wired for it. It isn't perfect, but it is what we have to work with, and most of us rely on this capability to make such decisions as to what is allowable and what is out of bounds. Now, is it important that people know why they have this capability in order to use it? Do you need the complete design specs for your car in order to drive it?

The philosophical questions around materialism vs spiritualism are questions we ask because of our own curiosity, but they are not determinative of our moral decisions.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 29, 2005 3:09 PM

Peter, if you think 'individual human' has meaning, try imagining yourself, minus everything other humans have taught you.

Genetics are absolute destiny for the ant, not quite so much for us.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 29, 2005 3:13 PM


I beg to differ--it is says a great deal in a few words, and is far from absurd.

We are social animals, pure and simple. Therefore, our notions of what is right and wrong are in tension between self-interest and group-interest. In general (that is, most people, most of the time), humans achieve a balance between the two.

If we were all to focus exclusively on the former, we couldn't exist as social animals, which we most assuredly do; if on the latter, than we would be prey for any defector (see Pacifism, inherent failure thereof).

Nothing here about people keeping on the straight and narrow, and everything about most, but not all, people maintaining a serviceable balance.

Within the group, that is. Outside the group, all bets are off. Ironically, Religion, apparently the touchstone of all that is moral, is one of (yes, I know there are others) the prime justifiers of behavior against those outside the group that would be firmly rejected if practiced against those inside the group.

After all, human nature is supposedly effectively an invariant quality--if some sort of inherent sense of right/wrong wasn't in place, then Religious moral codes would have no more meaning to people than a wrist watch to a pig.

Therefore, one must consider the strong likelihood that we have an inherited, built-in sense of right and wrong.

As an example, view 2-3 yr olds at play. Without being taught, they all have a highly developed sense of reciprocity.

Why is that?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 29, 2005 4:21 PM


Like a rich and longlasting novel, I strive to be multi-layered. :-)


Is the "not so much" part the part that leads us to contribute to tsunami relief, or the part that leads us to build concentration camps?

Jeff et. al.:

And here perhaps, we must, as lawyers say, join the issue. It completely boggles my mind that you would look at history, remote or near, and conclude there is some ingrained imperative towards altruism, cooperation and all the other gooey and nice things in life. Do you know what happemns in a modern city when the police go on strike? Do you realize you are standing in the face of mass-murder, muliple genocide and all manner of other things no other species has ever tried or experienced and telling us we are all naturally good because you've seen toddlers share toys? Actually, on that score, I've witnessed the little tykes at play and never seen anything other than selfish, drooling whiners demanding self-gratification and in bad need of some moulding.

"Civilization is hard-won and easily lost." Think about it.

Posted by: Peter B at June 29, 2005 7:26 PM

'Not so much' goes both ways. We are the most labile species.

The idea that only the Big Spook can inspire me with the idea that I might benefit from cooperating -- and benefit even more by cooperating honestly -- is ridiculous.

I've seen the consequences of not cooperating. I've also seen the consequences of trying to beat the system.

Some people do, some don't.

In the long run, the honest cooperators thrive more. If that were not true, all law offices would be single practitioners, wouldn't they?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 29, 2005 8:35 PM


So you are denying the Theory of Competitive Advantage?

Human beings gravitate towards social organizations not because there is some theological imperative to do so but because they perceive real utility from doing so. There are instances of pure rapacity but Sparta, the Aztecs, China in the Red Guard period, to the NYC Blackout of 1977 etc show that these are unsustainable long-term. People will act to give themselves short-term benefits and ignore long-term consequences but one would be hard pressed to find places where rapacity as a policy is sustainable for anything other than a very short term.

This is not a question of people being good or bad, most people are absolute rotters and we'd be a better world if they were all replaced by short-legged Welsh herding dogs with a taste for pate' and Beaujolais. It is merely a matter of all but the most imbecilic among us being capable of seeing that a policy of mere rapacity does not work.

Posted by: bart at June 30, 2005 1:54 AM


Would you do me a favor and quote what I have said above that leads you to say I have concluded there is some ingrained imperative towards altruism?

I would appreciate the help, since I can't find it.

What I can find is an assertion that, as social animals, we exist in tension between communal and self interest.

Additionally, I asserted that humans have an inborn, very highly developed sense of reciprocity that, in normal people, invariably manifests itself at about 2-3 yrs old. Reciprocity isn't about sharing toys, it is about being keenly aware when someone else is perceived to be getting more than their fair share.

So I don't know what issue you have joined, but it isn't any I have written about.

An issue you might join, though, is why religions, which purport to be the touchstones of universal morality, are so willing to abandon that morality with regard to those outside the religious group.

Harry makes his point well--on average, all behavior viewed as moral is also materially advantageous.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 30, 2005 6:31 AM
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