Not long ago I saw a documentary film on Adolf Eichmann and was shocked by the sight of him: The smirk, the smile, seemed to yank his mouth nearly off his face. He looked like a boxer undergoing the impact of a right hook, or like a portrait by, of all people, Soutine, in which the suppressed inner life of the subject distorts every feature in its struggle to get out, twisting the mouth so it seems about to devour itself. What so unnerved me was that he looked precisely like the madman I had long since decided he was not.
I have set myself a moral puzzle. What would I do if I were a college president and had to decide the fate of a student who had been caught writing racial and ethnic epithets -- niggers back to Africa, Hitler didn't finish the job -- on the doors of, respectively, a black and Jewish classmate, and was suspected of writing gays suck! in the entryway of an openly bisexual dorm? Hangdog or defiant, the miscreant is brought before me. In real life I expect my reactions would run something like this: righteousness, rage even, before the door opened, along with a fixed determination to expel the criminal from our midst; and a sudden surge of curiosity, zeal for reformation, and a form of fellow feeling, once the flesh and blood chap appeared on the other side of my desk.