The more dangerous killer

What kind of killer is more dangerous? Jack Torrance or Hannibal Lecter?

Jack Torrance is the killer played by Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Torrance is an alchoholic with a violent temper. His choice of weapons are mallets, sticks and axes. With unkempt hair and a grimace on his face, Torrance looks very much the part.

Hannibal Lecter is the serial killer played by Antony Hopkins in the Hannibal Lecter franchise. Lecter is charismatic, polished and has sophisticated taste in music, art and cuisine. In his jail cell, he is seen drawing parts of Florence, Italy, from memory, in intricate detail. Lecter’s speech is clear and his temperament appears balanced. Lecter would blend right into a dinner party of aristocrats from the Victorian era.

Having watched these movies, it is the second type of killer that scares me more. Sure, Jack Torrance is dangerous, but you can spot him from a mile away, arrest him and confine him in a correctional facility with a straitjacket around his ribs. Hannibal Lecter, however, can simply meld into society. It is impossible to tell him apart from the thousands of accomplished and polished people that we so admire. It is this disguise that gives him great power.

Some threats that face our society appear like Jack Torrance. Terrorism, like Torrance, can be spotted from afar and can be dealt with a heavy hand – wars, drone strikes and covert missions with Navy Seals. Although it appears dangerous on the surface, it is actually less dangerous than the more sophisticated but deadly threats that appear benign on the surface.

We live in a time where bioengineering is almost certain to alter the human species. In 200 years, we are unlikely to continue to be homo-sapiens. We are also unlikely to have the balmy, stable climate that humankind has gotten used to for the last 12,000 years. Yet, global opinion on these topics are divided, with half the world raising alarms about the existential threats that they entail even as the other half sings unrequited praises about the progress we have made so far, and will make in the decades to come.

What makes a killer like Hannibal Lecter so dangerous is that by the time you spot him, he is already three steps ahead of you. Given the shiny veneer that belie the danger behind some of our most recent technological advances, I hope that we aren’t fooled by their disguise.

Inspiration: Yuval Noah Harari

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