Thus Spake the Story out of Florida


By Charles Norwood▸

A man has been arrested after threatening to kill his neighbor with kindness.

During an altercation over a noise complaint, Mr. Bryan Stewart of Milton, Florida threatened his neighbor with a machete that had the word "Kindness" written on its blade. Stewart apparently had named the machete Kindness, a clever double-entendre that wound up earning him an aggravated assault charge, with bail set at $10 000.

But while Mr. Stewart's pet-name for his machete is admittedly hilarious, it also raises a few questions.

For one, why did Stewart not receive an attempted murder charge? It would seem that the act of naming the machete Kindness speaks directly to motive. The expression, after all, is not "to hurt somebody with kindness" or "to aggravatedly assault somebody with kindness." It's "to kill." So it seems obvious that when some deranged reprobate lunges out with a machete named Kindness, his intention is murder. Otherwise, the joke just wouldn't work.

Is it possible that the police (and/or public prosecutor) were tittering so archly at the wry wit that they failed to put two and two together?

The accused (right) and his intellectual predecessor (left)
Secondly, and more importantly, were Mr. Stewart's actions even intended as a joke at all? It's easy to interpret his nicknaming of the machete as humorous, but a little reflection reveals that it's actually much, much more. It's a profound philosophical statement about the relationship between power and morality. Most people probably laugh or scoff when they read about Stewart in the headlines, but I really think he was trying to get at some of the same things articulated by Nietzsche a century and a half before him.

What does it really mean to "kill someone with kindness"? It suggests that revenge is petty. It suggests that revenge lowers you and that the best alternative to revenge is to take the higher road and to live well and to rise above the impulse to retaliate. And by writing "Kindness" on his machete's blade, Stewart is responding to that suggestion. He's saying that vengeance and "the higher road" aren't mutually exclusive. It's not either/or. And, by implication, the choice to take the proverbial higher road doesn't have anything to do with being civilized or some kind of lofty idealism. It has to do with being weak and cowardly.

It's a rationalization used by people who are too scared to take revenge.

Nietzsche, recall, made a distinction between "slave morality," which congratulates itself on its meekness, and "master morality," which takes what it wants from the world and makes no apologies. Stewart, similarly, 150 years later, articulates a distinction between those who let their neighbors make noise complaints against them (slaves) and those who assertively take revenge on neighbors who slight them by asking them to make less noise (masters).

The word "Kindness," written on his machete blade, is actually an argument. It's Stewart's thesis that morality merely evolved as a mechanism for coping with powerlessness. And it went right over everybody's head.

Perhaps Mr. Stewart wanted to end up in jail. Perhaps, being low-income, he realized that imprisonment would be the only way for him to access the resources needed to develop his ideas. Prisons, after all, have libraries and offer PhD equivalency programs (which I'm sure somebody as smart as Stewart would tear through in three to six).

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Charles Norwood lives in Toronto, where he is involved in a number of criminal activities. He is the author of Epistemology Bloody Epistemology, a novella in which philosophical schools have degraded into rival gangs.

Image Credits: Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office (the photo that's not Nietzsche)