Monday, November 23, 2009

The Romanticizing of Outlaws

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid. He was not the serial killer that his legend holds him out to be and, indeed, was not well-known until Pat Garrett, the sheriff that ultimately did him in, wrote a self-aggrandizing account.

But the legend lives on and that leads to today's question: why do we find outlaws so romantic? The great advances in society, the ability to live long and fulfilling lives, the heights of science and culture are all predicated on there being order. Without a social contract that allows us to be fairly confident about our ability to live without fear of one another, we couldn't do or plan and these projects are what make us who we are. All of this is threatened by by the outlaw. Yet, we love them, are drawn to them. Why?