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Evil is a cultural construct.

Michael Vick is a callous thug. He was also, once, a sensitive kid. Between then and now, Vick grew up on the wrong side of Newport News, VA—which ought to give Roger Goodell reason for pause as he ponders the fate of the former Falcon.

Free will means being the master of your future.

Determinism, on the other hand, means being a slave to your past.

I’m not suggesting that Vick’s actions weren’t heinous. Pit bulls are people too, and all violence is deplorable violence. But deplorability doesn’t necessarily imply guilt. In a league where success so often starts with the coach, it’s hard to fault a quarterback for the failings of his playbook.

A puppy can be trained to fight.

A child can be taught to hate.

If Commissioner Goodell really wants to be fair, he should remember that aggression is invariably a product of breeding.

Sports fans cherish the myth of individual responsibility. Winners and Losers, Heroes and Goats—we assign labels according to outcomes, on the assumption that every jock controls his own destiny. The catch, alas, is that culpability is rarely so clear-cut outside the lines. Behaviorists will argue that Vick is defined by his crimes. I’d counter that a mens rea is better understood as the symptom of a malnourished brain.

Animal cruelty is bad.

Human misery is worse.

There’s no justification for what happened at Bad Newz Kennels, but let’s not forget how the project got its name.

We are all our fathers’ sons. To be bad you’ve got to know good; to know good you’ve got to be raised well. Michael Vick can’t have a second chance for no more or less a reason than that he never had a first chance, at least not by any conventional standard of opportunity. Modern science shows that the adult mind is shaped in the crucible of adolescence. What that means for modern morality is a question dog lovers and defense lawyers will have to answer on their own.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is big on personal accountability, but even Moses understood that wickedness tends to be a family affair:

For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.

Which proves that the Ancients knew a thing or two about developmental psychology.

Because every man bears the mark of his birth, and anyone who ever claimed immunity to Original Sin was either formed from the dust of the ground or only just saying, is all…

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