Where everything is permitted | AspenTimes.com

Where everything is permitted

This summer, I was blessed to attend a dinner party atop Red Mountain, one with an idyllic setting and enchanting hosts, but unfortunately “the incident” sullied the evening.

A place-setting put my husband, Dr. Michael Pacin, far from me at a long table. I, however, happened to be seated next to a man, who engaged me in a conversation that was more akin to an interrogation. When he learned that I am a law professor who teaches constitutional law, he asked me my opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I responded, “You mean Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? She is the best jurist in American history!”

Instantly, he, exploding, branded Ginsburg “totally incompetent,” and then vented his rage on me. When I tried to quell the outburst with the sedative, “let us agree to disagree,” he, interrupting, boomed “You are what’s wrong with this country!” At this juncture, his fury escalated, teetering on the edge of physical violence, and I, 5-feet-tiny, feared that he would strike. Luckily, there was a deus ex machina in the form of a lovely woman, his companion, who led him away.

Sadly, the incident is not sui generis: Several of my friends (also RBG fans) have told me that they too have been victims of similar eruptions, but only in recent years. What could be the underlying cause of this ostensible epidemic? Is it due to a bacchanalian binge? The onset of dementia? Or can we turn to the great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, for the diagnosis. Dostoevsky’s character, Smerdyakov adheres to the credo, “everything is permitted,” which implicitly condones the unleashing of assorted primitive impulses and even puts its imprimatur on fratricide. Perhaps there is an emergence of a newfangled species of Smerdyakovs, who now roam the earth, relentlessly chanting “everything is permitted.”

Dr. Amy D. Ronner

Aspen and Miami