Understanding, and Misunderstanding, Evil

Abby and I pose for a photo with our Chihuahuas, Sierra and Max, at the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign in October 2011. Behind us is Mandalay Bay Hotel from which a gunman shot and killed 58 people and injured 530 more Sunday.
Abby and I pose for a photo with our Chihuahuas, Sierra and Max, at the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign in October 2011. Behind us is Mandalay Bay Hotel from which a gunman shot and killed 58 people and injured 530 more Sunday.

There have been thousands or millions of opinions rendered since Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. Virtually all of them have been vehement pronouncements of unassailable “truths”, such as, “This was an act of pure evil,” or, “this guy should burn in hell,” or, “we need gun control now,” or, “guns didn’t do this, a bad guy did it.”

Throughout history, human morality has been rife with immorality.
Throughout history, human morality has been rife with immorality.

They’re all wrong. I say this with a sense of irony, because I don’t know the right answer.

The problem comes from the obvious contradiction of “why,” which is a rational question asked of an irrational act. The easy, and useless, answer to “why” is that he was crazy or evil. If you found out that he was a white supremacist or an Islamic jihadist, it wouldn’t render his actions any less crazy or evil.

Until we can stop one-dimensionally hating the Las Vegas shooter (and all his ilk) and try to understand him, we are doomed to see him again and again. We can’t just write off these guys as “pure evil” without figuring them out. We have to shed this childish, “Why did the bad men fly the planes into the buildings, Daddy?” attitude.

One consistent fallacy in America is the idea that laws can deter immorality.
One consistent fallacy in America is the idea that laws can deter immorality.

Also along this line, at least one Christian leader blamed the shooting on our behavior, connecting religion, and therefore their god, to it.

“There is ‘violence in the streets,’ Pat Robertson said, because, ‘we have disrespected authority. There is profound disrespect for our president, all across this nation. They say terrible things about him. It’s in the news; it’s in other places.'” ~WP

One of the biggest obstacles to understanding irrational, seemingly evil acts, is our unwillingness, often terrified unwillingness, to admit we have that potential to go crazy or descend into evil ourselves. We all know it’s there because we all feel intense, blind rage at times, but many of us never really look in the mirrors of our souls.

Here are some additional observations about the current state of affairs…

  • Most people are not moral. Most people are self-serving.
  • Most people see the world in terms of a five mile radius and a 30-day billing cycle.
  • Most people who claim to believe in god do so because they think it will serve their causes, not because they honestly feel he is real. The rest believe it because they are told to do so.
  • Most people want money more than anything else.
  • Almost all people who type “prayers” or “praying” into comments on social media are not praying.
  • Professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem is meaningless to me because I neither care about the opinions of professional athletes nor do I think they should be viewed as role models or heroes.
  • Most people are scared to death of almost everything every day, and though they would agree with this statement, they would say that it is “not me.”

Finally, there is a looming monster far more frightening than the wild card of angry lone nuts: North Korea. If you think 58 dead and 530 injured is a tragedy, you have forgotten the promise of the cold war: annihilation “like the world has never seen before,” at the hands of people far crazier and more evil than an angry nut with some AR15s.

The notion that innocence earns us a place without suffering is inherently flawed. "Deserve" has nothing to do with it. On the left is my grandfather Russell Barron, who was a good man his whole life, and whose life was spent in the terrible pain of arthritic disease.
The notion that innocence earns us a place without suffering is inherently flawed. “Deserve” has nothing to do with it. On the left is my grandfather Russell Barron, who was a good man his whole life, and whose life was spent in the terrible pain of arthritic disease.
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6 Comments

  1. SO frakin’ agree about the innocence comments. People want to believe there’s a correlation between good behavior and protection from tragedy, and there just is not.

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  2. * “We can’t just write off these guys as “pure evil” without figuring them out.”

    YES. Fact is, “evil” is just a description of people’s desires and actions; it has never *explained* those desires and actions. And what we need to know, in order to combat the “evil”, is to understand how and why it happens.

    I have read far too many cases of “normal” people suffering from brain injuries or tumors and turning violent to dismiss such a possible explanation. If I recall correctly, Charles Whitman had a brain tumor that *some* people blame for his change. (Prior to the 1966 UT shooting, he had complained of unexplained violent urges and had even sought professional help for it.

    But of course, we know so little about the human brain even now that I doubt we can say with any certainty.

    * “…at least one Christian leader…”

    1. I think we should start calling them “famous Christians” instead of “Christian leaders”, due to scamming not being the same thing as leadership.

    2. Yes, Mr. Robertson actually blamed lack of respect for Trump as a cause of “violence in the streets”. This man is probably certifiable, but I am not a mental health professional, so this is not an official diagnosis.

    * “…our unwillingness… to admit we have that potential to go crazy or descend into evil ourselves…”

    When I was in church, I often heard the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I”. A secular version might be close to what you said, or rephrased as: “The potential is in all of us.”

    I’m well aware of the potential in me to go full batshit evil, because I slipped near that cliff a few times in my 20s (and I voluntarily handed over the only firearm I owned at the time to a person who locked it away until I assured him I was better).

    I don’t think most people are aware how close that ledge might be; they certainly don’t act like it.

    * “…there is a looming monster far more frightening than the wild card of angry lone nuts…”

    I don’t know what to think of North Korea and its leader Kim Donald-um. He’s sometimes very similar to our own leader, Jong D. Turnip.

    I do know that during the “nuclear attack drills” we had in elementary school, I realized that my proximity to Tinker AFB (at the time) might ensure a quick death. Yes, I was 10 years old and hoping that if the commies ever fired off their missiles that I would be close enough to Tinker to be incinerated immediately, rather than dying of radiation poisoning for months or years. Or, even worse, surviving to live in a post-nuclear war world.

    One huge difference now, is that (as far as we know), NK only has a handful of weapons, and none of them (yet) capable of striking inland U.S. targets — unlike the Soviet ICBMs that I half-expected to rain down on us at any moment during the early ’80s. I doubt they could strike Ft. Hood, for example. If they did, I still hope I’m close enough when it happens.

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  3. Every time we have a mass murder, terrorists come out of the woodwork to claim they did it, and Christians come out of the woodwork to say God did it.

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  4. A couple of points, just off the top of my head.

    1. I think that an investigation is underway right now to try and understand the “why” in this situation, but Paddock was apparently very good at concealing the “why” in his personal life. We might never know “why,” because he was, like all or most mass murderers, intensely private. I’m starting to rule out the possibility of a complete psychological understanding of this man because it simply might not be accessible, other than to say that he was, clearly, a sick, angry white American male with access to firearms.
    2. If he had been a brown-skinned foreigner with a beard, there would be all kinds of attempts to legislate/limit access to pretty much everything under the sun. Our orange-toned, fearless leader would be talking about “weighing all options” for an attack on a foreign land, and there would be more talk of banning people from certain nations. Not sure how we go about banning angry white Americans like Stephen Paddock, though. Hmmmmm ….
    3. He was an all-purpose killer, his victims other white Americans at a country music concert. I really would like to know what his beef was, except general homicidal rage toward humanity itself. If he had worked in a missile silo or on a nuclear sub, there is no doubt that right now, millions would be dead.
    4. How many more Stephen Paddocks are out there right now, working in missile silos and on nuclear subs? When do they throw their switch and start shooting out windows or punching buttons on launch systems?
    5. I made the mistake of watching a few conspiracy theorist videos this morning. One of them included an animated kitty cat calmly describing the massacre like it was Brian Williams or somebody. Via this eerie piece of animation, the crazies conspiracy theories were espoused, like, “nobody got shot,” “there was no blood,” “I ain’t seen no video of nobody with they head blowed off,” “false flag,” “the government did it,” “the media did it,” “nothing happened,” “the gunshots were played over the concert speakers,” and, of course, “there were no gunshots.” There is an enormous rabbit hole of insanity on the Internet. While agree that it is important to have a healthy skepticism, especially in this day and age, there is a HUGE difference between critical thinking and insanity. I’m fine with asking reasonable questions, but it is way too easy to go off the deep end and find “evidence” on the web that supports utter lunacy.

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  5. Dan:

    * “If he had been a brown-skinned foreigner with a beard…”

    Even if he had been a brown-skinned *American*, there would be vilification. Remember, the Pulse shooter in 2016 was American-born. But somehow, he was still not considered “us”. Too many Americans have a not-so-secret definition of “we” that simply doesn’t include Muslims or brown people. Notice how often “they” is used when speaking of American-born black people, American-born Muslims, American-born atheists, etc. “They” is the opposite of “us”. So it’s fairly easily to determine that “us” means white, Christian, straight, male, etc.

    * “How many more Stephen Paddocks are out there right now, working in missile silos and on nuclear subs?”

    Fortunately, those are two jobs that require “a series of grueling tests, psychological evaluations, and intensive courses.” Not just anyone who signs up to fight for Uncle Sam gets into those positions. I’m not saying those tests, evaluations, and courses will weed out every potential maniac, but apparently they do weed out a good number of them (because we haven’t been blown to bits yet).

    The early astronauts were famously subjected to a grueling battery of tests, designed specifically to weed out anyone who might not hold up to the isolation and cramped quarters of space travel.

    But almost no other professions screen people like this. Most jobs I’ve had only needed to know: 1) Can you get to work? 2) Are you currently alive? 3) Are you currently in prison? And that’s about it. If the answers were Yes, Yes, and No, then you got the job. :-)

    * “I made the mistake of watching a few conspiracy theorist videos this morning.”

    To misquote Tropic Thunder: “You went full Trump. Never go full Trump.” ;-)

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