Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath. –President Barak Obama
And if you read back my statement of defense, it wasn’t self defense. It was defending those who are innocent, talk show hosts, talk show host listeners, those who have nothing to do with a crazed, evil gunman who killed innocent people. –Sarah Palin
For once, Obama and Palin agree on something. But they are both wrong. As awful as this shooting is, as tragic the deaths, and in spite of what some are saying, it cannot be denied that Jared Loughner is a mentally disturbed, obviously delusional, and probably psychotic young man. Perhaps this could be said of anyone guilty of such an act. So is there such a “thing” as evil? Well, apparently some very powerful people think so. In addition to Obama, both George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were outspoken in their shared belief that evil exists, particularly in the guise of heinous tyrannies. Were they correct, or were they falling back on centuries old superstition?
In 2009, Roger Simon, of Politico, talked about how, though once a skeptic, he now believes he has literally met evil, in the person of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. In another article two days ago, he wonders whatever happened to a general belief in evil and why so many are willing to accept an ‘insanity defense’ for Jarred Loughner’s actions:
Which leaves me with just one question: Whatever happened to evil?
Why have we rushed to the judgment of insanity? Legally, very few defendants are found guilty of insanity.
We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them, for pity’s sake, has got to be crazy.
And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.
We hope. We live in an age in which virtually all our problems have been medicalized. Not that long ago, compulsive drinking, compulsive gambling and even compulsive eating were looked upon as human weaknesses. Now, we treat them as medical problems.
Evil has been medicalized (sic) into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.
Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.
Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Stalin and Mao. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics, we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.
Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people, and you are nuts — but you cross the line and kill more, and you are evil? Is that how it really works?
Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious, or both.
And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.
Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.
Simon raises some interesting questions. But I think the ultimate conclusion he comes to is incorrect. Perhaps there is is such a thing as evil. But there is a significant difference between the Tuscon killings and those committed by the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and Saddam Hussein. Infamously atrocious acts but, at the risk of offending some, I would like to add to this list the American enslavement of black Africans, the genocides of Sullivan’s March, Wounded Knee, Rwanda and Dar-fur, the horrors of Andersonville, the Rape of Nan King, and the indiscriminate bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe even the corporate dumping of toxic waste like what the Hooker chemical company did at Love Canal. If the definition of evil requires that violent or harmful actions be premeditated and that the actors be perfectly sane, placing their own well being above the suffering of innocent people, then all of the above certainly qualify.
The difference between Jared Loughner and Adolf Hitler is not just about the numbers, although the real difference certainly would certainly seem to result in many more deaths than otherwise might take place. The real difference here is that in one case we are talking about the tragic work of one lone madman as opposed to institutionalized murder, which requires the wholesale complicity of a nation, a political party, a corporate entity – a community. The difference between the compulsive behavior of the delusional versus the calculated and coordinated machinations of those who certainly should, and do, know better. When we blame ‘evil’ for violence and murder we tend to deflect the focus away from the real causes, in which we might possibly even play a part. Which is a lot more scary than believing evil walks among us.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke