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The Face of Evil

Society and Morals, Perceptions

This is a difficult post for me to write. The Aurora, Colorado, mass killing of 12 innocent souls and the wounding of 58 others, some seriously, is a monstrous tragedy with victims well beyond the casualties. Dozens of family members and friends are also deeply affected. Please believe me when I assure you I am not trying to capitalize on this tragedy, but I think there is a critical issue here that the media and others are missing. The significance of this and other similar mass killings committed without clear motive or justification is not being addressed, which masks their significance.

As is virtually always the case, the pundits and analysts come out of the woodwork to search for an explanation, precursor, motive or justification for someone deciding to kill a large number of innocent people, usually complete strangers. They look into the perpetrator's childhood, his activities, his associates, searching, searching for some vehicle of understanding. This derives from the pervasive notion that bad things can be prevented from happening if only we find the key to the behavior and fix it. Sometimes it's there in a distorted childhood or traumatic event, but usually it eludes identification.

Jeffery Dahmer had a stupefyingly normal upbringing in a normal family. He stated he didn't know why he did what he did, he just wanted to. The present mass killer, James Holmes, complete with red hair, appeared to be a relatively harmless Batman freak to friends, family and associates. One person, a shooting range proprietor, judged him from a bizarre voicemail greeting and strange conversation to be too unstable to shoot at his range, but did not consider him dangerous. Fellow neuroscience researchers thought him strange or did not notice him at all. The government gave him a sustaining stipend plus a $26,000 grant for his research, part of which he apparently spent to purchase the weapons he used in his rampage.

So. what motivated this hapless misfit and other mass killers? Are they just nuts? Certainly they are not mainstream mentally normal, but is that enough to explain such catastrophic behavior? I think it offers a partial explanation, in that we have shut down mental institutions and made it extremely difficult to commit someone against his will. However, there are lots of mentally deranged individuals walking the streets who don't slaughter a dozen or more fellow citizens.

So, what do we have here? How do we explain these seemingly inexplicable tragic events? We have a tendency in this country to avoid acknowledging evil. We explain the most heinous occurences, sometimes with extremely tortured reasoning. Atrocities committed by Islamic extremists are justified--not by everyone but by some--as the consequence of our bad deeds as a nation. Even 9/11 was so justified. Today, the cowardly street bombings by rebels in Syria are excused as a justified reaction to persecution by the Assad regime. It appears that only Adolf Hitler is acknowledged as an unredeemable bad guy by most folks. Yet, seemingly inexplicable outrages continue to occur with disturbing regularity.

Gun restrictions or an outright ban will not stop the acts of the man without a soul. An assault weapons ban is meaningless. The AR-15 "assault rifle" Holmes carried, along with a shotgun and handgun, was semi-automatic like most handguns, rifles and shotguns. "Semi-automatic" means the weapon fires each time the trigger is pulled. "Military style" is a meaningless appellation that relates more to appearance than function. The military AR-15 has full automatic capability, but is not available to the general public. The designation "assault weapon" is vague and undefined, which is why the NRA opposes their ban. A weapons ban will not stop mass killings. It will just serve to mask the problem.

The cold, hard truth is that evil exists in this world. There are individuals whose, in the Biblical sense, souls are dead. There is no voice of conscience to stay their proclivities for evil. There is no guilt or remorse. The image of red-haired James Holmes in a courtroom, nodding off during the proceedings, disconcerts family members and the public at large. Everyone is afraid to say it: this is an evil man. Jeffery Dahmer was an evil man. John Wayne Gacy was an evil man. So were David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Charles Manson and more.

Without a soul, there is no limit on conduct. I do not subscribe to the inherent evil of man as some do. I interpret the concept of original sin differently. But there are those depraved individuals for whom there is no explanation other than they are purely evil. Evil has existed in the world since the beginning of history. It even has been responsible for despicable acts in the name of religion. This is not the fault of the religion, but rather of the soulless monster who cloaks his evil actions in it.

Aurora, Colorado, has no rational explanation, other than the act of an evil man. We search in vain for a rational causation. Holmes perhaps is technically insane, but that is not the answer. The only answer, and it is imperfect, is to confront evil where we find it and not to be afraid to deal with it, instead of like the shooting range operator who shrugged off his suspicions. Honest recognition of the existence of evil at least may allow us to identify and confront the enemy before the commission of a horrendous act of mass destruction.

There is no limit to the evil acts of the soulless.

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