Before reading this article please understand I am grieved by those killed Sunday night in Las Vegas. I do not want this article to be misinterpreted as somehow justifying what happened. Instead, I have used this blog over the past year or so to struggle to understand evil and to determine if there is a better approach to dealing with it. I don’t believe hating evil and those who do it has worked. That is what we always do: hate the evil doer and make them suffer for doing the evil. Yet, this approach has not stopped evil from happening, Sunday is an example.
My thesis is that treating people with respect, always, even when they have done evil, is a much better way to go. Although I must admit it is a much harder than to allow ourselves to hate the evil doer.
Sunday night, a man opened fire in Las Vegas and kill, so far, 59 people. Over 500 were hurt so there could still be many more deaths. This man was an older, well off, and seemly a normal person. He seemed to not have any ideology or religious ax to grind. So, what could motivate such a person to say, ‘I’m going to go out and kill people’?
I suspect he had some kind of mental illness. His father was a bank robber; at one time on a most wanted list and described as a psychopath. I wonder if his son may have inherited a little of that.
But let’s say he did not, is it possible for a normal person with no ideology to do something like he did? Can a well-adjusted human being go out and start killing people? I don’t think so. I like to think that is impossible. I’m not saying a person must be a psychopath to kill; I’m not saying that. What I am saying is a person must be experiencing frustrations or anger and much stress to be motivated enough to do what happened the other day.
So, was this person, this human being, fundamentally evil? No. What he did was evil, but no one is fundamentally evil.
If he lived, would he still deserve a good life? Or should we heap on him as much suffering as we can to make him pay for what he did? The last option would be as evil as what he himself did, although the magnitude of it would be less. He is a human being still, despite the evilness of his actions. I believe his evil actions are not just a reflection on himself but also on us as a society. We created the environment that made it possible for him to do such evil. Whatever drove him to commit the act, we as a community did not do enough to help him. Somewhere along the way, we failed him; then yesterday, he failed us.
There is plenty of blame to go around. However, even though we are partly to blame, we still cannot trust someone who has done something like this. We can’t just allow those we know have committed evil to run around loose. We need to be assured they will not do it again. This is just self-defense on our part. We cannot know what is going on in their head, and we have a right to be safe.
So how do we reconcile the human worth of someone who committed an evil act and our need for safety? We incarcerate them, but we do it in a respectful way. I’m not trying to be funny. Even though they failed in some way and we can no longer trust them, we recognize their basic humanity, they are us even if we find that difficult to accept, and we must respect them. They still need to go to jail, but jail should not be a torture, it should be more of a mental hospital to help those who commit crimes.
I will not blame a victim of evil for disagreeing. But hating those who commit evil does not make us better. I think it would be far better to accept that they are human, that they have problems that society should have helped them with, that they are worthy of a happy life because they are humans, but they should be in a jail because we cannot trust them. Such an approach might unwind the spiral of violence we are in.
Inside each of us, there is the seed of both good and evil. It’s a constant struggle as to which one will win. And one cannot exist without the other. Eric Burdon