““Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken
“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” C.S. Lewis
Sound and fury, signifying (achieving and understanding) nothing.
Have you noticed that after every shooting, that the conversation on what to do about such things goes on for at least a week, and yet nothing new ever comes from each edition? Here’s what I mean by that: There is a cycle to the way Americans process school shootings, which are statistically rare (compared to other acts of crime in America) , but highly visible acts of violence. Step 1 is the shooting itself, which needs no explanation. Step 2 is the initial media barrage where hordes of predatory cameras find themselves unable to get pictures of blood and carnage and settle instead for images of crying children. Step 3 is the call for gun control, usually and almost exclusively an outright gun ban. Step 4, an increasingly irrelevant part, is when people decide they need to be human and set time aside for mourning. Step 5 is the return to normalcy and the emotional debate subsides into something nobody talks about. This happens with everything. For example, sexual harassment, once an inescapable part of the national conversation, disappeared after Matt Lauer resigned, Weinstein was destroyed and Nassar was convicted. The real conversation still takes place in some dank corner of the internet, the so-called “intellectual dark web”. However, the national discourse is now once again obsessed with Russia and Trump and learning nothing new or of substance on those issues either despite endless coverage over the course of several months.
As discussed in “Enough” the argument for gun-control has not changed in 20 years. What this means is we’ve been talking about the same damn thing since Columbine. A great many have not used the two-decade gape to improve their knowledge on the vulnerability of the shooting sites, or to even fortify their ancient, creaking positions. There have been volumes said and written on the matter in just the last few years and yet the national discourse is not any richer or substantive. Perhaps this has been accelerated with the recent rapid polarization of the country, but I believe there is a different cause.
Quite frankly, whatever questions Americans ask, they tend to come up with their own very simple and neat answers and ignore the caveats. Every problem, as far as the American sees it (especially the millennial, “progressive”, “woke” American), has a very simple solution. We just need to impeach Trump. Never mind that impeachment requires a long, drawn-out trial process and doesn’t actually force another election so Clinton gets another shot at the title. (That after all is the stated goal from these jilted lovers). We need to just abolish the Electoral College. Never mind that the EC is a constitutionally enshrined institution that requires two-thirds of state legislatures to propose the amendment and three-quarters of the legislatures to ratify it. Not only, by the way, do we “just” need to do these things, but we need to do these things now before more children are killed, or American democracy itself ends, depending on whatever we’re all fighting this week. We don’t have time to think about the details. Hell, we don’t even need to think about those damn details, just do the thing, and do the thing right now.
In keeping with this pattern of “just needing to do something and to hell with complexity”, the solution to gun crime in America is to just ban guns and/or just “keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill”. Let us begin with a brief refresher on the problems with each.
First, a gun ban is a logistical nightmare, a constitutional crisis and altogether the wrong solution. First, the counter arguments, usually Australia and the UK. Both the UK and Australia have problems of their own. The UK, in place of gun violence has seen a massive spike in stabbing deaths, while Australia has maintained a gun violence problem.
As we’ve covered in “Consequences” and “Burke”, a gun ban would not simply pass and succeed in all it’s intentions. If there was significant resistance during the nationwide confiscation, that could perhaps escalate into a war. On the other side, let’s say Americans surrender their guns, and crime continues and mass shootings still exist. This would first do away with the idea that the problem was the weapon itself (it may have been, gasp, the people). Secondly, once guns are eradicated from good people, and the only thing left to rely on was an underfunded police force, what hope is there to stop an increasing crime rate or minimize the body count of the next mass shooting? Answer: there is none.
When compared to the problems with a gun ban, the issue with the mentally ill argument is several layers deeper than that. On the surface, there is already a requirement banning guns from those who have been declared mentally ill by a court or involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The only path advocates of this new form of legislation could be pushing for is a Gattaca-esque world where those who are not on any spectrum are allowed access to guns, and those with any mental illness are not.
Now you may say only the “dangerous” illnesses would be on the list, but you cannot say that for certain. What part of a government that is so in favor of gun-control that it will risk civil war makes you believe that ADHD and autism wouldn’t be on the list of illnesses that prevent one from acquiring guns? It is a roundabout way to ban all the guns, but it is a path one could take to make sure as many guns and potential gun owners as possible are caught in the net.
This distrust, by the way, that what gun control says is far less than what it wants, comes from history. In every situation, the refrain is that “all we want” are “commonsense gun laws like universal background checks.” Look to Illinois, New York, Maryland or especially California” where “all we want” became one thing after another: magazine capacity limits, a new magazine release switch in California, right on up to a weapons ban in Maryland. Gun control has sewn great distrust among those on the other side and cannot say they “just want” anything. We know that’s not true.
So why do we see, particularly millennial, activists going for the big, sweeping motion? One, because it appears easy, and two because it is the most obvious “solution” and requires virtually no thought. Clearly, one imagine, if guns are causing a problem in society, we should “just” ban them. Get rid of the source of the problem, and we get rid of the problem, it would seem. This particular mindset should have died with the grand irony that Prohibition is symbolized by gangsters and speakeasies, but “this time it’ll be different” is the same mindset that keeps other failures like Communism alive and well in the Western mind.
The millennial activist generally responsible for these “let’s just” solutions is often one who holds either one or both of the following views: What he has to suggest has either “never been tried”, and if it has been tried, it has always worked. If there is evidence that what the activist proposes has been tried and has not merely failed but resulted in the deaths of millions, then the activist simply promises that the factors that contributed to those millions of deaths simply won’t happen when he’s in charge. See also, “real socialism has never been tried”.
The bigger issue, one that transcends party lines, is the disservice the argument does to actual mental illness by having it serve as a stand in for the real problem: pure human evil.
Mass shooters and abortionists
Here’s another problem with the mental illness tentpole: The evidence seems to indicate that mental illness has little or nothing to do with the problem. Observe the motives of some of these past mass killers. The Isla Vista shooter killed because women wouldn’t sleep with him, the V-Tech and Oslo shooters were ideologically driven, the Aurora shooter was an elite neuroscientist who may have just snapped, the Columbine killers will motivated by revenge for being bullied. The recent Santa Fe shooter killed 10 because one girl kept rejecting his romantic advances. I could go on. Many of these killers are not mentally ill. The Sandy Hook shooter had Asperger’s Syndrome, and that’s about the only true mentally ill killer I can remember. Autism, however, is not an indicator for violence. What those mentioned before Sandy Hook and many others have in common is not that they were mentally ill, they were morally bankrupt. The scary part about that is that there is no test for that, especially in America, which doesn’t appear to have a transcendent morality at all. Mental illness is the only metric we have allowed ourselves to have when trying to predict these attacks. Without mental illness, what else would we have to wonder how some people have a disregard for human life?
This problem of one having a “disregard for human life” points to another crucial, and perhaps willful misunderstanding of the argument. You see, the disregard for life that mass shooters still shocks the nation. The casualness with which the some in the nation regard the death of babies in the womb is strongly defended, even lauded. The disregard mass shooters have is harder to digest because we can’t dumb it down into the choice of an demonstrably innocent person. Before we go any further on that road, the best numbers we have on the classic “but what about rape” argument are from 1989: which show that abortions being had due to rape account for approximately 2% of all abortions. That argument is a ploy to make the other abortions acceptable. We’ll cover that in a smaller portion in the future
Now, I know what comes from this. “So you’re saying that women who have abortions are evil”, in that style Cathy Newman fought Jordan Peterson with. No. I’m saying both mass shooters, and people who have abortions are guilty of committing an act of evil. While I know this will be taken out of context by some of you. In the moment one decides to snuff out a human life, especially out of convenience or some other reason, be they mass shooters or an abortion, they are committing evil. The person may be, apart from the act of killing, a perfectly decent human being. In his book A Time to Kill, Greg Hopkins discusses a situation in which someone who is attacking innocent people may otherwise be perfectly decent:
“When we shoot a rapist in the act, we do not act from vengeance but from the simple, decent desire to defend and preserve innocent life. That act is right in the site of all mankind (Romans 12:17b)…”But the attacker is a fellow human being,” bries the pacifist. True, but his intent and felonious acts have separated us from him in that moment as far as your pet kitty is from a Bengal tiger. (Time to Kill, page 77)
Now, I am not advocating the murder of women who prepare to have an abortion. There is a solution in that matter where that isn’t needed, namely, not having the abortion.
Regardless, in this discussion, we are only concerned with the act itself as the manifestation of being unable or unwilling to regard human life as worth fighting for and preserving. The idea that one could have a disregard for human life shouldn’t surprise anyone. We’ve already seen it’s possible with babies. Why shouldn’t it be possible with living adults?
Fighting evil can’t be just a hobby.
With the realization that a person can perceive the life of another, or indeed several others, as not worth preserving, we come to the actual problem at the heart of the shootings phenomenon: the problem of human evil. This is a subject the culture has shunted to the backburner. Evil, as we understand it, is a heady philosophical topic. Evil can’t be diagnosed. Psychotherapist M. Scott Peck, in a story told by N.T. Wright in his book Evil and the Justice of God, came to realize that “it was not enough to regard certain patients, or in some cases the families of certain patients, as simply ill or muddled or misguided. He was forced to come to terms with a larger, darker power, for which the only word was evil.” (Evil, Page 36) In today’s scientific, secular world, there does not appear to be any place for the discussion of a philosophical concept such as evil. This is not because the subject is not irrelevant, it is instead because evil is a concept science cannot account for. Wright observes that “one of the reasons our contemporary world has not been able to come to terms with the reality of evil…is because it has thought of evil as a philosopher’s puzzle at which secularism has long shrugged its shoulders or as an old-fashioned difficulty which modernity has at last solved.” (Evil, page 67)
The truth is, evil shouldn’t be just a philosopher’s puzzle, and it’s not an “old-fashioned” difficulty. Modernity has, instead of solving the problem, minimized its appearance through technological painkillers. We can read about a shooting, learn nothing about the area and very little about the person, and after a several shootings, decide that nothing is being done, and that we’ve finally studied enough to understand the problem. Our inability to have deeper conversations has been exacerbated by political echochambers that television and social media in particular have created, an upbringing and a cultural zeitgeist millennials have grown up in that says they can never be wrong and what sociologist Christian Smith calls our “inability to grapple with life’s big questions because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.” (Smith, Higher Education is Drowning in BS). We find ourselves having ignored the central cause of pain and suffering for so long that we are thoroughly unequipped to have such an intense and deep discussion.
One last point, while we don’t call it “evil” or give the term its due, we tend to only deal with it when we absolutely have to and can’t wait to get on our soapboxes, rant about how much we care, and get off the thing and head back to our lives. After every shooting, there is about 5-7 days of the same damn talking points before something like the Royal Wedding comes up or Trump says something stupid and we’re back to that. Ultimately, the six-figure marches and rallies and all the online petitions paint the picture of a nation that wants to not so much talk about the problem as just rant about how they see it, and anyone who disagrees with them is ok with the problem as is. We all want to talk about evil, but only as much as we can keep the discussion within a myopic, unchallenging perspective where our hand-waves conjure, like magic, the result we know will solve the problem. More importantly, in this declaration, we seem to indicate that we are unaware of the evil within ourselves, or that whatever exists within us we have under control. We’re not like those people who kill 5-10 others. We could never do that. The simple truth is, we could. Wright describes this myopic, self-centered view wonderfully:
“It may be that one of the reasons we love the sea is because, like watching a horror movie, we can observe its enormous power from a safe distance…if we go sailing or swimming, we can use its energy without being engulfed by it….The sea and the movie, seen from a safe distance, can be a way of saying to ourselves that yes, evil may well exist- there may be chaos out there somewhere, but at least, thank goodness, we are all right, we are not immediately threatened by it. And perhaps this is also saying that, yes, evil may well exist insider ourselves as well-there may be forces of evil and chaos deep inside us of which we are at best only subliminally aware-but they are under control: the sea wall will hold, the cops will get the gangsters in the end”
“An honest discussion”
It is a common cry from political activists and internet dweebs who want to sound unifying as long as everyone unifies behind them, that “all we want is an honest discussion on the issues”. If we’re honest about this however, it has devolved into a hugely dishonest, vitriolic and insidious conversation where the wrong questions are posed, the wrong answers are given, woefully simplistic solutions are put forth as damn near magical and anyone who wants to challenge the practicality of this so-called “solution” is someone who “loves their guns” or “is ok with children being slaughtered” or “women being raped” or some other emotional ploy/personal attack. Today’s problems deserve a much more honest and a far deeper treatment that. If there is to be any change in the conversation, or any progress on the issues, we must come to three very important realizations.
One, mental health is an issue of great concern, but it is not the cause of many shootings or even most other crimes. Many crimes are crimes of passion; domestic altercations, spur-of-the-moment lapses, or long-simmering hatreds. The Las Vegas shooting for example, which is mired in an intractable conspiracy fog, doesn’t appear to have a definite motive at all. What we are dealing with is a force for which science cannot account and legislation cannot prevent. Moreover, we are dealing with a problem that exists in all of us. When you look at the simple, sometimes pathetic motives of these killers, what makes one think they are incapable of such? In preparing for his role on Breaking Bad, actor Bryan Cranston realized that “everyone has a dark side. It might be unrealized, untapped, but if the right buttons are pushed anyone can become dangerous.” It’s not a matter of whether or not you “can” or “would” do something horrible, it’s a matter of whether or not the conditions are right for you to do so. If one has ever manipulated or taken advantage of someone, they are capable of far worse.
Humans need to come to terms with their own capacity for doing harm. Confronting the problem of evil begins with accepting its scope and its main characteristics. In almost every situation, the killer is described as a creep, or someone who rants about killing or genuine hatred. Most worryingly however, are the killers who are described as kind, quiet and friendly. Everyone you know, and you yourself, has a dark side. To put this another way, God Himself declared that “the heart of a man is evil from his youth”. (Genesis 8:21). Aristotle and Socrates wrestled constantly with the concept of man’s capacity for evil. Aleksander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” that “that line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every man”. H.L. Menken once noted that the human race is “doomed to remain irrevocably human” despite their best efforts to “imitate the ceraphim”. Tim Keller, a contemporary theologian, recognizes the human capacity for evil. It appears to be the unique perspective of the contemporary liberal political thinkers and activists that we are “generally” good people and that there are just a few particularly bad apples ruining the whole basket and all we gotta do is throw them out.
Evil’s scope is endless, and yet something that big can often hide in plain sight. Evil is an intractable problem from which we will never extricate ourselves. The fact it exists in all of us means we cannot reasonably decide that the people with the opposite political persuasion are worse people when compared to we who are “rational and noble”, and thus both sides lose the platform upon which they have stood since at least Columbine. We have been going about the debate entirely the wrong way, coming up with the wrong answers to the wrong questions, and bulldozing anyone in our way.
Third, we can’t even begin to build this new approach to discussing evil until we destroy the current structure and repair the damage it has done. In the nearly 20 years since Columbine, the dominant argument, repeated ad nauseum can best be summarized as “we need to do something, the NRA and gun owners are standing in the way of us saving children” and no, it hasn’t changed. Here’s the issue with that: gun owners, by and large, are the only ones discussing fighting evil when it arrives. This is not because we “want to be heroes” or something like that. We don’t. There is nothing romantic about taking a life. At all. We do however, acknowledge for instance that a lot of these shootings have several common threads. They take place in areas where civilian carry is not allowed, where the security amounts to one to two guards at most. Several of these shootings take place in states that already have extremely tight gun laws. The response to the suggestion of adding more security or arming teachers has been “Yea, add more guns to a situation that already has them lol”, demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding that the gun itself is morally neutral. It seems in the gun control world, a civilian is, and can only ever be, a bumbling moron who doesn’t know which side of a gun makes the loud noises, and the bad guy is Agent Smith.
On that note, we need to dispense with the notion that these killers are well-trained, accurate robots who hit a lot of people because they are efficient and would hit anyone who tried to shoot back. The bad guy is rarely Agent Smith. They are, frankly and thankfully, very lousy shots. For instance, the Virginia Tech shooter used 137 rounds, hit 49 people (32 dead, 17 wounded by gunfire). That accounts for 30% accuracy. The most recent shooter in Parkland fired 150 rounds and hit 34 people, accounting for approximately 26% accuracy. We’re not dealing with cold, calculating hitmen. These are, for lack of any better phrase, lunatics with a spray and pray approach to their actions.
This is not going to be a project against gun control, although we will reserve one segment for a more practical discussion about the gun free zone and the ineffectiveness of gun laws and while we’re at it, dispel the idea that being a Christian and believing in lethal self defense are incompatible.
What I wish to deal with is primarily the misunderstanding of evil. I intend to make it crystal clear that evil is largely not the result of mental illness, but an intrinsic part of the human condition. In addition to shootings, we will talk about other forms of evil such as sexual assault. Part 3 will discuss how the secular response to evil has created an environment for killers and predators to thrive and even become famous. As well as how our response to it has resulted in infinitely more harm than good. Examples of such include declaring as a culture that “mentally ill” is an accurate substitute for “mentally bankrupt” and the more personal defense of suggesting, as Wright says we do, that the big evil is entirely “out there”; usually in the person of an opposite political persuasion or in this or that celebrity who got caught doing something. Finally, we will discuss how the Christian view of humanity is simultaneously the most damning, hopeful and accurate picture we have available to us, and is the best platform for facing the problem of evil.
As a last disclaimer, I do not mean to imply by saying “we are all evil” that “we are all worthless”. I mean to demonstrate that we are, as humans, all capable of the worst evil and the greatest good. We haven’t come to terms with the former, and we no longer have a clear vision of what the latter even looks like. It’s time to accept that the evil is not just “out there”, but is internal. We need to accept that we don’t have the best solutions specifically because our “solutions” are too easy, our understanding of the problem is basic and generally tainted by our political tribe, and our willful or inadvertent residence in either a red or blue echochamber has made piled an even bigger mess of problems on top of the core issues we all (at least claim to) desire to contend with and overcome.