When I was twelve or fourteen I had an explanation for the evil in the world.
Anyone who murdered, tortured, destroyed another human being (while I understand the evils of property damage/theft, it still most of the time falls short of totally destroying someone) only did it because he was a victim of society.
It wasn’t an original explanation. By which I don’t even mean that I wasn’t the first to come up with it. Of course, I wasn’t. However, I didn’t come up with it at all. I imported it wholesale from my brother who, though he was only ten years older than I, was very much involved in the whole sixties ethos. It was all society’s fault [man] and if we got rid of capitalism and like put flowers in our hair [man], it would all be so groovy and stuff.
I never fully bought into the “if we just got rid of capitalism” – it didn’t compute. I was an history geek, and I knew how the other systems stacked up. BUT I wanted to believe the “it’s all society’s fault” at least society writ small. “It’s all his family’s fault.” “His mom spanked him when he was little.” “He probably has a complex.”
This was fed in part by the fact that villains in books – the interesting ones, at least – do tend to have reasons for what they do. They were abused or they suffered horribly or…
The human brain likes imposing patterns on the natural world, including very (un)natural human beings. And we wish to think no one would do ill on purpose. Or for no reason. Certainly it doesn’t make a very interesting story.
My son has been reading a(n accurate) biography of Che Guevara. When it gets to be too much for him, he comes to me and talks about it and says “I just can’t understand how anyone gets to be like that.”
At the same time I’ve been reading – malgre moi – bits and pieces of the freak show that was the Gosnell operation. I mean, I try not to read details, but pieces of the whole thing will catch my eye even as I’m avoiding reading it (I’m avoiding reading it, because if I get so angry I burn a hole in space/time it won’t be good for anyone.) Baby feet in jars? Blind (because too young) babies left to die in pain and cold? WHAT?
Then there is that whole thing in Ohio – three brothers who, as far as we know, had lived fairly normal lives till then, in middle age decide to kidnap young teenagers (one of whom was the friend of one of their daughters) and keep them as sex slaves?
How does this even happen? If you say “they were horribly abused as children” or “their mothers twisted them” or whatever the h*ll you want to, I’m going to tell you that yeah, but it’s not enough. And besides you’re spitting on everyone who underwent equal trauma or worse and grew up to be a decent person.
This is akin to excusing terrorism with “they’re poor”. First of all, no, the heck they aren’t. Most of the 9/11 attackers were quite well off, thank you. And second, you’re spitting on all the poor people who never brought down planes and towers.
There was a time in the seventies when every trial was resolved with “he was abused as a child.” By which they meant anything from sexual abuse to “he once didn’t get the lollipop he wanted.”
At some level or another, we ALL were thwarted or traumatized or “abused” It’s impossible to go through life without doing it. The only way to avoid it would be not to have a body. Even to have all our wishes instantly gratified is a peculiar form of abuse, since it doesn’t prepare us for the inevitable buffets of the world. Whether you are G-d’s special snow flake or not, sometimes it will rain on your picnic.
Are the communists perhaps right? Is the capitalist system prone to creating this type of thing?
Well, not more than anywhere else. In the Soviet Union, perhaps – perhaps – there were fewer free lance mass murderers, but that’s only because the state hated competition.
There were (possibly more – in some perspectives we’ve been taming ourselves over the centuries) the same sort of cases under monarchies. There are these sorts of cases under strong man governments.
They are right of course, to an extent, the same way they are right about madness. But that’s only because ANY society is going to be oppressive. If you’re not floating in a bodiless place where your every wish is gratified – human meeting human causes trouble and pain and inconvenience for everyone. If two people meet they won’t always agree. There will be strife. That is because Earth is not paradise. And it will never be.
On the other hand, the madness thing – in a way all humans are mad, caught between intellectual vision and desire and the animal body. If we didn’t force the animal body to do things it doesn’t want to do (like dance, or write, or the really difficult work, like digging ditches of building skyscrapers–) there would be no civilization.
But few of us even murder one person, much less groups.
These days the official explanation is “they’re born evil.” But are they? We all have potential for great evil. Trust me, even those who haven’t read my books, be assured that I can dream up horrible scenarios.
So what is the solution? What explains humans being willing to go out and eliminate vast numbers of innocents? Or to kidnap young girls as sex slaves?
They think they can get away with it.
I’d say that’s the sum of the thing.
All humans have these thoughts and temptations. But once you give in… well, once you give in, its effect on you makes it easier to do it again, and again, and bigger.
Once you consider other humans outside the human scope. Once you stop respecting them for the sake of common humanity, you’re going to end up thinking what you do doesn’t matter. And you’re going to feel (a little) invincible. You’re going to kill more, better, bigger. You’re going to kidnap another young woman. You’re going to think you’re like onto the gods…
The beginning can be as simple as being fairly sure no one will catch you.
But wait, there’s more. When the culture promotes the idea that “we belong to the government”; when the culture promotes the idea that it’s perfectly all right to kill the very young, the suffering old, the mentally afflicted, the bodily deformed… Once you accept the idea that common humanity or not, there are people who aren’t “people” as such…
You let the monster out. Whether you do it yourself or you vote to have people “whose lives aren’t worth living” put to death, it’s the same.
You’ve stopped respecting humanity and therefore rendered yourself less than human.
Treating people as units, instead of bringing about Earthly paradise always brings about mass graves. Perhaps because it mimics the thought processes of a psychopath who views others as means to his end.
And the only true victims are the dead, the maimed and the coerced.
UPDATE: Post on writing technique over at Mad Genius Club: Expose It Yourself