Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Nature of Evil and Insanity: Aurora

If you ever doubted that evil is tangible, that it exists, the Aurora theater shootings were a clear reminder. Every nation has had it's history of evil. Particularly heinous are those acts that take innocents unaware. When you see war torn nations, you know that those children exposed to violence are no longer unaware. They have learned to look over their shoulders. But when an event like the shootings at Aurora, or the Giffords shooting, or the shooting at Virginia Tech or the shootings at Wedgewood Baptist in Ft. Worth or Columbine occur, you realize that the very safety that most of us enjoy makes us blissfully unaware. And being unaware of your surroundings makes you an easy target.

All these events featured shootings. But that doesn't make guns inherently evil. In places where police and neighbors are far away, having some method to defend yourself is not just a frill, it is necessary. People who cannot defend themselves become targets. In a way, designating any area as a gun free zone has the opposite effect, making the population fish in a barrel. Evil has also been done with bombs, such as the domestic terrorism of groups like Weather Underground, with poison like Jim Jones in Jamestown or through intimidation and brainwashing such as the mass suicide at Heaven's Gate. Just because guns were not involved doesn't make these acts any less violent.

So what do we do about evil? Do we cower in our homes and avoid all public places? That's been the result in some locales but it's a mistake. Stories abound of Paris cancelling this movie's debut or parents saying their kids won't go to the movies anymore. When you cower, you let evil win. Do we ban all guns? By doing that we open ourselves up to greater intimidation because the same people who plan and act in evil ways will not be stopped by abstract ideas like laws and social conventions. So what can be done? We can enforce our laws on acquisition of paramilitary gear assertively. In Aurora, the shooter obtained body armor and other materials that require special permits. We must make this more difficult.

It is also possible that the shooter in Aurora was mentally unstable. Insanity itself is not evil but can push the individual into living out their delusions. Laws that were aimed to prevent unlawful institionalization of the insane have created a situation where mentally unstable people walk among us, terrorizing their families and the community. It's not a huge secret that along with economic need, mental instability is a key factor in homelessness. While more likely to become victims, the mentally ill can lash out. It's early days yet, but I think that the Aurora shooter will be found to be insane, on drugs or both. And furthermore, I think people in his life knew about this and knew there was no way they could do anything legally with existing laws in place. And that's a tragedy because insanity often opens up the doors to evil and allows it to impact our lives.