An enraged madman kills a dozen people and injures many others in a carefully planned mass murder in an Aurora Colorado movie theater. What can one possibly say? So desensitized by stories of brutality on the nightly news, my emotions are muted. It seems to me that on first blush the nation is becoming more coarse, more susceptible to the inner beast, that evil lurking in the hearts of men.
Was there a time of innocence? Perhaps not, but surely there was a time not so long ago when people helped their neighbors, left their doors unlocked and didn’t listen to rap songs that encourage rape and the killing of cops. A dark cloud has moved over the culture that avoids any taboos. It pushes past normative standards so that violence through video games and television programming is in the cultural ambiance.
The world is different with an emotional apocalypse seemingly in our midst each day. Nightly news is filled with horror stories; the more lurid, the more likely it will be aired. Audiences are told “If you are squeamish, you shouldn’t watch the next few scenes.” For many this is cultural catnip. Push that envelope to new and more extreme positions and then contend that the issue is guns. Surely even Mayor Bloomberg, the arch defender of gun control, must realize a gun in the hands of St. Francis is not a weapon. Guns don’t fire on their own; someone must pull that trigger.
The one word that won’t be employed in all the accounts of mass murder is “evil.” We rationalize. The fiend must have had a relational set-back. His parents mistreated him. School officials took his scholarship away. Who knows? The one thing we do know is “evil” will not cross the lips of the talking heads. After all, we are now all psychologists seeking fundamental answers for the inexplicable.
Goethe’s Mephistopheles does have an answer which he offers to Faust.
“I am the spirit that denies!
And justly so, for all that time creates,
He does well who annihilates!
Better, it ne’er had had beginning;
And so, then, all that you call sinning.
Destruction – all you pronounce ill-meant,
Is my original element.”
Evil and destruction go as hand and glove. The fortunes of the evil spirit are found deep in the human spirit. We can control and subdue or release and avert our gaze. At the moment, I believe, we choose to do the latter. Mephistopheles is on center stage; even the Batman who fights to save Gotham is a “dark knight” hidden in the shadow of his own despair.
Our heroes are caught in the gravitational pull of a zeitgeist that is often degrading. And these are the heroes. Imagine the feral children unschooled and unsocialized facing the lure of the licentious calling. Their hand on the trigger will assuredly lead to annihilation.
Yet the pundits tell us they know what is wrong. Confiscate the guns, they say. But does confiscation result in the evanescence of evil? Easy answers never reveal easy solutions.
Freidrich Nietzche argued, “Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity.”
And so the obscure keeps us confused in a cave like the one Plato described where we see only shadows on the wall. We can’t admit to ourselves that evil is in the air we breathe; we have allowed it to be unleashed. We cannot admit that mass murderers do the devil’s work reducing sin to religious mythology. The radical secularists want to unfetter the limits of liberation and, alas, they have been successful. Now we reap the results.
Yes, the cultural world is different. In the Freudian escape from the bonds of tradition, we have unleashed a beast from deep in our souls. He is troubled and we are in danger.
Herbert Londonis president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
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