Evil Can’t Be Rationalized Away

This is supposed to be a column about politics, but as I wrote it on Friday afternoon, bickering among Republicans and Democrats didn’t seem very important. For awhile, the “fiscal cliff” was irrelevant.

Connecticut children eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus instead met pure, unadulterated evil on Friday. A 24-year-old man went to their elementary school in Newtown and killed 26 people, including 20 children.

My God. Oh, my God.

Pressured to do so by those of us in the news media, psychologists, sociologists, members of the clergy, educators and yes, politicians, will be offering “explanations” for what happened. A variety of theories will be offered.

How can the slaughter of little children – a class full of kindergartners, by some accounts – be explained, except by acknowledging the existence of evil?

Think about this: How is it possible to be so mentally ill that, after shooting a 5-year-old child, a man takes aim again and pulls the trigger to kill another, then another, then another, then 16 more little ones?

But supposedly “rational” explanations in which the word “evil” is not used will be put forth. Quickly – already, in all likelihood – there will be demands that something be done to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

Details of such pleas are easy to predict: Stricter gun laws are needed, some will say. Better security ought to be demanded at our schools, it will be added. Diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill must be improved. And on and on and on the suggestions will go.

None of them will do a bit of good.

We have become accustomed to insisting that whenever there’s a problem, government must do something about it. Having made the demands and been assured that yes, our public servants will protect us, we feel secure until the next time evil reminds us we have deluded ourselves.

Some temporary relief from the pain of broken hearts will be had by finding fault with reactions to the school shootings. No doubt we in the press will be criticized roundly – and in some cases, perhaps deservedly. But recognize that many of us struggled with broken hearts, too, on Friday.

Please realize this next is not a defense of the news media, but an observation on our society: One frequent criticism of newspapers, television and other news outlets in situations such as this comes from those who say we’ve gone too far. The pictures we show are too graphic, some say. The details we report are too invasive of privacy and often simply too horrifying, we are told.

Are we to sugarcoat the truth? Pretend very, very bad things don’t happen? Will ignoring evil somehow prevent it from harming us? Of course not.

We don’t report stories such as the one from Connecticut to sell papers or boost ratings. We can find other ways to do that.

We tell you about evil in the hope that knowing it exists may help us all do battle with it, both in specific situations and in general. Sometimes, in cases such as those involving, say, drunken drivers or international terrorists, knowledge is power. Knowing some people have such contempt for the rest of us that they continue to drive while intoxicated can help get them off the streets and highways.

But there is no defense against evil such as what killed the 18 children and eight (or more) adults in Connecticut. Again, knowing that in our hearts may be why we allow our intellects to reason that we could prevent such horror if we just tried more actively.

It’s impossible to think for more than a few seconds about what happened inside the Newtown, Conn., school without risking a loss of control. As this was being written Friday afternoon, I saw several co-workers who, forced by our jobs to talk about the story, had to turn and walk away quickly. And yes, I had to do that myself a couple of times.

Some things in life come down to the difference between good and evil. It really is that simple.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at myer@theintelligencer.net.