We see the faces of evil every day. Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted Monday of murdering three babies by snipping their spines as they wriggled helplessly. Ariel Castro is standing trial for kidnapping three young women who were age 14, 16 and 21 at the time of their capture. He is accused of raping and abusing them for 10 years, forcing miscarriages by blunt trauma to the stomach and starvation, and also imprisoning his daughter who was born in a plastic tub to one of the three women. James Holmes is accused of walking into a movie theatre and opening fire on the audience, killing 12 and injuring 58 people. On December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza shot his mother dead in her bed. He then walked to an elementary school and shot dead 26 more people, 20 of which were school children age 6 and 7.
Events like these are not new developments in the human experience. Names, like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Albert Fish come to mind. Hitler and Stalin raised the art of mass murder to the level of a national endeavor. Even as long ago as the 1400s, we have the case of the French nobleman Gilles de Rais. He lured children (mainly, but not limited to, young blond, blue eyed boys) to his residence. He then proceeded to rape, torture, and mutilate his victims. He took great pleasure in bathing in the blood of his victims, and would set up their severed heads in order to judge which was the fairest. He is attributed with between 80 and 200 murders.
Are all these people simply insane? This question has been seriously posed by many. The idea is that some defect in the brain, some malformation, is the root cause of people committing these heinous acts. This idea is comforting; it absolves us “normal” individuals from the capacity for great evil. Legally speaking, the claim is patently false. In order for a person to be deemed criminally insane, they must not be aware of their actions, or the legal and moral ramifications of them. We have yet to see if Holmes claim of insanity is true, but we already know that John Wane Gacy was deemed sane by a jury. That was after he raped and murdered 33 young men and boys.
The root of the “only the insane do this” defense ultimately depends upon the absence of free will. If a person is aware of their circumstance, cognizant of their surroundings, and free to choose their actions, than the above instances were demonstrations of the darkness capable by every person, to one degree or another. If we are not free to choose, then we also cannot take credit for our good actions. Mahatma Gandhi was simply doing what his perfectly formed brain told him to do. If we want to believe in good, in our own agency, then we must also believe that evil is real. Do we have the courage to bear witness to the evil within our own hearts, and in doing so, overcome it? Or do we stop believing in our freedom, because we fear our evil?
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, 19 New Orleans Shooting Victims Included 2 Kids: http://www.ajc.com/news/ap/top-news/nopd-12-hurt-at-new-orleans-parade-shooting/nXpdD/
Fox News, Brothers of Man Accused of Holding 3 Women Captive in Cleveland House: Hope He ‘Rots in Jail’: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/05/13/brothers-man-accused-holding-3-women-captive-in-cleveland-house-hope-rots-in/
NBC, Accused Aurora Theater Shooter Expected to Change Plea to Insanity: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/13/18227907-accused-aurora-theater-shooter-expected-to-change-plea-to-insanity
Newtown Shooting Details Revealed in Newly Released Documents: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/28/us/connecticut-shooting-documents
The World of Dante, The Divine Comedy: http://www.worldofdante.org/inferno1.html
The Literature Network, Paradise Lost: http://www.online-literature.com/milton/paradiselost/1/
Politico, Is Jared Loughner Insane or Just Evil? http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/47716_Page2.html
The Daily Beast, Colorado Shooter: Insane or Just Plain Evil? http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/25/colorado-shooter-insane-or-just-plain-evil.html
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Police ID Suspect in New Orleans Mass Shooting: http://www.ajc.com/ap/ap/crime/shootings-of-19-show-new-orleans-violence-problem/nXqDX/