The evil in us

By and

A wise man once said that if humanity is genuinely interested in confronting the nature and existence of evil in this world, we must first recognize the potential for that very same evil inside each of us.

Actually, this wasn’t just one wise man-throughout the history of philosophy and literature a cadre of thoughtful individuals have dedicated themselves to exploring the problem of the human capacity for evil.

Art evidences this much: Kurtz pushed himself far enough up the river to discover that he had become “The Horror, The Horror” he saw in the world. Narcissus ignored the evil in his own self-involvement, and it cost him his humanity.

I bring up all this talk of the human capacity for evil because I am profoundly saddened by a series of (not entirely surprising) positions recently occupied by members of the media in the wake of unspeakable tragedies-namely, the political positions allied with gun proliferation and anti-immigration legislation in the wake of the Trolley Square shootings and the media position of celebrity infatuation which has resulted in the privileging of Britney Spears’ hair over coverage of Iraq, Trolley Square, etc.

That is to say, I bring up humanity’s complicit role in the perpetuation of our own sorrow not to level a damning finger against some other-as is generally done by means of “It was (insert scapegoat ideologue here)’s fault!” or “If only we had stopped the corrupting force of (insert dummy issue here)”-but to level it against ourselves.

In the wake of the Trolley Square shooting, I am horrified by the obtuse, simple-minded parade of guilt we passively observe (and, therefore, actively reinforce). I am horrified by the way American culture seems satisfied to say, “Our grief is the fault of (this outside force),” never for a second stopping to consider the ways in which this deferral of responsibility, this deflection of involvement, may very well be the societal lubricant that allows for the machine of evil to run so smoothly.

Theorist and critic Slavoj Zizek argues that modern culture is characterized by a “passion of the real”-essentially, a hollow and self-deceiving posture of desire for change in the world-which exists as a cancerous stand-in for the actual CONFRONTATION of the REAL (of the self) necessary to interrupt the cycle of tragedy, blame, deferral and tragedy.

Zizek proposes that humans ACT incensed (this is an important distinction: “to act,” as opposed to “to undertake action”) by evils in this world because we know that we are SUPPOSED to; because we understand at this point in culture that loudly vocalizing our displeasure is significantly easier (read: less involved or less terrifying) than honestly confronting our own damning complicity; and that this acting, this lying, has everything to do with occasion of evil in the first place.

This is why I am sickened when I see a complex tragedy, such as what befell Salt Lake City recently, cannibalized (CNNibalized, really) and reduced to an issue of paltry politics and ego. The loss of human life is a loss greater than can be reconciled by the distribution of munitions to the populace; than can be assuaged by the opiate of fixed blame or culpability; than can be understood in terms of immigration legislation.

Would concealed weapons potentially have saved lives at Trolley Square? Perhaps. Would they have possibly also caused more needless, egregious deaths? Just as conceivably.

Would stricter immigration laws perhaps have prevented Sulejmen Talovic from entering America (and thus prevented tragedy)? Potentially (although this kind of thinking is so lopsided it hurts my head). Is this, IN ANY WAY AT ALL, the point we should walk away from this experience with? I am deeply worried if the answer we come up with is “yes.”

Human beings are astonishing creatures; we have the ability to love irrationally, care unconditionally, forgive, adapt and redeem. We also have the ability to deceive. If we wish to see the changes in the world for which we shout so loudly our passions, then it is precisely this ability to deceive (both ourselves and each other) that we must confront.

If people truly mean what they say when they say, “This transgression cannot be idly tolerated”-if we mean what we say when we say “never again” and “never forget”-then people must understand that only we can effect the changes we long for in life.

The responsibility falls to the media to better represent responsible journalistic standards.

The responsibility falls to the public to set these standards and to hold itself (not just its pundits) accountable when they are not met.

At the end of the day, then, the responsibility falls to US-each, together-and this is both the most hopeful and frightening realization of all.