Nosce Te Ipsum

For philosophers, the worst thing you can say about a person’s views is that they’re ‘wrongheaded.’ Well, here’s the most wrongheaded thing I’ve read in a long time: “We’re natural-born killers, and the real question is not what makes people kill but what prevents them from doing so.”

That idiocy comes from a leading commentator in the United States, a ‘thoughtful’ conservative columnist in the New York Times, who is often featured on national television and radio.

The context of the concept makes it all the more appalling, since it appears in a commentary about the American soldier who went on a rampage recently and slaughtered 16 civilians in Afghanistan, 9 of them children.

There are many inseparable strands of the malevolent madness that led Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to leave his base one night and “take out some military-aged males,” as he later told his buddies. Not least amongst the tangled malignancy is the decade-long quagmire of Afghanistan, where all “military-aged males” are seen as insurgents.

“Murderous thoughts occur because we are descended from creatures who killed to survive and thrive,” the New York Times moral midget intoned. That excremental philosophy flows through the same sewer as the thinking of the neighbors of Robert Bales, who said things like “I kind of sympathize for him, being gone, being sent over there four times.” Or, “I just can’t believe Bob’s the guy who did this. A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It’s not only the Afghanistan war that should be on trial along with Bales, but also the culture that produces such monsters, and their apologists, calling them heroes before and even after they break. Of course if it had been another high school or college campus bloodbath, the American media would be shaking its head in feigned shock, willfully ignoring the underlying pattern, while adhering to a mindset of individualistic blame and causation.

Even so, the challenge of evil goes beyond the dead American culture, as recent events in France attest. A deeper insight into the nature, origin, and operation of evil is essential if darkness is to be faced and dispelled by ordinary people, so that a global civilization can emerge.

Mohammed Merah, 23, who claimed to have al-Qaeda training and was on a US no-fly list, was killed in a violent shootout today with French police after cold-bloodedly shooting four people at a Jewish school a few days ago, three of them children.

One of the children killed in the Toulouse murders was a beautiful little girl, 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego. Witnesses report that Merah grabbed her by the hair and pulled the trigger, but his gun jammed. He calmly took out another gun and shot her in the head. Merah said he was acting to “avenge Palestinian children.”

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, with characteristic French understatement, “These so-called lone wolves are formidable opponents.” Yes, especially when we continue to see them as lone wolves.

In an age of instantaneous global media coverage, this is not just an assault against Jews in France by a single gunman. Anymore than the massacre in Afghanistan was committed by a single soldier– an ‘isolated incident,’ as the American media is portraying the murders of 9 children by one of its former heroes. Rather, it’s an attack on the human spirit itself by the collective evil in human consciousness, through two inwardly dead conduits.

A long-time friend and ex-Marine, Carlos, who served and was a drill sergeant during the first Gulf War, gave a sentiment shared by he and his Marine friends. “This hero thing has become a shield that gives people excuses for doing wrong and crazy things. We’re supposed to have discipline.”

The idea that “we’re natural-born killers” is an argument that only a dead soul can use to explain away such atrocities as those committed by Bales and Merah. It reduces the complexity of human evil to a movie title, refusing to look within the human heart, beginning and ending within oneself.

Supposed thinkers cannot hide behind specious science, citing a University of Texas study which found that “91 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women had detailed, vivid homicidal fantasies.” Where does the background madness of the global culture figure into their superficial view of human nature?

There is no escape, and little sanctuary in such an age. I’m not going to enter a monastery, but I am planning to visit one locally and see what the brothers there are thinking and feeling about the state of the world. Their 900-year-old Christian cloister proclaims: “We respond to the dialogue of voiced needs and concerns with the tools of good works, humility, mercy, and love. That is, we spend our lives learning how to truly love and be loved.”

Good, but do they have an effective and applicable philosophy of evil? We have to inquire into the roots of darkness in ourselves, not hope against hope that good will eventually triumph over evil. Otherwise there won’t be a decent place in the world where girls and boys can safely and sanely grow up.

Don’t blame nature, even human nature.

Martin LeFevre