‘The Evil That Men Do …’

A couple weeks ago marked the 9th anniversary of arguably the most horrible mass murder in our country’s modern history; and it was the only shooting ever to happen at an elementary school. On Dec 12, 2012, Adam Lanza, age 20, shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut. These included 20 elementary school children (ages 6 and 7) and 6 adult staff members, as well as his mother and himself.

Needless to say, the popular press and social media had a field day, offering diagnoses of Adam’s mental state; sympathy for, and accusations against his father; denial that it actually happened; claims that it was a hoax; and a range of conspiracy theories, that always attend some unusual event.

A year after the shooting, Adam’s father Peter offered an interview with a writer whose opinions he liked – Andrew Solomon, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia U. He hoped that sharing his experience might help others whose children are deeply troubled and seemingly unknowable. With his second wife, Peter met with Solomon for three months, and this interview was published in The New Yorker. Solomon presents a sympathetic view of Peter, supported by many legal and professional accounts to show how much the father tried to stay close to his ever-changing, unpredictable, anxious, hyper sensitive, secretive and insecure son. Surprisingly, Peter said that Adam “loved Sandy Hook school”, and that as he was growing older, he told Peter “how much he enjoyed being a little kid”. But teachers in middle school reported that he wrote and tried to sell to his classmates stories about a murderous Granny character. And in high school he shared an obsession for mass murderers with Facebook acquaintances! He found his mother annoying, and criticized her behavior, for being ‘inappropriate’. All these accounts and more demonstrate the boy was obviously insane and not responsible.

Some real experts offered possible explanations for his behavior, e.g., he was autistic, or had Asberger’s syndrome, or was schizophrenic, or even that he was Anorexic (which causes brain damage), since at the end he weighed only 112 pounds, although he was 6 feet tall! My point is that despite all efforts to demonstrate his son’s mental incompetence, Peter said he doesn’t mourn the loss of his son; he ‘wished his son had never been born’ and that “You can’t get any more evil”.

I believe the father’s language here is unsuitable – even immoral – especially in a serious interview, allegedly intended to help other parents. It’s natural for Peter to be sad (although some believers might say Adam’s in a better place now). And if, as he also says, he’ll forever be associated with this killing, that’s the fault of his critics whatever their motives. In my home, it was forbidden to call anyone “evil” – even Hitler! The year of my birth (1938), Hitler was Time’s “Man of the year” for being “the greatest threatening force … the freedom-loving world faces today”.

I was born 2 days after the Munich Pact abandoned Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Hitler, who promised to conquer ‘no more lands’ . Not surprising, there was plenty of talk about Der Führer, in our home and countless others. Mother would say, ‘If Hitler is inwardly what he appears to be outwardly, he is evil. But only the Lord knows the heart of a person’. Despite this dictum, many people – perhaps most – don’t hesitate to judge others evil. It’s natural to dwell on the faults of others, probably for many reasons, e.g., to make us feel better about ourselves. That’s the theme of this blog – “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” (said by Mark Antony, in Act 3, Sc 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

It’s a little embarrasing for me to write about this topic. It might seem I’m being self-righteous and hypocritical, criticising those who like to find fault. Yes, I do it too; I won’t excuse myself. But a long life of practising critical thinking lets me hope I can see a generic fault, or a societal trend, without attaching it to any particular person, or making myself an exception.

Conspiracy belongs to our topic, as one kind of fault finding. “Conspiracy theories” aren’t really theories. They aren’t objective or scientific; nor are they intended for good. As an example, almost from its beginning in 1973, the Trilateral Commission has been accused of various conspiracies – all aimed at ruling the world against Democratic principles. In a sense, they are rulers, but they aren’t anti-democratic. It just happens that their members are well-know and influential politicians, bankers, businessmen, intellectuals, media types, and even some union leaders . It’s a voluntary association, by invitation only, with offices in France (Paris), the United States (D.C.) and Japan (Tokyo), who discuss world affairs and suggest policies to support these countries and their allies. There are now over 400 members, which presently include some from Mexico, Asian Pacific, Australia, India, China and other countries.

The Covid Pandemic has multiplied conspiracy theories, and false ideas widely. The APA has published a Jan 2021 discussion of various aspects of belief in conspiracy theories by Karen Douglas, PhD, prof. of Social Psychology, U. of Kent, UK. She is upset, because she says Robert Kennedy Jr. duped her into giving a professional opinion to an organization that supports Kennedy’s views about vaccination. He is a rabid anti-vaxer. And this NPR report also mentions Kennedy as one of the “Disinformation Dozen” who spread false info about Vaccination on social media.

Contrails or “Chemtrails” was a popular conspiracy theory starting in 1996, after the Air Force published reports about weather changes. And regardless of how many scientific efforts there have been to educate the public, they only strengthen the belief that the federal government is trying to harm them. It seems trying to convince some ‘believers’ is a lost cause.

Another misinformation belief – not a conspiracy – has had terrible consequences in South Africa. In 2000, when Aids was becoming epidemic, then president Thabo MBeki refused to follow Western medical judgments that HIV caused AIDS, and recommended his own ideas and cures. Perhaps 300,000 of his fellow citizens died as a result. Similar denial and bad information characterizes Pres. Trump’s disinformation about Covid.

UFOs or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) are another popular topic – not conspiratorial, but characteristic of people’s desire to feel on top of what happens. A Politico article in Nov 17, ’21 with a sarcastic byline “This is urgent” reported that Kirsten Gillibrand, Junior US Senator from New York, plans to ammend the National Defense Authorization Act to create an ‘‘Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office” under her leadership. I always smile when the word UFO is used. If an Audubon Society member failed to recognize a bird in flight, isn’t that an Unidentified Flying Object?

These incidents of flying objects brings to mind ‘Extra Terrestrials’ or ‘Aliens’ which have been popular for who knows how long. There were theories that people from other planets might have built the Pyramids, since ‘obviously’ the Egyptians couldn’t have had the necessary engineering skill and mechanic means. Despite that belief, not only is it false that aliens built the pyramids, a Discovery Magazine article thinks such beliefs are racist and dangerous.

Mork and Mindy were Aliens clever enough to master American humor from 1978-82. My own favorite Extra Terrestrial is ET. “ET go home?”

The theme of this post has been how common and damaging it is to think ill of others who are ‘different’. We should think about that from a higher or deeper perspective. I believe no two people have ever been, or ever will be exactly alike. Is that perhaps because the creator of everything is infinite?  There are so many fine, uplifting and moving productions produced for all the various media. Despite commercial pressures to expand the classic ones, with prequels, sequels and shoddy immitations, the best remain, still able to teach us better attitudes, and reform our negative and polarized views about ‘our neighbor’. Whether or not Musk and Bezos are competing to dominate  outer space, Star Trek started its good mission in 1966 to improve inner space which matters much more. Here’s the original cast of that show.



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