Evil is the last word in deflection
I have been watching the Kavanaugh hearings, and reading the discourse around them. I have found several articles which clearly show that Kavanaugh made misleading statements. The people related to the events under investigation in the hearings say they don’t remember him being there, at that party, but they didn’t say he was or was not there. Kavanaugh says that Ms. Ford’s statements were refuted by other witnesses when they said they didn’t remember. That would be a lie now, wouldn’t?
What I see in this debacle is a lot of deflection. They were drinking, so they’re excused. They were just kids, so they were excused. There was no adult supervision, so they were excused. That’s all deflection. It seems to me that no one is willing to take personal responsibility for their actions in this case, except Ms. Ford who, at considerable personal risk, is coming forward with accusations concerning an offense that is more than 30 years old.
A lot has been said about evil. When people use the word “evil”, I think of it as a supernatural attribution to challenging behavior in kids and adults. When someone commits a transgression, a wrong, or a violent act, it is often said, that person is “evil”, as if somehow that person was possessed by some force greater than themselves. That may be, but does that person bear any responsibility for his actions? If we put that person behind bars, we are saying he was responsible. Is he evil or responsible? Can you have it both ways?
Charles Manson was said to be evil. There is no doubt he and his “family” committed heinous acts, but deeply researched accounts of his life clearly show that he had no one in his life that was stable, that showed empathy towards him, and that he was continually abused by his parents, the authorities, and the caretakers he had lived with. Either he is evil, or he did not received the training he needed to be civilized. But if he is not evil, we might have to admit that society failed to provide the guidance he needed to become an adult. And I don’t think he ever became an adult.
Long ago, someone told me that “it takes two to tango”. When I see someone commit a wrongdoing, a transgression, or whatever you want to call it, I assume that they lacked the skills to do better. I wasn’t always this way. When I was a young man, I was in favor of the death penalty. I was in favor of prisons to keep us safe. But 25 years of introspection and study have led me to believe that our culture bears some sort of responsibility to raise kids with the skills they need to become civilized adults.
When kids grow up without the skills they need to be civilized, compassionate, or even just polite, I see them in the news. They could be hurting people, seeking power over other people, or doing everything they can to save their own hide at the expense of other people.
Adolf Hitler was a product of his culture. Nazi Germany was a strict authoritarian culture. Hitler’s father beat his son Adolf on a daily basis and did so savagely. Given their authoritarian attitudes it should be no wonder that violence ruled the country, and that Hitler came up to rule it.
Saying someone is evil is like a baseball player in left field looking at his mitt after dropping a fly ball. You could even say that evil is the last word in deflection. As in, “He was evil.” When we say someone is evil, everyone escapes responsibility, when the reality is that all of us bear some responsibility when one person treats someone else poorly, or savagely.
Believe it or not, empathy is required for survival. There is no way for an infant to survive without empathy from mother. If a mother does not care for her baby, the baby will not learn to care for others, or worse, the baby will die. This is what I see when kids are tried as adults for their crimes — no empathy. And when I see kids tried as adults, I also see complete and total deflection.
Remember Manson? His mother wouldn’t even give him a name when he was born. How empathetic is that?
I’m not here to say that killers and criminals should be excused for their crimes. I’m saying that no one is excused for their crimes. It is up to us to raise kids with compassion and empathy. It is up to us to teach kids manners and to earn their respect, not demand it. I am a father and I have learned that I earn the respect of my kids by respecting them.
When I read the news about how someone was convicted of a crime, there is no empathy for the criminal. The news paints the criminal as a free agent making his own choices to do the crime. And in many ways I agree with that analysis. Adults are free to ask for help.
But as we saw with Ms. Ford in the current debate over her allegations of abuse at the hands of Kavanaugh and his friend, it took her more than 25 years to ask for professional help. And it doesn’t appear that Mr. Kavanaugh has ever asked for professional help. If a woman asks for help, she’s “hysterical”. If a man asks for help, he’s “weak”. Both Ford and Kavanaugh are products of our culture. Both have been steeped in the customs and mores of America. And neither are evil.
I don’t believe in good and evil. There are only confused people, those we might call “evil”, and then there are less confused people, those we might call, “good”. No one is pure and there is a wide continuum to span human ethics to consider. All of us are connected in some way along that continuum, and all of us influence each other in some way.
We cannot admit someone is evil without implicating our culture. We have all had dark thoughts. And we have all had happy thoughts. The range of human thought is also a continuum. The best we can do is to see the good in everything if we want to make the world a better place to live. I do this every day. I look for the good in everything.
I think it’s time we dropped the practice of diagnosing people with some sort of mental disease, and instead, consider the possibility that they truly lack the capacity to do better. Calling someone “evil” is a layman’s diagnosis of poor mental health. When we see someone acting poorly, it is up to us to provide guidance by teaching better skills, where possible, or at the very least to set the example for others to follow.
Humans are the great imitators of the world. When I see someone doing something awful to someone else, I assume that person learned to do what he did from someone else. When I read about a murder, a white collar crime, or a president unlawfully committing his country to war, I assume that he or she learned that behavior from someone else.
If I don’t want my kids to pick their nose, I don’t pick my nose in front of my kids. If I want my kids to have good manners at the table, I demonstrate good manners at the table myself. If I want my kids to manage their feelings, not to suppress them, but to notice the feelings and let them pass, I demonstrate that behavior by example.
If someone is “evil” they probably learned how to be evil from some of us, the people in their culture. If we want to put an end to evil, we have only ourselves to look to, by setting an example for others to follow.
Originally published at steemit.com on October 2, 2018.