Motiveless Malignity

I’ve been checking the news more often than usual for the past week to find out if there’s a breakthrough in the Las Vegas massacre. I imagine I’m not alone.

When horror strikes, we look for explanations. We want to classify. Most often, we’re looking for some kind of immanent, materialist explanation for evil: He’s a political fanatic, mentally ill, a convert to Islam, mistreated as a child. Conspiracy theories thrive on our desperation find reasons.

Natural as it is, this desire to explain is at bottom a theological error. We want to find reasons to explain the ultimate irrationality. We want to categorize the absurd. We want to find reasons for sin, the ultimate un-reason.

We engage in the subterfuge that, according to Coleridge, drove Iago: We’re engaged in motive-hunting to explain motiveless malignity.

Suppose we found a smoking gun: He was on drugs, he was depressed, he had amassed unpayable debts. Would that explain the murder of 58 people? No. There’s no algorithm to connect cause and effect.

This is the true horror, especially in a materialist, secular age such as ours: That evil can break out of a 64-year-old retiree who spends his days playing video poker.

If it can break out there, it can break out anywhere. There’s no preventing or controlling it. We’re helpless to stop it, no matter how many metal detectors we install or how heavily we arm our police.

And if evil can break out there, it can break out from me. That’s a horror we want to avoid at all costs.

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  • Joe Jach

    ”And if evil can break out there, it can break out from me. That’s a horror we want to avoid at all costs.”
    A terrifyingly true and beautifully blunt comment Peter.

  • LissonGrove

    An interesting perspective. I’m 100% certain that I won’t kill anybody intentionally for as long as I live, let alone on that scale. I have no motive or weaponry. It’s very important to establish motives as far as possible from a legal and psychological perspective. Nobody does something for no reason, it’s impossible, there’s always a cause for every action, God being the ultimate Primum Mobile.

    Whatever the cause, these tragedies will persist as long as there is widespread availability of weaponry that allows one man to cause such havoc. It’s when we stop thinking of the intense pain that the families of the victims and those injured are feeling that we dispense with morality and do not call for such things. That is why I know that I wouldn’t commit such an atrocity and would be very concerned about anybody who thought an inexplicable evil could suddenly break out of them.