Does anyone other than a dwindling minority of Procrustean traditionalists recognize evil anymore—personal evil, that is? Oh, sure, there’s plenty of the geopolitical variety to go around these days, especially in North Africa. And there’s more than enough being identified on the national stage by perpetually outraged critics within this country too, most notably by those on the political left, who eagerly attach the E word to everything from corporate profits and free trade to the oil sands and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s piano playing.
But we rarely hear about individual Canadians doing “bad” things, exhibiting sinister behavior, acting wickedly, or carrying on immorally, let alone sinning.
Instead, there’s always some sort of exculpating explanation for bad behaviour. Shoplifters suffer from kleptomania; corrupt officials have succumbed to stress or have manifested a previously undiagnosed psychiatric disorder; prostitutes are victims of the patriarchy, poverty or both; juvenile delinquents are the recipients of inadequate parenting; inner-city gangsters are victims of racial discrimination; and thieves are impoverished or addicted, and, if the latter, are surely not responsible for the burden of the illness under which they are labouring. You get the picture.
Look at the website promoting the recent Pink Shirt Day/anti-bullying campaign—a cause that should easily give rise to descriptions of bullies acting wickedly, etc.—and you’ll see therapeutic twaddle aplenty along with much vigorous exhortation to get to the root of the problem, etc., but nothing about the plain and simple fact bullies are acting immorally.
Which brings me to Exhibit A, otherwise known as the spark that gave life to this particular column. You might have heard of a horrible hit-and-run accident in Coquitlam, B.C., two weeks ago which left two young women dead. In covering the aftermath of the crash, which included the laying of several charges against a suspect, including two counts of impaired driving causing death, a local newspaper turned to a clinical psychologist from Simon Fraser University for some “insight” into “what might lead someone to flee the scene” of a serious accident without giving help.
Dr. Joti Samra is quoted thusly: “Assuming that it’s a true accident, the reality is… even from the perspective of the person that caused the accident, it can be quite traumatic and cause an acute stress reaction.” Got that? Acute stress reaction.
The good doctor goes on to explain that the brain could be flooded with information and emotion that would cause a person to act unusually. “The fight or flight response is something we’re exposed to when we are faced with extreme traumatic events,” Dr. Samra concludes. “Our body kind of goes into a shock, it doesn’t know what to do.”
Notice the focus on the culprit’s body and not his mind? I suppose it’s true that this human-as-hormonal-machine answer is what you’d expect from a clinical psychologist, whose business, of course, is to produce exactly this sort of pseudo-scientific analysis. But there’s no excuse for the news media to limit their probing into human behaviour to “experts” such as Dr. Samra. Why not someone with some grasp of the profundity of human existence, someone like a novelist, a moral philosopher or a religious leader– someone who recognizes we’re more than just pre-programmed biological machines?
To my mind, it would be a welcome relief—and far more enlightening—to hear some real insights into moral character, the dark origins of personal cowardice, or the nature of evil in circumstances such as these. And so, for example, when asked why a driver might flee the scene of an accident in which he had struck two innocent people, a priest might comment that such a person had become alienated from God, had too easily succumbed to temptation, and had become a sinner in need of redemption.
This would be really useful information as far as I’m concerned, and might also help many readers reflect more deeply on their responsibility—indeed, their duty—to act in a moral fashion.
But, of course, in this secular, humanistic era of ours, we see very little serious discussion about evil in the public square. Perversely, one is more likely to find scintillatingly descriptive words, purring about the concept of evil, in advertisements attempting to induce a consumer to indulge in some sort of deliciously sinful wickedness for an affordable price. Moral inversion to sell chocolate pudding.
A recent full-page newspaper advertisement for Volvo is a perfect example of this lamentable trend. Emblazoned above an image of a shiny red S60 model, the ad copy informs us, “There’s more to life than a Volvo. Like raising a little hell with 300 horses, spanking corners with your all-new sport-tuned chassis. And feeling a little dangerous in a car tricked out with safety technology. That’s why you drive the all-new naughty Volvo S60.” (Emphasis added.)
A 16th-Century proverb holds, “Evil doers are evil dreaders.” Today, however, evil doers are either the next patient for the couch or a target market.