When something awful happens, like yesterday’s horrific shooting at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, our natural tendency is to try to explain how it could have happened.
We want to know what would motivate a young man to engage in such brutal, inhuman behavior. What made him decide to charge into a movie theater and terrorize and kill complete strangers who were excited to be among the first to see the latest summer blockbuster? When and why did he run off the rails of normal thought and conduct? Could — and should — anyone have seen warning signs that might have prevented the senseless loss of so many lives? Should the laws be changed to try to prevent this from happening again?
I can understand this impulse, but I also think such efforts are doomed to failure. Has anyone successfully explained how Nazi Germany or Jonestown could possibly have happened? The unfortunate reality is that there is evil and insanity in the world, and when they come together terrible things can happen. We’ve endured countless mass shootings, stabbings, bombings, and suicides, in this country and in others, by people who are acting out of impulses as disparate as a lust for power, religious zealotry, a desire to be famous, racial and tribal hatred, and a hunger for revenge. Some people just lose their marbles and lose their moral moorings.
This is not a comfortable conclusion, unless you’re a hermit. If you want to participate in society, you just have to grit your teeth and accept the fact that the guy sitting next to you in the movie theater, or the sports stadium, or the school cafeteria, might be one of those people whose existence and outlook can’t be rationally explained.