Op-ed: Defining evil

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Sunday, October 8, 2017 12:26pm
  • Opinion

Responding to the recent Las Vegas concert shooting that killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds more, President Trump described the act as one “of pure evil.”

One definition of “evil” sounds so inadequate in today’s culture: “morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds, an evil life.”

As the Supreme Court wrestled with a 1964 obscenity case, Justice Potter Stewart struggled to define obscenity, and finally settled on his oft-quoted statement, “I know it when I see it.” That seems to be the preferred attitude about evil today. Many of us can’t fully define it, but we certainly know it when we see it.

On a visit to Las Vegas, I was handed a flyer on the street advertising prostitutes. All I had to do, the flyer said, was call a number. A vehicle would even transport me to the rendezvous point, presumably for an extra charge. Is this objectively evil? Who gets to decide?

On the nightly news and in nearly every Hollywood film, there are graphic scenes showing spattered blood and bodies strewn about. Big-city news broadcasts often lead with the latest shootings and body count. Do such things desensitize us to the value of human life? Where does that value come from? We’ve come a long way from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” and from TV’s “Leave it to Beaver” and “Uncle Miltie.” Has this been progress, or regress? Does that regression promote evil, or is much of modern entertainment evil in and of itself? If you are having difficulty deciding, you may have become inured to the shift in morality and fallen victim to the zeitgeist, “the spirit of the age.”

Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, identified by police as the Las Vegas shooter, did not look evil. Except for one citation by law enforcement, he was leading a normal life. He had no criminal record. His brother and mother said they were shocked and don’t know what got into him.

Theology and mythology speak of a demonic world beyond our vision and understanding. Cold-blooded killers have been interviewed by psychologists and writers like Truman Capote to determine why they committed their evil acts. Some of these killers came from poverty, but the majority of poor people don’t kill. Some of these killers came from abusive homes, but most abused children don’t grow up to become mass murderers.

As with previous mass shootings, there will be the predictable calls for “gun control.” It is legitimate to ask whether Paddock cleared a background check and bought his guns legally. There is no law, however, that can prevent someone from committing evil acts. If there were, wouldn’t we have passed it by now?

Evil co-exists with the good. Each individual must choose which one to embrace or push away. For some, embracing good comes naturally. For others, the pushing away of evil is a lifetime struggle. Perhaps Stephen Paddock embraced evil just this once, or maybe it was waiting to ambush him just as surely as he ambushed those innocent people 32 floors below his hotel window.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

More in Opinion

Jodi Taylor is the board chair for Alaska Policy Forum. (Courtesy photo)
Private school, state reimbursement: family choice

By Jodi Taylor Alaskan parents have a legitimate right to choose the… Continue reading

t
Opinion: It’s time for bold action to protect our fisheries

Our fisheries feed the world and sustain our unique cultures and communities.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Hard to fill positions?

Paying poverty wages to support staff, secretaries and custodians is unacceptable yet routine behavior by our district

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
Choosing a candidate – Who will best represent us in D.C.?

Voters are encouraged to do homework before casting a vote

Tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tourists have pushed us to critical mass in parts of Juneau

I don’t go to the glacier in the summer now to hike or watch bears.

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Several past large fire seasons followed snowy winters or unusually rainy springs

Alex Koplin is a founding member of Kenai Peninsula Votes. (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: 1 candidate dined, 47 to go

By Alex Koplin Last month, I wrote a satirical piece for the… Continue reading

The logo of the Homer Trails Alliance.
Point of View: Connecting our community through trails

Homer is booming with housing development and the viability of long-standing trails is threatened