Another mass shooting takes place in America. We pay our respects to the victims of such a tragedy, condemn the man who committed it and move on. The face of Elliot Rodgers becomes another in a long line of those that haunt us. We describe him, his essence, as that of a monster, a savage, as someone who was crazy, psychotic or mentally ill. This is how we distance ourselves from him. Just as he denied those he killed their humanity, we deny him his. This makes it easier for us to condemn and move on until the next one takes place.
My favorite poet, Khalil Gibran, wrote in The Prophet “On Crime and Punishment”: “Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.” What Gibran knew was simple: We dehumanize those who do wrong because to admit that they are human is to admit that we all possess the capacity to do great harm. That is an uncomfortable reality to live with, but it is one we must face for our own good. For to act as though evil is alien to us as a species is to obscure reality, not to illuminate it.
The United States Department of Drugs and Crime estimates that there were anywhere between 308,000 and 539,000 homicides in the world in 2010 alone. That means there could be almost 1,500 murders taking place every day in our world, or almost 60 an hour. A recent international study on rape found that, of the 10,000 men they surveyed, one in four said they raped someone at some point in their life. Genocide has occurred on every patch of land that humans inhabit; and the 20th Century saw such a spate of genocides that historians have come call to it The Century of Genocide. Systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are all around us. Some of those murderers, rapists and advocates of oppression may be your friends, your lovers, your family. Where we tend to think of evil as something alien or distant from “normal life,” the reality is that evil is among us every day.
Blaine Stum is a 30-something-year-old native of the Spokane area who was raised in Spokane Valley. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He works in the local political arena and has been involved in LGBT non-profit work for several years.