I’m not immune to the news. Hard to ignore the front pages, the cross talk on the radio in drive time, the news crawls and the talking heads in the morning and evening time slots. Other than the immediate emotional response they evoke, it’s difficult to try to comprehend – not understand – comprehend what happened in Newtown, Ct.

Michael Wade, over at Execupundit, points to an article about the medicalisation (sic) of evil, where Lindsey Fitzharris, a medical historian at Queen Mary, University of London, offers her thoughts:

Today, the medicalisaton of deviant behaviour has made it difficult for us to accept notions of “evil”. Nancy J Herman, associate professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, notes that “the diminution of religious imagery of sin, the rise of determinist theories of human behaviour, and the doctrine of cultural relativity” have led further to the exclusion of “evil” from our discourse.

This I think is just the attempt at explanation for something that is so profoundly disturbing that we need to label it in order to provide that explanation. It’s not unusual for the medical industry to do that – you can’t treat unless you have a label. You can’t understand unless you have a diagnosis.

But that, I don’t think, eliminates evil as a possibility or explanation. Yet, this massacre, if only because it involved so many children who have caused no harm, no trespass, can only seem to be the result of a sick mind. Beyond that, the only one that can offer any insight, is dead.

Some years ago, I had traveled to Prague and visited the Jewish Museum, a collection of several sites where the artificats of liquidated Jewish communities had been collected. In one, there was an exhibition of artowrk done by the children of Theresienstadt, a Nazi showcase camp that attempted to hide the extermination of Jews under the guise of culture, education and resettlement. Each piece of artwork, done in the crayons and paints we remember using ourselves with our own hands, included photos of the children who drew them. After being held there for months, these children were then sent to extermination camps like Auschwitz or Treblinka. And replaced by more children who were presented to the world as examples of the caring hands of the Nazis. As those would be replaced by other children. And when they were moved out, replaced by more.

Do we explain the murder of these children in the context of evil or sickness?

Evil, to me, is the complete disassembling of the border between right and wrong. Illness seeks no definition. Evil ignores it. And Fitzharris agrees when she writes “evil is about choice. Sickness is about the absence of choice.”

Was Adam Lanza evil? Or sick? In the minds of the parents, husbands, sisters, and brothers of those killed, there is no question and no excuse. Their question of “why” may not be directed at the medical establishment but that may be the only place that we can currently find any reason.  Yet, can we fully medicalize evil as this historian and others worry? I don’t think that evil, as an, explanation, will ever be fully eliminated from our discussion. We’ve seen evil. We know what it is.

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© Jeff Kopito