As of the time of this writing, just hours after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 27 people are dead.
Courtesy of mass murderer Adam Lanza, twenty children between the ages of five and ten are forever gone from this world.
For the victims and their loved ones, we are helpless to do anything but pray. But while our hearts break, we should see to it to prevent our heads from doing the same.
Thus far, we are not off to a good start. Well, at least some of us aren’t.
As is typically the case, the ever perceptive writer Ilana Mercer is an exception to this rule. The legions of commentators who haven’t wasted a moment to grace the country’s airwaves with their sage analyses of the Newtown rampage Ilana refers to as a bunch of “self-serving tele-experts, twits of psychology and psychiatry” whose obsession with “diagnosing” the purveyors of evil in our midst results, and can only result, in the denial of evil itself.
Ilana’s verdict is blunt and decisive: “Adam Lanza,” she declares, is “evil, not ill.”
And she is right.
Clarity precludes confusion, but talk of Lanza that simultaneously oscillates between references to his “mental health” and references to the “evil” of his deeds—and this includes virtually all such talk to date—is nothing if not confused, both morally and intellectually.
The language of “evil,” like that of “good,” is the language of morality. The language of “mental health” and “sickness,” on the other hand, is the idiom of science (whether pseudo-science or not is beside the point). It is just as incoherent to conscript a scientific idiom in the service of rendering moral judgments as it would be meaningless to describe the law of gravity as unethical.
If Lanza is—or was—“sick,” then he is as much deserving of our compassion as is a child born with leukemia.
So, point one: lest we know this elementary difference between evil and illness, we will render ourselves incapable of making pronouncements concerning either.
Moral thought runs into another snag, though, when we insist upon describing episodes like today’s shooting as a “tragedy.” The language of tragedy, unlike that of “sickness,” does indeed belong to moral discourse. But it does not belong to a description of the events of the sort that unfolded inNewtown.
A tsunami that decimates a human population is a tragedy. However, Adam Lanza is not the author of a tragedy. He is an abominable punk—a “waste of sperm,” my late father would have said—who is responsible for an outrage.
Edmund Burke had famously said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The good men (and women) of our generation who wish to confront evil can start by responding to it by recognizing it for the outrage that it is.