opinion : Alwyn Lau

What does ‘pure evil’ mean? #LasVegasShooting

Alwyn Lau

OCTOBER 9 — In the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre last week, Donald Trump talked about the act being one of “pure evil.”

He also said that Americans would be searching for “some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness” and, of course, the answers “do not come easy.”

One phrase stuck with me: Pure evil. What did Trump mean by that? He didn’t explain but I’m going to take a wild guess that he used that phrase the way most people use it i.e. the evil action was so heinous it’s virtually in a category by itself.

Alas, though, I suspect it’s here that a problem creeps in.

Because when people use the phrase “pure evil”, there is the unavoidable implication that they’re talking about a kind of evil that has absolutely no origins other than itself. Nothing else can “explain” it i.e. the evil is due neither to a bad childhood, nor an unhappy marriage, nor alcoholism, nor ideas or nor a religious or political worldview.

If, say, the shooter (Stephen Paddock) did it because he was struggling with financial problems, would that render his evil somewhat less “pure”? Or if his daughter had recently died or he had just been laid off, we would be taking half a micro-step towards being “sorry” for him, no matter how heinous the crime, and that is something which “pure evil” can have no truck with.

“Pure” evil can beget no human or social explanation. For Trump, Stephen Paddock’s actions cannot be a result of causes or influences or factors other than a decision to, well, shoot 600 people.

It is, in this sense, not unlike the taste of coffee or the colour red. Coffee tastes like coffee because it simply does; likewise, red looks like red because it doesn’t look like blue. So, there.

A woman lights candles at a vigil on the Las Vegas strip following a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas October 2, 2017. — Reuters picA woman lights candles at a vigil on the Las Vegas strip following a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas October 2, 2017. — Reuters picNot even Hitler was ‘pure evil’

If you hadn’t suspected by now, the idea that there is such a thing as “pure evil” is, well, pure bullshit. No evil action arises completely autonomous of the environment within which it was nourished.

A “purely evil” act would require a “purely evil” actor and, other than Mr Bean (who drops in London out of the blue) and maybe Ultra-Man (who loves saving earth for no discernible reason), there are no such beings on earth.

If “pure evil” existed, Adolf Hitler couldn’t qualify, soaked he was in the misery of post-WWI Germany, the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles, the failure to get into art school, financial problems and a society which blamed the Jews for their problems.

If “pure evil” existed, not even ISIS would count within its set of members for reasons which include (but are not limited to) religion, culture and US foreign policy. Heck, not even the slaughter in Rwanda would count as “pure evil” as it required the demonisation of one tribe by the other.

Closer to home, “pure evil” would be beyond the reach of Malaysian rapists since pornography and misogyny would undeniably feature as causal factors. Not even child kidnappers cum killers would be “purely evil” since greed and social impoverishment usually apply.

And other than destroying it, how would one actually deal with the idea and agents of “pure evil”?

Clearly, education and anti-poverty measures won’t help since such evil serve as their own singularities. Neither wealth nor power are relevant, since “pure evil” isn’t motivated by cash or an election seat.

If your child is “pure evil”, not only will you be dumb-founded as to how s/he became that way, neither better schooling nor more “wholesome family-friendly” movies nor more caring friendships will matter because, if it isn’t obvious already, “pure evil” is unrelated to anything even smacking of “negative influence.”

Pure evil is, by definition, pure.

What’s my point? It’s that the appeal to “pure evil” is really a way of saying there’s nothing we can do. It’s to ascribe (almost literally) super-human qualities to the perpetrators of such evil, lifting them over and above the world, their communities.

Real evil is ‘impure’ evil

In his speech, Trump also mentioned the word “God” at least half a dozen times. Marry this fact to his labelling the Las Vegas shooting as “pure evil” and you may be forgiven for believing that such a form of evil possesses God-like characteristics.

If you think about it, it’s quite logical.

If “pure evil” is truly something that defies causality and influence, if Paddock’s actions absolutely cannot be traced back to any contributing factor (like family or movies or ideology, etc.), if shooting at 600 people has no explanation other than the mysterious singularity which was the shooter’s decision, then it would be accurate to label such evil not only as “ex-nihilo” (i.e. a creation “out of nothing”) but also that it approximates the mind of God.

As every monotheist knows, God doesn’t need “reasons” to do anything, least of all create the world.

The Almighty didn’t bring the universe into being because He was lonely or bored or needy or because He had to meet some annual KPI. The word “because” when applied to divine creation is a category mistake.

It would appear, if Trump is right, that the same applies to Paddock’s actions. There is no “because” which would legitimately apply to targeting hundreds of innocent people at a concert.

It was “pure evil.” When Paddock fired into the crowd he was, in effect, behaving like God was when He created the world.

And, thus, it cannot be America’s fault that an American slaughtered many Americans within a few minutes.

Las Vegas cannot be due to a culture of hate and blood-thirstiness. It cannot be due to an obsession with militarisation, firepower and “efficient” killing.

It cannot be due to a politico-religious system in which popular preachers equate natural disasters with divine punishment. It cannot, obviously, have anything to do with that monster called “American politics” in which the most powerful nation on earth had to choose between a corrupt lobby-loving politician and a sexist billionaire, in which the right to own a life-taking device is enshrined within the Constitution but access to affordable healthcare is a dream.

Or maybe it can? And, thus, we may have a glimpse of real (albeit “impure”) evil?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

MORE ON MMOTV