Archive for Monday, April 20, 2009

Some acts of violence defy explanation

April 20, 2009


Even to speak of it in a serious way is to feel a bit like a rube, a yokel from some backwoods backwater where nobody ever heard of clinical depression, sociopathy or any of the other terminology we use to explain the cruelties human beings sometimes perpetrate. To ascribe such behaviors to something so vague and indefinable is faintly embarrassing.

But it also feels unavoidable, given the awful anniversary we observe this week. Ten years ago today, two boys, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked into Columbine High in Littleton, Colo. and unleashed hell, killing 13 people, wounding 23 and then committing suicide. In the process, they also unleashed a firestorm of speculation from media-appointed experts, jostling to answer what was suddenly the most important question in the world:

Why? Lord, “why?”

They told us video games did it. They said years of bullying did it. They said being ostracized did it. They said violent movies did it. They said bad parenting did it.

I said evil did it.

That observation, made in this space, was not especially popular. Small wonder. What do you say after you say evil did it? The very idea stops the discussion, forecloses the hopeful notion that there is something we can do, some measure we can take, to keep this obscenity from happening again. If you say bullying did it, you can seek ways to curtail bullying. If you say video games did it, you can pass laws to curtail video games.

But how can you curtail evil? What law can do that?

And yet, here we are, 10 years out, and I find myself reading reports on the new scholarship that has sprung up around the Littleton massacre, including a book called “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. And the consensus seems to be that everything we thought we knew about why those boys did what they did is wrong.

Turns out they were not bullied. Nor were they outcasts. Nor were they unduly influenced by violent movies. Nor were their parents bad.

Turns out they were simply two profoundly damaged boys.

Which brings us back to evil. It is, I grant you, a fraught and loaded word. It flies in the face of our innate belief in the perfectibility of human beings, suggesting as it does something that is beyond redemption, beyond correction, beyond our power to fix. Better to think in terms of psychological illness because illness, at least, implies an ability to be cured.

I am not saying psychological maladies do not exist or that they cannot help us understand why we do the things we do. What I am saying is that there are some behaviors so monstrous they dwarf our attempts to comprehend them with psychological verities.

Did Adolf Hitler murder 6 million Jews because he had a strained relationship with his father? Would it matter if he did? Yes, Harris and Klebold killed nowhere near as many people as the Fuhrer, but it was not for lack of ambition. While we are conditioned to think of evil as something that comes wearing a Snidely Whiplash moustache or speaking in a Darth Vader voice, it is more often a banal thing hiding in plain sight just like this, hiding in the incremental moral compromises, failed humanity and grandiose self image of ordinary men. Until their fury breaks upon us abruptly as a clap of thunder in a summer storm.

Thus it was with Harris and Klebold. Thus it was with Seung-Hiu Cho after them and Charles Starkweather before. Thus it has been. And will be. Being human requires living with the knowledge that sometimes human beings shatter. And yet, still “living.” So I will not begrudge you if you seek the rhyme or reason in what those boys did, but as for me, I will give them not an hour of my one and only life trying to comprehend their incomprehensible deed.

They’ve taken more than enough already.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on


Marion Lynn 4 years, 12 months ago

SettingTheRecordStraight (Anonymous) says…

Pitts is correct on this one. Evil does exist. There are absolutes which transcend time and culture. Morality is not relative."

Marion writes:

And just how do you prove your statements?

Got addresses or phone numbers for "good" and "evil".

Is there a Land Of Good and a Land Of Evil?

Is the natural world there is no "good" or "evil".

Things merely "are".

It is only when we view events in light of artifical "morality" that we judge them as good or evil.

In natuare the taking of prey by a superior predator is regarded as good but if a superior nation conquers another, we regard that victory as "evil".

Selective Darwinism?

Viewing events in lght of superstion-based notions of "good" and "eveil" blinds us to the truth behind those events and more dangerous, is the fact that such viewing takes us further away from properly dealing with and preventing such events in future.


SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 12 months ago

Pitts is correct on this one. Evil does exist. There are absolutes which transcend time and culture. Morality is not relative.


Marion Lynn 4 years, 12 months ago

Take a look at this well-thought out article, compare it to the tripe which Pitts has written and you will understand more:


Marion Lynn 4 years, 12 months ago


sorry for the typos..

..the puppies knocked off my glasses yesterday and broke them, so until later today, I'm running on only half an eye.


Marion Lynn 4 years, 12 months ago

"Good" and "evil" are social constructs, the definitions of which vary over the years.

Two hundred years ago, owning slaves was "good", in that it was an indicator of the wealth of the owner.

Today slave ownership is viewed as "bad"

Five hundred yeras ago, the massacre of non-believers in the Christian faith was considered to be "good"; now such atorocites are regarded as "bad".

In this editorial Pitts is quite clearly demonstrating his inabiliaty to conduct a critical rational thought process.

The evidence mounts almost daily that many psychopaths and sociopaths are indeed born, rather than made and to write articles promoting the idea of profound mysteries connected with their actions is misleading and only goes to further the the confusiion by promoting concepts which have in their origin religous or spiritual ideas.

The advocay of superstition; that is, the concepts of "good" and "evil" does nothing to help deal with the problem.

Research is showing us that the brains of many such people are wired differently and that the wiring cannot be un-done; that these people are simply waiting for the right unknown trigger to set them off.

There is nothing that we can do about such people without further research, not superstition.

In the case of "made" sociopaths, we must do our best to eliminate from our society those things which breed them; drug abuse, child abuse, physical and mental abuse.

There is in fact, little mystery about these people, they are permanently crazy and as long as we run around scryin, "I don't understanda!", we can do thing.

The evidence is there and Pitts has done a disservice to the entire society with this article.


jaywalker 4 years, 12 months ago

Sad that the event was such a monstrosity that those guys got exactly what they wanted: infamy.


Commenting has been disabled for this item.