In crime fiction, bad acts are the norm. Violence both civilized and grotesque make up the themes within. Not much seems too far fetched to the reader because there is a unwritten agreement between the reader and writer –ignore improbability and simply enjoy. The concept of evil, that the murderers within the pages are of an entirely bad character, is commonplace in early mysteries. A vile criminal stalks London, a cloaked individual wanders among Paris streets stabbing innocents along his way. Gangsters use tommy guns to wipe out other gangsters. Each of the perpetrators have a motive. A motive is essential to a crime novel, without one, the story becomes senseless. Mysteries are read as an act of control over the uncontrollable. In a crime novel, rarely does the criminal go uncaught. I can’t think of one book I’ve read where the reader wasn’t given a reason, a reason, however illogical to the rest of the world, there is still a twisted justification for horrific actions. The reader expects these components to be in place. Within a mystery novel, the reader can rest assured that all will become clear by the last page, the murderer’s identity revealed, and that individual will get their just deserts. As crime novels evolved, the criminal has become mixed grey. The reader is given more to ponder. Was the murderer justified in killing? Did the criminal’s environment play a part in molding his actions? The detective has lost his virgin white hat. Criminologists can be flawed, violent themselves. Nothing is black and white. And still. There are motives, and consequences, if not what the reader wants them to be.
In real life, there are no guarantees that motive will become clear. And just desserts can be snatched away if the perpetrator himself is killed before the justice system can kill him. If a motive is finally supplied, it may not clear up anything, only make one wonder how a person who seemed so normal could turn into such a fiend. And if we as a populace cannot explain horrific actions, we call it evil.
A former president loved using the term, evil doer. The ‘evil doers’ are responsible for such and such. A black and white term, meant to explain the inexplicable. Oh, he’s evil, no wonder! Evil carries a great deal of weight for some. Those who believe deeply in good, and evil, ying and yang, etc., can find some kind of calm in the word and concept. That person is evil. Period. And evil means? What does evil mean?
I looked up the definition on several sources and although the wording was slightly different, the general feeling is–wicked. Evil is morally reprehensible. Destructive deeds is also a definition of evil.
As a noun:
anything causing injury or harm
the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin.
the wicked or immoral part of someone or something
So pure evil would be all wicked, immoral, sin. It is so tempting to label the latest terrorists as pure evil. Their actions cannot be understood. At least by us. Americans. People who hold similar ideas as these two individuals see their actions as something entirely different. I tried to find a quote by my favorite crime fiction author, Ruth Rendell when asked about the 9/11 terrorists as being pure evil, but time blunts outrage, and the controversy her words caused then, seems to have dissipated, as much does. To paraphrase when asked if the terrorists were evil, Ms. Rendell replied that they believed in a cause, they believed something, therefore one could not label them evil. That’s a very bad paraphrase, but the gist of the remarks had to do with a book she had just published about a delusional woman who was wandering around killing people, for no apparent reason. She absolutely believed in order to survive she needed to kill. Was she evil?
Many believe there is a prince of darkness, a devil that influences humans to do horrible things. Or perhaps even possesses them. It’s a nice out. If one cannot comprehend why devastating violence such as happened this last week in Boston, the devil will make do in a pinch. I don’t believe in a devil. Red, with a tail, or just a black vapor. Humans have free will, and use it to kill and maim other humans and have done since the first human was able to stand straight. We are violent creatures who demand others to believe as we do. On any subject, at any level. Religion against religion as caused more deaths than every war combined, I would believe. Country against country, North against South, democrat against republican, even while the populace was reeling from the violence, extreme voices on both political sides were continuing hateful dialog towards one another. Considering millenniums past and the violence contained within, either more people were evil then, or we humans are evolving. Thankfully. Still, individuals such as these two boys, and yes, 19 and 26 are boys, believed laying down a bomb next to an 8 year old kid was not only acceptable, but needed, action. The whys don’t matter much. The motives in this real life situation will not grant us an illusion of control. The incarceration of the one killer will not give much satisfaction. There can be no comprehending despicable actions by some of us within the human race. But they aren’t evil. To call them that, is to let them off easy. They are more complex than a simple noun. I keep remembering a joke, a kind of sarcastic sick joke–‘even Hitler loved dogs.’ I’d rather we study and pick, and dissect if necessary, their human brains, and find what within them, their genetic makeup, their chemical balances, their cognitive abilities, what within their humanity helped them to choose the destructive road they took. How can we ever understand and prevent heinous actions if we simply label them evil? Because it’s just damn easier if something amorphous like a devil and evil are responsible, than what could lie within us all as human beings.