We were finishing up in our kitchen and getting ready to make the afternoon treats for the guests when the radio music broke to announce the shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Now, over a month later, we remembers Gabrielle Giffords as she continues her valiant struggle to reclaim her life.
In the days and hours immediately following her senseless shooting reporters and media began flooding the airwaves making reference to the alleged shooter using such terms as: crazy, insane, disturbed,loon, nutso, bonkers and driven by “inner demons.”
In our local paper on January 21, 2011 a syndicated columnist, Roger Simon, had other ideas about these actions and they closely parallel my own. He started his piece with a historical perspective including some of the most recent sensationalized killers. Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 men and boys and actually canabalized a few of them and moved on to John Wayne Gacy, who’s trial he covered every single day. For those a bit fuzzy on his details, he raped and murdered 33 young men and boys burying 26 of them in the crawlspace of his home. Both of these men attempted to invoke the insanity defense at their trials. Both failed in that regard. Dahmer was remanded to prison where a fellow inmate ended his life and Gacy was executed by lethal injection, a far more merciful end than he offered his victims.
The columnist posed a valid hypothesis. Are we medicalizing evil? Is it the number of people that any one person is responsible for killing the determining factor regarding their designation as insane or evil?
In his piece, he postulates that many less than laudable human foibles now enjoy the mantle of medical problems. He further states that it was widely accepted that Mao, Stalin and Hitler were judged to be evil, not insane speculating as to whether it was the mere numbers of deaths they were responsible for that confirmed this opinion rather than the act itself.
However, the part of his article that resonated most in me was our apparent discomforture regarding the acceptance of evil as a possibility in human kind. Too religious sounding-too primative his query…Finally settling on the reason that seems most obvious. Many aspects of mental health gone wrong are treatable. Disease processes, even difficult ones like bi-polar disease and schizophrenia, are much more readily treated successfully now than in the past. Why, with appropriate treatment and the wonders of pharmacology, many respond so well they can live much of their lives productively. However, to acknowledge that evil can and does walk among us opens up heinous possibilities most of us would rather not think about. Perhaps we need to brace up to the possibility however unsettling it is. No one can effectively fight a housefire with a squirt gun.