On Evil, Insanity & Apathy
Dr Larry Nasser will spend at least the next 100 years in jail, for evil. True, that wasn’t technically the charges of which he was found guilty, but, that was the thought process behind his crimes. Evil at its core is acting for motives completely selfish, despite, and sometimes, because of, the negative impact on others. Dr Nasser is a very evil man who abused as many as 260 girls and young women. During his sentencing over 150 victim impact statements were heard. As woman after woman told her stories the immensity of his crimes became more and more real. At the same time another trend became clear. People knew. There was also the fact that Dr Nasser actually perpetrated some of his abuse in front of parents and other witnesses. What happened? Let’s put aside, for a moment, the idea of coverup, the concept that individuals and organizations can be so protective of their own interests that they allow for the soul murder of hundreds of women. What about those who dismissed the evidence not out of self interest, but, expressed as doubt in the veracity of the victim’s accounts. Larry Nasser’s own attorney had the audacity to express this doubt on the air of a Detroit radio station even after the verdict:
“There is a huge part of me that does not believe that every one of those girls was victimized by him,”
She also said, “While there may be some that were victimized … there are others that have come to believe they were victimized because of the way the case, in a way, spun out of control,”
I had a supervisor who had a phrase to explain a certain work place dynamic, “Insanity Rules”. He described it by asking what I would do if I were on the highway and someone started weaving in and out of traffic, intermittently speeding up and then slowing down. Of course I responded that I would get out of the person’s way. “That’s what insanity rules means. It means that when someone acts in a dangerous crazy way, we tend to avoid them. We don’t want the trouble, so we move out of their way.”
We turn our heads rather than face the horror. Evil depends on this. It thrives on being ignored. This idea is best encapsulated in the quote attributed (maybe, ironically, incorrectly) to Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
This is how every tyrant, every scoundrel, every bully, becomes powerful. They manipulate, they push the limits, in order to further the indulgence of their twisted ideas. Sometimes it is the evil urges of people like Dr Nasser. Sometimes it is the need for power. Sometimes it is the need to destroy that which threatens the world view of those who need to retain that power. People like Larry Nasser are obviously evil, but, there are many kinds of evil, many kinds of insanity that cause us to pull over to the side of the road. The confidence of the evil person bowls us over until we become passive.
So what chance do us non evil have? If the majority of us will step aside, are we condemned to be run over by the nefarious machinations of those who only care about themselves? I would like to think that we aren’t. You see, people who are evil are fueled by hate. Sometimes it looks like hatred of those they abuse, sometimes it looks like hatred of diversity, of those who are different. All of this, however, is an illusion. What evil really hates is itself. It seems powerful, because it burns hot and loud. It makes noise and knocks people over. However, like a firework, its burning is its destruction. Eventually evil burns itself out.
Good, on the other hand, has staying power. It has eternity. Evil focuses on the faults of others. Good focuses on the merits of itself. It plays the long game. When we look at the great movements of history, it is not those that persecute and destroy that endure, it is those that love and accept that remain. Those that are inspired by the mission to build will always outlast those that are condemned by their own self hatred to destroy.
So when we feel desperate and powerless against those who will wield power, we need to remind ourselves that it is the good that survive, and it is the evil that eventually wither on the vine.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel depicted this hero best.
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains.