Why does evil exist in the world?
This unanswerable question, asked not only by philosophers and thinkers but by anyone struck by personal tragedy, comes to the fore of global collective consciousness once more with the April 15 bomb attack at the Boston Marathon that killed three—one of them eight-year-old Martin Richard - and injured at least 176.
The images flooding the Internet run scarlet with blood. Pavements are covered with it. The faces of runners and spectators are blood-flecked; others clutch bloody stumps of blown-off limbs. A pair of brothers lost a leg each. Jeff Bauman, 27, who had come to root for his girlfriend, lost both legs.
Doctors found ball bearings and bits of metal that looked like carpenter’s nails in wounds. Salon.com quotes Rhode Island State Trooper Roupen Bastajian as having estimated that “…at least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing,” while Massachusetts General Hospital Chief of Emergency Services Alasdair Conn said, “This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here…this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war.”
The Boston Marathon, held on Patriots Day this year, celebrates the spirit of athleticism in an inclusive event that allows anyone to join, from celebrity runners like Dean Karnazes to ordinary people. Many have interesting stories; it is by sharing these online, along with news and facts, that people are trying to understand this tragedy through mediated communication.
One anonymous runner’s photo was posted on The New Yorker online. Wearing purple shoes, her hands to her face, she looked dazed. She came forward later. Her name is Emily Locher, a lawyer who recently had an elective double mastectomy.
In the photo her hair is barely long enough to tie up in a ponytail; she lost most of it during chemotherapy and had her head shaved. She continued training through most of her treatment—“it means something to do something” - and joined the marathon to mark her return to health.
This touching story is something no one could have anticipated just from looking at her photograph. It drives home the point that behind the images of the tragedy are real people.
To deliberately plant two pressure-cooker type bombs filled with shrapnel by the finish line of a marathon to kill people like Martin and two others and maim people like Jeff and Emily, to deal death and destruction for still unknown reasons upon innocent victims, is a demonstration of the most horrifying evil.
Thinker Howard Bloom says in his controversial “The Lucifer Principle” that the social group, not the individual, is the subject of selection, and that selection processes perpetuated as memes disseminated through culture and manifested as violence are interpreted as “evil,” and are part of our biological make-up.
It is a disturbing concept, that the capacity for evil might be programmed into our DNA.
But Bloom ends his book on a note of optimism.
“There is hope that we may someday free ourselves of savagery,” he writes. “To our species, evolution has given something new—the imagination. With that gift, we have dreamed of peace. Our task—perhaps the only one that will save us—is to turn what we have dreamed into reality.”
Because if evil showed its face in Boston, so did good. Television show host and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
The world saw the helpers. Locher said bystanders handed their phones to runners so they could call their families. Police officers, firefighters, doctors, even former National Football League players, rendered first aid and rushed victims to hospitals. So many volunteers went to donate their blood that the Eastern Massachusetts Red Cross had to turn them away.
Our behavior is a result of impulse, whim, or choice. We face daily the confrontation between right and wrong. Our own actions and our responses to others’ actions have the potential of tipping the balance one way or another.
It is the deliberate and purposeful choice we make for good and against evil that will ultimately save us from our own savagery.
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