Less than an hour into July 20, a young man named James Holmes walked through an emergency exit at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colo., and began shooting at hundreds of people, killing 12 and injuring around 70. Some of his victims were small children, teenagers, and many were adults. Upon capture, the 24-year-old gunman told authorities he was The Joker. Yes. That Joker. The one from the Batman movies. It’s as if he were planning his insanity defense already. He spit on guards. He casually inquired about the ending of the movie he barged in on, as if he were sitting in a Starbucks. His actions are indefensible. His intentions incomprehensible. The only word to use: Evil.
Evil is an underused word. It strikes some people the wrong way. They don’t want to believe in it because, if they do, then they won’t be able to use social factors to explain away the actions.
Holmes was a lucky man who was raised by decent people in an affluent area of San Diego, went to good schools, attended a Lutheran church, attended prestigious science camps, and received $26,000 in grant money. All the contributing factors we throw on evil people, like poverty and environment, get tossed out when trying to explain Holmes’ massacre. Holmes had no reason to be angry and want to take it out on a large undeserving crowd, unless you believe in true, unexplainable evil. It’s the kind of evil that, ironically, The Dark Knight dissected through the character of The Joker. While Bruce Wayne/Batman was trying to understand his new nemesis, The Joker, Alfred had this advice to give the Caped Crusader.
Bruce Wayne: Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he’s after.
Alfred: With respect, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that you don’t fully understand either. … Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
James Holmes doesn’t “fit” with any of the societal ills to which we attribute such outbursts. Instead, he has defied political logic. We like to think money and education will “fix” people, but deep down we know they won’t. Rich people still steal, and many poor people are saints. The difference between Bernie Madoff and a street thug is that one uses his brain and the other a gun. Educated people do acts of evil, and the uneducated raise fine families in suburban neighborhoods.
We live in an age of evil. We always have and we always will. There are evil governments now (North Korea, Iran, etc.) and there were evil ones before (Nero’s Rome, ancient pagan cultures, etc). Evil has been with us as well. You can’t explain evil away. We cannot wipe evil off the planet through a social program or finances. We must fight evil with goodness, justice and, most importantly — punishment.
Sadly, Holmes’ act of depravity has created the wrong kind of conversation. People are calling for more gun laws and lawsuits. Cable news politicized the story before anything was said. Words like Tea Party were thrown out by ABC News anchor Brian Ross before substantial evidence could stabilize the story. There is already a lawsuit against Warner Brothers by a Century 16 Theater patron/survivor for just making the movie. In his lawyer’s words, “Somebody has to be responsible for the rampant violence that is shown today.” Yes, sir — the killer, not the entertainers.
We are terrified of dealing with evil, and instead choose to blame everything else but the evil person who acted.
The conversation has become one about the cause of actions and not the punishment. What we should be discussing is, how can we show our values through punishment? If the death penalty was ever needed to display our disgust in the actions of one, this would be it. If the state refuses to use the death penalty on Holmes, then it should just be taken off the list of potential punishments.
Holmes is not a man with a sickness to treat or eliminate. It’s more like the world has a sickness to eliminate, and it’s James Holmes.