In the hours and days after an incident of horrific violence—whether it be a coordinated terror attack or a “lone wolf” style terror incident like the one in Las Vegas that is now the deadliest mass shooting in American history—there is a natural human reaction to wonder why.
Article continues below the audio version of Dan's essay.
Most human beings simply cannot fathom the reason that someone would barricade himself in a hotel room and fire indiscriminately on a concert below, killing at least 58 people and injuring at least 500 more. Violence on that scale, committed by one man, is almost beyond the realm of rational comprehension.
Rational minds, then, search for meaning, search for motive, search for something, anything that would explain the inexplicable. It is why the media and its audience alike obsess over the perpetrator, scouring his background and social media footprint for clues as to what either set him off or inspired his evil.
What rational minds can’t often comprehend, though, is that evil is its own inspiration. Evil is the reason. Evil is the motivation. There is nothing deeper, nothing more meaningful than that. In a broader sense, however, evil is the deepest meaning behind horrendous violence. It lives in the blackened soul of one who could commit horrendous violence.
Evil is the reason that a man would fire on innocent concertgoers. Evil is the reason a man would join in a plot to commit a more organized terror attack. It is often difficult for good people to believe (and even more difficult to accept) that there is true evil in the world; that some of our fellow human beings simply want to kill, want to hurt, want to inspire terror in the rest of us, but it’s true. Evil drives them, evil motivates them, and a desire to be known and remembered as an embodiment of ultimate evil is their ultimate aim.
Almost invariably losers in life, they yearn for death—and in it a sort of immortality that comes with being remembered as one of history’s greatest monsters. They could never be heroes in life, so in death (or in the death they bring), they are content to be villains. And the rest of humanity unwittingly plays into this delusion of grandeur, speaking of these villains in hushed tones—a sort of reverent fear: Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. James Holmes. Adam Lanza. Dylann Roof.
And now Stephen Paddock. Humanity will unfortunately remember his name, not because he deserves it, but because his evil was so dark, the way it manifested itself so massive. In a perverse irony, we can’t seem to stop speaking the name of unspeakable evil.
We want to understand it, and understandably we want to know what makes it tick so that somehow we can deconstruct it and stop it. Really, though, there’s nothing to deconstruct. The only way to stop it is to recognize it for what it is: evil itself. We can attempt to classify it as terrorism, mental illness, even victimhood after a lifetime of bullying, but evil is always there in its heart, guiding its actions, offering the dual temptations of getting even with an unjust world and gaining immortality through extreme violence.
This is the reason. Nothing more, nothing less. Whether it be a coordinated terror attack or a “lone wolf” style terror incident, this is always what evil seeks: To strike back at a world that it feels has wronged it and to be remembered forever as the force that struck the greatest blow.
That is the motivation, and the motivation is evil. Evil is the reason, evil is the why that the rest of humanity demands to know, but can’t always accept. This is why we search not for deeper meaning but instead settle on the superficial: A bad personal life, a political cause, easy access to guns. Yet personal lives are never perfect, politics are always acrimonious, and guns are mere tools of evil (just as they can be tools of good in the hands of those who rush in to stop evil whenever it strikes).
On a deeper level, we too are tools of evil if we spend our time denying it and, instead of confronting it, devolve into partisan bickering over what amount to trivialities. That's precisely what evil wants: Good people fighting one another instead of uniting against a common enemy.
That enemy is evil--whether it lies in the heart of a terrorist network or a sad, lonely killer in Las Vegas--and the only way it can ever really be stopped is if good starts recognizing it for what it is.