Touching on the subject of evil

For days I’ve wanted to write on here but haven’t known where to pick up and begin. So much has been on my mind in recent times. Three days ago a young man killed his mother before walking into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of whom were young children, before allegedly turning his gun on himself. I’m told there was a shooting at a mall up in Oregon as well. A friend mentioned a shooting in Las Vegas also.

Tonight I came across the unbelievable story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a woman about my age who was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido back in 1991 when she was only 11 years old, holding her captive in their backyard for 18 years. During that time she birthed and raised two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido, a convicted sexual predator on parole who repeatedly managed to get away with this crime despite 60 visits to his residency over those years by parole officers.

What do all of these crimes, and so many others, share in common? They all point toward that which we call “evil.” Leaving aside for the time being any religious claims on the subject, how might we understand evil in the hearts of people and within our culture? How might we grapple with this concept in the 21st century?

That’s been a question on my mind for a long time now. I’ve read a good deal on the topic, and one author whose words and ideas have had a great influence on my thinking is the late psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. He is reported to have been an early member of the “Frankfurt School,” a loosely associated group of dissident neo-Marxist theorists involved in a unique interdisciplinary approach to social theory. I’ve read all of his books that I could get my hands on, including The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Man For Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics, Escape From Freedom, The Sane Society, Psychoanalysis and Religion, The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil, The Art of Loving, and The Art of Being. Going forward I intend to transcribe excerpts from his books to illuminate his teachings for others who may be interested.

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