Friday, January 6, 2017

Unable to Call it Evil

By now the news of the kidnapping and torture of a mentally-challenged white man by four blacks has been widely disseminated, and most people of good will, black and white, are sickened by what these people did to this man. Even so, there's one aspect of the reaction to the video of their despicable crime that bears more commentary than it's been getting. CNN's Don Lemon's remarks afford us an illustration of a serious problem in our society.

Here's a report from The Blaze on Lemon's on-air commentary:
In the wake of the horrific torture of a white man with special needs by four black suspects — which was live-streamed on Facebook — a panelist on Don Lemon’s CNN show called the act “evil.”

“You just try to wrap your head around evil,” Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller told Lemon on Wednesday night. “That’s what this is. It’s evil. It’s brutality. It’s man’s inhumanity to man.”

But Lemon took issue with that assessment.

“I don’t think it’s evil. I don’t think it’s evil,” Lemon responded. “I think these are young people, and I think they have bad home training.” The host continued:

And I say, “Who’s raising these young people?” I have no idea who’s raising these young people, because no one I know on earth who is 17 years old or 70 years old would ever think of treating another person like that. It is inhumane. And you wonder, at 18 years old, where’s your parent? Where’s your guardian?
Perhaps a more pointed question is, where are their fathers? But that's a question for another day.

In fairness to Lemon he may still be hung over from those New Year's Eve tequilas he imbibed on national television and isn't thinking clearly, but more likely he has, perhaps unconsciously, bought into the postmodern denial of moral categories like "evil," with all the disagreeable religious overtones that attach to it.

Whatever the case, he has inadvertently called our attention to something important. In a secular society the word "evil" is vacuous because unless there is a transcendent moral authority, a God, there simply is no evil. Nor is there any genuine moral content, any right or wrong, attaching to any act. There are only behaviors some people don't like and some behaviors that people really don't like. What's wrong with what was done to the young man by his kidnappers is merely that people find it repulsive. To call it evil is to suggest that it is so reprehensible that it violates some transcendent moral law that's woven into the very fabric of the universe, but if there is no transcendent Weaver of such laws then it's nonsense to affirm their existence.

Thus, one important implication of the increasing obsolescence of the concept of evil in our secular society is that, if we strip away our emotional disgust at what those two men and two women did, we have to admit that there's really nothing objectively wrong with it.

As Andrew Klavan put it in a recent Wall Street Journal column. "If a person is just a chemistry set crossed with a computer then morals are empty." Thus, Mr. Lemon's inability to recognize evil, to try to squeeze the savagery of these four young people into some other category of explanation, is completely understandable in a culture that has swept religion from the public square. Unfortunately, he leaves himself with no vocabulary with which to condemn this heinous cruelty.

We can have a thoroughly secular society or we can still believe there's good and evil, but we can't do both, at least not consistently. The cost of yielding the latter in order to embrace the former is, however, very high. A society that cannot make moral judgments, that cannot call evil by its name, is a society in which behaviors such as the Chicago atrocity will become increasingly common.

The 18th century essayist Alexander Pope once wrote that,
Evil is a monster of such frightful mein,
that to be hated needs but to be seen.
But seen too oft, familiar with her face,
first we endure, then we pity, then we embrace.
For my part I don't want to endure, pity, or embrace acts of barbarous cruelty. I want to say that what these four did to that young man was racist, horrific, and evil. Just as what Dylann Roof did in that Charleston church was racist, horrific, and evil. The only significant difference is that Roof's murders were even more evil than what the four Chicago criminals did.