Another student, another school, another state, but the same tragic results. This time the student is Kipland Kinkel. The school is Thurston High in Springfield, Oregon. Two students and two parents are dead, and 22 students are wounded.
Again, we know what happened and where it happened but fail at knowing why it happened. Will we ever? Perhaps not. For one thing, given the general inability of adults, much less children, to articulate their inner lives, we are left with TV images of the uncomprehending and bewildered faces of the families and authorities, the impassive face of the killer, and the guesses of the psychologists.
I find that an even bigger obstacle to understanding is the absence of any acceptable language to talk about--"evil," for language is the way we label and understand the world of which we are a part.
When the Devil was real, Kip's action could be understood. People knew where to lay blame for such evil. But, the Devil got dismissed and then trivialized by the flippant, "The Devil made me do it." Now, bereft of the reality to which that word points, we seek other means to comprehend such incomprehensible acts.
Adding to our difficulty is our oft-repeated belief that humans are, by nature, basically good. How can a 'good' person be capable of such evil acts? We, too, seek an answer from outside ourselves. If not a Devil then a dysfunctional family, drug-impairment, genetic imbalance, or association with the wrong people. However, our psychological and sociological explanations turn thin when we look at the recent wave of school shootings.
Perhaps we never will fully understand why one child in a family will take a more destructive path than her or his brothers and sisters. Perhaps we never will totally understand why one perfect, but quiet, neighbor will kill while another perfect, but quiet, neighbor does not. Perhaps at the root of human evil there is irrationality that the ancients tried to comprehend by a Devil, and which we, without a Devil, seek in psychological, sociological and medical explanations.
In the heyday of radio, one program's opening
line was: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
The Shadow knows." I wish the Shadow were around today.
--Robert H. Tucker
8 June 1998