Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thoughts on Evil 1

Thoughts on Evil 1

Philosophy is not so much a subject as a way of thinking. In short, it is a way or a method of engaging with life. It would appear, to the present writer at least, that such an engagement with life embraces not just the intellect, but also the capacity humankind has to wonder in a profound and spiritual way at the mystery life sets before him/her.

These thoughts, after a long enough absence from this virtual world of the WWW, are occasioned by my buying a wonderful book entitled Evil in Modern Thought: an Alternative History of Philosophy by Susan Neiman (Princeton University Press, 2002).

Another factor that added to my desire to make words behave about the subject of philosophy is the horrific slaughter of innocent students and professors at Virginia Tech - April 16, 2007, which will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of the Virginia Tech community when 32 persons (28 students and 4 professors) were gunned down by (see this link for a list of names Massacre ) the lone gunman Seung-Hui Cho – an alienated, bitter and deluded young man. The bloodbath ended with the gunman's suicide, bringing the death toll from two separate shootings—first at a dorm, then in a classroom building—to 33 and stamping the campus in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains with unspeakable tragedy. It has lately emerged that Seung-Hui Cho was a sullen loner who alarmed professors and classmates with his twisted, violence-drenched creative writing and left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids.

Given the instant communication available through the internet there are many sites and blogs that enquire into Cho’s motivation. These are all worth a perusal. There is even a rather good WIKI entry on this deluded mass murderer, see CHO

Then, the untimely death of one of our young students at school, Stephen Dowdall, R.I.P. more than helped to concentrate my mind if I may borrow a phrase from Dr. Samuel Johnston, he of Dictionary fame. I have written a poem by way of a personal response to his death in the post immediately prior to this one. My sixth years to whom I read the poem thought it was a little too cold a response. However, in my defense I told them that I had not taught the boy and did not really know him – hence the objectivity, and that the poem was a way I had of dealing with the death of a young pupil in our school. Were I to write a poem about someone I knew, or a poem for his mother it would indeed be a different, more personal and less objective one.

Then, the newspapers and broadcast media are replete with the latest massacres from Iraq – bloody murders almost on a daily basis killing innocents in huge numbers. Add to that the suicide of a young Irish family from Monageer County Wexford this last weekend when a couple in their late twenties took their own lives as well as those of their two young daughters. The young couple, named locally as Adrian and Ciara Dunne, were discovered dead with their children, Leanne, five, and Shania, three, after a priest who met the family on Friday raised serious concern.

Anyway, this random assortment of facts or at least the juxtaposition of them would tempt one to a philosophical exploration of the phenomenon of evil. Or if one were of depressive frame of mind make one despair.

Firstly, I think society in general and the news media in particular seem to be preoccupied with not alone what evil might be in itself, but more particularly with the motivation of doers of evil, especially if they happen to be mass murderers like Cho. We will probably never get to the bottom of this whole dreadfully unfortunate crime, but at least the question is worth asking and some form of answer worth pursuing.

Years ago, 1979 to be precise, I was a young third year student of 21 in a College of Education called Mater Dei here in Dublin city. While there I studied Theology, Philosophy, Education and English Literature. In 1979 I had to write a thesis on any subject within the areas of Theology and Philosophy. I chose to write my thesis on The Mystery of Evil. I had always been fascinated by the problem of evil and how one could square its reality with a god of Love. What put that subject in my mind then? Well, I suppose the motivating factor at the time was that while I was at school in 1972/3/4 I viewed a series of marvelous programmes called The World at War which was either a BBC or Channel Four Production, I have forgotten which. This series was accompanied by a book which I also bought. More than one programme alluded to The Final Solution (that dreadfully bland euphemism for the horrific genocide of the Jewish nation) and one in particular dealt with the Concentration Camps.

As a 21 year old man what glimpses of an answer to the Question of Evil did I come up with? Not much really, but I think I learnt a little from the books I read, but more from my lived experiences in dealing practically with the subject. Firstly, I grew to dislike the word “problem” because it had too close an association in my mind with mathematics which I would go on to study later in my student life. I began to prefer the word “mystery”, not in the sense of something that one should not talk about, or be scared or shy to talk about or as an excuse to avoid difficult answers. Mystery refers, to my mind at least, to a whole range of issues, associations and connotations; to a whole intricate web of complexities which confront the human being on a broad front on a very existential level while a problem denotes something that confronts us on an intellectual or cerebral level alone.

The picture I have uploaded above is that of the Irish Famine Monument, Boston. I took this picture while visiting my cousin Paul Brophy in March 2002.

To be continued.

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