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Radical evil: A reflection on the Orlando massacre

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropology professor | June 19, 2016

It’s Saturday night a week after a non-entity coolly took the lives of 49 carefree revelers — having a good time, hanging loose, drinking, singing, dancing to the pulse, flirting, romancing, teasing, playing. To have the weekend fiesta cut short by the rat-a-tat-tat of an assault rifle meant for mud-splattered soldiers in foxholes (bad enough there) in the hands of a preening, smirking nobody, holding hostages in a toilet stall – that has a name: radical evil. Immanuel Kant defined radical evil as a “depravity,” a “perversity of heart,” or just a bad heart.

Orlando’s Pulse was a sacred space, a nonpartisan, hand crafted, organic, hate-free zone where men and women of all stripes, genders, sexes and colors — but mostly brown, mostly male, mostly Latino, mostly Puerto Rican — could mingle and enjoy their leisure and pursue their desires, their own sweet paths to happiness. Their civil rights were shattered, their liberty was trumped by the hate talk of the “trumpers” and by the National Rifle Association.

We’ve failed as a mature democracy by allowing one amendment to trump all others. If all those Indians killed by Kit Carson and his ilk, if all those Black men lynched by white men in pointy white hats, if those four little girls in  Birmingham killed by old white men, if the pregnant and nursing mothers massacred by Captain Ernest Medina and Charlie Company at My Lai in Vietnamif the little tykes of Sandy Hook, if the multicolored caretakers of the disabled, murdered in San Bernadino, can’t turn us around, can these martyred Saturday night revelers and dancers melt the ice in our hearts?

The long history of massacres in America can teach us that most of these have been led by lone wolves, by vigilantes who take the law into their hands. Most shooters, death squad leaders, mass murders, exterminators have no ideology, no political theory, no spirituality. They are often retrograde, orthodox conservatives who fear change, who lack self-discipline, courage, and who suffer, if it may be called that, a perversity of heart.

Come Sunday, may the dead sleep and may we wake up and do what we can to undo the terrible impasse we are in and to recognize that unending wars abroad will come home to roost. The consequences have spilled over into our homes and private lives, our relationships with one another as citizens, our schools, mental asylums, and prisons, all of our attitudes and institutions.

We who have dedicated our lives to knowledge and learning must resist, in particular, the self-censorship that has prevented honest discussion of militarization and gun control, law-enforcement and incarceration policy, public surveillance, and the loss of privacy that we have inflicted on ourselves.

Comments to “Radical evil: A reflection on the Orlando massacre

  1. “for producing a movement to unite your intellectual colleagues around the world to overcome the failures of all of our political systems, failures that threaten our civilization more than ever before in history.”

    Let’s stop being politically correct and say what we mean. What you mean is that you thank them for their effort to brain wash our youth. For no longer teaching future generations critical thinking skills..but for teaching them “what” to think. Or they will be bullied, criticized, and shamed. I believe we could call that terrorism, if we were to be honest with ourselves.

  2. Well considering this professor made it onto a nutty conservative watch list with a blog post that was pretty spot-on, I’d say the NRA and Trump supporters have a lot more to do with it than I had previously thought.

    It wasn’t that long ago that a Trump supporter walked into a pizza joint, armed with an assault rifle, looking for Sasquatch-alien hybrids that helped fake the moon landing or some other utter nonsense.

    • I think we should blame the NRA for all the evils of the world..as a matter of fact, the recent terrorist attacks using vehicles as weapons of mass destruction can probably be blamed on the NRA as well. Thank God for professorwatchlist.org. Now I’ll know for sure where to not send my child next year. My child will not be subjected to the brainwashing of the far liberal left. And if you want to blame Trump and the rise of the alt right on anyone? I think that you might want to take a nice hard look into your liberal unicorn land mirror. You’ve lectured on the evils of being white for so long that it was bound to happen sooner or later. Keep preaching your hate, and watch the war that your itching for come probably sooner than you’d like. As a constitutional conservative, I’m disgusted by Trump and his following. They behave exactly like leftists. Nauseating.

      • I don’t ever remember my professors at Madison trying to brainwash me into radical left-wing thinking. it was my leftist liberal friends who were doing the brainwashing, or, as I like to think of it, challenging me to open my eyes.

  3. Prof. Scheper-Hughes, to your comment “We who have dedicated our lives to knowledge and learning must resist, in particular, the self-censorship that has prevented honest discussion…” I would add Jean Piaget’s conclusion that “The goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things” that we don’t seem to be accomplishing fast enough to survive out of control current events.

    And most recently Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s conclusion:

    “We think of education all too often as, a student walks into a classroom with an empty mind and then you pour stuff into the head, and now they’re educated,” he said. “And at no time are you actually trained how to think, how to analyze, how to process information, how to judge information.”

    Plus the far too many repeated lessons of history that we never seem to remember.

    So today, as a result of so many cultural failures like these, we are constantly reading and hearing daily news reports about seemingly point of no return class events like global warming and violence.

    Again, “Can we adapt in time?” Only social scientists can help us now.

    • CORRECTION: Only female social scientists can help us now.

      In this age where the Free Speech Movement, Equal Rights and Civil Rights continue to be devastated by politicians and academics one would think that we would finally learn to communicate.

      Because of brain limitations, males just keep proving that females are our only salvation. I hope.

      • oh yes, evil by default..due to the color of their skin at birth. I believe that Websters dictionary uses the word “racism” for that definition. And if you believe that militant feminism is what will “save us”, well I’ll be praying for you. Self loathing must be a tough thing to have to live with.

  4. Prof. Scheper-Hughes, excellent but most tragic reality check on the state of the human race today, especially since you hit upon one of the most important threats to our long-term future that we have today. You write: “We who have dedicated our lives to knowledge and learning must resist, in particular, the self-censorship that has prevented honest discussion…”

    In 2016 we seem to have reached far too many tipping points, including violence, inequalities, global warming, and many more that threaten to destroy any acceptable quality of life for our newest and all future generations. How can those of us from post-WWII generations have let this happen when we had far more opportunities, wealth, resources and education than any other in history!?

    I want to thank social scientists like you and Prof. Joyce for producing a movement to unite your intellectual colleagues around the world to overcome the failures of all of our political systems, failures that threaten our civilization more than ever before in history.

    Will and Ariel Durant warned us about this many decades ago (most recently in the 1960s) and we have since failed to act on their well documented lessons of history to the point where the challenges of change are almost out of our control today.

    Thank you.

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