More on free will: who’s responsible when bad things happen?

I’ve been thinking about good and evil lately. Unfortunately, people probably think more about evil these days; at least, our daily newspaper and other news sources certainly do.

In “Free will, whose will? Some theological questions for the day” (March 13), I wondered whether exercise of human free will for evil showed the “sleep of reason” (Goya’s phrase) or the “sleep of God” (as envisaged by pope emeritus Benedict). I could, actually, settle for “the sleep of good” as an explanation, as cold is not an entity in itself but the reduction or absence of heat.

Lisa Longo’s post “Guilty” (March 17), on the recent rape case judgment in Ohio, has some interesting observations, starting

Some religions claim we are all born with “original sin” staining our soul. There are days I agree with the sentiment but not for the same sanctimonious reason most religions give. I have my own theory….

The post goes through expressing sympathy for the victim, her parents, and the perpetrators’ parents and family. Then:

But for the two boys, I have no sympathy.

Even as I write those words, I realize they are not absolutely true. My heart breaks for them too. They ruined their lives, and for what? Why? By what standard did they think that what they did was okay?…

Lisa is sort of taking us through the stages of denial of evil: How could something so bad happen? How did people get so evil? Wait, do we all have something to do with it?

She goes on:

…I think we are all guilty. This is our world, we made it. We created it in our image. And so, we are all guilty of allowing our society to rape, torture, murder and we look away and pretend it is not happening….

Then, after considerations on guns, violent videos, and political invasion of privacy, she ends:

…I reject the theory that we have to accept original sin, bad behavior, violent video games or vaginal probes. This is our world, now let’s protect it.

I agree. This is probably in part a political thing: progressives look for a social cause and a solution; conservatives may tend more to lock more “evil” people up for a long, long time.

As it happens, as I was drafting this blog, an NPR report “Off The Battlefield, Military Women Face Risks From Male Troops” was on Morning Edition:

Dora Hernandez gave a decade of her life to the U.S. Navy and the Army National Guard, but some of the dangers surprised her.

“The worst thing for me is that you don’t have to worry about the enemy, you have to worry about your own soldiers,” she says….

According to the Pentagon’s own research, more than 1 in 4 women who join the military will be sexually assaulted during her career….

The “command’s attitude toward rape” is why most victims don’t report. They see a chain of command and a military justice system that almost never gets justice for victims, while often allowing perpetrators to stay in the service.

When institutions are accused of pervasive wrong-doing, they usually start out–the first phase of their denial, and where they usually end up too–with the “few bad apples” defense. That phase can go on for a long time; just think of Wall Street, which has been at that stage for about a century. And how long has our society as a whole been at that phase?

The March 19 Daily Local News supplied two more cases in point.

“Police: Fla. student planned attack (read this AP story here) quotes the university police chief:

“It could have been a very bad day here for everybody. All things considered, I think we were very blessed here,” Beary said. “Anybody armed with this type of weapon and ammunition could have hurt a lot of people here, particularly in a crowded area as people were evacuating….”

Seevakumaran had attended the university from 2010 through the fall semester as a business student. His roommates told detectives that he had shown antisocial behavior but had never shown any violent tendencies, Beary said.

If one is looking for blessings, might one choose to arrange society so that people are not “armed with this type of weapon and ammunition”? And so that students with “antisocial behavior” might get more institutional attention than this one seems to have?

And then we have another AP story, “Ohio crash cautionary tale for families with teens“:

There were lies told to parents, a car with five seats carrying eight teens, and an unlicensed driver. The car was speeding. No seat belts were used.

Two teens who escaped a crash that killed six friends in a swampy pond wriggled out of the wreckage by smashing a rear window and swimming away from the SUV, a state trooper said.

If parents of teenagers need a real-life cautionary tale to sum up all their warnings and fears, surely the crash of a stolen car in Warren, Ohio, that killed six teenagers is it….

As the article goes on to make clear, this sort of tragedy is all too common. It is hard to blame only that driver, those passengers, their parents, the car owner, or a few bad apples.

Actually, I don’t think either story has bad apples in it, or totally bad people. Those responsible needed treatment, or guidance, or a society that sets a better context for them to grow up in. Now it’s too late. It’s not too late for potential rapists in the military either, or for their future victims to be spared from that crime against them. But it will be too late if society and the military don’t change.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data (for 2010):

All homicides

* Number of deaths: 16,259
* Deaths per 100,000 population: 5.3

Firearm homicides

* Number of deaths: 11,078
* Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.6

There are almost twice times as many deaths from guns in the US as from gun homicides alone, according to “annual deaths resulting from firearms total” in 2011: 32,165.

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, in 2010 road accidents killed 32,885 (including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others).

So that’s easy to remember: about as many traffic deaths as gun deaths (to say nothing of injuries, pain and suffering, mental anguish, recovery periods, and medical bills).

All these deaths were not caused by a few bad actors, or by random individuals exercising their own free will: we have a societal problem here.

Let’s look at the world data:

In deaths by gun, the US is 11th highest in the world with 10.2 deaths per 100,000 population, according to “List of countries by firearm-related death rate” in Wikipedia (figures are from different years and for only 75 countries, though). The US is not highest, but it’s not very comforting when you look at the countries above us in the ranking (9 in Latin America, 2 in Africa).

In deaths on the roads, the US does much better, with 12.3 fatalities per 100,000 miles driven, placing about 2/3 of the way down the list in “List of countries by traffic-related death rate” (also Wikipedia), though most developed countries rank better than we do.

I think you’d have to conclude if we as a society are going to tackle one of these two problems, by world standards we should concentrate on deaths by guns.

Will we?


About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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1 Response to More on free will: who’s responsible when bad things happen?

  1. Pingback: More on free will: who’s responsible when bad things happen? | progressivenetwork

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