One of my coworkers is very superstitious and she often blames sinister, supernatural, forces for the "evils" of the world. She is one of the individuals who believes that the building is haunted (I have discussed that in an earlier post) and she insists on playing awful religious music to drive the otherworldly presence away from her. I suspect that it would work if there is such a thing as a ghost. This is not because I believe that the music has any divine power, of course. It is simply super annoying and I can't imagine that a disembodied spirit would want to stick around to listen to it. However, she is a very nice lady, aside from her strange beliefs, and we occasionally chat while we work.
My coworker and I are on good terms and I enjoy speaking with her but I have noticed something in her worldview that seems to be very common among some people. She and I were talking about the incidents of kids being fed razor blades or poison in their Halloween candy. I mentioned that I had done some light research on the subject and found that the majority of such cases had been perpetrated by a relative of the child and not some random person. "That's terrible, they must have been Satanically influenced," she said. "Or something," I replied, before changing the subject. I did not want to argue with her beliefs but I find that sort of explanation for the atrocious actions of humanity to be worrisome. It is very easy to blame some diabolical external force like "demons" or nebulous philosophical concepts like "evil" for the horrific crimes that our fellow humans have committed but it is also simplistic, highly flawed, and almost undeniably incorrect. Despite the problems with this sort of scapegoating, it is persistent and, sadly, it seems to both ignore human nature and encourages ineffective action (or inaction) against real, complex, potentially dangerous problems.
It doesn't have to be Satan and Evil that gets the blame for people's destructive behavior. This scapegoat mentality simply requires some outside, supposedly "corrupting" force to misguidedly point the finger at in an attempt to explain the internal capacity of humanity to commit atrocity. It is difficult to pin down the cause of our ability engage in incredibly destructive behaviors and some explanations can be hard to accept so people find something easier to blame instead. Video games, literal (and probably imaginary) demons, music, various ideologies, drugs, "mental health," and other such "devils" take the heat for actions that they did not directly cause and, often, had nothing to do with because blaming them is simpler than addressing the complex causes of problems like mass violence, malicious sadism, and publicly supported acts of genocide.
Saying that "the devil made them do it" ignores our natural capacity for horrific activity. I believe that this is the source of the popularity of this particular sort of scapegoating. When we refuse to acknowledge that we all possess the ability to engage in highly destructive behavior, we needn't face that dark part of ourselves. However, not looking at a thing does not mean that it isn't there. We have seen regular, generally "good" men commit atrocities in war, seemingly stable mothers have drowned their children, outwardly gentle kids and teens have murdered their classmates. We call them evil and point to some easy cause such as supernatural influences like a literal "devil," imprecise philosophical concepts like evil, or even an "immoral" form of entertainment like violent media but our understanding of and ability to prevent such actions remains unchanged. People are rarely born as monsters and no one thing causes their transformation. This means that we are all susceptible to the same processes that affected them. That may be an ugly and complicated truth but it is one that we must recognize it if want to reduce the horror that occurs in the world.
When we point to "devils" in order to explain people's atrocious behavior, we put ourselves at risk of experiencing more atrocious behavior. When we trick ourselves into believing the "Devil made them do it," we either take ineffective action or take no action at all. Some people have suggested that we must ban violent video games to stop mass shootings. That might make some people feel better but it would do nothing because it does not address any real cause of the violence. We would be left with the same risk as before but would also have acquired a false sense of security which actually increases the danger that we my face.
People are complex creatures and we do things for murky reasons. If we are to understand our behavior and prevent the damage that it may cause, we must look beyond simple answers and face the darkness in ourselves. That requires effort and it is not fun but I believe that it would be far more effective than pointing the finger at the obvious and often innocent "devils" around us.
All the images in this post are sourced from the free image website, unsplash.com.