Thursday, November 18, 2010

Give the devil his due

The devil don’t get no respect these days, or so it seems --- and saying that doesn’t mean I’m about to head down a treacherous path into theology. Just saying that there’s a lot of truth in the old, old and almost universal concept that each of us is positioned here on a divide between pure evil at the extreme on one side, absolute grace on the other, pure darkness and pure light, and that forces we don’t understand and have trouble explaining always are pulling in both directions. All religions, lesser and great, struggle with this. Even those who maintain they’re not at all religious do, too.

I’m thinking about the smiling young man here, from what seems to be a “good” home in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park --- Michael Swanson, 17 --- who on Sunday stole his mother’s debit card and vehicle, drove north to the family cabin and helped himself to a rifle and then drove south again into Iowa. Monday night he walked into an Algona convenience store, robbed it, then killed without provocation the attendant, a 47-year-old mother of 11. After that, he drove 30 miles south to Humboldt and repeated the process, killing the 61-year-old farm wife attendant.

About all we know so far, based upon media reports, is that the little guy with the big smile has a history in his hometown of sociopathic behavior stretching back to age 9, but apparently no easily definable and treatable mental illness to explain it.

Sociopathic behavior can be defined as extreme disregard for the rights, feelings, personal space and even the lives of other --- profound self-absorption. The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School involving young men of similar age is another more deadly example of sociopathy.

So for that matter, on what so far has been a less deadly level, are the poster children of irrational behavior --- Fred Phelps and his merry band from Wichita, moving around the country and for inexplicable reasons focusing on military funerals. Their behavior has nothing to do with faith or morality, and perhaps never did --- it’s pure self-absorbed sociopathic behavior. The devil at play, if you like.

The recent pre-midterm election campaigns involved a good deal of sociopathic behavior on both sides of the partisan fence, nearly all involving words. Talk radio is full of it. Read the “comments” attached to media stories about hot-button issues and you’ll see, shielded by anonymity, sociopathy in full flower. Web blogs are full of it, too.
It’s tempting, sitting comfortably at home behind a computer screen in little danger of being confronted face-to-face by your targets, to pull out a 300 Winchester, load it with words and fire away.

The difficulty here is the sociopathy can’t be legislated, talked or preached away and there seem to be no over-the-counter drugs available to deal with it. Perhaps it’s time to give the devil his due again, acknowledge what’s going on inside our own heads and move one-by-one toward the light. At least that would be a start.

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