Gang Rape

Some of my online readers don't believe in evil. And I respect that belief, though I can't comprehend it. It's idealistic (as am I). But I've seen too much to allow myself to keep believing that people function merely in ignorance, but not in true evil.

Police: As many as 20 present at gang rape outside school dance
"This just gets worse and worse the more you dig into it," Lt. Mark Gagan said. "It was like a horror movie after looking at the evidence. I can't believe not one person felt compelled to help her."

You can call it ignorance, but brutality and dehumanization at this level are troubling reminders that social and cultural evolution are often facades propped up by habit and fear rather than genuine progress ("progress..." ah, what is that?).

We have not progressed so much as we (I) would like to think. Third World atrocities mirror our own potential for darkness, rather than reflecting some obscure premodern "other." The wars of the 20th (and 21st) Century demonstrate our capacity to continually devolve in the midst of technogical improvement.

Does the news media play up this sort of exceptional behavior? Absolutely. But I'm concerned that it's "exceptional" only because of the power and complexity imbued into our contemporary social systems. Take away structure, and what sort animal are we?


Irritable said...

Pete, I'm curious -- what do you mean when you say some of your readership "don't believe in evil"?

Broken follower... said...

I'm curious of the same thing... It's amazing how some people can joke around about "gang banging" and how real and not funny it is... I just recently found out that a relative of mine was gang banged... absolutely de-humanizing, she lost a lot of self respect and is completely insecure and embarrassed. Couldn't tell her own blood what had happened... How is this not evil?

Peter said...

I have had a couple of visitors e-mail me to discuss the idea of evil and their belief in its non-existence. Not regular commentors here. I think it comes with a sort of "reality is an illusion" spiritual view.

As a follow up, I was listening to a discussion on NPR today that broadened my thoughts on this specific scenario. Someone said, "It's easy to classify these people as wicked or as monsters because it keeps them as other. You can't tell me that the 10 people that raped this girl, and the 20 that watched and cheered, just HAPPENED to be 30 particularly evil people inhabiting the same space in the same community at the same time. What's more challenging is to realize this is in all of us. The power of groupthink and diffusion of responsibility can't be underestimated..." That's nowhere NEAR a direct quotation, and I've probably inferred all sorts of things into what she actually said. But she argued that these people weren't monsters. They were people. And there is something in all people that is capable of this brutality.

I think it's still fair to call that "evil," but I think she was right: it's dangerous to consider a "special kind of evil" because that gets the rest of us off the hook...

Irritable said...

I guess I'm still fuzzy as to what you mean by someone not believing in evil.

What is it that they're not believing in to which you're offering a story of gang rape as a counterexample?

Irritable said...

To wit: I don't believe in Satan as a discrete supernatural entity. I don't believe in evil as some kind of ontological substance. I think the good/evil dichotomy, like any other binary, can be deconstructed.

But at the end of the day, I think it's necessary for us to denounce certain things as evil and praise other things as good, as part of our moral calculus.

What I don't know is where that aligns -- or doesn't -- with what your saying, because I'm not sure what it is that you're saying.

"Some of my friends don't believe in evil -- but this girl was gang-raped, folks." Um, okay. Can you unpack that?

Peter said...

Glad for the push Irritable, not sure I had a conclusion - sort of working things out and reflecting as I typed.

So, one individual doesn't believe in the existence of evil. What we see as the result of evil is merely a result of ignorance, which itself is rather benign. As you say, any of this talk of evil can be deconstructed.

I can't say I believe in Satan as a personified creature, but I do believe there is genuine evil in the universe. That beyond ignorance, laziness and fear, is a force that human beings can choose to align with and feed off of, or reject. True evil pleasures in suffering, celebrates pain and chaos, and is in direct, metaphysical opposition to what is good, benevolent, healthy, and so on.

Even that sort of evil, when manifested in humans, is probably due to ignorance and human limitation. But I still see it as something other. Something sadistic, delighting in darkness.

Trust me, I don't have a clearly-hammered out articulation of this. I just think there is a distinction. I honestly can't tell you what kind of evil this gang rape entailed. Ignorance and groupthink? Or something more sinister?

No, I don't have a conclusion by any stretch...

Peter said...

Doesn't Hindu thought reject categories of good and evil? That's the sort of worldview I was referencing.

Irritable said...

In some kinds of Hindu and Buddhist thought both, "good" and "evil" are just the names we give to things. But even here you'll still find a moral rubric of some kind.

I'm less inclined to see good and evil in starkly metaphysical terms, as though they have ontological substance in and of themselves, but I certainly recognize that we sometimes seem to be at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves, that systems and structures can elicit behaviors and outcomes that those systems and structures cannot contain.

Peter said...

Systems and structures. "Principalities and powers."

Good talking through this, Irritable.

Irritable said...

Thanks, Pete -- and I had "principalities and powers" in mind when I wrote that.

Peter said...

I figured. I had to baptize it in Jesus-y language though ;)

Brent said...

Pete said, "I honestly can't tell you what kind of evil this gang rape entailed. Ignorance and groupthink? Or something more sinister?" All the actions and in-actions involved in this disgusting brutality seem to work in a feeding of more than one undefined evil.

Can you expand on what this one person means by ignorance as a genesis of brutality like this?

What do you exactly mean by deconstructed? post-structuralism? and what benefits do you find in doing that?

Irritable said...

Brent -- yes, that's pretty much what I mean, though I'd encourage you not to disregard the sentence after that.

The concepts of good and evil do not need to be grounded in absolute values to be functional for us. They certainly don't need to have ontological substance in and of themselves.

Deconstructing the good/evil dichotomy might not have much usefulness at all -- but recognizing that it can be deconstructed might encourage us to take responsibility for our moral deliberations.

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