The Excruciating Banality of Evil

Amid the wreckage of the Boston Marathon we don’t know who unleashed the bombs, nor do we know why.  However, there’s one element of which we can be reasonably sure:  No matter the self-referential and self-justifying rationale in the fevered imagination of the bomber, we can be certain that the ultimate motive was purely banal.  We’ve seen this before.

We saw it when high school dropout Eric Rudolph, who only lasted 18 months in the U.S. Army, bombed clinics providing abortions, targeted gay night clubs, and set a bomb in the park at the Atlanta Olympics, imagined himself a Survivalist, a “champion” of anti-government enthusiasts.  Whatever he might have imagined about his life, the truth was more sordid — a youngster indoctrinated by a mother with  fervid — if not downright paranoid — delusions who was unable to hold a job and unable to function in the political, economic, or social life of modern America.  His dysfunctionality, banal though it may be, cost lives of perfectly functional people.

We saw it when Timothy McVeigh, who set his heart on being a member of a U.S. Army elite force and couldn’t make the grade, determined to attack the “government” which had rejected him and caused the deaths of 168 people in Oklahoma City.

We saw it when Faisal Shahzad, a financial analyst, went into a tailspin in 2009 which ultimately led to defaulting on his mortgage and being sued by his bank, the home going into foreclosure in September 2009.  On May 1, 2010 two street vendors in Manhattan foiled his feeble car bomb attempt in Times Square.  Once again, a failed human being determined to foist his failure on others.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but behind every self-serving rationalization for perpetrating pure evil there is usually a failed human life determined to reap vengeance, get attention, or secure revenge on others whose lives are mundane but functional, average but admirable.

When law enforcement officers finally discover who was responsible for the carnage on Boylston Street there will be, no doubt, a rambling rationalization citing Great and Significant  motivations for the miserable event.   Here’s my speculation: The Great and Significant motives will devolve into the results of the mundane banality of a failed life.

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