Perspectives: The monsters that should scare us the most

Monster | Image by frentusha/iStock/Getty Images Plus; St. George News

OPINION – Years ago, I watched a TV documentary on the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office. During the program, one of the deputy coroners was asked what he had learned during his years on the job.

After a brief pause, his answer was, “I’ve learned a lot about mankind’s capacity to be cruel to one another.”

That answer has been echoing in my mind as the news headlines proclaim yet another monstrous act of inhumanity in France taking scores of innocent lives last week.

Fear mongers around the globe were quick to seize upon the perpetrator’s Muslim-sounding name as proof that Islamic terrorism was to blame. This also gave them an opportunity to agitate for further antagonism toward all Muslims.

However, as veteran foreign correspondent Eric Margolis reported, there was more to this story.

Margolis described the assailant as a “demented 31-year-old man of Tunisian origin, Mohammed Bouhel, who had just lost his job and then his family through divorce.”

Suddenly, an event that had Fox News calling for a “world war” against Muslims began to look less like a calculated ISIS terror attack and more like a horrific crime of desperation and opportunity.

As Margolis explained:

But after all the bombast and hot air,  it turned out that the crime in Nice was the product of a domestic crisis and one man’s suicidal impulses, rather like the three pilots who dove their aircraft into the ocean.

While pundits and political opportunists look for ways to spin such atrocities in favor of their chosen ideology, there’s something the rest of us could learn from it as well.

When someone commits an act of terrible inhumanity, we tend to comfort ourselves through assurances that the murderer must have been psychotic or otherwise mentally ill.

This reflects a desire to believe that a normal person could never behave so inhumanely. But the pages of history are filled with examples of ghastly atrocities carried out by “normal” folks who were simply performing their duties.

Those who actually murdered people by the millions most often did so as a matter of carrying out some sort of official public policy enacted by someone in authority over them.

American journalist Joseph Sobran once observed:

Notice that the rulers we call “monsters” and “psychopaths” are able to rely on countless “normal” people to execute their directives. That is what should shock us perpetually. It should shock us into examining our own souls. It’s also the best reason for limiting the state.

Viewed in this light, murderous acts should cause us to consider what might release the latent monster in each of us. This is not to suggest that we’re all a bunch of ticking time bombs waiting to go off but rather that we’re all perfectly capable of exhibiting a lack of humanity.

Sometimes that inhumanity takes the form of conscious indifference toward the suffering or official abuse of others. How far removed from the individuals who cause unnecessary death and destruction are those bystanders who behave as if nothing has happened since it isn’t happening to them?

None of us wants to believe that we could ever do truly monstrous things.

However, we’re often quite comfortable with acting like lesser monsters when we’re clothed in some form of authority. Just look at how poorly people tend to treat one another when they have a petty bureaucratic advantage over someone.

The truth is, our moral compasses need regular calibration to keep us on course.

There’s nothing weak or wrong with regular examination of our own hearts. It takes courage to evaluate what tempts us and to make corrections when necessary.

That courage is what gives us the strength to keep our monsters in check. It also allows us to learn from others.

Whether we’re confronted with the monstrous acts of a dictator or an individual murderer, there are lessons for us.

Joseph Sobran advised:

I try to imagine their temptations, not to exculpate them, but to implicate myself. Part of the greatness of Macbeth lies in the way it shows terrible crimes from the inside, without in the least excusing them.

One of the side benefits of actively keeping our own monsters in check is that we become more aware of opportunities to lift and comfort those around us. It also serves to keep our fears in check.

It’s easier than it sounds, as evidenced by the example of a woman who chose not to remain indifferent toward a distressed fellow traveler, resolving her confusion created by a language barrier, translating flight delays and then connecting with her in an airport terminal. The traveler in turn shared cookies. Differences among those there dissipated.

People doing kind things for one another can be infectious. Sometime, when sitting at the drive-thru, pay for the car behind you and see what happens.

Often, a small act of anonymous good will carry on for a dozen or more vehicles whose occupants happily do the same for those behind them.

We all need these reminders occasionally, lest the headlines convince us that the monsters are winning.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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13 Comments

  • Brian July 18, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Wait, are you saying his connection to radical islam was entirely coincidental and this would have been the outcome even if he wasn’t muslim and hadn’t been researching radical islam and ISIS? Sorry, that’s ludicrous.

    I agree people (and especially the media) very frequently twist things to fit their agenda, but to say the atrocity in Nice had nothing to do with radical islam is ridiculous.

    His crappy situation may have been the trigger that caused him to do ~something~ to end his life, but his recent foray into radical islam certainly affected ~what~ he did (mass killings) and ~when~ he did it (Bastille Day, against a country he viewed as anti-muslim). Without radical islam he would likely just have been a suicide, murder-suicide, or suicide-by-cop, but not the actual outcome: terrorism and mass murder.

    We can agree on the importance of kindness and service, but we’ll have to disagree on Nice.

    And you totally misquote Fox News and Flynn, who were in no way calling for a “world war” against muslims, but simply stating this IS a world war, just one that is entirely different from the first two. Those are very different. #Shameful

    • Henry July 18, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Brian – thank you for your lucid, incisive analysis. Great job!

      Bryan Hyde – you damaged the credibility of your argument by citing Canadian writer Eric Margolis. Margolis is a well-known 9/11 conspiracy theorist who is anti-Western and anti-Semitic. He wrote a 2009 essay titled, “Don’t Blame Hitler Alone for World War II”. Margolis was released in 2010 from being a Contributing Editor to the Toronto Sun newspaper syndicate after 27 years.

      • Bob July 18, 2016 at 5:40 pm

        last i checked anything and everything that criticizes (((the chosen ones))) in even the smallest way is an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”.

        • Bob July 18, 2016 at 5:41 pm

          one of the perks of owning essentially all of the mass media in this country i suppose…

        • Bob July 18, 2016 at 5:46 pm

          kinda like any politician who criticizes israel has their career prospects in politics basically ended overnight…

          • Bob July 18, 2016 at 5:46 pm

            now that’s real power, folks

          • Henry July 19, 2016 at 2:50 pm

            Bob – You’re Mr. Dependable. Upon seeing any comment that contains the term “anti-Semitic”, you always: 1) begin writhing and convulsing, and 2) blurt back a response without doing any research.

            In addition to the previously cited Hitler article, here are some more claims from Eric Margolis:

            – 1998. “Israeli scientists are attempting to engineer deadly micro-organisms that only attack DNA within the cells of victims with distinctive Arab genes”.

            – 2005. “An untraceable toxin” was used by Israel to poison Yassir Arafat.

            – 2009. Israel’s military operation against Hamas is “its Final Solution campaign” and Gaza is “a concentration camp”.

            – 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is “a middle of the road, moderate, sort of old fashioned, your grandfather’s party, in no way militant, as it’s mis-portrayed in the West”.

            – 2011. 9/11 was “staged by Israel’s Mossad and a cabal of right-wing U.S. Air Force generals”.

            Congrats Bob, this guy makes even you look like a card carrying member of the B’nai B’rith. : )

  • dogmatic July 18, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I think this article is short sided.
    Common sense tells me that most jehadist are destitute with suicidal tendencies, they find peace in their religious leaders that comfort them in the prospect of a glorious after life.
    Many find religion in the trenches of war some open the bibles. others scream all ahi Akbar.
    The man of Tunisian origin, Mohammed Bouhel did find religion in the end.
    We are living in dangerous times. We need to be vigilant.
    Fox News are fear mongers to the stupid.

  • Bob July 18, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    years ago i took a college course and met some young muslim immigrant men from north africa. One thing that sticks in my mind is how angry these young men were. You could tell they had a deep resentment for western culture. Islam will never be able to coexist in peace with western culture, and the truck terrorist was doing the killings in the name of Islam and should never have been let into france. What Hyde is blabbing on about here is just ultra-liberal nonsense.

    • .... July 18, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Oh no there he goes again blaming everybody for everything and pretending to be Dr Phil

    • .... July 18, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      The only thing you ever did in college was mow the lawns and mop the floors LOL !

      • Real Life July 19, 2016 at 10:37 am

        The way you write, I would be amazed if you made it past second grade.

  • Jim July 18, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    As James Allen (As A Man Thinketh) observed, we don’t suddenly go rob a store or shoot somebody. That thought already was there and had been growing, probably for years, or for decades. The majority of people don’t suddenly shoot their relatives or rob stores when they have a dispute or even a life-changing crisis.

    They move on.

    If the guy was steeped in a religion that uses force and violence to submit people then perhaps he justified that to himself as being right. We see more and more of that happening in that case and it’s not all a coincidence.

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