When that man killed so many people in Las Vegas recently, I heard for many days that there was no apparent motive for his highly efficient rampage. It seemed to cause a great deal of anxiety for reporters and, therefore, for their listeners. Why did he do this? The search for clues went on and on . . . it was very frustrating.
I thought of Edward Edinger’s comments on the psychological need to “pin down evil.” In The Mysterium Lectures: A Journey through C. G. Jung’s “Mysterium Coniunctionis” (Inner City Books), he writes:
The young ego can tolerate very little experience of its own badness without succumbing to demoralization. And since there are a lot more young egos around than there are old egos, this accounts for the universal phenomenon that we see all about us: the obligatory process of locating the source of evil. Whenever something evil happens, the need to locate the blame or the source of it is immediately activated because free-floating evil is not tolerable. So, whenever something bad happens, if it is at all possible, blame or responsibility must be established and then suitable punishment administered. It is an apotropaic procedure that mitigates our terror of evil. Someone or something must carry the burden of evil if society as a whole is going to go its happy-go-lucky way. (p. 322)
“Free-floating evil is not tolerable,” Edinger says. That means we need to “pin it down.” Tibetan Buddhism has the ritual phur-bu dagger to pin down demons; we don’t. But a name, a face, a motive will do. A precise time-line. Numbers. But especially a reason why. Otherwise, it’s all meaningless, and meaninglessness—like free-floating evil—is intolerable. Indeed, they may be the same thing. Hence, the anxiety around the Las Vegas murders . . . alongside the horror, and outrage, and grief.
If evil remains “free-floating,” it could be anywhere. Why, it could be nearby. One way to protect oneself psychologically is to find some evil within oneself. Pin that down. Be your own phur-bu. When we do that, evil is not so elusive. We might even be able to do something about it in some small way. Then, life is meaningful. We might even be able to endure not knowing exactly why that man killed so many people in Las Vegas.
WANT MORE? See the many references to "evil" in the index to my Snake and the Rope.