March 30, 2004

Dark Corners

Tonight, I'd like to talk about evil.

So, I live in Hollywood.

Interesting segue, I know.

Those of you who are familiar with Los Angeles geography know that there is very little that is glamorous about the part of town that bears the moniker of the entertainment industry.

Case in point: roughly 3 hours ago, I heard a series of gunshots from about a block away from my bathroom window. Now, when I say a series of gunshots, I mean three distinct bursts of of about three to ten shots each. I know these were gunshots because the next sound I heard about 10 minutes later was a police helicopter zooming into position above my neighborhood.

What's ironic to me is that the bullets seemed to emmanate from the north side of Franklin Avenue, which I would normally consider the demarcation line between those of us still storming the gates of the industry and the hillside homes of those who've long since laid claim to the palace china. You'd think that The Hungry would be more likely to cap off a few rounds.

Then again, Charles Manson did lead his entourage to pick a house in those same hills at random to continue the second night of their killing spree.

Maybe I shouldn't invest in any real estate up there when I blow up.

Did I mention that the movie I just happened to be watching about an hour before all Hell broke loose in my neigborhood was The Silence of the Lambs?

This is on my mind because I just watched an interview on Charlie Rose with the producers of a documentary appearing on PBS this Thursday night called "The Ghosts of Rwanda", following the legacy of the genocide in that country, ten years later.

In April of 1994, I was a junior in college, recovering from a NSBE National Convention in Pittsburgh where I really thought I might have partied enough that I might never need to go to another party again for the rest of my life.

Needless to say, that wasn't the case.

Meanwhile, as I was reminiscing about a girl from Rutgers-NSBE who was way too fine to have such a heavy Jersey accent, half a world away, a some ethnic Hutu men paid a visit to their sister's house and proceeded to murder their young nieces & nephews with weapons ranging from machetes to hammer claws because they were half-Tutsi.

There's a whole lot I don't know about the Rwandan genocide. I haven't the slightest idea what the difference is between a Hutu and a Tutsi. And what little I did learn, I probably got from the "Sense and Antisense" episode of Chris Carter's Millenium, which, in and of itself was a very heavy exploration into the mental and spiritual costs of human evil.

Apparently, the Hutu government had enough of a problem with the Tutsi minority in that country that they armed the militias and ordered them to kill ALL the Tutsis in the country. By the time the killing stopped, they managed to kill about half of them. The number of corpses were estimated to be between 800,000 and one million.

Now, by shear numbers, the Holocaust has it beat. But the Nazis had really industrialized the process, literally creating death engines, where bunches of people were horded into a room, gassed, incinerated, and then blown out smokestacks in ash so thick it looked like it was snowing. As far as the actual executioners were concerned, they just had to press a button and brush off their shoulders at the end of the day. The Shoah was all the more horrible because of it's utter banality.

Rwanda was massacre the old fashioned way. Every one of those 800,000 to one million people was individually stabbed, bludgeoned, and/or raped, and not necessarily in that order. At its height, the death squads were said to be able to kill as many as a thousand people every twenty minutes.

There is a moment in the documentary where one of the few UN peacekeepers who actually stayed as the killing began recalls a meeting he had with one of the death squads, in an attempt to negotiate an end to the massacre. These men came to the meeting with fresh blood still on their shirts. He says that, as he looked into their eyes, he saw nothing but complete and utter darkness. "The face of evil", in his words.

I'm reminded of Quint's speech about the U.S.S. Indianapolis in Jaws:

"And the thing about a shark is he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn't even seem to be livin'... 'til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'."

Now, that may or may not be a rhetorical florish. I can't really say because I've never come face to face with a man who's taken a coffee break from killing his neighbors with a machete, non-stop, for the better part of a month. I suspect that it might be a somewhat life-altering experience. One would think that you'd almost have to start seeing other human beings as something other than human. Like, perhaps, walking, talking slabs of meat. Or food. Or puddy.

Of course, at that point, you yourself have stopped being human in the process, right?

Many of these men who participated in the genocide were not trained killers or hardened criminals or anything of that nature. Did they have families to go home to, wives who'd wash, press, and fold the blood-stained shirt? And, after wallowing in the flesh of their victims all day long, could they draw the distinction between that and lovemaking with said dutiful wife?

But, at a deeper level, acts of evil are committed on a daily basis right under our noses. I recently found one of those websites that lists if any convicted sex offenders reside in your neighborhood. Apparently, there are three or four guys, like, on my block.

There are kids everywhere in my apartment complex. Who knows what's happening to them behind closed doors. Do those same people have these dead eyes? Would I know a killer or a rapist or a whatever just by looking at them?

Anyway, I could pontificate on the nature of evil ad naseum. However, I strongly recommend watching PBS Thursday night. I have a sense that there's alot to be learned. In addition to the filmmakers, Charlie Rose also had the author of this book about the genocide on his panel.

I don't really have a point to all of this, other than, perhaps this:
I recently had an argument with a friend of mine that began as a discussion about The Passion of the Christ but branched off into religion in general. One of his complaints was that he didn't like the exclusive nature of organized religions.

To which, I would say this - there are some things that are simply not OK, such as, for instance, hacking biracial members of your own family to death with an ax.

Of course, for Christians, our challenge is to find a way to offer forgiveness and even fellowship when faced with the horror. But how can you do that when you look into someone else's eyes and only see the abyss?
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