Death Within, Devastation Without

There is a malady among us, a plague that is far more sinister than the coronavirus. While the coronavirus itself can only harm the body, this virus corrupts the thoughts of men and induces them, step by step, to commit acts of mass murder— in some cases, to slaughter innocent children. It is a virus of pure evil. I am speaking of the mass shooting epidemic that has carved its way through our news channels and national psyche over the past decade or so. What our politicians echo is correct: this must be stopped. But how? Is it even possible?

In our freshman year of college, Dr. Virginia Arbery led us through a discussion of Thucydides. One discussion in particular has remained with me: the description of the plague that ravaged Athens. Though Thucydides describes the physical symptoms so that “…perhaps it may be recognized by the student, if it should ever break out again,” he is being coy. This is not merely a physical disease he describes; it is a malady of the soul. Thucydides writes:

“As a rule, however, there was no ostensible cause; but people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or the tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and fetid breath [….] Externally the body was not very hot to the touch, nor pale in its appearance, but reddish, livid, and breaking out into small pustules and ulcers. But internally it burned so that the patient could not bear to have on him clothing or linen even of the very lightest description; or indeed to be otherwise than stark naked. What they would have liked best would have been to throw themselves into cold water; as indeed was done by some of the neglected sick, who plunged into the rain tanks in their agonies of unquenchable thirst; though it made no difference whether they drank little or much.”

The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Trans. Richard Crowley. Ed. Robert Strassler. Free Press: New York, NY. 119.

One could just as easily imagine this as a description of Salvador Ramos or Adam Lanza. Their heads are heated, they are unable to withstand contact with another, and their viscera burn with an insatiable thirst. They try to quench it, frantically bloating themselves on whatever foul rain barrel they can find— but to no avail. Finally, they abandon hope of a cure. The disease that began in the head has now “descend[s] further into the bowels, inducing a violent ulceration there accompanied by severe diarrhea” (Thucydides 119). The plague now holds the entire body from the mind to the guts hostage; manifestations of disease pour out of the infected without his consent. His filth, originating from his core, oozes and pours out of him continually, until he weakens and finally dies.

Evil is not like an ordinary plague, which can infect the innocent and healthy through no fault of their own. It requires a kind of courtship; a period of incubation. It’s true that a first exposure can be accidental, but one’s response to it dictates the severity and duration of the illness. In the case of mass shooters, it seems that these men have bent not only their passions, but their will and intellects to the pursuit of evil. One struggles to find an archetype in classical literature to compare these men to— they themselves are archetypes.

What do these incubators of evil look like? I assume they have many different manifestations, but one is very obvious, and is as old as time itself. In Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, which I have only begun reading, a group of men who will become possessed by spirits of nihilism and anarchy meet every other week in a small house. There they drink, smoke, and talk of politics. As they spend time together, they infect each other with a disease until the house becomes something of a breeding ground; an incubator of evil. In our modern times, one need not wait every other week or travel to meet other sick people; one can do it at all hours of the day and from any location. It is so obvious that I can only assume our politicians and the media purposefully overlook it: the internet chat room. The vast majority of these shooters spend inordinate amounts of time on forums or message boards such as Reddit, 4chan, 8chan, or Twitch. On these websites, and under the cloak of an anonymous username, one might meet other men who have fetid breath, burning bellies, and blistering skin. There, the flow of ideas and the IV drip of evil never ends; these evil thoughts and creeds become more immediate to the soon-to-be shooter than flesh and blood. This finally reveals itself in the infamous ‘manifesto,’ which so many mass murderers have taken to writing. It is a final sign of allegiance to the dark brotherhood which he has joined. The all-important creed having been published, the possessed consummates his relationship to evil by showing that he holds nothing in higher regard— not even the lives of innocent schoolchildren. As a priest offers a spotless Host to the Father as the perfect sacrifice, the possessed man finds the next best thing to offer his lord: the pure souls of children.

Thucydides speaks of an ancient prophecy regarding Athens: “A Dorian war shall come and with it pestilence” (Thucydides 121). Restated, “…death raging within the city and devastation without” (Ibid. 121). Like Athens, death rages within the mass murderer— death of his body, death of his mind, death of his senses, and death of his soul. The evil that consumes him is not satisfied even with one soul, so it leaks and pours out of him so that there can be devastation without. Let us purge our own souls of this plague of evil and its pockets of incubation, lest we become “…half-dead creatures [reeling] about the streets, […gathering] round all the fountains in [our] longing for water” and our “sacred places […] full of corpses” (Ibid 120).

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio, contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur: tuque, princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute, in infernum detrude. Amen.

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