How can we stop evil from happening? Or is the question – will we?


How can we stop evil from happening? Or is the question – will we?

Why did Gabriel Wortman, the Nova Scotian murderer and arsonist, indulge himself repeatedly in the most selfish act one can undertake: ending the life of another person? For, at root, that is what he did: indulge himself at the most extreme expense of other people: those he murdered, and those left grieving in his wake.

The resulting investigation may shed some light on his motive, but it may not be nearly enough. Think of how much information and analysis is required to confidently sketch the psyche of the average counselee, let alone what it would take to understand someone who would do what he did.

And that’s what bothers so many of us, beyond our national sympathy for the many victims of this horror. If we don’t know what made him do it, how can we prevent it from happening again?

The fear triggered by such an event is exacerbated, of course, by the worldwide worry about the etiology of the lethal coronavirus. If we don’t know how it originated, how can we prevent it from happening again?

It remains true that we human beings are stranger than we typically assume we are, while psychology is a relatively young discipline. So there are deep mysteries here to be plumbed.

Likewise, microbiology is a strange world indeed. And while we know a lot about viruses, we don’t know nearly enough: not enough to prevent them or treat them when they emerge, but only enough to huddle in our homes for weeks or months, incurring tremendous costs of all kinds, while our scientists do their best to give us weapons to fight back, if not to win.

Still, still, still: we know a lot about a lot of things, things we could do something about so that there could be so very many fewer victims tomorrow than today.

We know about special needs kids being “mainstreamed” into classroom experiences with which neither they nor their teachers can cope. We know about the mental health epidemic on campus. We know about the bleak, anxious vulnerability of so many young people stuck in the “gig economy.”

We know about our deranged neighbours living precariously on our streets. We know about an overstrained and perilous foster care system. We know about the desperation of hard drug addicts.

We know about the dead-end miseries of so many native reserves in the shadow of so many broken promises. We know about brutal and brutalizing penitentiaries. We know about overtaxed public defenders and parole systems and social workers and halfway houses.

We know about abusive parents and runaway kids. We know about human trafficking. We know how wretched is the typical existence of a prostitute, despite the defiantly positive claims made by exploitative madams and misguided apologists for “sex workers.”

We know about politicians who insist on catering nonetheless to “the middle class” (and their rich donors). We know about administrators who treat pupils and patients and clients as just so many revenue streams. We know about burned out police officers and teachers and nurses and bureaucrats content to just rubber-stamp the anguish and hardship for which they once felt compassion.

We already know so much.

Maybe we’ll figure out the coronavirus. Maybe we’ll figure out what happened in Nova Scotia over those awful hours.

But while we wonder about those dark mysteries, and mourn their many victims, I wonder what we’ll do about all the things that aren’t mysterious and are guaranteed to keep ruining and ending so many other Canadian lives.

I wonder how serious we really are about figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it.

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