Both were vibrant young women, the embodiment of loving goodness and benign strength. Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a deranged loner, now imprisoned for life. Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot by a deranged society who approves and calls for her murder. Is there any way to comprehend such a society?
Smallpox, a viral disease, killed millions before it was eliminated in 1979. Yet despite its deadly role against humanity, one cannot call the smallpox virus “evil.” It does what it is genetically engineered to do. The only known remaining viruses are held in labs in the U.S. and Russia. Some say it could be needed for research, others are reluctant to destroy any form of life.
Far back in evolution, there is a place before evil. Humano sapiens is a primate, along with gorillas, chimpanzees, lemurs, and marmosets, and like tigers, antelopes, spiders, and butterflies, our remote ancestors were innocent, their behavior dictated by genes. The cave art of Lascaux reveals fully human behavior, but fossil evidence reveals little about their society and nothing about any sense of right and wrong.
Margaret Mead, in her Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, wrote of the gentle Mountain Arapesh who devoted themselves to raising children, also the cannibalistic headhunting Mundugumor, whose violent society was based on competition and aggression. The Arapesh were scattered by the Japanese during World War II. The Mundugumor, now melted into the modern world, still inhabit their ancestral land in Papua New Guinea.
Colin Turnbull, in The Mountain People, wrote of the Ik, who seemed to have forgotten how to love, even parents for their children. He came to believe that it happened because they’d been a hunting society suddenly confined, and turned their hunting behaviors upon one another to develop a survival system based on stealth, stealing, and subterfuge. His suggested solution: scatter them far and wide so that their survival system would dissolve
Human societies, like life forms, can take roads either enhancing or deadly. Germany, with its great thinkers, artists, and scientists, produced Nazis, and is now trying to ban all symptoms of that despised past. Are the Taliban another example of a society overwhelmed by evil, a social disorder to be banned like the Nazis, dissolved like the Ik, diluted like the Mundugumor, or eliminated entirely, like the smallpox virus?