In My Own Write: Monsters are us

When we learn about yet another murder or rape, do we push it out of our minds, or ponder what we humans are capable of?

RONNIE RON and Marie Pizem 370 (photo credit: Reuven Kastro)
RONNIE RON and Marie Pizem 370
(photo credit: Reuven Kastro)
Humanity: the quality or condition of being human –
The problem with [psychiatrist and best-selling author Scott M.] Peck’s perception of evil... is his proclivity to project evil exclusively onto some small segment of the population... We would do well to remember that evil remains an ever-present, archetypal potentiality in each of us – Richard A.Diamond, author of ‘Anger, Madness and the Daemonic.’
We open our daily newspaper or turn on the television and are confronted by yet another stomach-turning headline. Rape, murder and other terrible deeds loom disproportionately large – even while we realize that it is the media’s nature to seek out sensation and make as much of it as possible.
Just days ago, two young women were raped in the Jezreel Valley, northeast of Haifa. Last week, Tel Aviv police arrested a man on suspicion of having raped a 17-year-old girl at knife-point in the heart of the city and forced her boyfriend to watch during an ordeal that went on for an unimaginable three hours.
Earlier this month, we learned about the individual – his first name, ironically, means “mercy” – sentenced to 18 years in jail for operating one of the largest slavery “businesses” in Israel’s history, luring women from Eastern Europe into the country on the pretext of work as waitresses and bar staff, then forcing them into prostitution.
We were also reminded of a senseless murder that happened three years ago, when Arik Karp was beaten and kicked to death by a bunch of drunken thugs as he enjoyed the sea air with his wife and daughter on the Tel Baruch boardwalk. On May 14, the Tel Aviv District Court unanimously rejected an appeal by two young people – one of them a former IDF soldier – who had been present during the killing and convicted of standing by and failing to prevent it. In fact, they left the scene with their intoxicated buddies and continued on to a night of revelry.
Perpetrators of other heinous crimes come to mind: Elior Chen, Itai Ben-Dror, Ronnie Ron, Marie Pizem.
The mere mention of them sends chills down the spine.
AFTER READING or hearing about outrages such as the ones committed by these individuals, our reaction as generally upright and well-intentioned citizens is pretty uniform; understandable, too. But it raises disturbing questions we would prefer to avoid.
As we voice our shock or shake our heads in disbelief at this or that diabolical act, we instinctively and almost simultaneously engage in an emotional shrinking back – arms figuratively outstretched and palms upraised – to ward off both crime and perpetrator, putting as much “daylight” as possible between ourselves and the “monsters who could do such a thing.”
In so doing, we are in effect telling ourselves: “They might look like us, like ordinary people, but what we are dealing with here is a different sort of creature entirely – a different species, almost.”
But here’s the rub, and it’s a disconcerting one: These people aren’t monsters, though their deeds may be monstrous. They aren’t aliens landed from another planet, however much we might wish they were. They are our fellow human beings – and, as such, our kin.
That being the case, can we dissociate ourselves utterly from them?
THIS PAINFUL subconscious reasoning is, perhaps, what partially propelled the late Michael Jackson to confront the reality of Nazism and the destruction it had wrought.
Shmuley Boteach, in a 2005 Jerusalem Post op-ed, recalled that he once asked Jackson whether he really believed that if he could have an hour alone with Hitler, “you could somehow touch something inside of him?” “Absolutely,” the singer responded. “I know I could.”
However fatuous his answer may sound, and however mistaken he might have been about the “something inside of” one of the greatest mass murderers in history and his ability to “touch” that something, one surmises that Jackson was grappling with the essential truth that humanity – or perhaps humanness – is a basic attribute shared by all God’s creatures, whoever and wherever they are, and whatever they may do.
I myself grappled with this difficult issue of a common humanity in a piece I wrote many years ago about being a member of the “second generation” which survived the Holocaust.
In it, I, “the child,” described being present at a family gathering of survivors whose behavior was hard for me to fathom:
“‘I saw them playing football,’ one survivor says. ‘The ball seemed an odd, ragged shape. I went closer and looked. It was a baby.’

“The words mean nothing. I feel nothing. But unease hangs heavy in the air, and my family sit shamed, like guilty ones condemned. Suddenly I am full of anger. ‘Isn’t it enough?’ I want to shout, ‘Isn’t it enough what our enemies did? Must we be their conscience, too?’"

“Then I think it is the shame of having been there and seen the last vestiges of feeling stripped away, of witnessing the final insult. Humanity is a common possession, after all. And I, the infant, also felt the shame, and whatever is in me that is akin to all mankind held its face in its hands and wept.”
A FRIEND to whom I talked recently recounted an incident that happened in her home town in Europe some 20 years ago.
A man was charged with murder. When he appeared in court, people were surprised to see the priest of his parish sitting beside him. They were even more astonished when the priest spoke up and told the judge: “There is no difference between this man and myself.”
The effect of the cleric’s statement on those present, my friend said, was electric. “It helped burst a bubble of self-righteousness that had prevailed in the community.”
How did the judge ultimately rule? My friend didn’t say; but that isn’t the point of the story.
The point is that it places the criminal – even the worst kind of criminal – not outside the frame of the human picture, where we might long to put him, but inside it, essentially occupying the same space as ourselves. And it pierces the too-easy conviction of moral superiority, the automatic assumption that “I could never in my life do anything like that.”
THE VALUE of stressing the common humanity criminals share with us lies neither in bringing us down to the level of their terrible acts, nor in raising the perpetrators up via some attempt to “understand” and thereby excuse those acts.
Western society’s disdain for the “Judeo-Christian” view of absolute morality notwithstanding, I see neither the individual nor society benefiting from swimming around in a murky pool of moral relativism, where good can depend on what day of the week it is, and evil on what a murderer’s mother may have fed him as a child.
Where there is no recognition of absolute evil, there is also none of good. And little good can surely come of that.
It seems to me that, difficult as it is, we ought not to flinch from hearing about the evil that human beings – creatures like ourselves – can wreak, but ponder long and deeply what it means to be human, to what heights a human being can rise, and to what depths we can sink.