Collage with Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Darrell Brooks, TJ Lane, Charles Manson, and Nikolas Cruz.

Violent Criminals Are People, Too!

You read about Mr. Slasher’s subway machete rampage on your cell phone news service. “Animal,” you say. “Monster—that’s what he is: a monster! I mean, how could a human being do something so horrendous?!”

In an effort to cope with this deeply disturbing act of sadism, our first refuge is often found in name-calling: “Mr. Slasher is a monster.” And since we all know that there are no monsters here on planet Earth, it follows that Mr. Slasher exists only in some other imaginary realm, and if that’s true, then my loved ones and I are safely out of reach of Mr. Slasher. I need not prepare to defend against Mr. Slasher or those like him.

This shallow exercise in mental self-trickery helps us feel safe. But if we come away with the impression that Mr. Slasher cannot be a fellow earthling, or a fellow American, or a fellow Idahoan, or a fellow Meridianite, or a fellow church member, coworker, neighbor, or even relative, we have failed to learn from the last surprised gaze of many a victim.

Human beings are a prolifically aggressive species whose capacity for depraved violence knows no boundaries, whether in heart, mind, or deed.

It won’t be constructive for you to side-eye every person you know as if they are about to inflict grave harm on you. That’s paranoia. But it may be helpful for you to recognize that the final act of many now-deceased people was to puzzle over how a human being brought unforeseen grave violence. That’s preparation.

Resist the urge to apply fictional labels to living, breathing members of our own species. Doing so can only set you back in the event that, someday, one of them offers imminent, serious physical harm.

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