Friday, March 27, 2015

Culpability

Two very hard things played together across my soul these last two days.

The first, we have all experienced, through the joys of mass media.  It's the story of not just a single death, but of many, as one disturbed human being took not just his own life, but the lives of every single soul on the jetliner he flew straight into those mountains.

It was death and terror, inflicted by a human being who sat dispassionately in the cockpit, calm and silent, as the desperate screams of the doomed filled his ears.   Beyond the pure horror of it, there's the challenge in coming to terms with such a thing.  He was, to the best of our knowledge at this point, not motivated by ideology or some deep seated hatred.  He was a normal person, who...broke.  Somehow.  In ways that are frustratingly opaque.  He left no note, left no manifesto, no prior indication of sociopathy.  Just a bunch of confused people who knew him as a pleasant, competent person.

A pleasant, competent person who killed, through his utterly inexplicable actions, almost 200 other human beings.

Where is the boundary of his culpability?  We want to place blame, to have a clear reason, to affix responsibility.  But sometimes, as that old Boomtown Rats song goes, there are no reasons.  It's just that we break really easily, both our bodies and our minds.

And then there was another, a quieter passing, a voice known to me only through the filter of social media.  I'd known S. for years, in the strange way you know people who you've only met through this medium.  She was smart and creative and insightful, and she was living with mental illness.  It came and went, and then it came and overwhelmed her, drowning out hope, drowning out everything.  There had been many attempts, but this one ended her.

Should I cast judgement, on this soul, because she was unable to see her way through to hope, and to any possibility that she might find happiness?  I cannot see the purpose in that, or the grace, or the love.  I only feel sorrow at her passing.

Both of these things feel strangely beyond the realm of moral judgment, more tragic than evil, as a tearing, destroying storm is more tragic than evil.

But I also do not want to say, not ever, to a human being struggling with an illness of mind: you are not human. What makes you human is gone.  You have no will, no choice, no moral agency.  Can I say this, the flip side of decoupling a person from responsibility?

I do not think so.

And so I feel oddly in between, and must settle with that itching, difficult uncertainty.

It is one of those things that is beyond my ken.  Neither is it my task, the setting of the balances, the final determination.

Thank God for that.

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