If you haven't noticed the outpouring of evil in our neck of the woods over the past ten days, you haven't been paying attention. The marathon bombings, the tragic fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and now the clothing factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have claimed approximately 323 innocent lives, and unalterably changed countless others. Perhaps you think that evil is an overly-strong word, or that it's hopelessly outdated. Save terms like "good" and "evil" for times when clearer distinctions can be drawn.
I'm not so sure. I do believe that when we think of good and evil, we must acknowledge there are still more good people in the world than evil ones. But evil does exist.
And no, I don't think it's useful to compare the losses in Bangladesh, Texas, and Boston in terms of their magnitude, or to get angry at the media for their hopelessly unbalanced coverage of these events. Yes, it's horrible that four deaths in Boston make more news than scores in Texas or hundreds Bangladesh. Or for that matter, the "slow-motion riot" that is claiming countless lives on the streets of Chicago as I write. And yes, media racism, hysteria, and flat-out inaccuracy are so ubiquitous as to make us all hopelessly weary.
I work with the dying. I would not dream to compare one loss of life with another. Nor do I think it is possible to compare the grief experienced by the city of Boston, with that of West, or of Dhaka. Each of us wants, understandably, just one more hour with those we love.
But the question I ponder is, Who will be held responsible for the meaningless loss of life? And whose is the greater evil? Perhaps we focus on Boston because the perpetrators are so vitriolic and are stupid enough to warrant a new Elmor Leonard crime novel series. Or perhaps we focus on Boston because the evil is right out there where we can see it. It will be punished. And more importantly, the Tsarnaev brothers give us the freedom to judge without fearing questioning our own complicity, and yes, evil.
The motives of the Dobrhev brothers have been and will continue to be picked over endlessly. But what of the motives of those responsible for the Texas explosion or the building collapse?
We know that the owners of the West Chemical Plant broke Homeland Security law by failing to report the amount of potentially explosive fertilizer in their storage facility. We also know that the company has been poisoning the surrounding community and its own workers for decades. We know that a deregulated OSHA, (Thanks, President Reagan!), had not inspected the plant since 1985, ironically not long after a similarly-caused, much larger tragedy in Bhopal, India, and at that time it was allowed to hold more explosive ammonium nitrate than was used in the Oklahoma City Bombing. The Bush Administration considered allowing the EPA to regulate plants like the one in West, but thought, "Nah." Since then, the only regulatory change has been the one proposed in the senate recently to further weaken EPA oversight of this kind of toxic and explosive hazard.
Are we complicit in these crimes against humanity? I think so. The US Government prevented India from extraditing Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to face criminal charges in the wake of Bhopal, a fight that continues today. Surely Donald Adair, Adair Grain CEO is similarly culpable? And yes, the inevitable lawsuits have begun, likely to be settled out of court with no criminal charges. But if Corporations are "people" as Citizens United claims, should they not also be read their Miranda Rights and locked up?
The workers of Bangladesh leave no doubt as to blame for the tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 304 innocents. US and European retailers subcontract cheap clothing through factory centers like the one that collapsed in Dhaka. Wal Mart has been particularly active in blocking safety laws that might have prevented the fire and collapse.
Should not WalMart Ceo Mike Duke, or founder Sam Walton be held responsible? For what? Murder? Criminal Negligence? Corporate Terrorism?
I am serious. We all know that individuals are held responsible for crimes while corporations go scot-free. Should the NRA be held liable in the Boston bombings because they blocked a law that would allow putting taggants in gunpowder, making it easier to trace bomb-making materials, both before and after they explode? Should legislators who take kickbacks from organizations like Wal Mart, Adair Grain, and the NRA be held accountable for the results of their complicity?
And what about us? I don't shop at Wal Mart, but I can't say that I know where all of my clothes are made. I don't know if the Miracle Gro that I put on my house plants comes from Adair Grain or not. I don't think so, but I don't know.
These questions lead me back to my original question: How do we measure evil? Is a religious fanatic more evil than a greedy corporate overlord? A corrupt politician? A citizen who allows the continuation of corrupt and destructive government? A consumer who benefits from the misery of others?
I don't claim to know the answers to these questions. I wonder if you do.