“The real world is where the monsters are.”
― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
Singapore has got to be one of the safest places in the world. We don’t get much sordid crime here. So reading about a man raping his mistress’ 7-year-old daughter for more than 6 years in the same flat they all live in with his wife really baffled me. My heart aches for the child (she’s still 15 now), everyone is absolutely outraged at the sheer audacity and manipulativeness of the man. But part of me wonders, who hurt him?
When faced with cruelty, I instinctively assume the perpetrators must have been scarred before. By some terrible trauma in childhood; betrayed by people they love most. After all, hurt people hurt people. But are all monsters made? Or are some of them born? These questions crack open a rusty can of worms about genetic predisposition for aggression, and perhaps even evil. Research on the MAOA or ‘warrior’ gene is very fascinating. Well, I’m no academic, but I’d venture to say it’s a somewhat ill-fated combination of both.
But that’s beside the point. Sure, we can always afford to give people who commit these crimes some benefit of the doubt. But how far does compassion go before it starts enabling crime and other atrocities? Should we always give people the benefit of the doubt? And if not, where do we draw the line? It’s a tricky question to answer. And not one that should be taken lightly.
Some argue the man should be punished, tortured the way he did the little girl. Perhaps, he even deserves to die. But i don’t believe in an eye for an eye. Revenge brings me no satisfaction. In fact, hurting someone brings even more pain, and then comes unbearable, crushing guilt. I believe there is a greater arbitrator of justice – you might call it the Universe, karma, destiny, or God. And it is not my place or duty to mete out punishment.
But there are many who feel like it is up to them to do so, and who will take things into their own hands. They’ll be the ones who are rational or hardened enough to make devastating decisions and take on the role of judges, executioners, and so on. More infamously, honour killings come to mind. Philip Zimbardo (of the Stanford prison experiment) would say it becomes even easier under the cloak of a uniform. Wearing a badge of honour which says,”I’m just doing my job.” Or, “The State makes these decisions. I don’t write the law.” Whatever helps them sleep at night. Either way, society needs these individuals to function, and thrive. And I respect their contributions.
Sean floated the fascinating idea that maybe karma isn’t just a mysterious force that executes the will of the universe. You know, reward the good and punish the bad. Instead, perhaps what we call karma is really just powered by shame and guilt. And if someone is wired NOT to feel either, they may never suffer from the crippling, soul-sucking effects of retribution. Perhaps ultimately, it is not fate, or the punishing hand of God that comes for you. It’s your own inability to square with the evil you’ve created in this world that causes the decay of your soul, and finally destroys the vessel that is your body.
So is it possible someone without a conscience may never face retribution? The thought brings ice to my veins. Suddenly, I understand why the religious belief in an afterlife is so appealing. Perhaps in some cases, one lifetime just isn’t enough time to pay for one’s sins.