Movies don’t kill people. . .

Recently we all saw the horrific murders at a Belgian nursery. Now there are reports that the young killer made himself up in a fashion eerily similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker, and was obsessed with horror movies. Cultured people will cluck their tongues at such associations, however, because everyone knows movies and music and other popular entertainments don’t cause crimes.

Everyone doesn’t know any such thing, of course, and it’s more truthful to say that a good many of us can’t allow ourselves to believe in such a possibility, because of the ramifications for how a great many of us spend our time. So we resort to noting that most people who watch horror movies don’t kill people, most kids who play Grand Theft Auto don’t steal cars, and so on, which is akin to noting that most people who don’t wear seat belts get to Grandma’s just fine, as if this is some kind of brief against the sensibility of wearing seat belts.

A wiser way of looking at things, it seems to me, is to ask whether we are nurturing the good or the evil that resides in each of us, in each of our children. Anyone who thinks he hasn’t the potential to become a monster doesn’t really know himself — or mankind — very well at all. Indeed, he is probably the one who is most likely to actually become a monster. Most of the worst creatures in history, after all, gave no indication that they ever considered themselves anything but avenging angels, up to and including Lucifer himself.

It’s a toxic mix we’re brewing in the 21st century West — unrivaled wealth translating into wide stretches of leisure time, entertainments that isolate us from one another and fracture families, and a general sense that we have outgrown the Church, or that church is just an additional lifestyle choice to be selected and fitted into our routine as suits us.

But it’s not politic to talk about any of that if you are an academic or a statesman, which are the two sorry classes of people we delegate, for some inexplicable reason, to sort out such tragedies for us and guarantee that they won’t happen again. We can be assured that when they get to the bottom of this tragedy, the notions of a human spirit, and of evil, and of the struggle between light and dark, won’t have anything to do with it.