Mrs. Thompson began her lecture on world war two by explaining to showing the class baby pictures of Hitler, and photos and video of him smiling and flirting with people. “That is what makes people monsters, that none of them are wholly monstrous,” she explained after she shut the projector off. “We are, none of us, as evil we we think or as good as we pretend to be. Not even the superintendent of the school board.”
That didn’t even win weak laughs, but I’m not sure she noticed.
“Everyone who hates people who do monstrous things act as if they grew up in a vacuum. And sometimes people do, but a vacuum can suck as well as blow. It can pull ideas into it, and funnel out apathy – which is far more dangerous than evil, and more insidious beside. Who here watches those X-Factor and Talent shows? Enough of you,” she said, barely looking at raised hands. “In the last United Kingdon general election, more people voted for the winner of X Factor than voted in said election. We tell people that personal responsibility is a holy grail, that we alone are responsible for our actions, regardless of who put us in them or the actions of others!
“We say that no man – or woman – is an island, and yet we say that we have to take personal responsibility for our failings as if we were islands. We pretend that free will does not exist an an aggregate in order to punish criminals, in order to satisfy some primitive notions of justice. What do we reinforce by that? We punish people for not exercising their free will to avoid events, as if freedom and will were simple. As if we had a sound understanding of our own motivations of why we do the things we do. If we didn’t lack that, there would be no psychiatry.”
Emma raised her hand and coughed, loudly. “Mrs. Thompson? Is this about the DUI that Jane told me you got on the weekend?”
“It is not about that alleged incident at all,” Mrs. Thompson snapped.
A few people snickered, at which point she declared an impromptu quiz on the second world war and its impact on the cold war despite the fact that she hadn’t actually got around to teaching it yet.