Devil in the dock
By Abdul Mahmud
“Court!” the clerk screamed, announcing the commencement of proceedings. As the judge proceeded to take her seat on the raised dais, lawyers made final adjustments to their wigs and gowns. He stood in the dock, motionless, occasionally turning his face away from menacing glances and hanging it at a certain angle which obscured his visage from the probing eyes of the gallery. He bowed his head now and then, his eyes constantly blinking, as if shy of the drama that was to come. Meet Gracious David West. He looked ordinary; but there was something intriguing about his ordinariness, contradicted only by the glittering dog-like chain he hung around his neck like a gangsta rapper. Perhaps, his ordinariness was a facade put up to mask his demon. If he was play-acting, he acted his part well to look the bloke next door that cannot hurt a fly. But his play-acting didn’t start in the dock.
While he roamed free living a double life, he navigated his daily life play-acting as a pious church-goer during the day and kerb-crawled at night for his victims to satisfy his sexual lust and sadistic pleasure. He certainly had ten of them, victims, credited to him. But, there was also something about his crime: the extraordinariness of his killings, the precision, the randomness in which he picked his victims, the clinical way he dispatched them from their earthly existence – all taken straight out of a crime book.
He looked ruddy in the dock, like the young shepherd, David the son of Jesse, after whom he was named. Though he wore the ruddy outward look of David, he lacked his innocence and hearty gait the Lord spoke about: “the Lord does not look at the things people look at… the Lord looks at the heart”. He has a dark heart, dark as the heart of the famous serial killer, Fred West, with whom he shares a common surname. But he kept a distinctive persona, living life in direct opposite of his first name, Gracious. In our part, a child’s name evinces the meaning his parents attach to his birth.
We live by our names. For someone named Gracious, grace, love, mercy and kindness should have been at the core of his life, fortifying him against temptation. Since he didn’t find grace in his name, he sought grass and lived with it. There, the tide of evil inundated him with evil. He did not turn the tide, nor did he rise above it. When he tried, he turned in the wrong direction to the dark core of his being, embracing the taboo grace forbids. Everything that could go wrong had to go wrong. He succumbed to ennui. He became a serial killer.
Killing is a taboo that has been broken on an unfathomable scale here by serial killers. Remember Abacha, who showed us that the state is capable of breaking the customary taboo of the people, with the number of opposition activists serially murdered by him during his four years reign of terror. Gracious David West isn’t our first. While current literature places killings sanctioned by a tyrant outside the realm of serial killing because they are not the killings of a lone serial killer operating on the fringes of society, I don’t accept that any distinction can be established by the mere fact of sites – the sites of murder- or by the mere fact of wolf-like traits.
Serial killers and tyrants are who they are; killers who animate their dark thoughts by the verb, killing. For me this distinction, viewed against the number of deaths that constitutes serial killings, has no foundation in the rational. There is another fine point: serial killers and tyrants operate within the loci of power: the power to control and dominate. If the motivation of the serial killer and the tyrant is to exercise control and domination, there is no difference between Gracious and Abacha. Evil is in the eye of the beholder. Not in this instance. The evil that the serial killer perpetuates is the same evil that the tyrant unleashes to animate his sadistic pleasure and to show he is in charge: that power to play God.
Also read: https://thedifferencenews.com/notes-on-tyranny/
All of this is besides my point. My purpose is to provide some answers to the question: why did Gracious David West do it? Before I attempt to answer the question, let me place a caveat: I am not a psychologist. My answers, drawn from commonsense, are shaped by everyday experience. In “This side of evil”, published a few weeks ago, I argued: “the world should ordinarily be a pleasant place for pleasant people showing great love to humanity, doing those small and great, bright and beautiful things together. But, everywhere we turn, evil seems to triumph over good: bad people doing bad things, smiling and sticking the middle fingers at humanity, as if gesturing at it to sod off to hell.
Truth is: bad people who stick up the middle fingers merely bid goodbye to the good and goodness of humanity”. I proceeded further and posed the questions: “why are citizens turning into monstrous vermins and perpetuating unspeakable evil? Why is evil everywhere? Are citizens turning to evil out of choice, or there is an invisible force propelling them to tread the evil path?”
In attempting the question, I returned to Kant: “evil… happens when man subjects the moral laws that guide all good conducts to his ego or to the incentives of the self-conceit”. Drawing from him, I argued that the answers to the “whys” can be deduced from his “incentives of the self-conceit”, already described here as the “power to exercise control and domination”, which doesn’t proceed from the place of grace and mercy; but proceeds from a dark place where the triad traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy are at play.
The serial killer proceeds from this dark place, with trait and impulsive to manipulate and exercise control over others to gain some sadistic pleasure. The pleasure serial killers like Gracious David West enjoys is thus derived from the power to decide “who gets what, (suffering, pain, torture, cruelty, death), when (circumstances) and how (methods)” – a mischievous application of Lasswell’s model of politics that emphasizes their evil-mindedness. However, the “incentives of self-conceit” only lend themselves out as one answer to the questions. There is a second answer: ” [perhaps]there is a dangerous socialization process going on that makes evil possible in our part. In “this side of evil”, we see how those with the propensity to evil cause pain and suffering”. Where socialization presents itself as a process in which behaviour is mimicked and aestheticized, outcomes are predictable: recognizable behaviour is reinforced and what the society once considered a taboo becomes an acceptable practice, a norm.
If anything is worrying, it is the new norm which acts as a magnet of sorts and draws people with the propensity to evil to new folk-heroes. In these new folk-heroes (killers, militants, kidnappers, insurgents, cultists and corrupt politicians) they find new folksy identities that connect them to power. These identities become self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating.
Only an outcome is possible: more citizens becoming the devil in the dock.
Like Gracious David West.