Ever since Hannah Arendt's memorable "banality of evil" concerning Adolf Eichmann, it's been something of a cliché to "discover" that criminals were originally mild-mannered milquetoasts. True to script, the lazier journalists are having a field day with the ordinariness of Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Times Square bomber.
Yet the real news would be discovering what forces combined to change the Eichmanns and the Shahzads from mere mediocrities to criminals. By forces, I mean to include nature, or natural predispositions and personal decisions for which each individual is responsible, and nurture, the external, social influences that might have turned a mediocre nature into something ready to become truly awful.
We can do nothing about the personal decisions the Eichmanns and the Shahzads and the Timothy McVeighs have made. But we can think and act on the cues we get about their social influences.
Indeed, the United States made sure Germany was not penalized in 1945 as it had been under the Versailles Treaty in 1918 so as not to provide Germans disgruntled with the consequences of losing a war the excuse for getting revenge through World War III.
As Shahzad's story beings to be pieced together, it seems pretty clear that he carried a major social grudge. Like so many, he was scammed into a mortgage he really couldn't afford and his employment collapsed with the economy.
Might he have remained happily unknown today with another sequence of events? Might he have avoided seeking comfort in jihadism to assuage his sense of economic failure in the land of alleged plenty?
If Albert Gore had been allowed to be sworn in despite his narrow win in 2000, might the catastrophic greed allowed to run free in the Bush era have been reined in? If, even without Gore, had Bush acted sooner and asked for a stimulus package earlier, wouldn't the Great Recession have been less great?
I realize this is all woulda, coulda, shoulda.
But we do confront "tea party" folks who demand with protest signs awash in misspellings and solecisms that "furriners lurn" English and old people who wave their medicare cards while they call government health programs "socialism" and we continue to have too many weapons on the streets and in gun stores. Isn't this the kindling for home-grown jihadism of a nut-wing variety?
In brief, there's a lot of anger out there. People continue to experience very bad times, which breed worse people. That's why we need to push to make better times, to curb excess and include every level of society in the nation's bounty, so we can breed more tolerant people of good will and deed.