Could human evil actions be motivated by a longing for love?


In an essay that seeks to find the common motive behind the destruction of natural objects like the Glastonbury Thorn, the Treaty Oak and the Eye of the Needle, Joseph Laycock turns to the writings of George Bataille. Bataille writes at length on the interconnections between the desire to destroy and the desire to transcend, both of which make regular appearances in religious settings:

“For Bataille, religion is ‘a search for lost intimacy,’ an attempt to commune with a transcendent otherness that defies the distinctions of ordinary reality. In fact, this search for lost intimacy is precisely what makes the targets of these attacks—ancient trees and rock formations—precious in the first place. They have no purpose or intrinsic value, they simply are. This imbues them with a kind of sacrality. They are precious in part because they remind us that another reality exists beyond the one constructed by man.

Bataille argues that sacrifice is also motivated by the search for lost intimacy. The deliberate and wasteful destruction of something useful, precious, or socially significant defies the logic of the order of things. It creates a hole in mundane reality though which, under the right circumstances, a moment of transcendence can be experienced. Furthermore, the efficacy of the sacrifice is directly proportional to the senselessness of the destruction. Ironically, the social value ascribed to these sites made them ripe for sacrifice. Had the vandals been the only ones on Earth who knew about the Eye of the Needle, it may never have occurred to them to destroy it. Certainly, no sadistic impulse could be satisfied by destroying something that no one was able to appreciate. Instead these sites were the locus of communities, traditions, and histories stretching back centuries. It is this shared meaning that is the true target of the vandal’s sacrificial impulse.

This explanation is not to say that the vandals experienced a moment of transcendence when they committed their crimes, or even that they found a moment’s respite from their sadistic (and likely drunken) malaise. However, it does offer a profile of the perpetrator. The impulse to destroy something beautiful was likely motivated by profound dissatisfaction with the world and an unstated yearning for a better one. Poor Paul Cullen believed that ritually sacrificing the Treaty Oak would bring him love. While this story has been dismissed as evidence of insanity, it may actually provide an important insight into the nature of evil: Perhaps it is the desire for love and the perceived absence of it in the world that inspires senseless destruction.”

Read the full article here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...