The worst thing in the world (Wednesday edition)

Trigger warning: violence against children, women, and humanity at large. Also, cults.

As much as my lizard brain would love me to, I have a really tough time (intellectually) branding someone as ‘evil’. Sure, I am happy to call actions, ideologies, and institutions evil. By their fruits ye shall know them and all that – judge things by their consequences. Even in yesterday’s condemnation of neo-Nazi and murderer J.T. Ready, I avoided (with middling success) implying that Mr. Ready was an organically evil person. I find such descriptions do little to further our understanding of how to prevent these kinds of problems in the future. We only know who ‘evil people’ are after they’ve already done something evil, by which time it is too late. Plus, nobody ever thinks they’re evil – just misunderstood or held back by the forces of political correctness or something.

People are not ‘evil’ in the sense that such language use would suppose. People are people, and we are all occasionally cognitively lazy enough to embrace ideas uncritically. The worst offenders among us embrace ideas that, directly or indirectly, hurt our fellow human beings. When we see that behaviour in someone else, we should be able to recognize our own shared failings. In so doing, we are better equipped to act with compassion and critical thought rather than knee-jerk blame, which only narrows our own field of vision for potential solutions.

I know all this, and have believed it for some time. That being said, it’s sometimes hard for me to put that principle into practice:

A four-year old boy was shot to death by his common-law father, a religious leader who thought the boy was gay, because he had slapped another boy’s behind. As The New Civil Rights Movement reported earlier this month, four-year old Jadon Higganbothan was murdered by Peter Lucas Moses, 27, who also shot to death a 28-​year old woman, Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy, police and prosecutors say. Now that prosecutors have revealed Moses’s motivation for thinking four-year old Jardon was gay, we also learned on Friday they asked for the death penalty in this tragic North Carolina case. Moses now faces two counts of first-degree murder.

Part of the act of compassion is putting yourself in the position of another person and trying to see the world as they see it. Try as I might, I simply cannot envision any circumstance in which it would even occur to me to murder a 4 year-old child for expressing a sexual preference. First, because I would never murder anyone (I don’t think so, at least). Second, because even if I were to murder someone, it could never be a defenseless child who relied on me for guidance and protection. Third, because there’s no room in my mind to entertain the thought that sexual identity is a capital offense. Fourth, because a four year-old child is far too young to have a fully-developed sense of his own sexual identity. Fifth, because even if all of the above things were true – even if I were so twisted to think that gay toddlers were deserving of death, slapping someone on the butt isn’t gay!

I don’t claim to have ironclad absolute certainty about anything in my life. I’m sure that as I grow and learn new things, my positions on some issues will change – perhaps I’ll even come to reconsider some of the foundational elements of my personal philosophy. That being said, I simply cannot fathom ever accepting even one of these positions. Mr. Moses (who perhaps should have called himself ‘Abraham’ instead) accepted all of them, and followed through with deadly effect.

There are more depressingly terrifying elements to this story though:

He lived in a one-​room home with nine children and three women, who all called him “lord.” One of the women reportedly turned into a police informant, which is how police and prosecutors have so much detailed information.


The 28-​year old woman whom Moses killed, Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy, had been beaten and strangled with an extension cord by the other women before Moses murdered her. The day he did, she had escaped to a neighbor’s house and begged her to use her cell phone. The neighbor did not call police because she claims she thought the woman might be mentally disturbed. She witnessed Moses dragging her into the house, and still never called police.


“Some of the women cleaned up his bloodied body, prosecutors said, then put it in a suitcase in the master bedroom until Moses complained about the smell.”

Aside from the murdered child, there is nobody in this story who isn’t horrible.

There is no need, I suppose, to make the somewhat obvious statement about what happens when your religious zeal is allowed to overpower your sense of decency. There is no need, I suppose, to decry the neighbour for her should-be-criminal refusal to become involved in a clear case of physical abuse. There is no need, I suppose, to explore the complex relationship that abused women have with their abusers. All of these truths are laid bare by the simple facts of the testimony. What seems to be needed is a sober, honest look at humankind… and a barf bag.

If there was ever a time when the intervention of an otter was required, it is now:

An otter held in human hands

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  1. says

    The problem with labeling someone “evil” is that it lets all the “good” people off the hook for misdeeds. They feel that they’re allowed to do the misdeeds and get away with them because they’re not “evil people.”

    At least, that has been my personal experience.

  2. peterwhite says

    That is why we must reject the idea of evil thought. There are no evil thoughts, only evil deeds. Thinking you are not evil doesn’t excuse your evil actions. Thinking bad things harms nobody unless you act on those thoughts.

    This is where religion fails. It allows people to feel they are good as long as they think they are good. As long as they don’t think they are evil then whatever they do is acceptable.

  3. Desert Son, OM says

    I’ve composed and deleted a comment four or five times already, trying to think about this story, about issues of power, basically the list you cite in your penultimate paragraph, but I don’t really have anything to say. I’m all out. It’s just anger and heartbreak again, like yesterday’s post.

    Still learning,


  4. Daniel Schealler says

    Be careful with the otters.

    If you keep it up, you’ll train me to have a Pavlovian nausea reaction any time I see an otter picture.

  5. says

    I’m just going to pretend everything above the otter is fiction (I know, dissociating isn’t necessarily a Good Thing, but it’s keeping me relatively sane.)


    Otterly adorable.

  6. Dianne says

    Poor otter. Trapped in the hands of a violent monster. Well, the specimen holding the otter may not be violent but it is clearly of a monsterous species.

  7. says

    I really don’t have a problem calling Moses evil. If, however, you want to stay away from that emotionally and religiously charged word, how about we all just agree his a fucking scumbag asshole?

  8. paul says

    “Aside from the murdered child, there is nobody in this story who isn’t horrible”

    And what, pray tell, did the murdered woman do to offend you so?

  9. rowanvt says

    It’s situations like this one, where there’s absolutely no doubt, that keep still *barely* in favor of the death penalty. Not as a punishment, but as an ending.

    People like this I view less as “evil” and more as so fundamentally ‘broken’ in some way that it is too dangerous for them to be alive. Just as I am not punishing a dog that was effectively born aggressive (it’s not fun to see a 6 wk old puppy wanting to kill you) by euthanising it. It’s simply proven itself to be too dangerous.

  10. mynameischeese says

    Depressing story. Especially sad that one of the woman reached out for help and the neighbour wouldn’t help her because she thought the woman was mentally ill. Mentally ill are entitled to help from the police, too.

    Do you take requests? If you need a story to trash for a more light-hearted post, you could rip into this one:

    The only problem with that story is that it’s almost too easy.

  11. dianne says

    If I understand the timing of events correctly, the answer is probably that she didn’t do anything to prevent the 4 year old’s death. Not that she could have done much from the sounds of things.

  12. eddie says

    If we cannot imagine ourselves in moses position, then that is a failure or our imagination, not a vindication of our feelings of his being outside of our moral realm. People like him exist, have always existed, and come into existence in the same way that you, me and jesus come into being. It is the very fact of their existence that should make us look at them more closely, not less.

    It is a little disturbing that your list of his attributes that you cannot imagine yourself possessing, end up being an affirmation of the attributes that you do possess. Sure, but what if you didn’t? How does one end up in possession of your morality, and what has to to happen differently in order that you possess his instead? And really, and to what extent was he not morally motivated, but instead perhaps his morality was just some flotsam floating on the surface of an ocean of generalised hate and self-loathing? His reptile brain had very little executive function going on. Especially in comparison to yours.

  13. says

    It is the very fact of their existence that should make us look at them more closely, not less.

    You’re right. I should devote some time to discussing this story. Maybe I’ll start a blog and then write about it. Hey, wait a minute…

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