Comprehending the Incomprehensible

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Dante's Inferno Charon


Every newspaper and television news station is trying to make sense of the deliberate crashing of the Germanwings flight in the French Alps. Over and over I hear people ask why and how, interview pundits about depression, about mental illness, the legal responsibility of mental health providers, the possibility of predicting the actions of those being treated for this or that. Other pundits are interviewed about what Lufthansa (owner of Germanwings) could have, should have done to anticipate this, to prevent that: doors that can be broken down if you have the secret decoder ring; smart locks that don’t exist that could be opened only by special devices that also don’t exist. Lawyers are interviewed about what new laws and rules and regulations can be passed to prevent such a horror from ever happening again.

As if such a thing could be anticipated or legislated out of the realm of possibility.

I see the same reactions over and over again every time some narcissistic lunatic shoots a bunch of people, only then blame is always assigned to the firearm, which makes about as much sense as assigning blame to the airplane in this tragedy.

No one can do anything to prevent such horrors, nor can we understand them. The closest we can come to comprehending evil like that can be found in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. In the eighth canto of the first canticle (Inferno) Dante and Virgil are in the fifth circle of hell, which is devoted to anger. They approach the capital of hell where the rebellious angels refuse to open the gates to them. The poet John Ciardi, in his introduction to the eighth canto, describes the rebellious angels as “creatures of ultimate evil,” and goes on to say, “Even Virgil is powerless against them, for human reason by itself cannot cope with the essence of evil. Only Divine aid can bring hope.”

I believe that’s as close as we will ever come to understanding such tragedies.

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