by Theodore Dalrymple (March 2009)
It is more difficult to write interestingly of good people than of bad; villains are generally more memorable than heroes. A newspaper that reported only acts of kindness and generosity would be insufferably boring and would go bankrupt even faster than those that relay only disaster caused by defalcation. To adapt very slightly Tolstoy’s famous aphorism, good people are all good in the same way, but bad people are all bad in their own way. more>>>
The stories of the "good" people have left me feeling of having been refreshed with sweet clean water, inside and out, while the last story of the "evil" babysitter dunked me in a bitter, filthy ditch part of which I accidentally swallowed.
I think it is neither good nor evil that, alone, fascinate us but the interplay of the two. That is what is of primary interest, what moves us, what gives us hope or awakens us to the hard truths of this world.
Evil itself fascinates, as a force. A banal man, a stupid man beset with the urge to kill someone—how is it that fate brings him the victims that it does. Why and how to some of us escape, and others walk into the buzzsaw of an encounter with the most ordinary of sociopaths and are if not crippled at least forever changed. Now, that's interesting.
In a world without evil, the man friendly to all would achieve the most good. Given the presence of evil, the man who sometimes opposes, who is sometimes hostile to, evil and those involved in evil - this man will surpass the goodness of the universally friendly and of the man who exhibits indiscriminate opposition and hostility. Evil is overpopulation, is squandering of natural resources, is offloading onto others costs greater than one's profits, is polluting children's minds with religious nonsense, is promising Heaven and threatening Hell.
I agree with those posters who recognize that it is evil which is boring and predictable. Bad people are successful only because good people refuse to descend to their level at first - alas a futile policy - because eventually evil has to be fought with evil. And indeed the evil doers are terribly offended when the tables are turned on them. Germans still moan about the fire bombing of Dresden forgetting their terror bombing of the UK, their destruction of whole villages, etc. etc. during WWII. Bad people are completely predictable because they never change their tactics whereas good people grow and change with the circumstances.
I recognize that I'm simple relative to others but, while agreeing with the premise that, generally, evil is facinating in a way that good is not, I enjoyed reading about the good that had been done by people. I was nearly in tears of happiness and compassion by the last example. If you will write more of the good, I will read and enjoy them. Their lives and acts are an encouragement. If anything I'm struck with moral envy, not disinterest.
My husband is such a man of stern stuff as well. His father abandoned his family, and remarried, leaving the family poor and without any form of justice a divorce might have brought. When I met his mother, she wept loudly, lamenting the fact that David (her son) was the spitting image of his father, and that he would probably leave me, too. How little she knew her own son! She never realized that her son stepped into his father's place when he became old enough to work, and provided for her. He was always there for her, and never dated while in high school.
I told her all this, because he told me all this when we were getting to know one another. Both of us came from wretchedly broken homes, and all I inherited was a sense of acceptance without bitterness, as did David.
Far from being like his own father, he and I have been together for 26 years. And although we live in the same town as his mother, he always calls and stops in...she never calls, and hasn't ever visited our home!
I am the luckiest woman in the world, then!
From time to time I amuse myself by trying to imagine what would have happened had all works of art and culture in general which deal with images of violence, killing and evil were to disappear. Just imagine our libraries almost empty as well as bookshops; how many empty walls in our art galleries, blank screens of tv sets most of the day, etc. Human cuture is based on agression and violence; this is our nature. The distinguish Author simply struggles with Christian hangover as best he can. There is an urgent need to modify human nature, but that is another topic.
just some dude
"In summary, it may be said that evil attracts and engrosses us in a way that good rarely does."
Doubtful that's true in person and in reality versus in the figment of one's own imagination. Good article though. Cheerio
Well, i enjoyed the article. My father was also a doctor, of a very wealthy Indian family: his patients adored him, but he treated his wife & kids (myself included) like wicked servants. i don't think the side his patients saw was a lie, it's just that he could only be good if he was armoured & throned as a doctor - at home, he was just irritable & violent. So both good & bad.
i think good and evil people are both interesting but there seems more to be said about the latter; perhaps this is because goodness is how people should be, so it's rather hard to do more than nod and say 'yes, everything's fine here', whereas evil instantly provokes a sense that something is wrong, and, therefore, the need to examine exactly what is wrong.
i think also, of the 'evil' people i've known (two highly destructive people in particular) they were very complex and mesmerisingly vivid. They were both very intelligent, however; i guess the average thug would be less complicated & so less interesting.
Blake certainly helped to get this theme started, when he declared that "Milton was of the Devil's party" and did not know of, because of the way that the blind poet dilated, with such loving interest, on Beelzebub in "Paradise Lost." Right now I'm of the Party of Enoch, the platform of which is expressed in the posting just above: it is evil that is banal, it is the evil who are predictable. But our opinions are akin to "all our final resolutions, that are made in a state of mind that is not going to last."
Evil is not unpredictable and interesting. Evil is predictable and boring. Someone who primarily acts out of short-term self-interest can be nothing else but predictable and boring. You know exactly how an evil person is going to behave in any given situation, and their conduct is infinitely tedious. They don't call it the "banality of evil" for nothing.
John M. J.
Mayhap the author's memory doth not fail:
Whatever pain it costs conquer their stubbornness; break their will, if you would not damn the child.
Therefore; let the child from a year old be taught to fear the rod and to cry softly. In order for this, let him have nothing he cries for; absolutely nothing, great or small, else you undo your work.
At all events from that age, make him do as he is bid, if you whip him ten times running to effect it, let no one persuade you that it is cruelty to do this; it is cruelty not to do it. Break his soul now and his soul will live, and he will probably bless you for all eternity.
A sermon by John Wesley included in the works of John Wesley published in 1840.
"Suffice it to say that no one would nowadays subscribe to the idea of one of the Wesleys (I forget which) with regard to the beating of children, that it is never too soon to begin God’s glorious work."
Perhaps the author's memory fails him as to which Wesley advocated the beating of children for God's glorious work, because none did.