(About a 4 minute read)
Sometime ago I was reading Baudelaire on how we should and must keep in touch with our evil side, as well as our good side. That sounded like sensible advice to me. After all, humans at times seem to me to be a nearly perfectly balanced mix of potential for both good and evil.
Of course, it appears to me that way because I’m looking at it from a human perspective. I mean, If I had a god-like perspective, I might think of humans quite differently. Perhaps I would see how many things — behaviors and values — are simply not in our repertoire of likely, or even possible, things for us to do or assert.
But from my human perspective, every behavior or value I can think of can be either affirmed or negated. Hence, we look pretty much perfectly balanced to me.
Anyway, reading Baudelaire made me realize I might not be in contact with my evil side. Which actually concerned me, because he makes quite a case for the importance of it, the least of which seems to be our dangerous tendency to see ourselves as wholly good, and then to project onto others our darker side, if we are not sufficiently aware of ourselves as a mixed bag.
“Men are such aggressive assholes! Why can’t more women see this? Makes me want to kick them in their nuts.” Or, “Women can be such sluts, sleeping around with people they just met, and hardly know. Don’t believe me? I know what I’m talking about! At least two-thirds of the 43 women I’ve slept with this year fucked me just so they could cut one more notch on their bedposts, by god.”
Of course, it gets much more dangerous than those examples imply, but you get the picture. When we deny one or another side of us, we risk dehumanizing others.
Naturally, I became curious to find out what more I could about my own evil side. Not just in the theoretical “I have the potential for anything” sense, but more importantly, “What evils are I myself as a person inclined towards?”
And that’s when I was shocked. Shocked not by any evils I found in me. Rather, it was worse than that. I was shocked by not finding much of anything!
Oh, of course, I found plenty of things most of us would believe questionable, unfortunate, or disagreeable. But nothing to make Baudelaire proud.
For instance, my anger was once like a summer thunderstorm. Quick to rise, intense, but quite over soon. Bad enough, but certainly not something on the order of being likely to murder old ladies for their Social Security checks. And that’s how it went. Despite all my efforts to think of evils I might be predisposed to, I couldn’t think of any at all.
But me? A saint? But how likely is that?
I can be dumb, but not nearly dumb enough to lose sight of how unlikely it would be for God and Darwin to have intended me to be a saint.
It went for months like that. Each time I examined my record, it came up clean, much too clean. And then I realized I was approaching it from the wrong angle.
You see, I was looking for signs of behaviors and for values in me that I would feel disturbed by, that would make me queasy about myself. But I should have been looking for evils deeds or desires that I had reconciled myself to!
It’s a curious fact — I have now learned — that seemingly the moment we ourselves desire to do evil, or even the moment we ourselves have done evil, our impression of how evil that thing is suddenly changes. Suddenly it somehow magically becomes “understandable”, or “not as bad as it looks”. At least to us, it does.
And I’ve found that’s true even when we are still horrified or angered by the very same desires in other people, or by the very same behaviors.
So of course I’d missed finding my evil side! None of my own desires or deeds stood out to me, sickened me. And that itself now seems to me a species of evil.
Today, I know myself all the better, which is of key importance to so many things. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
By the way, if you are interested in getting to know yourself better — much better than you might ever imagine — you might want to check out how you can write a secret autobiography to do just that. I posted on it just earlier today, and you can find the post here.
Questions? Comments? Evil suggestions I invite Teresums over for one of my home-cooked meals of deep-fried mac and cheese? Mailing addresses where I can send a thank-you note for your evil suggestion while Teresums is laid up in the hospital having her stomach pumped?