‘Rapscallion’ – surely a contender for best word ever (closely followed by ‘nefarious’ and ‘skullduggery’) – all synonymous with villainy.
The starting point for all this was a short story competition about bad guys. I’d decided to come at it from the tongue in cheek, pendulum-swinging, overly-convoluted-diabolical-world-domination-pencil-moustache-Mwhahaha-school of thought. The thing about meglomaniacs is they’re always so well organised. I can barely get out of bed in the morning and there they are building secret lairs in volcanoes and radar-jamming space stations. It strikes me therefore that a better arch nemesis than a super-spy would be a management consultant who, rather than killing henchmen and bedding women, clogs up the supply-chain with bureaucracy and makes it really difficult to order plutonium. In place of a climatic showdown my story ends with a sheepish looking technician shuffling into the command centre, mumbling ‘the software in your death ray isn’t backwards compatible,’ and that’s that – pfssss.
This bit of nonsense got me thinking: What makes someone really bad? I’m talking about attributes rather than catalysts. Is it in the traits they possess or in the ones they lack? If I had been born without empathy would that make me callous or merely emotionally efficient?
‘The banality of evil’ is a phrase often uses on history programs when referring to the Nazis. Many of the officers who ran Auschwitz argued fervently at their trials that they were only administrators, and that they couldn’t be held accountable for the genocide taking place under their noses. The inference is that evil is an absence rather than a substance. This is obviously an extreme example, but in our own little ways we’re all walking the earth mercilessly projected our beliefs and expectations onto each other, leaving the gas on, the seat up, not remembering birthdays; little omissions and cut-corners. At what point do they tips the scales and spill over into malevolence?
The reason for all this naval gazing is a book idea I’m working on that centres around a protagonist called Methusaleh – a hebrew name meaning ‘when he dies, judgment.’ He comes to the conclusion that, because every action has a plethora of unseen repercussions, it is impossible to be truly good. As a consequence he decides to go full steam ahead in the opposite direction and have a ball. He does not wish people ill-will. He is simply morally ambivalent.
Speaking of malevolence and ambivalence I’ve just made my first foray onto Twitter – a God-forsaken place filled with the murmurings of the undead. The first tweet I encountered read: ‘OMG – Just stabbed myself in eye with pen LOL.’ Does my wanting them to disappear from the gene pool make me a bad person?