Dave's Progress. Chapter 24: Getting Away with Murder?

Throughout my experience of mental ill health, it has often been my misfortune to think of myself as a "bad" person. Indeed, it seems to be something of the nature of depression and illnesses like it that when you are in its throes you seem to automatically come to think of yourself, not necessarily as "mad", but most certainly as "bad". This sort of thinking came to its zenith with me when I began to feel as if I were not just a bad person, but an inherently evil one. However, as sanity and its clearer ways of thinking began to sink in, I realised that these notions of evil I had been carrying around with me were pure fallacy. As they often say at the "Changes" group, we might not realise it at the time, but "feelings are not facts", particularly the feelings we have about ourselves when we are ill. But this did all get me to thinking, what exactly is a "good" person? Indeed, does goodness and evil exist at all, in the biblical sense, or is it just all down to psychology? Is there a line to be drawn between what we do and what we are?
Using a couple of literary examples to expand on this, Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock" and Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley", I will attempt to find an answer.
In Greene's "Brighton Rock", the main character Pinkie Brown would, I'm sure, be described by many as "evil". Indeed, Greene seems to make it clear that Pinkie is something that has been dredged from the portals of Hell. He is a criminal, murderous, devious and lacks any empathy or sympathy for others or any guilt over his crimes. He is a dangerous sociopath. He is also a devout Catholic, which leads him, because of his evil ways, to have a cowardly fear of the afterlife, because it would seem he knows exactly where he will end up, and when asked by one of his gang if he believes that hell is a real place, he simply responds, "of course it's real. It's all real. Hell fire and damnation." His nemesis comes in the form of the character Ida Arnold, a simple, boisterous woman, who believes devoutly in "right and wrong". It is here, however, that Greene seems to raise the vexed question of which is the superior belief, "right and wrong" or "good and evil" and indeed, he seems to suggest that in some ways Pinkie is superior to the "good" Ida because he believes in deeper notions of good and evil rather that the purely societal right and wrong.
Furthermore, it is exactly because of Pinkie's lack of empathy or guilt that a psychiatrist might shy away from words like "evil", seeing Pinkie instead as a sociopath in need of treatment. Indeed, in real life, it has recently been announced that the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, has been judged "well enough" to return to society as he is no longer a danger to others. Many, obviously, are outraged by such ways of thinking, given his past crimes. But it does raise the point I made earlier, "evil" or a matter of purely medical psychology?
Similarly, in "The Talented Mr.Ripley", Tom Ripley is portrayed as a cool, calculating sociopath who uses the tool of appearing "good", of always doing the right thing, to literally get away with murder. Thoroughly civilised and an expert himself in human psychology, Ripley shows that by merely acting like a civilised individual, everyone will assume you to be so. Even though his progress through the book is thoroughly amoral, as he climbs to ever higher social strata, his true sociopathic tendencies are kept under wraps.
This book had a particular ring of truth for me as I truly believe that because of the social milieu we inhabit, one only has to "act" at being "good" in order to be perceived so. On the other hand, I see myself, who somewhat wears his heart on his sleeve and does not hide, and yet has perceived himself to be "bad". So, I wrote a poem about this which I shall print here. It is called "The Good Bloke" and goes like this:

Like a priest handing out the sacrament,
Who doesn't really feel a thing,
I do everything that's right, you know,
I'm a good bloke I am.

I adhere to society's values,
I wear them like a cloak or a shroud,
I never transgress the morals that were taught me,
I'm a good bloke, I am.

I never question, never criticise,
Treat Mum and Dad to the odd surprise,
Take the girlfriend out for a meal now and then,
I'm a good bloke, I am.

So I follow the rules,
They never realise I could be treating them like fools,
That underneath this veil could beat the darkest of hearts,
But everybody knows that I'm a good bloke, I am.

Because to experience what is good in man you have to know evil first,
Become corrupted before your rebirth,
And know finally that piety isn't purity,
But I'm a good bloke, I am.

But then again and all the same,
The odd dangerous thought sweeps through my brain,
I can't help it sometimes they just keep coming in,
But then I remember the rules.

So you never know someday I might explode,
But I think for now I can carry this load,
And you know that you can trust me,
'Cos I'm a good bloke, I am.

OK, so that still leaves the question of whether true good and evil really exist, almost like supernatural forces. Myself, I am more inclined towards the arguments of psychology. I truly doubt whether anyone can be inherently "evil", or for that matter, all just "good". I tend towards the notion that we are all a bit of both, neither in extremis. But, all the same, as my poem attests, it doesn't stop me believing that some people are just very good actors. While some of us, through illness or some other disfunction or trauma, come to think of ourselves as bad people, we can, nonetheless, through the goodness of our actions, if that is our actions define us, come to be convinced that perhaps we are just like others, not perfect, but trying. While others, perhaps you may know some, are just that bit too perfect, that bit too good to be true, leaving you wondering what darkness beats behind that veil. Are they really getting away with murder?
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


Philippa said…
These are interesting reflections. Although it does not answer your main question, they reminded me of this passage in The Talented Mr Ripley:
"What seemed to terrify him was ... the memory of himself standing in front of Marge with the shoe in his hand, imagining all this [the contemplated murder] in a cool, methodical way. And the fact that he had done it twice before. Those two other times were facts, not imagination. He could say he hadn’t wanted to do them, but he had done them. He didn’t want to be a murderer. Sometimes he could absolutely forget that he had murdered, he realized. But sometimes - like now - he couldn’t."
It is passages like this which keep the reader on the side of Ripley, because they show self-awareness, at least, and the wish not to be as he is. Without these passages, Ripley would appear more deranged and inhuman. Some might say, more evil.
David said…
Dear Philippa,
Thanks for visiting my blog and making your comment.
I agree that such passages show an ember of conscience still burning in Ripley which makes him seem "less evil". Anyway, my blog was really just some passing thoughts I had had about the subject of good and evil. It is, I suppose, quite a hefty debate and one to which I would not pretend to have all the answers.
But thankyou for visiting and feel free to do so in the future.
dcrelief said…
Dear David,
Man can you write! If I were not in "Fibro Fog" I'd sit here and pick this baby apart. Word by word. Good vs Evil. ALLright.
I owe you one blog response.
Your poem needs to be in print if it's not, so enjoyable.
Best wishes to you,
~and thank you for your recent comment-research to fibro handicap.
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thanks so much for your very kind comment. I am sitting here with a big grin on my face.
Maybe I can get a T-shirt printed too now. While yours can have "I've been compared to Zora Neale Hurston", I could have "Man Can I Write!".
With Warmest Regards,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
I most certainly relate to this blog. In my own case, the thought of me being a 'bad person', was because I absorbed the negative 'hype' about me in a negative environment.
Because I was so used to being undermined and exploited, I began to believe that I was indeed a 'bad person'.
In so far as 'Changes', 'feelings are not facts', I struggle with that one. It could be construed that unhealthy feelings are not facts. However, my 'feelings' are a reaction to my perceived situation. If someone has been rude and inconsiderate to me, that upsets me, This, to me, is a fact.
I am upset but I work though it.
Thanks for submitting another one of your brilliant poems David. Always enjoy reading them.
You are a good bloke. We all have to battle with our 'dark side' but I like to think, that goodness usually prevails.
Empathetic thoughts, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment. As always what you say makes complete sense. I have another friend who is unsure about the Changes "feelings are not facts" line, as she believes that our feelings are our compass, however negative or misconstrued. And, like you, I believe mostly that what Abe Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" win through.
Thanks for your continued interaction,
With Warmest Regards,

Popular Posts