Saturday, August 15, 2009

A girl locked in a room, the prisoner of love.

An ex-stripper. She was desperate to take her child away from “the life.”

A Sicilian mobster. He would do anything to prevent his son from being taken from him.

The son: an innocent pawn caught in a tug of war between the forces of Light and Darkness!

(How dysfunctional can one family get?!)

The driver: he brought her food; he tried to mind his own business.

Just leave the food and go. Don’t talk to her. Don’t listen to her. Don’t look into her eyes.

“Help me,” she said. Two words were all it took.

He was a sociopath. A man without a conscience. When she turned to him for help, he couldn’t turn away.

He risked everything to help her.

He’s been on the run ever since.

This is the culminating true-life tale from nomad and ex-mob driver, Chris, in which we at last see his heroic side come fully to the fore. Is that you, John Wayne? The answer is yes.

It’s a tale out of a movie, hence the copy and title (taken from Chris’ favorite John Wayne film) for the latest episode of Shooting the Ghost.

Chris describes how he put his life on the line to try to help an ex-stripper and mobster’s wife get her child away from her husband and start a new life. It didn’t work, but he did what he could to make it happen. Why? Only Chris knows for sure. Some quality deep inside him, that cannot turn away from someone who needs his help; in this case, the archetypal “damsel in distress.”

In this particular scenario, few people could argue that Chris acted heroically. Based on this isolated incident, most of us would assume Chris to be a virtuous, even heroic character. Certainly anything but a “bad man.”

Yet we have already heard other, conflicting stories about Chris from his own mouth. We know he has been diagnosed as a sociopath devoid of human feeling or conscience, a man capable of torturing and maiming total strangers because of their debts to the mob. When asked how he felt about cutting people’s fingers off with garden shears, Chris replied, “It’s nothing personal.”

Most of us have a fairly standard view of what makes for virtue or depravity in a human being. We think we know what makes one man good, another bad. But such a perspective cannot encompass the mass of contradictions that Chris embodies. “By their fruit shall ye know them”? But how are we to know, or judge, a man who is as capable of acts of courage and selfless nobility as he is of savagery and base cruelty?

There doesn’t seem to be any way. It is probably futile to try. But suspending judgment is something that, as human beings, we have never learnt to do. Remaining neutral on such questions as good and evil, right and wrong, is as unthinkable to us as being impartial about what we eat, or our own pleasure and pain. The mere idea seems inhuman to us.

What if the reverse is the case? What if, in our rigid, socially imposed ideas about “good and evil,” humanity and inhumanity, we are forcing ourselves and others into a limited expression of the full spectrum of human possibilities? What if these very “moral” restrictions are what give rise to the distorted expressions of behavior we then label as “evil” and “sociopathic”?

It’s been a while since I quoted Nietzsche, but writing about Chris has led me into some old, dark waters that apparently I am not fully done with—perhaps because they are not done with us!

Here's the syphillitic one on his favorite subject, good and evil:
“One cannot be one without being the other . . . with every growth of man, his other side must grow too . . . That man must grow better and more evil is my formula for this inevitability. . . . With every increase of greatness and height in man, there is also an increase in depth and terribleness: one ought not to desire the one without the other—or, rather: the more radically one desires the one, the more radically one achieves precisely the other. . . Terribleness is part of greatness: let us not deceive ourselves.”

This piece is continued at our sister blog, the A.R.G.O.

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