Words for Good and Evil

The thing is, I’d rather write screenplays. Actually, I’d like to write novels that become screenplays. Or short stories that get spun into TV series. (Did you know that “Justified” is based on an Elmore Leonard story?)

The other thing—one of the other things—is that sometimes I’ll read or hear something that sticks in my brain like someone stabbed me with a bicycle-wheel spoke, and I’ll walk around trying to mind my own business, but I’ll keep brushing up against things with that spoke poking out of my head, and the more I try to forget it, the more things that are the regular traffic around my ears—news stories and my children telling me important things about their bottle-cap collections and voicemails from work and the sound of the air conditioning kicking on—well, all of it keeps slapping into that bloody spoke until I root it out by setting down some words.

This is why, often against my better judgment, I’ll write something about why our churches are a mess, or the lunacy of fashionable views on sexuality, or the precise trajectory of Western civilization’s descent into therapeutic suicide. It’s not that I think all of you don’t KNOW these things, after all. It’s just that I need to organize the thoughts collecting around the business end of that spoke, and give them some direction on a page, if only so I can extract it from my brain and be about the business of loving my children and earning a living and writing short stories that don’t have enough angsty 20-something post-abortion lesbian art-student protagonists to ever have hope of being published in fancy journals, but which someone, somewhere, might still appreciate reading.

All of this is to say that maybe some of you will appreciate my essay on a problem that perhaps you have noticed too, which is that when great tragedy strikes, or great evil is undertaken by people who pretend it is good, the average man doesn’t know, any more, how to talk about it. I think this is a bad thing. Do you?

Here’s an excerpt from the essay, which is at Good Letters:

We chatter about the psychological and sociological and political origins of school shootings and soldier suicides and the sexual deviancy of congressmen, our words neglecting a quiet truth that has no place in the conversation of the twenty-first-century West—because it is not a fact that can be measured like the weight of a carbon molecule or the earnings of Ford Motor Company—namely, that we are sick in our very souls, were sickened soon after we began, and will only grow sicker so long as we entertain the fantasy that we are each of us no more than watches that must be occasionally adjusted.

“The traditions,” wrote Viktor Frankl in 1962, “which buttressed [man’s] behavior are now rapidly diminishing.” We are falling, Frankl contended, into an “existential vacuum.” Absent traditions to guide behavior, man “either wishes to do what other people do or he does what other people wish him to do.” Man loses, in this vacuum, his sense of worthwhileness. Little wonder that he loses his sense of others’ worth as well.

It’s the first of two essays, and you can read the rest of it here.


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