Sunday, February 13, 2011

Drinking the Mortal Brew: Run On for a Long Time...

this is part of a series I am writing on Epicurus's Vatican Sayings. To view other parts of the series, click here.

 "It is difficult for a wrongdoer to go undetected; to remain assured that he will go undetected is impossible"- Epicurus, 2nd Vatican Saying

"What is done in the dark will be brought to the light". "The truth will out". "A wrong visited on another will be visited on the perpetrator three times over".

The theme that we all 'get what is coming to us' is very popular, and very comforting (to a certain extent). It's what gives some of us hope, but it's also what causes some of us to bite our fingernails.

But I don't believe in karma, and Epicurus didn't either. The beauty of this Vatican Saying is that it's not a promise of some kind of karmic woo-woo, but a practical observation: 'Yeah', it says, 'there's a chance you will get away with whatever it is you have done wrong, but if you do wrong, you have to live with the possibility that someday your deed may be uncovered'.

It doesn't say that the wrong will be uncovered. It says that it might. Once you act in bad faith, you must be ever vigilant that your transgression isn't discovered, and that you've always got the script--rationalizations you offer your self and others to justify your actions if they ever need justifying--down. Just on a meat-and-potatoes level, doing wrong is an exhausting prospect.

Belief in the inevitability of justice is bad for the same reasons that belief in saints is bad. The idea that 'someone else will take care of it' is the lazy road to apathy and inaction. Once you have been consigned to hell or promised heaven, everything in between is just filler. The brilliance of Epicurus's observation is not that it promises justice: it's brilliance lies in the understanding that a) in the end, sinning requires far too much work, and b) it's harder to reconcile yourself with a crime that you may not ever get convicted of than it is to receive a deserved sentence.

So, all ye evildoers, remember the exasperated refrain of the killer from Poe's 'Tell-Tale Heart' as he boards the bus to crazy town: " is the beating, the beating of his hideous heart!".

Who needs a hell in the afterlife when we are perfectly willing (and able) to construct private ones for ourselves, here on earth?


Willie Y said...

"It is difficult for a wrongdoer to go undetected; to remain assured that he will go undetected is impossible".

This is a recurring nightmare that I have. I do some dastardy act and for a while I get away with it. But slowly but surley people start getting closer and closer to finding out what I have done.

the elegant ape said...

Hell is other people.
Jean-Paul Sartre

Lodo Grdzak said...

You know I felt the same thing Elegant Ape. But I knew that was too true an idea and too perfectly phrased to have originated with me.

Spencer Troxell said...

'No Exit' is one of the scariest things I've ever read.