Among Plato’s collection of somewhat adolescent pronouncements is his famous “to know the good is to do the good.” In a recent interview with Spiegel magazine, the well-experienced actress Senta Berger remarked that, while she sees theater as a moral undertaking, she would not really want to play moral persons, since immoral figures are so much more interesting.
She adds that she is certainly not a moral actress, but tries to be a moral person. When she is not working, off-stage she tries. One hopes “valiantly,” because, if there were no struggle, she probably would not be all that interesting, certainly not tabloid material. Indeed, during the 70s she is said to have been fascinated by left-wing radicals, and she still likes to recount her struggles with the casting-couch.
If we consider also the fascination of our newspapers, Hollywood, our politicians, our preachers with all that is not good: isn’t it time to admit that we are really attracted to the source of all “evil,” like flies to honey, and only like to admire from afar all those boring people who are already thoroughly and permanently good? What would Ronald Reagan have been without the Evil Empire? He would have remained a shallow actor. What would our revivalist preachers be without their periodic fall from grace into pornographic apple sauce?
Ms. Senta Berger goes so far as to say that the moral can only be defined through the immoral: spoken like someone who knows how to stage effective drama and comedy. When we exhort other people, including our own children, to be moral, are we not tempting them to resign themselves to irrelevance, to predictable and boring powerlessness because of having become painfully uninteresting?
Perhaps that is the ultimate horror of those mythical orphanages: that they ruthlessly try to turn children into good children, condemning them to no life at all, for all eternity. Can one imagine anything more crazy-making than to be elevated to a chorus of angles that does nothing but sing “Alleluia,” over and over and over, for all eternity, with only the occasional Amen sprinkled in for diversion?
At the beginning of World War I, young middle-class men were said to have been going to the front in droves, singing with excitement, because they had been bored by too much peace and quiet for far too long. Goodness as the real source of war…
Even my hairdresser, as she cut unruliness off my head, reminded me, that forbidden sex is always sweeter than what is expected from us off stage, lights out, dutifully consummating legal contracts, with a kind smile, on time. Is this perhaps also the reason for our newest villains, the bankers, and their reality theater, the financial crisis? If so, then should we thank them for their transgressions, as we thank our preachers for their sins?
Is there an evil intent hidden in people who preach goodness? Are they trying to seduce us to a life of “to know the good is to do nothing”?