I have, for some time now, been waking to the realisation that there are some that I 'know', some that occupy space near me and who have seemed until now thoroughly benign, good even, that are, to put it no other way I can think of, profoundly malign. Being in proximity to malignancy such as this, malignancy that has taken a great deal of time to show itself, a great deal of time to make itself felt and to engage its sharp teeth, is like coming to a sudden knowledge of the most insidious sickness underlying everything you thought good, healthy and fair. The unveiling of that malignancy has been shocking and yet utterly banal in equal measure. And it is this banality that has unsteadied me the most. That one can ever get used to being in proximity to a creature without an ethical core, and find ways of being in the world in proximity to that creature, is perhaps the most deeply disturbing realisation that I have come to.
I remember much older friends of mine, and before them friends of my parents, telling me in hushed whispers of the darkness that can lurk in the heart of humanity, of the vindictive, spiteful and malicious monsters that prowl the spaces we negotiate each day. Back then I was inclined to put such dark forbidding down to the neurosis of the old, to the weariness that comes of being for too long. But I am now inclined to think them not just right, but, frankly, insufficiently pointed in their characterisation of that darkness.
How can it be, then, that this realisation only comes with age? What is it about being for some time that brings this terrifying and yet utterly mundane wisdom? There is no structural guarantee that living longer delivers such wisdom. Many of the old in my life have become less tolerant of others, more inclined to selfishness and less open to difference. Theirs is no glorious march to wisdom, no path to enlightenment. So why now? Why this sudden unveiling of the malign place at the core of humanity? I think it must be down to a rather local and particular dramatis personae that engenders the need to understand, the survival instinct, if you will. When the creature unveils himself, one is suddenly aware of the need to be careful, of the need to preserve oneself, to be on the lookout for acts of maliciousness. His is the honourable role in this little drama, like the prince in Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe, or the duke in Kafka’s The Castle. In a way, in acting, they become even more invisible, in maliciously manipulating, they disappear, fade into a strange and grey backfill of ‘them’ out there.
Perhaps this has been my strangest insight to date, that evil, for want of a less epic term, in its banality is also a kind of background noise, a hum , a disturbance as Serres would put it. Except that, today, the volume got turned up for a moment...