Do the Wrong Thing
Are you proud of yourself?
I dreamt I was in an unknown city with an unknown friend. He was morally shady sort, doing things that weren’t cartoonishly evil, but still bad, that certainly didn’t cause great harm but absolutely violated the Ten Commandments. It brought me back to high school, those bored days spent wandering around my sleepy small town, looking for things to do, dreaming big and thinking small in equal measure, chafing at the constraints of being not quite a child and not quite an adult. Very liminal.
Dream-me and my weird dream friend drifted into a big CVS or similar pharmacy superstore, roaming up and down the aisles. At my dream-friend’s urging, I swiped something from the shelves, successfully shoplifting two bags of those plastic handheld single-use dental floss things that save you the trouble of messing around with the string but probably cause a lot more inorganic non-biodegradable material to end to in your local landfill and therefore your drinking water supply. Why dental floss?1 Why microplastics? Why anything.
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Despite his success, dream-me felt bad, wretched, even, as my blasé buddy planned our next schemed. Why did I care? It was just a dream. And anyway, I’d gotten away with it. Nobody was hurt. Would MegaPharmaCorp. really be injured? Did I truly contribute to any suffering on a cosmic scale?
Still, I debated going back and slipping a twenty to the cashier and moving on. That I wasn’t contemplating turning myself in is testament to my moral cowardice. Are we truly more ourselves in dreams than we are while awake? Not a comforting thought.
When I woke, I felt residual guilt that slowly faded as I realized I was not, indeed, a THIEF.
I suppose it’s good to have a conscience, even in dreams. For some reason, I have recurring dreams about doing the wrong thing, typically some act of deception I get away with, and it makes my dream self sick to his stomach. My real self, too. Unlike cool dreams of being able to fly, I get to experience being a liar and a cheater and a thief without actually having to be one. I can attest from firsthand dream experience that being a criminal or a philanderer or in general an untrustworthy son-of-a-bitch stinks and I don’t recommend it, in dreams or in real life. Jung would have a field day, I’m sure.
The non-religious often mock us faithful by saying “You need threat of punishment not to be bad ha ha you’re weak.” To which I say, so do you. You just call it “the law” or “fear of getting punched in the nose” or something that attempts handwave the metaphysical element so you can feel superior and intelligent.
But you’re not, and you’re not fooling anyone. Believing you will be held to account for what you do is the only sane and rational point of view, without which everything is meaningless. Sadly, humanity has a long habit of doing the wrong thing, but luckily of also, mostly, feeling bad about it. This is healthy. This is good. This, I think, proof that the law is written in our hearts and souls.
I posit that a large part of the problem in our civilization is the constant erosion of these senses of guilt and shame. Societal structures are erected to make people not feel guilty about doing bad things. What’s more, people are made to feel bad about doing objectively good things. Being sexually attracted to minors, aka pedophilia, is an unfair stigma/kink-shame, but remaining a virgin until marriage is, like, totally weird and prudish. And so on.
It goes deeper. Look at science, medicine, politics, technology. With no limits and only the twin desires to seek profit at all costs and to destroy any and all unchosen bonds, we’re on the cusp of either total enslavement or total extinction, pick your poison. Seeking convenience above all else is a path to living death. It’s only in a society gone mad that its health is solely determined by “Red line goes up.” It’s disgusting and you should be disgusted.
Doing the wrong thing is the default. It requires no bravery save for the bravery of ignoring the ultimate consequences of your transgression. You can call that progress if you want. I call it wrong.
Was I on a Frank Zappa kick or something?