No one taught me how to be good. This is likely true for you as well. If anything I was taught the consequences of being bad. But where love’s concerned, I wasn’t given much. There was Jesus of course, but he was impossibly good and not much fun. There was Huck Finn who was conditionally good and that was OK by me. I first read Huckleberry Finn when I was eight. I listened to it on long playing records from the library for the blind.
In chapter 36, after they’ve freed Jim from jail, Tom Sawyer says to Huck: “Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”
This is better than any Horatian chestnut. It should be on the entablatures of all our public buildings.
As for Horace, this should also go on our buildings: “The foolish are like ripples on water, For whatsoever they do is quickly effaced; But the righteous are like carvings upon stone, For their smallest act is durable.”
People will know if, indeed, you ain’t ignorant and you know better, and you behave badly.
The proper goodness, the one we should all strive for is the durable.
You don’t need God or organized religion but you do need personal irony. Conscience depends on it. If you ain’t ignorant and you know better, then don’t poison the water tables. Don’t gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Don’t eliminate scores of jobs in the Center for Disease Control. Don’t downplay science. Don’t yammer about global warming being a hoax.
Does Donald Trump truly not know better? Would Tom Sawyer look him over and judiciously say, “he does wrong because he’s ignorant and don’t know nothin’ different?”
This is of course the mystery of Trump: because he appears to be sufficiently educated he must know better. Therefore he must be doing wrong out of basic criminal advantage. Which brings us back to Tom Sawyer, for his comment comes as he and Huck commit a crime (as it would have been adjudged before the Civil War.) And these boys knew that right is right and wrong is wrong and there were some mighty ignorant adults in charge.
As for Trump, I wrote in a blog post some time back entitled Ubu Trump:
America is now fully a cartoon culture. We have cartoon families, cartoon immigrants, stick figure women, logos for cripples, cartoon news shows, and of course, the cartoon web.
In a cartoon society issues of oppression—the forces of oppression—no longer need to correct and punish deviants, for “these people” are fully written off like Goebbel’s schoolbook cartoony jews.
Everyone is a cartoon.
And because people know it, even the least literate, they suspect they are the victims of a joke.
This is Donald Trumps signature line. That America is a joke.