It occurred to me today that the same principle can and perhaps should (and regardless, will) be applied to really nasty things. For the past few weeks, I've been contemplating Rupert Murdoch. The evil of him. The shriveled-ness of him. The incredible power he wields. That he uses for evil. And that apparently shrivels him. But it shouldn't take a really hard-to-believe, larger-than-life villain to make us feel hopeless and vaguely sick. We should be able to conjure up that same sense of despairing detestation by contemplating the humbler reprobates.
Just today, I read the following story, about about two civic-minded young men in Salem, Massachusetts, who encouraged a suicidal man poised on the edge of a roof to jump by yelling "jump!" and various choice profanities. One has decided to plead guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct, the other is trying to make himself even more desirable by claiming he did nothing wrong and fighting the charge in court.
The man on the roof was eventually convinced to come down and no one was harmed, but that's no thanks to the spontaneous intervention of these irrepressible future leaders.
They simply did what people are always be exhorted to do: they refused to stand silent on the sidelines; they encouraged someone to assert himself; they bravely voiced an unpopular opinion in public. They are proof that such exhortations can be stupid.
They are also proof of the fact that terrible people are not only to be found in positions of power; in every small town across America, across North America, across the world, there are soulless, heartless, brainless people. If they could only figure out how to use those qualities to turn a profit, Murdoch might just find himself a new workforce. He appears to be running surprisingly low on staff.
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