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On becoming evil

Dr. Weevil has been reading Wilkie Collins -- a rather neglected author, I believe. He seems to have favored the epistolary style of writing, and also the story-within-a-story-within-a-story style, as in The Guilty River. Anyway, I found a copy online. This passage interested me:

"Looking out of window, I saw a brutal carter, on the road before the house, beating an over-loaded horse. A year since I should have interfered to protect the horse, without a moment's hesitation. If the wretch had been insolent, I should have seized his whip, and applied the heavy handle of it to his own shoulders. In past days, I have been more than once fined by a magistrate (privately in sympathy with my offence) for assaults committed by me in the interests of helpless animals. What did I feel now? Nothing but a selfish sense of uneasiness, at having been accidentally witness of an act which disturbed my composure. I turned away, regretting that I had gone to the window and looked out.

"This was not an agreeable train of thought to follow. What could I do? I was answered by the impulse which commands me to paint.

"I sharpened my pencils, and opened my box of colors, and determined to produce a work of art.

To my astonishment, the brutal figure of the carter forced its way into my memory again and again. It (without in the least knowing why) as if the one chance of getting rid of this curious incubus, was to put the persistent image of the man on paper. It was done mechanically, and yet done so well, that I was encouraged to add to the picture. I put in next the poor beaten horse (another good likeness!); and then I introduced a life-like portrait of myself, giving the man the sound thrashing that he had deserved. Strange to say, this representation of what I ought to have done, relieved my mind as if I had actually done it. I looked at the pre-eminent figure of myself, and felt good, and turned to my Trials, and read them over again, and liked them better than ever.

And the thought struck me: this more than resembles the actions of contemporary artists and writers, who supposedly crusade against injustice with their works of art, yet in the face of real injustice are either silent or actually attack those who attempt to actually do something about the injustice in the world. This problem is obviously not unique to our century. Perhaps this is the answer to questions like "what has happened to feminist criticism of the way women are oppressed in Muslim societies?" and "why is the media so eager to portray our military in a bad light but virtually silent on the horrors perpetrated by our enemies on their own people?"

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Don't worry, he's just chopping broccoli.


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