February 13, 2016

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Even if nothing comes to upset your sense of well-being, the disturbing and inglorious thought comes to you that there is no good fortune without bad, that you could not appreciate your happiness unless you had something with which to compare it. They also serve who only stand and groan.

What is true of happiness and misery is true of good and evil. Speaking as a journalist, I have a lot to thank evil for. Nothing has ever furnished me with better, or easier, copy. One protests against it, of course, and hopes that each individual instance of it will be extirpated from the face of the earth; but in one’s heart of hearts one neither expects nor hopes for evil as such to be extirpated, in the same way that lawyers in America who sue tobacco companies for the harm they have caused do not want to drive them into bankruptcy, so that they may be sued again.

Evil cannot be extirpated in toto because it is inherent in the human heart (as is good, of course). I had my first lesson in this truth when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I have told the story before, but long ago, and it remains with me still.

In those days I thought that football was important. The team I favored often played brilliantly but lost even more often, which gained my sympathy. One year it did unusually well in the Cup, but to obtain tickets in advance for the quarter-final you had to queue for several hours, which in those days I thought well worth the trouble.

Along the line came an old blind man playing an accordion and singing “€œThe Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”€ He was led by a boy with a cap begging for alms. As he approached a group of youths”€”18 or 19 years old”€”they turned up the volume on the transistor radio they had with them and drowned out his voice. The old man, bemused and confused, retreated before their hilarity.

I was appalled by this black-hearted infamy (and by my own cowardice in saying and doing nothing). The old man would now long be dead, and the youths in their 70s. Whenever I hear anyone ascribe evil to circumstances, my mind returns to that scene. The youths, as they then were, enjoyed themselves; no one made or even encouraged them to behave in that way (though they might not have dared to do so individually).

The scene puzzled me, and puzzles me still; but, in retrospect, it enriched my life.


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