Room 54: Morals, Principles, and Pederasts [see the previous post on Promises]
—This is embarrassing. Do I have to do this again?
—Yes. This is your punishment, pederast. Let’s talk about gray areas.
—I know where this is going, and I don’t want to go there.
—That’s exactly why we need to confront it. There’s something Thomas kept saying to everyone he kidnapped, and it ironically relates to you. “I’m a moral man and I’m a principled man.”
—You’re saying I’m not.
—See, that’s the thing. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, we often justify our behaviors, or cover them up, with this idea that we are just trying to do the right thing.
—Or avoiding doing the wrong thing. I told you I didn’t touch those kids.
—But you did in your mind. And that’s dark. But we know what you said, that your mind works a certain way, and NOT touching those kids somehow made you a hero, even though you had them over to your house and—
—You don’t have to repeat it. I have morals and principles. Let me hold on to that, please.
—I’m not saying you’re not a misunderstood figure in society. I too think there’s a difference between a molester and a rapist. But, like you said, we’ve “lost all nuance.” We love labels and categories. We like to hate villains what we don’t understand, see the worst in people. We create our throwaway people and, instead of understanding them and finding a way for them to function in society, we want to lock them all up and forget about them.
—So you sympathize with me?
—Yeah, I wouldn’t go that far. I’ll use a less creepy example.
—Kidnapping people but not wanting to hurt them?
—Yeah. Or weed dealers not being coke dealers. Or hitting a woman is different than beating a woman. Like, we would all agree there are degrees, but it’s difficult to comfortably do anything about it and say, “oh, well, you did the moral thing by not being as bad as you could have.”
—You’re more forgiving than Thomas.
—You’re a fictional character and you didn’t touch me.
—I didn’t touch him either.
—But the point is we all want to be people with morals. We all have a tendency to be self-righteous. When we play by the rules, as the congressman said, we can make it. But when we don’t make it, we feel cheated, because we’re right, and we’ve been wronged.
—And so we kidnap people against their will and claim we are in the right.
—I didn’t do that to you.
—As a reader, you are complicit in the act. By reading, you gave Thomas an audience and condoned his behavior.
—You just wish more people condoned yours.
—Ouch. Ok that one hurt.
—But as a character, you represent the creep, but also the everyman. Because you exist in the gray area we all go to when we justify our decisions, or see how far we can go. As a character, that’s why you make us uncomfortable. It’s not your behavior, it’s how you justify it and live with yourself, because we do the same with all our behaviors. This is what makes your chapter probable the bravest for Eggers to write.
—One time Thomas said, “I”m a moral man. I’m a principled man. And I might be invincible.” I think that shows the progression to self-righteousness that we all exhibit. By crafting your own world of right and wrong, you think you’re invincible, that you can’t be held responsible for your actions.
—But I still suffered. I had to leave my profession, and feel a lot of guilt. Thomas suffered, but we’re left to find out how. In a way, his story isn’t just about the issues he brings up. It’s about the hypocrisy of our character flaws. So I might have done some inappropriate things to some kids. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.
—Ok. Guess you’ve had enough. I’m moving on to the next person. Gonna hunt me down an illiterate cop.