This essay has been, I hope it is now clear, a series of stories of evasion. Human beings wish to believe in a pure and good inner self led astray by “cultural forces”; or a conflicted self that is concerned not with righteousness but only with happiness and unhappiness; or a self afflicted by and seeking to throw off the burden of a flawed and inadequate past; or no self at all. We will, it seems, do almost anything, construct almost any story, to avoid the recognition that something is deeply wrong with all of us, that whatever it is causes us to do what is wrong, and that we cannot plausibly blame that wrongdoing wholly on external forces.
It seems (to me, anyway) that the last few years have been apocalyptic in the truest sense: they have unveiled for us the evil in men’s hearts that lurks just below the surface and (hopefully) helped people of any sort who consider themselves good-hearted to realize how they, too, might be just as evil. Perhaps some people have looked in the mirror that is great literature, pondered the depths of their own hearts, ruminated on their own motivations, and seen maybe a few blemishes or a tendency towards harming others and themselves that could be overcome with a little willpower and pluck. I certainly haven’t.