At the end of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes, “All things truly wicked start from an innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and everyday is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war.” 208
He wars over his infidelity, his pained love of his wife, and his recollections of a Paris that will never be the same for him because he will never be so “very poor and very happy.”
From innocence comes wickedness. Do we know that when being innocent? Do we know that so little room lies between charm and connivance? Between childhood and adolescence? Between startle and terror?
So it’s not like Aristotle’s Golden Mean in The Nichomachean Ethic. It’s not that evil is excess, innocence is absence, and goodness is the mean. It’s not even that evil polarizes innocence. It’s that, Garden-of-Eden-wise, evil begins as innocence.
Practically speaking, what are the implications to self-actualizing if we accept Hemingway’s observation? It seems that we must beware of that smug feeling that self-licenses our innocent behaviors. Think of how many phrases begin with “innocent.” An “innocent remark,” an “innocent flirtation,” “innocent until proven guilty,” “innocent bystander,” and “innocent joke.” Obviously each of these innocents carries the potential for evil. The innocent bystander who witnesses an attack and leaves. The innocent flirtation turned infidelity. The innocent joke that breeds malice.
Jokes, in particular, appear innocent. I was watching an episode of Louie yesterday. The guys were playing poker. The “gay guy” inquired why Louie uses “faggot” so many times in his comedy act. Banter continues until “the gay guy” explains the meaning of “faggot,” which involves burning homosexuals not at the stake—for that would be too formal—but among a pile of kindling, called “faggots.” His historical account returns to the present by assuring the rest of the guys that every time he and other gay men hear “faggot,” they recall a physical beating. No way to avoid the association. Everyone pauses in the game, seemingly enlightened. Louie, as well. Then, “faggot” comes out of his mouth again and all but one chuckle.
From innocence comes evil. Or is it really evil to begin with?