There’s nothing praiseworthy about someone who never has to transcend the ‘worser’ angels of her nature. So if you’ve never had to wrestle with the guy with the horns and pitchfork sitting on your shoulder, I really don’t want to know you. Acting on your bad thoughts can make you scary. But just having them – provided you’re willing to share them – makes you fun. I’m not sure we all have bad thoughts, but if you don’t your mind must be a pretty joyless place.
Some bad thoughts arise spontaneously. Just today, for example, I thought, “If you still doubt that vaccinations cause autism, take a look at Greta Thunberg.” But others are thrust upon us, perhaps by what we might overhear in a bar. “What’s black and blue and doesn’t like sex? The four-year-old in my trunk.” Or, “It’s not sex if the woman lives.”
Some bad thoughts can never be funny, though offhand I can’t think of one. Certainly some humour, like what I overheard in the bar, involves laughing at our own outrage. But all humour hangs on context and timing. Its essence is the juxtaposition of two thoughts that we wouldn’t think could belong together. Such as? Well, such as my favourite from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “The spaceship hovered over the Earth in much the way that bricks do not.”
That’s when a bad thought, given the right delivery, can have you on the floor clutching your sides in serious pain. Some years ago I took up, albeit briefly, with one of my son’s ex girlfriends. When I finally fessed up to him – it was via email – his response was, “Welcome to my leavings.” I could have crawled to Emergency, I suppose. But what could I have told them when I got there?
It’s not a good bad thought unless it hits home, and for many of us home is our race. Amy Shumer once opened one of her Specials with, “I’m Jewish. So when I was about twelve my mother suggested I start a diary.” Don’t ask where this kind of comic brilliance come from. You can’t shine a light into the darkest recesses of our souls. The darkness has to speak for itself.
In this age of political correctness, we’re not allowed to have bad thoughts. But they’re like Tourettes. The more we try to suppress them, the more they burst out of us. And that, I suspect, is why Donald Trump was so begrudgingly elected, and remains so begrudgingly re-electable. People say it’s because he tells it like it is. No he doesn’t. He tells us like it isn’t. He knows it isn’t, and we know it isn’t. We just like to hear it said, because only what isn’t true can be so delightfully bad to pretend it is.
Once all bad thoughts have been banished, what’s remaindered is priggish self-righteousness, otherwise known as virtue-signaling. Such people cannot be goosed. That makes it all the more irresistible to think about goosing them.
Every now and then the temptation overcomes us. I used to think the best strategy is to just tell what’s always the truth, namely that, “Your Honour, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” But sometimes that’s not the truth. That’s why I think judges should show some understanding when the accused admits instead that, “Your Honour, it seemed like such a bad idea at the time.” I’m not saying the case should therefore be dismissed. I’m just asking for a reduction in the miscreant’s sentence in light of his diminished capacity.
We Jews don’t go to confession. We figure that what God doesn’t know can’t hurt Him. But I wonder sometimes about you Catholics. How does your poor confessor manage to keep it together?
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Since my last confession I’ve had two impure thoughts and one bad one.”
“About whom were your impure thoughts, my son?”
“My sister and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”
“I see. And your bad thought?’
“It was about putting digital depositories in the school hallway. You know, for lepers.”
Maybe that’s why some Catholic priests self-flagellate. It’s exorcism. “Satan, be gone from me! The spirit of Christ commands you. The spirit of Christ commands you …!