"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, August 04, 2006

The "real" person inside?

The latest flap surrounding Mel Gibson perfectly illustrates some contemporary confusions about moral psychology. Truth can be served by pointing them out, thus encouraging humility—the sort of humility Gibson's obviously sincere public confession has shown.

Citing the old proverb in vino veritas, Gibson's old enemies and not a few of his erstwhile supporters take his drunken tirade as irrefutable evidence that he is, at heart, an anti-Semitic boor. Nonsense. If the proverb were true without qualification, then the best way for police to obtain confessions and judges to secure reliable testimony from witnesses would be to get the subjects drunk. But it isn't, and there's no argument against fact. So let's drop the all-too-easy illusion. What Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks show is that he has such ugliness inside him, along with other kinds of ugliness that he has manifested, such as alcoholism—a demon with which many otherwise good people have struggled. We all have ugliness inside us; some less than others, to be sure; but I know of nobody past the age of reason who has none at all. Indeed, saints are the most likely to see themselves as sinners and such unflinching, genuine humility is one reason they are saints. We cannot say who the "real" Mel Gibson is just because alcohol loosened his inhibitions on expressing his inner ugliness.

He was of course totally wrong to let himself get that drunk, and then drive in that state, to start with. But one could with at least as much justice—if not more—say that the "real" Mel Gibson is the one who repented of his rotten behavior and issued his well-publicized expression of regret. That's a choice he made while sober, after all; one is more likely to choose rationally and well when one is sober because reason and free will, our non-animal capacities, are more likely to operate without intoxicants. And such choices are more characteristically personal than much of the ugliness that people carry round inside them.

I'm struck by the fact that people have been quick to take the nasty side as the "really" real and the admirable as phony, a pose to be "seen through" and debunked. Given that Mel Gibson came out of Hollywood, it's just assumed that his confession is a publicity stunt pulled off for the sake of damage control. With some Hollywood types, that level of cynicism is probably justified. But I cannot think of the producer and director of The Passion of the Christ, who is also a loving father of eight, in that way. The man has too much good inside him. That he also has much bad inside him is only human. But I supose being human is unacceptable for those "right-wingers."

I'm sure somebody has written to explain that. Any references?

blog comments powered by Disqus