Certainly, the scene shows the novice "learning about Karma," but that's not what the scene does best for me. The scene stings me to the moral core not because of what the aging monk teaches the boy about Karma, but because I know from experience that the boy knew such action was wrong, and did it anyway. I know because once, when I was a boy, I smashed a frog into bits with a 4-iron for no reason except because I knew it was wrong.
Edgar Allan Poe speaks clearly about this phenomenon, and gives it a name, Perverseness--first in "Imp of the Perverse," and then in "The Black Cat":
So this discussion happens in a context where the definition of "Good" or "goodness" is not at issue; instead, the acting agent knows precisely what is wrong, but acts wrongly anyway. This is the phenomenon that interests me--interests me so much more than the question of what constitutes Good. I know that part. That part doesn't trouble me. What troubles me is my inability to act in accordance. Perhaps the best expression of this problem comes from in Romans 7:7-24. Here's the most direct excerpt:
- Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible.
- ...the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart - one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law , merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself - to offer violence to its own nature - to do wrong for the wrong's sake only - that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute.
I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?So this is precisely the kind of thing I want to work on at this new blog. Some of my readers may still be wondering what G-d is, or what Goodness is, or what Right-action is -- but I am satisfied on all of those points. It is my own ethical rebellion that is so troubling. I know I am not alone in this question. Jonathan Edwards seems to have walked this path:
...in process of time, my convictions and affections wore off; and I entirely lost all those affections and delights and left off secret prayer, at least as to any constant performance of it; and returned like a dog to his vomit, and went on in the ways of sin.Any ideas here? Any good strategies for staying committed?