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The Deviant Self: Everyman As Vandal

ISSUE:  Summer 1975

PERHAPS he will appear tomorrow or perhaps he has already made his visit. Sooner or later, he will come. There are traces of his presence in schools and parks, in libraries and playgrounds, in theaters and vacant houses. He devotes his attention with fine equality to the rich and to the poor, divides his time between cars and trains, bicycles and shrubbery. Nothing in the whole realm of objects is too insignificant for his concern, for he is a vandal. No impulse thrusts its roots more deeply into the human frame than the inclination to play, but playing can turn sour and, when it does, vandalism is one of its most pervasive and familiar forms. Those who have written of it are close to unanimity in their emphasis upon its origin in play: “stealing, the leading predatory activity of the adolescent gang, is as much a result of the sport motive as of a desire for revenue.” “The juvenile property offender’s thefts, at least at the start, are usually “for fun” and not for gain.” More broadly, “in its early stages, delinquency is clearly a form of play.” One writer comments that “delinquency and crime are, and have been, regarded as purposeful behavior. But wanton and vicious destruction of property both public and private by teen-age hoodlums reveals no purpose, no rhyme, no reason.” So another characterizes vandalism as “non-utilitarian, malicious, and negativistic” in order to distinguish it not only from certain other types of crime but also from other varieties of children’s play.

One might well be skeptical of the claim that vandalism has neither reason nor purpose, however, at least until those who commit it have spoken for themselves. An anonymous member of a Chicago gang offers a comment that is typical of a thousand others: “We did all kinds of dirty tricks for fun. We’d see a sign, “Please keep the streets clean,” but we’d tear it down and say, “We don’t feel like keeping it clean”. . . . We would always tear things down. That would make us laugh and feel good, to have so many jokes.” “For fun,” “for a joke,” “because we were bored”—as though it were a litany, these refrains inform accounts that vandals offer of their own activities, even though there is no explicit reference to the third of them in this citation. If the boy from Chicago were asked to explain his behavior, he would not answer that it was without reason or purpose but rather that it was done “for fun.” The motive is fun. There are different sorts of reasons why persons behave as they do, many different ends toward which their actions are directed, and many different standards to which actions are meant to conform because of commitments to different ends. A motive refers only to a particular sort of reason. There are many circumstances in which it would be gratuitous to ask about motivation, as in the instance of the customary generosity of a friend. On the other hand, were he to do something entirely uncharacteristic and devious that betrayed the friendship, then it would be appropriate to ask what his motive could possibly have been. The question of motive usually arises in contexts where conventional expectations are confounded or where someone behaves in uncharacteristic ways. We ask for the motive involved in a course of action because, as R. S. Peters notes, we want not only an explanation but an opportunity to assess what has occurred. So it is important that we not only hear his reason but discover the real reason or reasons involved. Motives, to recur to Peters, are “reasons of the directed sort” ; they specify the ends or goals that explain the action and so they can be distinguished from either causes or intentions. Motives cause nothing; the “causes” are persons who act in accordance with certain motives and who, in their choice of one among many, disclose something of their own character or nature.

The distinction between motive and intention is as important as it is difficult. To phrase the matter too simply, intention refers to a course of action that I choose and pursue, while motive designates the goal or reason why I have chosen in this fashion. Frequently I do not intend all the consequences of my conduct. I may rip down traffic signs “for fun” but I have not intended “for fun” the maimed bodies of the children who were involved in the crash that resulted from the missing signs. Perhaps I was indifferent to the consequences of my intentionality ; perhaps my imagination was too impoverished to grasp many of the possible ramifications of my act; perhaps an affluent familial situation has taught me that acts do not have real consequences because permissiveness will condone or money will offset every eventuality ; or perhaps experience counsels that the universe is absurd, that events have no causes arid that rationality is an illusion in the random whirl where accident is king. For the moment, at least, the importance of the distinction lies in the way that it qualifies the vandal’s statement that he acted as he did for fun: the destruction of property was fun but the death of the child who died as a consequence is altogether something else. There is no reason to portray the vandal as if he were a special monster, especially because one factor at work in such a portrait might well be a desire to separate him from the company of ordinary men until we no longer needed to acknowledge his kinship with ourselves.

To say that someone enjoys something or finds fun in it does not really explain why he has done it. There are many courses of action that might be fun for me but which I resolutely refuse to pursue for a variety of reasons. There are other courses of action that are fun but which I undertake for reasons that have nothing to do with this sort of gratification. The vandal’s appeal to fun does not resolve the mystery of his behavior; instead, it simply directs attention to the problem of why it is that people find fun where they claim to find it or claim to find it where they do. If intentional destructiveness is such fun that persons grow indifferent to the possible ramifications of their conduct, what sort of person is the vandal? What sort of creature is the self, if its enjoyments are found in these ways? The reason that the vandal cites, then, is not the reason for his conduct, in the sense that it does not furnish an adequate principle of explanation. It is possible that he has no clear conception of what he is doing. It is possible that he is attempting to deceive us. It is possible that once he thought that he understood why he acts as he does but that now with greater or lesser success he has managed to deceive himself. The last option deserves particular exploration.

In “Delinquent Boys” Arthur Cohen devotes much attention to the phenomenon of “reaction formation,” attempting to explain the extraordinary violence of some vandalism, the excessive energy expended in some destructive act that required no such savagery. One of the reasons for this incongruity is that when a child thrusts aside the conventional morality of his community, the norms that once were effectively internalized continue to provoke anxiety. To a certain extent they can be repressed, but still they maintain a sort of ghostly life within individual consciousness, faintly intimating that the self has not yet ended its war with itself. In order to combat the anxiety they continue to nourish, the individual develops “an “exaggerated,” “disproportionate,” “abnormal” intensity of response, “inappropriate” to the stimulus which seems to elicit it. The unintelligibility of the response, the “over-reaction,” becomes intelligible when we see that it has the function of reassuring the actor against an inner threat to his defenses as well as the function of meeting an external situation on its own terms.” The element of incongruity in the conduct of the vandal, then, is explicable because his behavior is really shaped by the exigencies of responding to an internal division : in other words, vandalism can involve a program of self-deception. The violence of the act is intended to reassure the self that it has freed itself from the standards and mores of society to a greater extent than is true. Vandalism can be interpreted, therefore, as a paradigm of the ways that persons sometimes lie to themselves, persuading even themselves that they are quite different than they are.

“For fun” suggests another possibility, however: perhaps the reason why it seems difficult to specify a motive is that there is no motive at all. There are many instances of intentional actions that are innocent of motives because they are dictated by convention, character, or habit. If the games that children play offer the most familiar example of intentional but unmotivated behavior, it would be scarcely cause for surprise to find motivation absent in the warping of the play impulse in vandalism. If “for fun” is interpreted as a euphemism for the unmotivated character of violent and destructive acts, and not as an expression of pleasure, then it is possible to acknowledge that much vandalism is joyless, mindless, a protest against “boredom” that fails to escape the clutches of boredom. So the vandal often confesses quite properly that he does not know what “came over” or “caused” or “possessed” him to do whatever he did.”Fun” cannot serve as a principle of explanation: not only will it not serve to explain why persons do what they enjoy doing, but even less will it serve to explain why they do what they derive no real pleasure from doing. So we return to the question with which we began: What sort of creature is the self if it pursues violence and destruction for no reason at all? When it seems impossible to specify the motive or goal of our actions, it is appropriate to turn from the question of ends to the matter of origins or “causal explanations.” Only when we cannot discover the point or goal of someone’s behavior is it relevant to examine the conditions from which it emerges.(In “Human Acts,” it might be noted, Eric D’Arcy attempts to distinguish between “forward-looking” and “backward-looking” motive statements and to argue that they are logically different. Frequently, however, the latter can be rephrased as instances of the former. In any event, greater attention to his distinction is neither appropriate in nor relevant to the course of this argument.)

There have been many different attempts to account for vandalism and its pervasiveness. Talcott Parsons has stressed its connection with the struggle of a boy to assert his masculinity after an early identification with his mother : he resists the norms of conduct that have been associated with her and that have therefore been invested with feminine significance. Other writers have also associated it in one way or another with a history of inadequate socialization within the family: vandalism is a function of hostility toward parents, or an expression of anxiety concerning the reality of parental love, or a disclosure of feelings of guilt related to the family that inspire antisocial behavior in the expectation of apprehension and punishment that the child believes he merits for other reasons. No other form of community can match the potential of the nuclear family to become a structure of destruction. Margaret Mead relates vandalism to a particular sort of shame, rooted in a child’s knowledge that his parents have not been successful, at least as the world measures success, so that he is consigned and fated to live in “a class below others.” Just as the unqualified identification of the self with its familial rôles breeds one sort of alienation, so does the unqualified identification with the social and economic status of the family foster another. Arthur Cohen anchors vandalism in a quest for prestige that for one reason or another can find no legitimate realization, and so it expresses itself in forms of destructiveness that are applauded by the child’s peers. Still others content themselves with a theory of “spontaneous combustion”: vandalism simply happens when certain peers encounter one another in certain situations. Recently there have also been numerous attempts to interpret vandalism as a political event, a deliberate provocation that will expose the true condition of society by arousing a violent response from an “establishment” that hypocritically pretends that it need not invoke violence in order to remain in power.

It has already been mentioned that causal explanations involve a shift of focus from goals to origins, from the reasons entertained by an agent to the conditions that foster a particular course of action. It is important not to confuse necessary conditions with a sufficient explanation: in other words, there are no grounds for the assumption that once we have specified elements of inadequate socialization we have answered all relevant questions about why vandals do what they do. Such an assumption denies the presence of individual agency; it means that there is no longer any serious sense in which I can claim that an action is yours or mine. Peters correctly insists that “if we are in fact confronted with a case of a genuine action ( act of doing something as opposed to suffering something), then causal explanations are ipso facto inappropriate as sufficient explanations.” So we are constrained to return to a form of the original question : why is it that the self responds to certain conditions in a violent and destructive way? What must be said about a self that responds to circumstances in a deviant fashion? If someone is incited to vandalism by another person, what accounts for the vulnerability of the first or the maliciousness of the second? If parental hostility is a factor in one instance, what must be said of its absence in the next case? If deprivation or shame or the status of an outsider seems to afford a necessary condition on one occasion, what must be said where there is affluence, status, and an especially strong sense of family pride ? There is no reason to demand a single causal explanation—indeed, the complexity of human affairs counsels skepticism concerning such a grand theory—but there is every reason to insist not only upon the difference between contributory conditions and sufficient explanations but also on the phenomenological inadequacy of the various theories. None is germane in more than a severely limited number of instances and, more important, few attempt to come to terms with the “reasons” offered by vandals themselves— “for fun,” “for a joke,” “because we were bored.” If answers prove elusive, if vandalism is not simply the strategy of a minority that has suffered social or familial deprivation, then we have reason to be vigilant against ourselves. Perhaps it is the disclosure of a potential within us all. Perhaps it tells that our taste for pleasure is more capacious and perverse than we would like either others or especially ourselves to recognize. Certainly it is true that “if we see, clearly and with conviction, that every human baby born bears the potential resources of the arsonist, the vandal, the murderer, then we shall raise our children differently.”

A sense of identity is an imaginative act that shapes the range of possibilities that we can or will entertain for ourselves and, on the other hand, determines the possibilities that we must acknowledge but against which we wish to be on guard. From our relationships with ourselves—with what we cherish and what we fear—and other selves, with communities and institutions and with the values they represent, we derive the complex of self-images that afford us our perspectives and from which our sense of identity is fashioned. Vigilance against ourselves is an affair of adequate images of man. We can espouse or oppose only what we can see, and sight depends upon the richness and trenchancy of our stock of imagery. If persons often act destructively and violently without either motive or sufficient cause, sometimes for the enjoyment of the violence but frequently long after the acts themselves or their taste in memory have lost all capacity to excite or please, then we need images of man that will enable us to acknowledge the same potentiality within ourselves so that we can protect ourselves against it. One requisite for self-understanding is an image that captures patterns of behavior that conflict with every attempt at self-understanding, patterns of behavior that are all the more consequential for human affairs because they remain stubbornly inexplicable—else vigilance will falter and we shall be the more vulnerable to what we cannot entirely comprehend.

The image of the self as vandal can introduce to consciousness much that we need to know. First, there is its completely “non-utilitarian, malicious, and negativistic” quality, insofar as vandalism is without motivation or sufficient conditions. Second, a project or systematic process of self-deception is typically an integral part of the vandal’s career. An example is the child whose unassuaged sense of guilt in a particular context leads him to commit acts in a very different context that eventuate in his punishment. Because he is punished for what he and some of his peers can regard as jokes, his sense of guilt is satisfied without the necessity to confront its true or “serious” source—and so a self-deception can be enforced or maintained. The image awards the motif of deceiving the self a centrality and emphasis that are appropriate for understanding a creature who requires more than anything else the willingness and skills to step back and see himself freshly, to gain perspective upon his perspectives, to recognize the ways that his sense of integrity operates to misrepresent and disguise lapses of integrity. Third, vandalism is as familiar as the untenanted house across the road or the playground down the street, but it also draws attention to less familiar landscapes within the self that cannot be mapped because they disclose no patterns or logic. Representations of man as criminal or rebel or terrorist will not serve as well as the image of the vandal, for it is not difficult to discover the motives for what they do. Crime or rebellion or terrorism is immoral by all conventional standards, but they are rational ventures in that they involve goals which are more or less clearly discerned and these goals determine the conduct that is oriented toward their realization. The vandal, however, is a figure who stands in large measure outside a rational universe ; his shadow reminds us of the irrationality of man.

If the image is to contribute significantly to our interpretation of ourselves, however, several criticisms must be offered of the way that conventional wisdom employs more or less inflexible person-property and self-other distinctions in order to discriminate between vandalism and other forms of anti-social behavior. Neither distinction is satisfactory; the phenomenon involves far more than capitulation to the world of objects that others possess. First, the self-other polarity is inadequate because the act against another’s property is frequently an act that is done for the sake of the self. Perhaps I wish to be arrested for a “joke” because I am unable or unwilling to confront the “serious” source of my sense of unworthiness. Perhaps the violence of my deed indicates that it was done to maintain a self-deception about my indifference toward conventional standards and values. Second, the person-property distinction is suspect when conventional persons measure themselves and others in terms of their possessions, thereby denying their difference from everything else in the world. Writing of the cultural importance of the display of property as a badge of status and accomplishment, Cohen characterizes vandalism as “an attack on the middle-class where their egos are most vulnerable. . . . It expresses contempt for a way of life by making its opposite a criterion of status.” If property is a representation and disclosure of the worth of the person, then the attack upon it is an attack upon the self-image of its owner and, indeed, upon the person himself—and all the more so because “money and other valuables are not, as such, despised by the delinquent.” The statement by the Chicago vandal that it would “make us laugh and feel good, to have so many jokes,” renders the distinction between person and property even more dubious. Jokes can be played only against persons, not against things, for joking requires another center of consciousness to acknowledge what has been done or said. Malice, too, is directed only against selves, scarcely toward objects that remain annoyingly indifferent toward our disposition, whatever it may be.

The image not only contributes to the understanding of selfhood but also discloses something of the injustice of a social order in which many are deprived of the possibilities that others are awarded without regard for either potential or achievements. We have insisted that the important question does not concern whether social conditions influence vandalism but what must be said about man if selves respond to a variety of conditions either internal or external in this deviant way. Nevertheless, the connection that Margaret Mead discerns between some vandalism and shame related to the disadvantaged status of the family, for instance, illuminates the relevance of the image for portraying a social order in which questions of status are decided by contingencies and not merit, by accidents instead of justice. So vandalism can be a choice of deviant behavior under the guise of the denial of any possibility of choice: inexorable and unfair social fatality consigned me in my parents to be a figure of shame, so there is nothing to express except resentment. I make my mark upon things because I go unremarked, and I go unremarked because this is a world in which persons define themselves in terms of the services they command and the property they own: the unpropertied man is the invisible man, defined only in terms of his deprivation. The anomaly, then, is that vandalism cannot really be distinguished from other forms of deviant behavior in terms of a person-property opposition, but rather that in some measure it is a socially engendered response to a community that refuses to honor such distinctions.

The incidence of vandalism accentuates the element of risk involved in our conventional understanding of community as bound by the dictates of fair play. Playing fair entails an assumption of basic trust that is difficult to sustain when we are the prey of random and motiveless violence, because resentment against someone else or some class or ethnic group or constellation of values expresses itself against me or mine despite the fact that we have incurred no blame and are in no way identifiable with the class or group. In crimes directed against persons, it is frequently argued that something the victim did or failed to do contributed to the act—perhaps a deliberate courting of danger, perhaps just a failure to exercise the sort of carefulness that is appropriate in a violent neighborhood. So we have at least a minimal “explanation” for the violence, a scrap of reassurance for those who have not yet been victimized. But the random destructiveness of the vandal suggests that everyone is vulnerable and finally helpless, no matter how carefully the neighborhood has been chosen or how high and sturdy the fences may be. Together with the household or family, playing with peers has been one of the fundamental instruments of socialization in the West; just because of its rôle in the creation of community, it becomes one of the most powerful threats to the maintenance of life together whenever it assumes a deviant form. Like some malign god, the anonymous band or individual can destroy in a moment the property, security, and sense of selfhood of persons who are strangers to them, striking into their hearts a terrible reminder of the contingency and impermanence of the world and all who live in it.

The delinquent’s characterization of vandalism as a joke merits further attention. When a joke consists of something done to excite laughter rather than something said, we label it a practical joke. Not all vandalism can be satisfactorily construed as joking, of course. The latter more strongly suggests the presence of wit and intentionality, for the vandal can act without clear understanding of the reasons for his behavior or even without a clear conception of what he is doing. So the representation of man as a vandal can include much more explicitly than does the notion of joking some reference to unconscious, subterranean dimensions of self-hood that interrupt and spoil the rational narrative of character: I don’t know what came over me, possessed me, made me do it. Joking rarely involves the ferocity that is often evident in the sort of vandalism that is intended to reinforce a project of self-deception. Again, there is no reason to relate joking to one or another set of social conditions, while in the instance of vandalism these can be not unimportant. Nevertheless, there is no reason to discount the innumerable references to vandalism as a joke by delinquents themselves. Boredom is cited more often than any other condition as the antecedent of vandalism and it is also the apparent context of many practical jokes. Bored with myself and my situation, I play a joke that enables me to become a voyeur who feeds and fattens off the confusion or disarray that my joke has caused in the life of someone else: for a time I trade my nullity of a life for his. In this trade, especially when it involves someone who is a stranger, there sometimes appears the possibility of malice that is intentional and quite unmotivated. It is malicious and intentional conduct in the particularly bleak sense that the joker cares only and without reservation for his intention and is either indifferent toward or merely curious about whatever direct or indirect consequences it may have, even if they entail maiming or destroying the object of the joke. In acts of vandalism understood as jokes by their authors, the most common form of anti-social behavior discloses a potentiality that more often than not has been understood by the Christian tradition as entirely diabolical—in Coleridge’s phrase, “motiveless malignancy.” The familiar sight of vulgar language sprayed on a concrete wall can be a faint adumbration of something far more disturbing because it is directed against persons and not things :

the possibility of malice intended against strangers for no reason except to see what the consequences will be, for no reason except to see what vulnerable and unsuspecting people are really like.

In “The Joker in the Pack,” W. H. Auden describes Shakespeare’s lago as “a practical joker of a peculiarly appalling kind.” He recognizes that practical jokes are not always immoral, for often they can puncture the illusions of someone who cannot relate to himself or to others until he is confronted with this sort of firm dose of reality, but they still involve a threat to human community because they violate the distinction between serious and playful uses of language and demonstrate “that a man does not always require a serious motive for deceiving another.” When the deception is disclosed, Auden argues, what really provokes the astonishment on the faces of others is the news “that all the time they were convinced that they were thinking and acting on their own initiative, they were actually the puppets of another’s will.” Consequently, there is “something slightly sinister” about every practical joke, for those who perpetrate them are people who like “to play God behind the scenes.” Sinister it is, certainly, to reduce another self to puppet, to an object that I can manipulate as I wish if only I have accurately assessed a person’s prejudices and weaknesses: “even the most harmless practical joke is an expression of the joker’s contempt for those he deceives.”

Contempt for others, Auden continues, is matched by and has its origin in contempt for the self. When the joker discloses what he has done, the victims may learn something about themselves but they are none the wiser about the author of the deed, knowing neither why he has done this nor what sort of self it is that would undertake and relish such deception. The joker is a voyeur, someone whose life becomes entirely derivative from the lives of others, a self apparently without independent existence apart from the exercise of the power to manipulate and dupe.

His goal, to make game of others, makes his existence absolutely dependent upon theirs; when he is alone, he is a nullity.lago’s self-description, I am not “what I am, is correct and the negation of the Divine I am that I am. . . . In any practical joker to whom playing such jokes is a passion, there is always an element of malice, a projection of his self-hatred onto others, and in the ultimate case of the absolute practical joker, this is projected onto all created things.

Iago is motivated neither by resentment nor by a thirst for revenge; nor does the suggestion that he fears “being nobody” provide a real clue to the motive for his behavior. He can achieve no rational understanding of himself; the occasional reasons that he offers for his conduct are not persuasive even to Iago. He intends simply to play a joke, for no reason except to see what will happen, to discover what Othello is really like.

“The Joker in the Pack” concludes with some reflections about the Iago who dwells potentially within every child and whose shadow falls all the more heavily across human affairs because of the reigning orientation of modern Western culture. Auden claims that “none of us can honestly say that he does not understand how such a wicked person can exist. For is not Iago, the practical joker, a parabolic figure for the autonomous pursuit of scientific knowledge through experiment which we all, whether we are scientists or not, take for granted as natural and right?” When neither qualification nor limit is placed upon the autonomous pursuit of knowledge about man and his society through experimentation, then Iago has become us all. It seems to Auden that the illegitimate extension of scientific method is a process already far advanced, and he warns us:

Iago’s treatment of Othello conforms to Bacon’s definition of scientific enquiry as putting Nature to the Question. If a member of the audience were to interrupt the play and ask him: “What are you doing?” could not Iago answer with a boyish giggle, “Nothing. I’m only trying to find out what Othello is really like”? And we must admit that his experiment is highly successful. By the end of the play he does know the scientific truth about the object to which he has reduced Othello. . . . What makes it impossible for us to condemn him self-righteously is that, in our culture, we have all accepted the notion that the right to know is absolute and unlimited. . . . To apply a categorical imperative to knowing, so that, instead of asking, “What can I know?” we ask, “What, at this moment, am I meant to know?” . . . that seems to all of us crazy and almost immoral. But, in that case, who are we to say to Iago—”No, you mustn’t.”

Unquestionably, Auden misunderstands the scientific process, ignoring the crucial rôles of humility and imagination there and the need to correlate methods with the nature of their object if procedure is to be truly scientific. There are worlds of difference between the self-effacement of the scientist and the nullity that Iago becomes when he is alone. But if it is a mistake to regard Iago as “a parabolic figure for the autonomous pursuit of scientific knowledge through experiment,” it would be equally mistaken to ignore the ways that his potential presence shadows every aspect of the human enterprise. Because the play impulse can express itself through jokes in which the motiveless malevolence sometimes adumbrated by vandalism is now clear and undisguised, because there is violence and destructiveness in man and no form of destruction is so absolute as the control of other persons that reduces them to objects, because we so often and so unwittingly raise our hands against ourselves as well as against others, there is always a potential for deviance hidden in our play. Within all the allegedly secular projects that we baptize in the name of Prometheus there lurks something darker, the different but perhaps inseparable reality called prometheanism, for the artificers of every human work are capable of pleasure as well as terror at the onset of the night. Precisely in our most creative and rational adventures, there is the possibility that we will pursue the most irrational and destructive ends, and technology furnishes us with limitless opportunities to practice terrible jokes against ourselves. If we choose to do so, there is always the joker’s excuse: I’m only trying to find out what people are really like.

The “slightly sinister” ingredient in practical jokes, the fact that there are persons who like “to play God behind the scenes,” is scarcely absent from vandalism, particularly when it is explicitly represented as a joke. Insofar as it is without motive, there is good reason to explore “causal explanations.” There is also good reason to remember that the specification of necessary conditions does not constitute a sufficient explanation, except at the price of a denial that the conduct is really yours or mine. But there can be different levels of causal explanations and they can be complementary rather than mutually exclusive, each relevant to the extent that others display a certain phenomenological inadequacy in the face of the richness of what is there to be explained. In the biblical story of the fall, for example, the serpent urges what is no more than a minor act of vandalism—stealing and eating the fruit of a tree that belongs to someone else. But there are some mysterious and finally opaque dimensions to this not uncommon act, and St. Augustine recalls them when, in “The Confessions,” he describes some deviant behavior of his own at the age of sixteen.

Close to the vineyard of his family there was a pear tree that belonged to a neighbor, a poor tree whose fruit had little appeal to either eye or palate. One night Augustine and a pack of friends stole whole armloads of the pears and threw them to a herd of swine. The boys had no interest in the pears themselves; they were “compelled neither by hunger, nor poverty, but through a distaste for well-doing.” He recalls that there was “no inducement to evil but the evil itself. . . . I pilfered that of which I already had sufficient, and much better. Nor did I desire to enjoy what I pilfered, but the theft and sin itself.” His reminiscences conclude with a series of questions:

What, then, was it that I loved in that theft? And wherein did I , even corruptedly and pervertedly, imitate my Lord?

Did I wish, if only by artifice, to act contrary to Thy Law, because by power I could not, so that, being a captive, I might imitate an imperfect liberty by doing with impunity things which I was not allowed to do, in obscured likeness of Thy omnipotency? Behold this servant of Thine, fleeing from his Lord, and following a shadow! . . . Could I like that which was unlawful only because it was unlawful? . . . Who can disentangle that twisted and intricate knottiness?

Augustine is unwilling to claim that he can untangle the intricate knottiness of motivation and intent and isolate either his own reason or, should they be different, the real reason for the act. On the other hand, he does claim to know some necessary conditions, even if not an explanation, for the jokes of vandals who like to play God. There is a warping and a conflict within the self, an estrangement of man from himself that no human medicine will ever cure. Man can neither remedy his own disorder nor isolate the virus so that it will be restricted to a certain age or caste or class. In everyone there is a potential for vandalism, a reason to exercise most careful vigilance against oneself. Jokes turn sour and playing becomes a bunch of dirty tricks and the darkness of the heart becomes the heart of the darkness that waits to surprise the unwary and seize the day.


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