Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Parable of Rudy The Terrible Roommate

Let's agree on something, believers and nonbelievers. Whether God exists or not all things are certainly permissible for now. Perhaps someday Someone will reveal justice from a Great White Throne. But to live is to sort things out under a very quiet sky. And so you've moved in with Rudy, who is an awful roommate.

You've met him through the Village Voice classifieds, and already you know that was a serious mistake. But Rudy has more to reveal to you. He's one of those roommates who thinks that when you live together you share everything in common. "Anything in the fridge is yours, man," he tells you. But you have a six pack of Stella Artois, and Rudy has half a bottle of Faygo and some mustard packets. Your philosophies of property ownership are different. So much is a matter of opinion. But since you know what Rudy believes, you can make arrangements. You can argue. You can buy your own mini-fridge. You can tell him you don't want his stupid Faygo.

Then you come home one night, Rudy is in a thick drunk-sleep, and the Stella is gone. He denies taking it the next day. He's lying, but he does it repeatedly enough that there is no use arguing. You're old enough to know you should avoid people who lie in this way. Perhaps there are other, similar incidents. Eventually you decide to break off diplomatic relations with the Juggalo Nation. You begin looking for your own place.

But weeks later, after you've moved your bookcase into the U-Haul, and you come back to collect your last bag while Rudy drinks Coors Lite in his room and blasts Aimee Mann, because his girlfriend left him... you should take a moment to appreciate what your terrible roommate has done for you. Rudy is more than a jagoff with bad musical taste and a name on a lease in Manhattan. He is a kind of moral cartographer.

You can live with all kinds of people, and they have all kinds of good ways to justify the bad things they do. "The real hell of life is everyone has his reasons." This is supposedly a quote from Jean Renoir, but I read it in a column by Peggy Noonan, and she spent a good chunk of her career writing apologetics for the Reagan administration, so I wonder. But something important happens when a person deceives you. To lie is to confess.

A liar is someone who knows others won't believe his reasons or respect his rules. He reduces the whole gray moral universe to one fact, and then he changes that fact. And he has to remember that fact for the rest of his life. Rudy might lie to himself about who had the right to a decent Belgian lager, but he can not lie to himself about who actually drank it. He claims there is no difference between right and wrong in this situation, but he can not claim there is no difference between the truth and a lie. If he forgot that, he might tell you. And of course he has other lies to remember, and this is part of why his girlfriend is gone. But in lying, Rudy drastically changes his relationship to everyone around him. You no longer know whether you, your beer, or your ex-girlfriend from college with whom you have a complicated relationship are safe around him. Of course we can't prove that good is finally, metaphysically preferable to evil. We do know -- we can prove -- that they are distinct. Why? Good people don't need good memories.

But aren't there good reasons to lie? Don't people use deception for noble causes? Yes. Lying does not necessarily define wickedness. It's just the last signpost before you reach that strange territory where everyone is alien alike. So consider yourself warned. Go no further.

Here there be Juggalos.

(Note: The picture above is by "Mruntouchable." I found it on Wikimedia, and copyright info is here. The person in the photo is not the Rudy of my story.)
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