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Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but let's face it--we all have a dark side. Of course, some people are more inherently evil than others. For lack of a better word, let's just call them Germans. But deep down we know that every single one of us is capable of going ballistic given the right set of emotional launch codes.

And this is a particularly apropos time for a discussion about the dark side of human nature, because this weekend, many of you will be filling out your tax forms and will face many ethical crises along the way. And in the end, most of us will mail in a 1040 that has more bad lies than Ray Charles playing in the Masters with a set of borrowed clubs.

The urge to cheat, steal and kill is a holdover from a time when we lived by the anything-goes Darwinian law of survival. Remember, it's only since 1972 that we started telling each other to have a nice day.

Man is at constant odds with his demons. But you can't beat a demon, because demons don't fight fair. The only way to keep a demon at bay is to love your demon. Take your demon out to lunch, get your demon a little tipsy, cop a feel off your demon, and then go back to the demon office and tell all the other demons around the demon cooler that your demon puts out like a demon.

The network news broadcasts tales from the dark side every night for hours, in living color. How can we allow ourselves to derive morbid pleasure from watching NATO airstrikes, with the Dow Jones industrial average scrolling across the bottom of the screen, no less? It must be the same switch in our brain that we can turn off when we boil a lobster, or worse yet, tell a lobster that the yellow twist-ties on its claws mean that it's Mardi Gras.

Unfortunately, evil is perversely compelling. It always has been. Let's face it, the Bible is duller than operating instructions for a hinge, until the snake shows up.

We are all embroiled in a daily struggle against the darker forces in our lives, like greed, selfishness and dishonesty. I'm no exception. I'm a slave to my own interests. Like, the other day, I'm downtown washing the feet of the homeless like I do every Wednesday, and suddenly I remember that it's my turn to bake cookies for the guys over at the firehouse, but I also promised the schoolbus driver Maddie that I'd fill in for her that afternoon so she could take her kid to the doctor. So, double-quick I rinse off Big Rudy, check his bunion and hurry home. But there's a squirrel in my driveway and he's unconscious and his leg's broken, so I have to give him mouth-to mouth and make him a splint, and then there's no time to bake my famous truffled chocolate-macadamia bars from scratch, so I cut corners and I use a mix--and to make matters even worse, I lie and tell the firemen that I did make them from scratch. See? I'm a bad, bad man.

Hey, I'm not saying we should all strip naked and smear ourselves with goat's blood while running for the presidency on the Reform Party ticket. But it is liberating--indeed, even therapeutic--to occasionally dip your little toe ever so slightly into the bracing waters of the verboten. The purveyors of mass culture understand this, and provide us with a neverending stream of reasonably safe thrills to give our sometimes humdrum lives a sanitary, socially acceptable jolt. Slasher movies, Clive Barker novels, a backstage camera at the VH-1 "Divas Live" concert--all are the mental equivalent of a temporary Hell's Angels tattoo: a round-trip ticket allowing us a noncommital sortie into the realm of the aberrant. And all the colored girls go, "Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo ..."

Look, the truth that nobody wants to admit is, we need the concept of evil because it makes good look so much more attractive by contrast. It's the same reason jewelers always show diamonds against black velvet. You can't have heroes if you don't have villains. Without Hitler, there is no Churchill. Without Saddam Hussein, there is no Colin Powell. Without Crabtree, there is no Evelyn. And without Darth Vader, well, Luke Skywalker's just another hotshot rocketsled jockey in white jammies hitting on his sister.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


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