This originally appeared on VICE CA.
Once upon a time in Newfoundland, there was a man who called the cops on himself.
Because we live in a hyperreal time beyond satire—irony requires a critical or emotional distance from the words or action expressed, which is impossible now because the time and space needed for that distance to function has been technologically obliterated—the man appears to have nearly literally drank precisely one beer and called 911.
It is easy to laugh at this man, because it is a ridiculous thing to do. Calling the police is what you do to other people, not yourself. Even for those of us committed to a strict policy of abiding to all laws no matter how obscure or victimless do it more out of blind habit or the fear of prosecution than a deeply-felt moral opposition to the crime itself. This is why politicians sputter on their wine when asked to justify marijuana prohibition, and why the old anti-piracy admonition that "you wouldn't download a car" is ludicrous. Of course you would download a car. We would all download a car. The mass distribution of infinitely reproducible and socially-necessary goods is the last redeeming promise of industrial civilization. Download the fuck out of that car on the 3D printer you get alongside your universal basic income cheque and cruise into full communism.
But there's no clean separation to be made where genuine moral conviction ends and the fear of punishment begins. Monks in the Middle Ages spent hundreds of years arguing whether God's commandments were good in themselves or whether they were good because God commanded them; the question isn't much easier to answer if you take God out of the picture and replace Him with the tribe, or the profit margin, or the People, or the state.
Morality is always felt before it's reasoned, and the bitter irony of the whole situation is that the closer you cleave to it, the guiltier you'll feel. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow, and the more likely you are to go up in flames in the heat of God's radiant love.
This is probably what happened to our hero. His close encounter with the Law left him a free man save a court order to abstain from alcohol. The strain of it all is too much and he finds himself late at night seeking comfort from the demon rum. It's a natural impulse, to shake off the cold chains of the day by reaching for the bottle's warmth. But the heat tonight is wrong; each sip burns more than the last and the drink's warm hug is suffocating in the muggy August air.
This is a failure; he is a failure; he is failing, flailing, sailing into the boozy abyss opening up before him. It's not a gentle numbness in the face and fingers but the feeling of his nerves threatening to burst against the strain of all the surging guilt, like an abscess threatening to rupture. The pressure is too much; there is only one release. Confess, confess, confess, and be absolved.
He could have kept it cool, kept his calm and kept it hidden. But he is better than that. He's a real man and a Good Boy. Besides—secrets make you sick. They rot you from the inside out until you're shambling around like a living corpse. No; better to go to a real jail than the torture chamber in your mind.
Besides—there is a certain liberation in cracking the police baton against your own back. The only cure for decadence is discipline, and discipline is pain, and pain is the only road to glory. God is merciful but above all He is just.
Who ever said you can't get out of Hell on good behaviour?
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