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Sep 18 2013

The Good Young Man

Attempting to distract myself from how I’m feeling, I was reading a bit of Ambrose Bierce, when I came across this very short essay. It resonated for me with the talk recently in some quarters about “good people”, so I thought I’d share.

Why is he? Why defaces he the fair page of creation, and why is he to be continued? This has never been explained; it is one of those dispensations of Providence the design whereof is wrapped in profoundest obscurity. The good young man is perhaps not without excuse for his existence, but society is without excuse for permitting it. At his time of life to be “good” is to insult humanity. Goodness is proper to the aged; it is their sole glory; why should this milky stripling bring it into disrepute? Why should he be permitted to defile with the fat of his sleek locks a crown intended to adorn the grizzled pow of his elders?

A young man may be manly, gentle, honourable, noble, tender and true, and nobody will ever think of calling him a good young man. Your good young man is commonly a sneak, and is very nearly allied to that other social pest, the “nice young lady.” As applied to the immature male of our kind, the adjective “good” seems to have been perverted from its original and ordinary signification, and to have acquired a dyslogistic one. It is a term of reproach, and means, as nearly as may be, “characterless.” That any one should submit to have it applied to him is proof of the essential cowardice of Virtue.

We believe the direst ill afflicting civilization is the good young man. The next direst is his natural and appointed mate, the nice young lady. If the two might be tied neck and heels together and flung into the sea, the land would be the fatter for it.

I’m not as cynical as Bierce, nor do I find a lot of use in distinguishing between genders this way, but there’s a certain truth to that middle paragraph.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Stacy

    I think the terms have switched genders; now it’s “nice guys” and “good girls (or women.)”

    It is a term of reproach, and means, as nearly as may be, “characterless.”

    I’ve often thought it means “obedient,” or “afraid to go against prevailing mores.”

    ~ ~ ~

    Stephanie, take care. Hope you feel better soon. Hugs if you want ‘em.

  2. 2
    smhll

    The word “good” is often proxy for “obedient” or “convenient”. (Particularly when we talk about children.)

  3. 3
    Al Dente

    Bierce can be fun to read. Every so often I dip into The Devil’s Dictionary for such gems as:

    ambidextrous, adj. Able to pick a pocket with either hand.

    bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

    demented, n. The melancholy mental condition of one whose arguments we are unable to answer.

    egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

  4. 4
    stever

    Can anyone confirm that this definition is from The Devil’s Dictionary?

    government, n. An organization that both has the ability and asserts the moral right to kill anyone within its domain who refuses to obey its orders.

  5. 5
    Narlaquin

    @4 Stever
    My copy of the Devil’s Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for government, going from Gout to Graces.

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