greetings from nola. here's a column i wrote last time i was down here, the mardi gras after katrina. with regard to the writer who declared that this is where she forgot the best moments of her life, i said that 'forgetting must always make you wonder whether regret is in order': that was perhaps too optimistic, because some folks are incapable of regret. one drawback of such people is that they are dangerous to themselves and others, because they will never undergo any moral development, or be better than they are now, which i would say it's obvious that they need to be. regret is a necessary condition of conscience, and not having any is really a kind or symptom or a mild case of psychopathy; the whole idea is to release yourself to do wrong or be disgusting or stupid, forever. i was negotiating my way back to the hotel through such people last night as they stumbled about swallowing ever-more alcohol and bellowing, or passed out in the alley puking, or tried to make out with strangers. these are, no doubt, the best moments of their lives.
on the other hand i had an amazing meal yesterday, and passed dr. john moving around with a cane on the outskirts of the quarter. everybody calls you 'baby' and makes you feel good just for being alive. the art that came and comes out of this place has changed the world. there is no doubt that these things are connected in certain ways, but not, i would say, by logical necessity or something, and even if the art is in part a transcendence of the degradation, it is also a self-reflection and something more than any particular source or experience can explain. honestly, the vice tourism isn't helping the quality of the art now, even if louis played the brothels in 1915 or whatever. it just freezes it into a kind of parody of itself and peddles it to these amazingly gross people from elsewhere.
if i sound puritanical, it's because puritanism is more or less the way i stay alive. i fail by its standards of course. but i am definitely opposed to these zones of moral impunity or moral vacation, and there is a catholic/protestant kind of split on this: mardi gras or the rio carnival are excellent examples, and occasionally people assert that these things are archetypal and necessary. but one problem is that these zones expand. every city has such zones. pretty soon, every saturday night is such a zone. but i do aspire to some sort of moral consistency. you have priests exempting themselves here or there from the values they profess, for example, and maybe confessing it later. that's a good way to become a monster.
ask yourself: you just married someone. they pledged monogamy. do you think as you pledge the same that they mean: except in vegas, except in new orleans, except saturday night, unless i'm really drunk? i've known people who actually became two people by this technique: the values they profess with total passion they violate in special zones or special occasions, when they have a completely different and incompatible set of values; they're like two moral agents, neither of whom appears even to know what the other is doing; personality b's acts don't count against personality c. it's a moral derangement, a form of dissociative personality disorder.
and then think about what actually happens to so many people in your zones of impunity. the hot young call girls, strippers, trade, who slowly decline into blank-eyed, broke, and broken victims. the addicts strewn around right there, under your very feet, leading lives of complete tortured misery and then dying. i guess the corpses stay in vegas. the people losing everything, including every shred of pride or decency, at the casinos. it seems like a happy harmless celebration. only if you are fucking blind, which is of course what you're trying to be.