After thirty-four years, I have decided to give up kidnapping.
To anyone who knows me, and my unerring devotion to kidnapping, this news will surely come as a shock. True, kidnapping is not what it used to be. We’ve all heard about the problem of shrinking ransoms. And then there is the “political” dimension that has crept into kidnapping as into so many other fields, making it virtually impossible to even mention at a dinner party that you kidnap without—in the best case—receiving cold looks. It is hardly a surprise that when I speak to young people today, seldom if ever do they express even a mild interest in kidnapping, or ask to see my dungeon.
Still, I would gladly have gone on kidnapping in the face of these and other obstacles if not for a recent revelation that will no doubt stun you. But here it is: I have come to the conclusion that kidnapping is morally wrong.
Allow me to explain. My journey began several months ago when, during a break from a kidnapping, I ran into an old friend who suggested catching up over coffee. Since I had just lowered the meat scraps into the pits, I thought that I could allow myself a bit of an extended break, and we ended up reminiscing for hours. It was when I walked him to his car—a new electric plug-in model—that a tossed-off comment set me on the course that would change my life. “At this point,” my friend said, “I think an internal-combustion engine is unethical.”
I don’t know why—perhaps because I was exhausted after a particularly brutal wrestling match with a kidnapping victim—but that word struck me with an unusual impact: “unethical.” Implicit in my friend’s statement was a simple yet profound idea: what used to be a straightforward decision (buying a car) had somehow, over time, become fraught with ethical considerations that, only a few years ago, would never have occurred to us.
From there it was but a short step to the question that now plagues me: Might kidnapping be unethical?
I was troubled. Of course, the exigencies of life reassert themselves, and, beset by the thousand obligations of my current kidnappings, I did my best to brush the question aside and go on with my routine. But even as I went about cleaning out the cages, the question kept echoing in my mind: Might what I was doing be wrong?
Few of us take the time to stop and think about the moral and ethical implications of our day-to-day actions. After all, to do so for every minute act—every time, for example, we commit arson—would require a tireless, draining effort that in the end would lead to paralysis. Instead, we rely on the often instinctive “rules of thumb” that have guided us from a young age. But, as society evolves, we must ask: Do those rules of thumb still apply? In a world that has become so complex and interconnected that even the tiniest action can set a cascade of unintended consequences rippling through social, economic, and ecological systems, the ethical and moral implications of an action as ordinary and seemingly unproblematic as, say, stabbing someone are no longer so straightforward.
Once you start to think in this way, you quickly realize that even the simplest kidnapping entails traversing an ethical minefield. Every aspect of it—from holding people against their will to extracting money in exchange for their release—starts to present thorny questions. You can cheat your way past certain of them—for example, by using an ethically sourced gag. But just as soon as you answer one, another emerges. The gag itself might be O.K.—but it’s still being used to stifle screams. Is that O.K.? If not, what are you supposed to do about the screams? Just endure them?
Of course, these thoughts did not emerge fully formed like this, with gleaming moral clarity, but, rather, in fits and starts. For a few weeks I did my best to soldier on, carrying out several kidnappings as usual. But my qualms kept nagging. My attention was increasingly scattered, and I made some boneheaded mistakes, such as removing a toe from a foot that I had just removed a different toe from.
Next, I entered a period of deep depression. I began to pace the streets aimlessly, allowing my kidnappings to fester from inattention. I could not escape the thought that my epiphany had trapped me within an irreversible cycle of ruination. Every action I contemplated only occasioned new doubts. More than kidnapping seemed problematic—so did, for example, embezzlement. And what about extortion—was that really any better? I had entered a kind of unshakable fog through which every potential action, subject to my compulsive moral analysis, became deconstructed to the point of meaninglessness.
In the end my salvation came, as it so often does in life, through humor. I was wandering through a dark alley when I saw a lone elderly woman carrying a valuable purse. I looked at her with an unspeakable sadness. How much happier I had been a few weeks before, I thought with a wistful chuckle, when I would have grabbed her purse without troubling myself.
It was the chuckle that saved me. All of a sudden, in a flash, the situation was illuminated in all its absurdity. Was I really going to go through the rest of my life without stealing purses from old ladies? No. At a certain point, you have to come back down to earth. At a certain point, you have to descend from the rarefied mountain of righteousness and breathe the air of real life. It was then that I made a deal with myself: I would stop kidnapping, but in exchange, I would allow myself to go on living the rest of my life without the suffocating rectitude that I had learned could be fatally tempting. Feeling the ecstatic release of a burden lifted, I took the old lady’s purse and pushed her into a puddle.
In the end, you have to find a balance. We can’t all be saints. I know that not everyone is going to agree with my decision. Some people will scoff at the idea of giving up kidnapping; others might decide to cut back on kidnapping, or perhaps offset their kidnapping with donations to charity. What I can attest is that, since stopping kidnapping, I’ve been happier. Which is not to say that I’ve been perfect. Several times I have slipped up, and conducted kidnappings.
The important thing is that you have to find what is right for you. For me, the right thing was to stop kidnapping. But each of us has to find our way through the unmarked paths of this baffling universe. ♦