The Ethics of William Burroughs: Vampires vs. Johnsons

William Burroughs may be the last great ethicist, the man who proffered an ethics of the ages, as timely as it is eternal. It is a simple, this ethics: Don't be a vampire. Don't suck the blood—the vitality and energy—of others. Be a Johnson: mind your own fucking business but don't be a selfish asshole, either.

The cop who gave him a joint when he was in the can; the bellboy that tipped him off that the cops were gonna raid his room: Johnsons, both. They had nothing to gain by helping Burroughs out. But nor did they have anything to lose. They were not self-righteous or sanctimonious. They simply acted as fellow citizens within a world careening.

It is not hard, then, to be a Johnson. It does not entail a relentless self-interrogation or doubting, like the common Judeo-Christian moral code. All it entails is a little look around—letting a driver into your lane, letting someone who briefly left line back in.

Mostly, it means not being a resentful, selfish prick. Which, alas, does seem quite difficult for many people, particularly those with a whiff of power. Oh, how they love to exert whatever tiny force has been granted them. The world, I am discovering, perhaps a bit tardily, is run by vampires, intent on destroying the creativity, vitality, verve of those who dare to live or think large.

Aspire to be a Johnson—that is the Burroughs ethic. It is a humble but mighty aspiration.

1 comment:

Ian said...

"Mind your own fucking business but don't be a selfish asshole, either." Indeed a humble but mighty aspiration.