We eat a lot of apples in our house. Violet and I consume approximately one each daily, particularly in high season, which appears to be a very long season indeed. The snappy sweetness of a Honeycrisp is a salve to the stresses and a celebration of the joys of each day and, if legend is believed, may keep us away from Colorado Mountain Medical (no offense to that crew, who are wonderful). Occasionally, confoundingly, a rascal infiltrates the latest haul, that proverbial bad apple that threatens to spoil the whole pile.
My daughter is a keen observer of human nature; a budding sociologist. As she grows into adolescence, she seeks to understand her place in the world, how the actions of others affect her, how best to interact so as to achieve peace and happiness. A good girl to the core, she is nonetheless familiar with the concept of the bad apple, has used it to cast blame on a singular nefarious actor so as to shift responsibility away from her or her classmates.
But Violet also clocks that the bad apple theory has its nuances, is not a perfect explanation for bad outcomes or behavior. Casting all aspersions on one person is too easy, too convenient, allows the collective to shirk its own culpability. Fairness is a bedrock principle of a child’s life, mercurial as their conception of it may be, and it does not strike Violet as fair that one kid has to shoulder the blame for everyone. Even, and perhaps especially, when that child is the instigator.
Violet and I both believe that, humans, on the whole, are inherently good. They want to behave properly, to be well-liked, to help others, to be exemplars. But people have their dark tendencies, the side that is attracted to disorder. I am impressed and not a little concerned that Violet recognizes this dichotomy. The catalyst of onne kid with rotten intent can unleash the misbehavior latent in the rest of the group. Viewed through this lens, causation is mutual: the bad deed would not have happened but for the twin negative impulses of the bad apple and the remainder of the bushel.
The bad apple theory is informed by millennia of doctrine, being rooted in the Biblical explanation of man’s fall from grace. Indeed, malum is the Latin word for both apple and evil. Wary of the overly dogmatic, unimpressed with the efficacy of the bad apple theory, and as obsessed as we are with apples, it was only logical that we sought an alternative apple-based hypothesis of human behavior.
Yet to postulate a unified theory, we nonetheless have crafted some archetypes. Beware the shiny apple; its lustrous, waxy exterior may reveal a worm-ridden, mealy, brown interior. Conversely, do not ignore the lumpy, speckled, ugly specimen at the back of the shelf. It may be full of the juiciest flesh ever to grace your taste buds. An apple may be tiny, yet pack a mighty punch. Being gargantuan does not guarantee that the apple has the taste or consistency to match.
We may never be able to grasp the intricacies of our species, what drives people toward good or evil, but at the very least we have apples. And that is good enough.