It is New Year’s Day. The national pastime today is for people, most of whom are sleep deprived and many suffering from hangovers or dangerously high levels of residual alcohol, to make vows of self-improvement. I consider this a masochistic endeavor—at least it would be for me if I were to indulge in it. I will not. In fact, I think “I will not” should be the beginning of any vow one takes on a day like this. And that those words should be followed by a list of activities one does out of a sense of guilt.
I went to Catholic school for seventeen years during which time I was steeped (brined, one might say) in a culture of doing the right thing and only the right thing. Under a threat of eternal damnation, I might add. In the sixteenth year of that experience, I was assigned to read T. H. White’s brilliant The Once and Future King as part of a course in Arthurian Legend. At the beginning of the book, while Arthur is still a boy, Merlin turns him into different kinds of creatures so that he can learn life lessons. One of the creatures is an ant. As the ant/boy approaches the ant colony, he sees a sign over the entryway that says, “Everything that is not compulsory is forbidden.” I recognized the sentiment at once. I had been educated in rooms like that.
At some point in the late 1980’s, I noticed that several of my friends suffered from similar brainwashing, though none of them had spent even a minute under the thumb of a nun. Something was up with my circle of comrades that needed a fix. I suggested that our problem required a group effort. I invited them to form a society dedicated to freeing ourselves from compulsively doing the right thing.
The Wrong Thing Society was born at a dinner party at my house. Entering members were required to bring along a mattress or pillow tag that looked something like this, but at the time read only "Do not remove under penalty of law." Knowing one another as we did, we needed evidence that each of us had already, at least once in our lives, done the wrong thing.
We turned the tags into membership cards. We discussed the duties we would no longer perform, “nice” things we would no longer do. We ate well and drank what would become our Society’s official beverage:
At our second meeting, on the 28th of November 1987, the founders welcomed our first international member and we signed a manifesto:
At that meeting, our host presented us with our logo:
Eventually, in 1993, we had our 1991 annual meeting. We had hung banners in the dining room:
Here are the minutes for that meeting:
We could have kept the society going, but that would have been the right thing.
I will say only this in closing: DOWN WITH NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS.