Letter To The Editor: Bad

Dear Reader,

I’ve got good news and bad news, everyone. Following convention, the bad news first: the world we live in seems to be a never-ending cycle of bad events followed by more bad events. Every headline appears to be pulled from the pages of a particularly cruel child’s Mad Libs book, whether it’s a capital-B bad one, like impending mass extinctions, or a headline more quietly bad, like “Lonely Library Dog Was So Sad When Nobody Came To Read To Him.” From the unrelenting threat of gun violence to wildfires devouring our homes to voter suppression to breakups to burning your morning coffee, the universe seems to be tending towards particular shitty, neverending entropy.

The good news? It’s not all bad. In all truth, I’ve never been one to look on the bright side; it hurts my eyes. So, to break up the bad, some good news: Australia is well on its way to eradicating cervical cancer by 2028! Mondelez International (the company behind Oreos and other snacks) divested from palm oil corporations that contribute to deforestation. In the past 17 years, new cases of HIV dropped by 36 percent, while Antiretroviral Therapy saved nearly 11.4 million lives since 2000. This was also a month of historic firsts: Laguna Pueblo woman Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk Nation became the first two Native American women to serve in Congress, 29 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to serve in Congress, and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar the two first Muslim women to be elected.

So while there is some good left, this issue focuses on every breed of bad: Take Anna Hill’s musical exploration of the dichotomies within country music’s bad boy, Johnny Cash, or Lindsey Aronson’s fascinating photo essay on Colorado Springs’ history as a healing haven for tuberculosis patients. There’s the bad that gets better, like the state of being and transformation of identity that Nathan Goodman explores in his article, and the bad that still endures in unexpected ways, like the strict Catholic sexual norms that Emma Olsen explores in her piece. While all of the articles in this issue grapple with some sort of badness, they also unearth the silver linings that are sometimes hard to find.

It’s easy to split up the world into the good and the bad; it’s simpler, cleaner, and more reassuring than assessing the middle grounds that exist in everything going on around us. But nothing is quite that black and white. Take this Floridian headline from a few weeks ago: “Florida man breaks into restaurant, strips naked, eats noodles, plays bongos.” On one hand, public indecency. But on the other, free concert. Okay, maybe that’s not the best example. But we do spend a lot of time parsing the relative goodness or badness of certain events or people and arguing for varying levels of moral absolutism. We crave the clarity of the good/ bad dichotomy in order to definitively know on which side of the board we fall. When it comes down to it, I think we’re all secretly worrying the same thing: Am I a bad person?

And if you’re reading this, let me tell you—in all likelihood, if you’re asking the question, you aren’t. If you think that’s bull, if you’re bullying yourself for mistakes you’ve made in the past or that you’re inevitably going to make in the future, then I’ve got good news for you: There’s always time to make things better, always a way to forgive yourself and others and reconcile the good and bad parts of you. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re a good person.

All the best, but more importantly, all the worst,

Callie Zucker (and the rest of Cipher staff)