“The Path to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”

The informant is a student at USC and housemate of the collector. They are a screenwriting major, and a person who considers themselves a floater among social groups – “sometimes hangs out with musicians, sometimes with theatre kids.” They come from a family where the mother was Jewish but the father wasn’t, and although the informant is not very religious, they consider Judaism as something core to their identity. 

Let’s talk about writerly things, ‘cause you’re a writer. You belong to that subset of people. What about proverbs? Sayings?

Oh man. There’re some great ones. Ones that I love. Probably my favorite proverb is –

Is there one that you find yourself using a lot?

Yeah, actually. And it’s a very common one. Because I know a lot of people who would consider themselves nice. And I think other people would call them nice if asked to describe them. But their actions are often destructive, either indirectly or just through ignorance of certain things. There’s this great old proverb that’s been quoted by a number of Holocaust scholars. Which I find very interesting. It’s “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” And that’s I think how constant – at least in terms of the Holocaust how it’s brought up is that Germany needed to rebuild after World War I. Which completely stripped them of everything. And Adolph Hitler promised a brighter future. And I mean obviously killing Jews weren’t “good intentions” but he wanted to rebuild the country and the sense of morale that was created that way was that way. And also I think everybody in the ghetto who didn’t realize what was going on was like “oh, this is probably fine, people would never do something like that.” That’s part of it. People are often well-intentioned but do things that are not so great.

There’s one thing that I love to recount, which is in The Avengers. Everybody loves The Avengers. And I understand why. It’s a very crowd-pleasing movie. And I loved it, up until it’s basically the last – it’s the big climax of the movie. And Loki, the villain of the film, is pontificating, like Loki is wont to do. And Loki is on this very intellectual monologue, and of course it’s about how he is dominant and whatever, “you are a plebeian without intelligence” or whatever, and then the Hulk comes in and he smashes him – and it’s like a joke, and it’s very funny and everybody in the theater laughed – every time I saw it, it was just a huge crowd-pleaser of a moment and everybody loved it and everybody quoted it to their friends afterwards. Or didn’t quote it, because the joke was physical. But brought it up. What I thought – and this is my interpretation of it, so I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am because I tend to be right about things like this, as a writer –  is  that Joss Whedon is a very very smart guy. And I respect the shit out of him for loads of reasons, Cabin in the Woods and Buffy being two of them. But what he did in that moment was he glorified bullying. And every bully who stands up to a kid, every bully who takes lunch money from a kid who’s an intellectual, or treats him like shit, like, I don’t know, I was tread in high school or middle school – mostly middle school. But every bully who treats a kid like that doesn’t treat a kid that way because he’s intentionally gonna be an asshole. He treats him that way because he thinks the intellectual kid’s being annoying, or pontificating like Loki was. And he thinks that what he’s doing is cool. And in that moment, that kid just got a justification and was validated for everything that he’s ever done that is shit on somebody who’s intelligent. And I think that is such a terrible message to send to people. It’s one moment – it is a laugh, it is a joke – and it plays brilliantly as a joke. But my god, I feel like a whole generation of kids is gonna see that, and see that movie because it was the number one grossing movie and like, one of the best superhero movies of all time – with that in it. People are gonna see that, and they’re gonna go, “oh man, I’m cool, bullying is cool. And being intellectual is stupid.” We have a huge problem in this country where being smart is not a trait that’s valued. In politics, even. The whole knock against Barack Obama in both elections was that he was too elite. He was too Harvard for the rest of the… field.  Of course neglecting to mention that McCain had seven houses and Mitt Romney for all intents and purposes was a multi-millionaire. But I don’t think that there should be a problem with being elite. I think we should want our leaders to be intelligent and well above average. I think now – I mean George W. Bush got elected because he could have a beer with somebody. Also because the state of Florida fucked Gore on the recount. At the same time, especially in middle America but even to some extent on the coast, we’ve demonized intellectualism. And when that thing happened in the Avengers, when Hulk smashed Loki, and it was a punchline, all I thought was “god damn it, we just set ourselves back another twenty years with this.” I don’t know where I started with this but that’s where I ended up.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions.

So yeah. It’s great intention, for Joss Whedon. It plays well in the theater, it’s a great joke, and it was a fantastic intention to – I think his intention with that joke was to sort of show that Loki was being an asshole. And Hulk was smashing him for being an asshole. But it didn’t read like that. I don’t think when you put it in the context of a memory – people don’t remember movies. They remember moments. And that’s a moment. So out of context that moment is just brawn beats brain. Which is so weird, because Joss has done such a great job with all of his other media at glorifying the brain.

You said this is a phrase you come back to a lot. Where did you pick it up from and why do you keep using it?

I was reading an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, actually, he was the first one who I had heard use it, but he was quoting a book on the Holocaust and I looked him up and I did a whole thing. But I’ve used it in a lot of different – I’ve use it just – I tend to use it – ‘Cause I write a lot of political dramas. I tend to use it that way. Whenever I bring up something like that. Or if I’m ever discussing rape culture. It’s just something that happens a lot in rape culture. In Steubenville, y’know, a year or so ago, everybody on the news was like, “oh, these poor boys,” [laughs] and you could see where they were coming from. They were trying to say that they were just kids, they made a mistake. But at the same time there’s video of them on the internet going “she’s deader than OJ’s girlfriend” and I’m like “that’s not—no,” they deserve serious prison time. But I think in trying to make sure they aren’t false rape claims and certain things, that have happened in the past, we overcompensate and as a result we’ve created a culture that is not cool for women to speak out and that’s not ok.

Cause that’s the thing. I don’t think anybody on the – I’m a liberal. I don’t think anybody on the Christian right is negatively intentioned. I don’t think any of them want anything less than an excellent, morally fantastic country. But I think the way they’re going about it is wrong. And that’s – hence the path to hell being paved with good intentions. And maybe I’m the one fucking up America. Maybe I’m the one who’s being like “oh, maybe we should legalize and tax marijuana so we can pay for children’s college education” – maybe that’s a bad idea. Maybe that’s a terrible idea and it just won’t work, y’know? I don’t know. But yeah – anyway, it’s just something I come back to. It’s an interesting thing. It’s always an interesting conversation.


Informant was verbose. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the informant said, but they very clearly demonstrated their interpretation and feelings about the chosen proverb.