SS: Conversation

mark-twain

Old Man and Young Man in conversation.

Old Man:  I will tell you a little story:

 

Once upon a time an Infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow whose little boy was ill and near to death.  The Infidel often watched by the bedside and entertained the boy with talk, and he used these  opportunities to satisfy a strong longing in his nature–that desire which is in us all to better other people’s condition by having them think as we think.  He was successful.  But the dying boy, in his last moments, reproached him and said:

“I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF AWAY, AND MY COMFORT.  NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST.”

And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said:

 “MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN.  HOW COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING?  WE HAVE DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT ONLY KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO ALL WE HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.”

 

The heart of the Infidel was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said:

“IT WAS WRONG–I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM GOOD.  IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM THE TRUTH.”

 

Then the mother said:

“I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY. NOW HE IS DEAD,–AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE.  OUR FAITH CAME DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF ELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT? WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE WAS YOUR SHAME?”

 

Y.M.  He was a miscreant, and deserved death!

O.M.  He thought so himself, and said so.

Y.M.  Ah–you see, HIS CONSCIENCE WAS AWAKENED!

O.M.  Yes, his Self-Disapproval was.  It PAINED him to see the mother suffer.  He was sorry he had done a thing which brought HIM pain.  It did not occur to him to think of the mother when he was misteaching the boy, for he was absorbed in providing PLEASURE for himself, then.  Providing it by satisfying what he believed to be a call of duty.

Y.M.  Call it what you please, it is to me a case of AWAKENED CONSCIENCE. That awakened conscience could never get itself into that species of trouble again.  A cure like that is a PERMANENT cure.

O.M.  Pardon–I had not finished the story.  We are creatures of OUTSIDE INFLUENCES–we originate NOTHING within. Whenever we take a new line of thought and drift into a new line of belief and action, the impulse is ALWAYS suggested from the OUTSIDE.  Remorse so preyed upon the Infidel that it dissolved his harshness toward the boy’s religion and made him come to regard it with tolerance, next with kindness, for the boy’s sake and the mother’s.  Finally he found himself examining it.  From that moment his progress in his new trend was steady and rapid. He became a believing Christian.  And now his remorse for having robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer than ever.  It gave him no rest, no peace.  He MUST have rest and peace–it is the law of nature.

There seemed but one way to get it; he must devote himself to saving imperiled souls.  He became a missionary.  He landed in a pagan country ill and helpless.  A native widow took him into her humble home and nursed him back to convalescence.  Then her young boy was taken hopelessly ill, and the grateful missionary helped her tend him.  Here was his first opportunity to repair a part of the wrong done to the other boy by doing a precious service for this one by undermining his foolish faith in his false gods.  He was successful.  But the dying boy in his last moments reproached him and said:

“I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF AWAY, AND MY COMFORT.  NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST.”

And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said:

 

“MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN.  HOW COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING?  WE HAD DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT ONLY KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO ALL WE HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.”

 

The heart of the missionary was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said:

“IT WAS WRONG–I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM GOOD.  IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM THE TRUTH.”

Then the mother said:

 

“I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY. NOW HE IS DEAD–AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE.  OUR FAITH CAME DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF BELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT?

WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE WAS YOUR SHAME?”

 

The missionary’s anguish of remorse and sense of treachery were as bitter and persecuting and unappeasable, now, as they had been in the former case.  The story is finished.  What is your comment?

Y.M.  The man’s conscience is a fool!  It was morbid.  It didn’t know right from wrong.

 

O.M.  I am not sorry to hear you say that.  If you grant that ONE man’s conscience doesn’t know right from wrong, it is an admission that there are others like it.  This single admission pulls down the whole doctrine of infallibility of judgment in consciences.  Meantime there is one thing which I ask you to notice.

Y.M.  What is that?

 

O.M.  That in both cases the man’s ACT gave him no spiritual discomfort, and that he was quite satisfied with it and got pleasure out of it.  But afterward when it resulted in PAIN to HIM, he was sorry.  Sorry it had inflicted pain upon the others, BUT FOR NO REASON UNDER THE SUN EXCEPT THAT THEIR PAIN GAVE HIM PAIN.  Our consciences take NO notice of pain inflicted upon others until it reaches a point where it gives pain to US.

In ALL cases without exception we are absolutely indifferent to another person’s pain until his sufferings make us uncomfortable. Many an infidel would not have been troubled by that Christian mother’s distress.  Don’t you believe that?

 

Y.M.  Yes.  You might almost say it of the AVERAGE infidel, I think.

 

O.M.  And many a missionary,  sternly fortified by his sense of duty, would not have been troubled by the pagan mother’s distress–Jesuit missionaries in Canada in the early French times, for instance; see episodes quoted by Parkman.

 

Y.M.  Well, let us adjourn.  Where have we arrived?

O.M.  At this.  That we (mankind) have ticketed ourselves with a number of qualities to which we have given misleading names.  Love, Hate, Charity, Compassion, Avarice, Benevolence, and so on.  I mean we attach misleading MEANINGS to the names. They are all forms of self-contentment, self-gratification, but the names so disguise them that they distract our attention from the fact.  Also we have smuggled a word into the dictionary which ought not to be there at all–Self-Sacrifice.  It describes a thing which does not exist.  But worst of all, we ignore and never mention the Sole Impulse which dictates and compels a man’s every act: the imperious necessity of securing his own approval, in every emergency and at all costs.  To it we owe all that we are.  It is our breath, our heart, our blood.  It is our only spur, our whip, our goad, our only impelling power; we have no other.  Without it we should be mere inert images, corpses; no one would do anything, there would be no progress, the world would stand still.  We ought to stand reverently uncovered when the name of that stupendous power is uttered.

Y.M.  I am not convinced.

 

O.M.  You will be when you think.

 

The Project Gutenberg EBook of What Is Man?, by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

 

“Mistakes Were Made . . .”

Mistakes were made (but not by me)
Mistakes were made (but not by me) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

There is a vast body of literature on how to do well, how to be happy, what to do and choose for one’s own benefit and that of others. This body covers a range from the vulgar to the great moral philosophers. We are not short of such analyses or guidance.

In contrast, the body of work which considers our failure to do well and be good is decidedly smaller, and also, it must be said, rather lamer, particularly in its power to explain why we fall into foolish beliefs, make bad decisions and commit hurtful acts. We remain opaque to others and to ourselves, thinking, acting and responding in ways which are harmful, counter-productive and baffling. Most baffling of all is our propensity to continue in these patterns, to compound error with error and throw good vigorously after bad. [Source]

 

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin.

Why Darwin?

Pterocnemia pennata (Original description: Rhe...
Pterocnemia pennata (Original description: Rhea darwinii) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephen Jay Gould

April 4, 1996 Issue

Charles Darwin: Voyaging

by Janet Browne

Knopf, 605 pp., $35.00

 

Most young men of the time could only fantasize, but Charles Darwin experienced the overt drama of his century’s archetypal episode in the personal story we now call “coming of age”: a five-year voyage of pure adventure (and much science) circumnavigating the globe on H.M.S. Beagle. Returning to England at age twenty-seven, Darwin became a homebody and never again left his native land, not even to cross the English Channel. Nonetheless, his subsequent life included two internal dramas for more intense, far more portentous, and (for anyone who can move beyond the equation of swashbuckling with excitement) far more interesting than anything he had experienced as a world traveler: first, the intellectual drama of discovering both the factuality and mechanism of evolution; and second, the emotional drama of recognizing (and relishing) the revolutionary implications of evolution, while fearing the pain that revelation would impose upon both his immediate family and the surrounding society.

Read the review

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) at age 7. The paint...
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) at age 7. The painting is the earliest picture known, of Charles Darwin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

RAT BEACH

 A great story. Personal note: I enlisted in the USMC at 17 for the next war.

When I was seventeen, bravado, mingled with what must have been a death wish, made me enlist in the officer-training program of the Marine Corps. Since those in my age group were considerably too callow to lead troops into battle, it was decided at the Navy Department that we would be sent to college, where, as book-toting privates, we would gain a little learning and seasoning, and also a year or two of physical and mental growth, before our fateful collision with the Japs.

Read here.

Footnote to “Letter from South America”

Bullshit Ahead warning in style of warning roa...
Bullshit Ahead warning in style of warning road sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. So-called higher education often rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture has elevated bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit, then take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with second-order bullshit. The majority of administrative activity, whether in private business or the public sphere, often seems to be little more than a sophisticated exercise in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit.

Check this out!

voltaire

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