2005-10-25

philosophy

another something interesting from The Wisdom of the Sands :)

I mind me of that sour-faced, cross-eyed prophet who one day came to visit me, in high and gloomy dudgeon.

"It were best," he said, "to destroy them root and branch."

Thus I saw he had a craving for perfection. For death alone is perfect.

"They are evildoers," he said.

I held my peace. I seemed to see under my eyes that steely soul of his shaped like a sword. And I thought: This man lives but to war on evil. It is on evil that he thrives. Without it where would he be?

"What," I asked him, "would bring you happiness?"

"The triumph of virtue in the world," he answered.

But I knew he was lying. For this "happiness" he wanted would mean the idling and rusting of his sword.

And then was revealed to me, little by little, a strange yet patent truth -- that he who loves good is indulgent towards evil. For though the words seem at cross-purposes with each other, good and evil interlock; your bad sculptors are a forging-bed for your good sculptors, tyranny tempers valiant souls to fight against it, and famine leads to the sharing of bread between neighbors -- a sharing sweeter than the bread itself to hungry lips. Thus those men who had hatched plots against me and, hunted down by my police, cut off their hands, had sacrificed themselves to something other than themselves and willingly faced danger, durance, and injustice by reason of their love for freedom and justice -- those men always seemed to me invested with a special beauty and a radiance that glowed on the very scaffold, like a flaming cloud above them. Therefore never have I cheated these men of their death. What were a diamond but for the hard rocks that must be bored and broken before it can be won? What is the value of a sword, if there be no foe; of fidelity, if there be no temptation; of homecoming, if there be no absence? That prophet's "triumph of virtue" were but the triumph of the stall-fed, docile ox tied to his manger. And I count not on the stall-fed and the sedentaries.

"You are struggling against evil," I told him, "and every struggle is a dance. You get your pleasure from the dance; in fine, from evil. But I would rather see you dancing for love of love."

"For if I stablish for you an empire in which men's hearts are stirred by poems, a day will surely come when the logicians fall to arguing thereon and wordily apprising you of the peril to which the poem is exposed, from its opposite -- as if there were the 'opposite' of anything whatever in the world! Then will you see police officers arising who, confusing the love of the poem with hatred of the 'opposite,' will now devote themselves to hating instead of loving. As though love of the cedar tree meant the destruction of all olive trees! Then will you see them haling off to prison musicians, sculptors or astronomers, invoking absurd arguments, built of words that weave the wind. And thus will perish my empire; for the cult of the cedar need not involve the ruin of the olive groves or an embargo on the fragrance of the rose. Instill in a people's heart the love of sailing ships, and it will draw into itself all that is fervent in your land and transmute it into sails and rigging. But you, my man, would wish to take the activities of the sailmakers in hand and foster these by denouncing, persecuting and wiping out as heretics all who do not see eye to eye with you. And you will have logic on your side, since by logic you can prove anything you like, and all that is not a sailing ship can be shown to be the opposite of the sailing ship. Thus, from purge to purge, you will exterminate your race; for you will find that each of us loves something else as well. Nay, more, you will end by exterminating the sailing ship itself, for the hymn of the ship becomes on the nailsmith's lips the hymn of nailmaking. And once you have thrown him into prison, no more nails will be forthcoming for the making of the ship."

"Thus is it with him, too, who thinks to favor the great sculptors by exterminating the bad, whom in his foolish parlance he denounces as the 'opposites' of the former. And then, my friend, surely you yourself would be the first to forbid your son to choose a calling whose prospects looked so black!"

"If I have understood you aright," snarled my cross-eyed prophet, "you would have me tolerate vice!"

"Not so," I answered, "You have understood . . . nothing!"

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