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Chapter 10

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« on: April 03, 2023, 06:07:45 am »

THERE came a time when Saurus, having read a library of books despatched to him by various learned societies, began to comment upon all that he had gleaned and attempt a theory of Man. It was a difficult thing to do, because, possessing no sense of good or evil, it took him much anxious thought to realize their significance. Granted one, the opposite became inevitable, and his supreme complication centred in the fact that men themselves differed so radically as to which was which. 'If they cannot agree on this vital question,' thought the iguana, 'how shall a creature like myself, ignorant of both, arrive at any conclusion?'

He could, however, only approach the subject from a standpoint of human knowledge, having no other, and presently he presented Felix with some modest considerations on the subject.

"Assuming that goodness is more desirable than evil," he explained, "then my first problem is to understand why you continue to choose the latter and conduct yourselves as though you preferred it. What must naturally impress an impartial observer is how amazingly wicked, unreasonable and intolerant you all are. And this in spite of so much wonderful counsel to the contrary. Virtue has evidently been preached to you for many centuries, and there are a thousand volumes written by your wise ones to support it, as against the few who advocate vice. Your philosophy is dazzling and fills me with awe. My modest reading but touches the huge wealth of wisdom you permit to moulder upon your bookshelves, for most of these are no more than tombs awaiting some future generation to revive the rare spirits slumbering within them. Sage after sage has indicated the advantages of goodness, and while their roads are many, their goal is always the same. But you do not apparently know a really wise man when you see him, because your standards of wisdom appear to be non-existent. You kneel to those who alter the map, yet ignore others who would better the mind if permitted to do so; your philosophy and art produce such greatness as you possess, because these are abstract things unstained by the ingredients of your selfishness and lust for temporal power.

"Consider a Newton, a Darwin, an Einstein—three masters of wondrous knowledge, all laden with new wealth and new treasures for mankind. Gravitation, Evolution, Relativity: what immense advances upon the road to wisdom! Wide avenues of progress only waiting your advance. But Darwin has only taught you as yet how to improve the animals you use for food. You laugh at eugenics, while the relativity of mankind you have not considered at all. Universal synthesis has been proved to exist; law and order reign in the galaxy and in the atom; then surely the relativity of man should be blazed abroad and raised from theory to practice, that it may awaken good willing, create new obligations and confound your worthless values.

"But you dawdle and dally and yield to all manner of wicked temptations. Science tells me that Homo Sapiens ceased to walk on all fours during the middle Pleistocene Age, half a million years ago. Yet here you are still doing all manner of things that the animals from which you sprang would blush to do. Reason is allowed no place in the sun of your favours and I read of certain seers who actually decry it. Perhaps, seeing where it appears to have led you, they may be right. It is almost possible that your breed will never become amenable to reason.

"Consider the appalling vision displayed by two of your mightiest agonists to-day. One has said that 'though words are very beautiful things, rifles, machine-guns, ships, aeroplanes and cannon are more beautiful things'. And another has directed his people 'not to seek out objective truth in so far as it may be favourable to others, but uninterruptedly to serve one's own truth'. These men would dominate Europe and drive Liberty into eternal night.

"Yet all you need, you have. The achievements of science are confounded by later achievements; the conquests and empires of mankind are swept away into the dustbin of Time; but human wisdom remains static. I find that your magnificent discovery of the Golden Rule has never as yet been matched by any other theory of human conduct. From the Far East it came, when the West was still in the cradle; and a very frosty welcome it has received, yet nothing can ever destroy a principle so potent.

"Your follies and villainies, then, are not less than astounding when one considers the harvests of wisdom that enriched earth in her earlier days, and the appalling disparity between your performance and your possibilities must fill every thinking man and woman among you with bewilderment. Certain dynamic qualities proper to your race have confounded reason throughout historical time and turned your footsteps away from any goal of goodness; but consciousness should long ago have made you mentally cleaner, for evolution was always ready and willing to help. But you scorned her aid. Instead you preserved the primitive, old impulses, nursed them, fostered them and carried the worst of your endowment forward, starving and neglecting all that was best of it.

"Philosophy's patient rays shine through the murk; goodwill to man is still a notable ideal; but only intermittent gleams light the welter of eternal evil that you will to create. So goodness is called to stand aloof until you are ready for it, or lost beyond the power to recognize virtue and justice any more.

"In which case the Golden Rule must go down into darkness, along with all the rest of your hoarded wisdom, and seek for a better reception in a more reasonable world than yours, where possibly the mammal is not king.

"You are still at the parting of the ways and may find again the road that was marked out in the Golden Age of Greece, before the risen sun of philosophy vanished in the Dark Ages. Your own Golden Rule awoke vast hope in the heart of goodwill; but to-day all is changed and panic fear tortures your heartstrings, to see death stalk abroad like the man-eating tiger and another Dark Age at hand.

"I have been trying in my small fashion to read this riddle of why a conscious being, potentially good, is contented to grovel in such a mire of evil as you have made of your excellent world. I have examined the relative claims of good and evil as best I might on this limited acquaintance, and I have convinced myself that goodness is better for man than evil can be. But if that be so, then his first step must be to learn wherein goodness abides, and distinguish it by many signs of difference from its opposite. The lust for power has ever been your bane and you have set about the eternal task to win it without a thought as to its significance, or any idea of what true power must mean. To conquer others is your ambition, never to conquer yourselves: the vital victory before any real goodness can be attained. You start your children upon this faulty quest from their cradles and only the rare and exceptional child ever lives long enough to see wherein right power exists, or perceive that his life has been wasted in the adventure. Your ideal is happiness, because you are built so; but your dream of happiness is a nightmare, since you cannot realize the negation of self that alone brings any man in sight of such a condition.

"I study wisdom that can have no meaning for me; but I see the lesson for you on a thousand pages which I daily read, and I mark how human philosophy has revalued your values again and again, welcoming evolution and proceeding from strength to strength, while purifying her own goodness as she goes. Great rules of conduct await mankind devised and created by his fellow beings, and not the least of them but transcends in every particular his own practice. Some may, indeed, lie beyond his power of attainment since he declines the steep and stern journey that ascends to them; but devoted spirits are always to be found upon these icy paths, and your history is rich in lonely, fearless men who have laboured upon the heights and won to happiness and peace by casting away the shadows that stand for these things with most of you. Your pioneers have stored what none could steal from them and in their nakedness been richly clothed, in their hunger supported by better bread than is made from wheat, in their weakness been fortified, in their poverty found great measure of wealth. The things that can be taken from such men by their fellows matter not. Their imperishable possessions are beyond theft and roguery and any disaster—for ever safe while they live to enjoy them, and death itself may well be welcome to those who know their duty done."

Felix took a banana from the great fruit-dish, peeled it, ate it and regarded Saurus with melancholy eyes.

"It is possible—nay probable—that you are not qualified to reach a just estimate of us," he signalled.

"It is certain that I am not," wrote the lizard, "and what the opinion of my kind, supported by their own wisdom, might be I cannot know. My task is only to assess you through your own knowledge and in the light of what the most competent among you have agreed to call good and bad. My limitations are obvious and my opinions valueless; but there remain the sources of my human knowledge, and though they have no influence upon me, since I stand outside them as a spectator, any reasoning creature must admit that they should have some influence on you. Take an example and ask yourself if it were submitted to your impartial judgment how you would argue from it as to the reasoning power of man. Ignorant though I am, it is impossible not to realize your contemptible enormities before such defiance of all that you might win from your theory of righteousness. Not long since I read how at Geneva your nations, meeting in the interest of peace, debated without a blush the shameful problem of whether they should bomb or not bomb one another from the air! An awful war still reverberated its thunder in their ears; the massacre of their young men was still in the memory of these old men, yet they solemnly conceded the right to destroy civilization thus. You are a cruel and lying species. You have not kept faith with evolution; you have not kept faith with yourselves; you have not kept faith with your own prophets and seers."

"Be fair," begged the professor. "The bomb in our lamentable warfare is no novelty: only the latest method of its application. The new is no worse than the old."

"I am neither fair nor unfair," wrote Saurus. "I can only put facts under your observation. It is true, no doubt, that those who have the wit to make bombs and the infamy to employ them find their results more efficacious applied in this manner. Where machinery is concerned you are both idiotic and wicked in your use of it. But how shall you condone a new wickedness by saying that it is no worse than the old? How shall you prostitute evolution to the uses of villainy? How shall you excuse your negative attitude when a possibility occurred of drawing up some universal code of elementary decency—the element being the sweet air you breathe? Could your common sanity not agree that the suffocation and slaughter of mothers and new-born babies and the destruction of noble architecture and humble homes is damnable under any pretext whatsoever?"

Felix perused the indictment and then prepared to depart.

"In truth I know little of international politics," he confessed.

"A repellent subject and doubtless you are better employed," replied Saurus. "I am only concerned to point out how far your knowledge lags behind your wisdom and how you invent and discover, while utterly unable to apply with self-control or self-respect. You are such a singular admixture of sagacity and folly, so under the dominion of unfruitful impulse, still clinging to pitiful ideals, which even your scanty wits have long since condemned, still concerned with interests that only confound good conduct and block every sort of rational progress.

"The irony of the situation," he concluded, "almost gives me an insight into what you call 'comedy' and 'tragedy'. The good and precious things are awaiting you all, and every nation at heart desires peace and security—those age-long, fundamental demands of happiness. It is the things that do not matter, the challenges that do not bear upon happiness but make for universal misery that separate you and arouse your passionate hostility. The feud is handed down from generation to generation. One kingdom speaks and thinks of another as its natural enemy, whereas Nature knows of no such habitude. Your children are as a harp upon which false harpers strum their tunes. They know well their poverty, yet play them in the ears of youth, to dazzle inexperience with the glories of dominion and the sweets of power. They sing that peace and contentment and goodwill are mean ideals for the young; they preach conquest, victory, heroism, point the old blood-stained road to their children and teach the mothers to be proud to bear them for it."

The professor rose, bowed and prepared to leave the dwelling of Saurus and return to his own. He was weary and had already determined not to see his guest again that day.

"Good morning," he signalled. "I am about to take my luncheon."

During the course of the meal, Norah observed that her brother appeared to be in low spirits and trusted that all was well with him.

"One finds oneself a little impatient sometimes with the iguana," he confessed; and when Felix called Saurus 'the iguana', it always meant that they had differed.

"Though made of a sort of bleak reason," he continued, "being, as it were, a thinking-machine and nothing else, yet he can be as unreasonable and intolerant as anybody at times. He generalizes in a very unscientific fashion and comes to faulty conclusions as a result. It would not altogether surprise me if he overdid all this intensive study and ended by going out of his mind. One thing becomes exceedingly apparent: the more he learns about us, the less he likes us."

"He cannot like or dislike," answered Mrs. Hapgood. "He shares none of our emotions. He has mastered the meaning of good and bad, and he realizes that these opposites arise naturally out of the form our evolution has taken. To him it is a vagary of evolution to have done so; but he accepts the fact and regards goodness and badness as a part of our unfortunate heritage. Of course, he cannot fail to see what perfectly horrible forms badness is apt to take and how prone we are to it, but he doesn't dislike us; he only wonders why we make ourselves so unhappy, seeing that happiness appears to be our ruling passion."

"Be that as it may, he allows himself great latitude of language and can be exceedingly annoying at times," declared the professor. "We are now used to the absolute absence of those qualities of gratitude, tact and good taste to which our species pay tribute on our own plane of society; but one would argue that, with his intelligence, he might have perceived their value as an emollient and solvent to life. To eat your bread, accept your hospitality and tell you to your face that most human beings are benighted scoundrels is bad manners and much to be deplored."

"He belongs to the 'intelligentzia'," explained Norah. "The intelligentzia regard manners as we regard the old Victorian draperies—a stuffy and worthless addition to life. The intelligentzia sit on the fence, quite safe and out of harm's way. They criticize everybody and everything and find all is wrong. But they never make any sort of effort to put it right: they only sneer at those who are toiling to put it right and bearing the heat and burden of the day. They pretend to be chin-deep in the waters of reality and are merely cutting silly antics on the bank. I believe that Saurus would try to be useful if he could, and I'm sure he doesn't mean to be rude to anybody. He's only puzzled, poor fellow; and you can't blame him for that. War-mongers and rulers and slaves, and the fighting services and parliamentary procedure, and state-craft and religion, and foreign languages and economic security and trade, and the rate of exchange, and teaching babies to wear gas masks, and all the rest of it must be very difficult for him. You should remember his ridiculous age, too."

"You may be right," admitted Felix. "One has to try and see from his untutored standpoint. He certainly wrote quite an intelligent remark about foreign languages. He holds that one of our gravest disabilities is the scourge of so many tongues. They render precision and exactness impossible. 'Issues of immense significance to you,' he declared, 'may be at the mercy of an interpreter and the welfare of a nation turn on misunderstanding of a word.' He had discovered that our most sacred writings lie under a cloud of wrong translation—another of the things that mystifies him."

"To be capable of mystification is quite a human trait," said Norah. "He may live to develop others. We have plenty of quite nice qualities for him to copy."

"He did mention economic security," remembered the professor. "He quite grasps the meaning of that. He pointed out that while the democracies struggle to secure it as the vital thing and admit that, so far, they have failed to do so, the dictators, who have also failed, conceal the fact and hide it from their nations by muzzling the Press and enflaming the people's minds with lust for conquest and the picturesque lie that guns are better than butter."
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