Monday, February 28, 2011
Dialogue with Darwin
Charles Darwin: "Let those who consider any tribes of men as irreclaimable barbarians, call to mind that the Danes and Saxons, of whose cruelties a small specimen has been given, were the progenitors of those who, in Scandinavia, in Normandy, in Britain, and in America, are now among the most industrious, intelligent, orderly, and humane, of the dwellers upon earth."
Interlocutor: Meaning, I take it, that even the most unworthy are redeemable – the worst can be made whole again – is that your view.
CD: It most certainly is. Have I not sad that even what at first might seem ‘irreclaimable barbarians’ – the Danes and Saxons, who pillaged our lands and did with us what they would, e’en to our destruction, even them can be brought back into the fold, as it were.
I: But is that going against your own words, that only the fittest survive?
CD: Here I must attest to having misgivings, not on my own words but on the interpretation of them by others. What might you, Sir, suppose to be the fittest amongst our own species – do you think we should be murderous, tyrannical, demanding of others, even unto their own demise?
Is that your ideal of the fittest of our species, or does it have some other characteristic besides physical, one might say brute strength? Is that all we need to survive – brute strength, or do we need some other attributes? What say you, Sir?
I: I should say that we do indeed need strength – to survive – to catch food to eat – to build our shelter – to defend our families from those who would do us harm. Yes, I would say that the attribute of physical strength is indeed vital to our continued survival.
CD: That and nought else?
I: Why of course, there are other attributes that we would find most beneficial to our survival.
CD: And what would those be, Sir?
I: I should say that one essential would be to deduce from sight and hearing, from smell and from touch.
CD: And why those – from the senses, if I take your meaning aright?
I: Because we are given those by the Almighty, are we not?
CD: We most certainly are, Sir, and we are given much more, are we not?
I: Indeed, we are.
CD: And what else could we say that the Almighty has given us that would be of benefit to us in our attempt to live out our lives on Earth?
I: We would think our ability to conjecture – to reason, and to form judgments useful attributes.
CD: And not only they, I hope. Do you have any other suggested properties of man that we may have to depend upon in times of need?
I: Yes, I hope we may not leave out our ability to have compassion for others of our kind. By compassion, I mean to cover our propensity to love our brothers, to love and cherish those nearest to us – our family and those we call our friends.
CD: And does your compassion include any related feelings?
I: Yes, I should say all the humane feelings that mankind is heir to: sympathy, kindness, consideration, gentleness and love.
CD: And would your compassion be great enough to include forgiveness?
I: That depends, Sir.
CD: Upon what?
I: Upon what was asked to be forgiven. Shall we require some form of justice in law to mediate for us and on our behalf, apportioning forgiveness or withholding it depending upon the judgment of those who sit at court and represent us in all our interests.
CD: I am in agreement with all you say, but take issue with all you do not say.
I: How can any man take offence at something I have not said. You had better explain yourself, Sir.
CD: And I will do it gladly, my friend. If, in administering our justice, as you call it, shall we rather realize that we are all potentially guilty of all crimes, even to murder and destruction.
I: How can we be charged – how can mankind be charged with having the potential to be murderers?
CD: Because we are made of the same stuff, that is why.
I: I cannot agree – you suppose that because we are all flesh and blood – and so much blood, that we are capable of dire offences of which we have justly been found guilty. Surely only those who were found to have murdered are actually guilty.
CD: They are, quite so. But, Sir, I said that we are potentially capable of heinous crimes, not that we are actually guilty of them, as you put it, did I not?
I: You did, Sir.
CD: And so I say that even the judge sitting in his high place of office – even he is capable of the lowest that any man can sink – even he.
I: How so?
CD: For the reason that if the conditions that beset him are identical, then he may act like the common criminal, even as he is made of the most worthy of material in other men’s eyes.
I: But will he not have his reason to command him, to stay him in his plunging his dagger into the heart of another, even to stay him from even drawing it?
CD: You are mistaking yourself and with it my words.
I: Did you not say ‘identical conditions’?
CD: I did, Sir, but you mistake the word ‘identical’ I mean ‘identical’ to the person so tested. What moves you to anger does not necessarily move me.
I: That is true. So what is your meaning of the phrase ‘identical conditions’ - they seem nothing of the sort.
CD: Identical conditions are those that move us in identical ways, even though they might well not be identical in any other way. Such is my meaning.
I: Then, Sir, if you are right, we should forgive any offence on the grounds that the conditions that moved the judge turned murderous knave were such that anyone might have acted to, and that would mean he would go unpunished.
CD: In judging men, we have to take many things into account, have we not?
I: Yes, and I hope we would.
CD: And that would include our empathizing with him, putting ourselves in his place for a moment, would it not?
I: Yes, I suppose it would.
CD: Then might we not come to the just conclusion that our judge was driven to a place where his reason was lost.
I: Then who are we to punish? Shall we all plead insane and be let off Scot free?
CD: No indeed, we shall not allow that to happen. All that I am pleading for is that we look deeply into the circumstances surrounding his supposed or should I say, his alleged offences, before we take him to the gallows at Tyburn.
I: And what would be our judgment on those who have offended?
CD: If found guilty, they should be meted out a just form of punishment. But in the fullness of time, once they have come to see the error of their ways, they should be allowed back into the fold, having served their time. Let us not be accused of damning out of hand for all time, lest in so doing we damn ourselves, committing ourselves to a walled cell and then to a pauper’s grave.
Let us rather remember the Danes and Saxons, how they are come amongst us and how they have turned out to be among the stoutest pillars of our society.
Robert L. Fielding
Posted by Justice at 10:46 PM