Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mark Twain: The Mysterious Stranger

I am not quite well-versed in American literature. So when the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof published his summer reading list, I figured it was as good of a time as any to read Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. Mark Twain's short story The Mysterious Stranger is not as famous as his other full length novels. But, in spite of its short length the story deals with a very complicated dogmatic issue of Moral Sense. Moral sense is what separates us from other living beings, be it higher primates or angels.

This post-humously published Mark Twain's marvel has several versions. The one I read is set in Austria. The story is about three boys and their encounter with a devious angel called Satan, who is named after his uncle, the notorious Satan himself. This mysterious stranger appears in the village and shows the boys that how little control humans have over their own destiny. The Satan also shows that the Moral Sense does not make Homo sapiens better than the rest of the animals, it in fact makes us more barbaric and evil.
It is like your paltry race--always lying, always claiming virtues which it hasn't got, always denying tot he higher animals, which alone possess them. No brute ever does a cruel that is the monopoly of those with the Moral Sense. When a brute inflicts pain he does it innocently; it is wrong; for him there is no such thing as wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it -- only man does that. Inspire by the mongrel Moral Sense of his! A sense whose function is to distinguish between right and wrong, with liberty to choose which of them he will do. Now what advantage can he get out of that? He is always choosing and in nine cases out of ten he prefers the wrong. There shouldn't be any wrong and without the Moral Sense there couldn't be any wrong. And yet he is such an unreasoning creature that he is not able to perceive that the Moral Sense degrades him to the bottom layer of animated beings and is a shameful possession."
Satan points out that humans have the power of will and a conscious mind, and yet they knowingly commit barbaric crimes against other human beings. Their bad behavior, unlike that of a horse or any other animal, cannot be blamed on nature, but on their own devious mind. Satan also points out humans' cowardly nature. They listen and follow the beliefs of minorities, because the majority is too scared to stand up and speak their minds. For instance, majority of the world is in favor of Palestine's UN membership, and there are only a few countries like the US and Canada who in spite of being democratic countries are denying Palestine of this diplomatic opportunity of getting its voice heard.
I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race whether savage or civilized are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pains, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don't dare to assert themselves.
Humans also have their set views and preconceived notions which create divisions among them. Two humans can be presented with the same evidence and information and yet they will distort the facts to fit their own narrative and personal agenda. For instance, look at the Fox News and CNBC News. They are both American 24 hour cable news channels. They are presented with the same reality everyday but yet their narrative is completely different from each other. Fox promotes their Republican agenda, and NBC ignores real facts in their quest to promote the liberal ideology.
"You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it and the mirror of your imagination. You may not see your ears, but they will be there."