“The Damned Human Race”

I was discussing my trip to Arizona with a co-worker last week, attempting to explain why being a snowbird would never work for us.  His reply was that “many of the older folks in these parks aren’t as spry as you are”.  There, you have it.  It appears I am now “spry”, a word I’ve always associated with spunky codgers who still have the ability get to the bingo hall on their own.  I still don’t think of myself as even old enough to fit into the “spry” category.  What would a 50 year-old youngster know about it, anyway?

To add a little ironic twist (or should I say, stab in the ribs?), I discovered an interesting book the day before we left Arizona.  It just so happens that the RV Park had a library, which was actually quite well-stocked.  I noticed a sign that said, “Please keep only one book”.  I thought it was a wonderful idea and in less one minute I had already located one that stuck out like a sore thumb entitled, “Mark Twain on the Damned Human Race”, the “DAMNED” in red caps.  I grabbed it up and started reading as my wife continued her search.

“I am the only man living who understands human nature; God has put me in charge of this branch office; when I retire there will be no-one to take my place. I shall keep on doing my duty, for when I get over on the other side, I shall use my influence to have the human race drowned again, and this time drowned good, no omissions, no Ark.”

There are certain times when the facade wears thin and a glimpse of the dark underbelly is warranted, prompting a feeling of kinship to certain lost souls, such as Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche. Hunkered down on the last day in the trailer was perfect timing to indulge in a little skepticism with Mark Twain.

I’ve always known that confrontation and acknowledgement of horrible truths can be liberating.  I hadn’t expected to add Mark Twain to this list of authors.  Not really knowing that much about his evolution as a skeptic, I appreciated this observation by the editor, Janet Smith:

“The difference in Mark Twain’s work as he aged was less a change than a ripening:  his anger at the ways of the world merely grew fiercer as he grew older.  Nevertheless, the work of his last years has been called his “pessimism” and millions of words have been written to explain how, apparently, a flippant young wisecracker became a prophet of doom”.

It’s difficult to explain why this man’s lampooning of the human race gives me comfort.  Maybe it’s partially in knowing that it’s impossible to fix a problem until one becomes aware, and acknowledgement is always the first step.  I can see that Mark Twain’s writing became a little “over-ripe” in his old age.  Perfect for a “spry” old cynic like myself.

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A spry Mr. Samuel Clemens, known best as Mark Twain

It feels great to walk on the sunny side of the street, and that’s where most of us want to live.  However, “God’s greatest creation” is also the cause of the most creative animal and human suffering.  And we all know there was plenty of suffering to go around in Mark Twain’s time.

“What a coward every man is,” Twain wrote. “The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in the procession but carrying the banner.”

I admire him for taking as much of the blame as possible, but by almost anyone’s standards, Mark Twain was outspoken and courageous as hell.  Being a relative introvert who avoids people and doesn’t like too much attention, all I can say is that if Mark Twain was a coward, I’m perfectly happy to join in his parade.

I was struck by the honesty and courage in this collection of his later works.  His contempt for imperialism and exploitation seemed to be outweighed only by his compassion for the oppressed.  These essays showcase his well-known wit and often caused me to snicker, as when I read “Does The Race Of Man Love A Lord?”  The term “Lord” today would certainly have to be replaced with “Celebrity”.  Rubbing against royalty seems to be what we all crave, but “When our clothes are off, nobody can tell which of us is which.”

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Mark Twain participating in experiment with his famous friend, Nikola Tesla

As I continued reading on the flight back home, my wife became curious.  I read aloud to her the section about Mark Twain using his influence to drown the human race, “and this time drowned good, no omissions, no Ark.”

Strangely, and perhaps, wisely, she didn’t ask again.  We are opposites in many respects, which seems to work quite well for us.  She went back to reading her detective story on her Kindle, as I quietly continued my book…it seemed like a short flight.

 

 

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9 thoughts on ““The Damned Human Race”

  1. Twain’s family home is in Hartford, and I have learned more about him living here. I think that the loss of his children contributed to his cynicism. He was surrounded, I believe, by pious platitudes about death and was outraged. I understand his rage at how life can often turn out.

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  2. I take a liking to books that tend to shock me out of my complacency (cowardice?). The book that you discovered in the ‘spry’ library of the Arizona trailer court seems to have this very effect on you. I will put it on my to-read list. Have a great week, Des!

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    1. Peter, you actually explained it better than I was able to. It’s not that I enjoy anyone’s suffering, it’s more that I occasionally refuse to turn a blind eye towards certain bothersome facts and human attributes. The other day I forced myself to watch some surveillance videos of different wild animals attacking dogs. I did this not because I enjoy watching dogs get hurt, it was more of a much needed wake up call. We have coyotes and mountain lions in the area, I’m now having a hard time letting Champ out of my sight! The dogs didn’t really seem to understand the threat, from what I could tell.
      Life is not always fair, and I tend to seek out a balance of ignorant bliss and cynicism in my own life. I want to be awake and aware, but not constantly afraid, either. Somehow, I’ve managed to do that, and it sounds like you have as well.
      As with most literature I’ve read from the 19th century, it gets a little dry and repetitious at times, but I still read it and appreciate it for what it was back in the day. Thanks for a great comment, Peter!

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      1. We have a lot of things in common, Des, not the least of which is trying to maintain a balance without sacrificing our identity, without watering down our belief system to the common denominator dictated by the norms of our present era. It is a delicate balancing act, but definitely worth the struggle. Have a great day! Peter

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      2. Yes, I think we do seem to have some things in common in regards to knowing what we believe, Peter. It doesn’t matter if we agree but I really appreciate the respect and patience that you and some others exhibit in the blogosphere. That in itself sometimes gives me a needed boost in my opinion of human nature. You have a great day, too, Peter!

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  3. ‘I’ve always known that confrontation and acknowledgement of horrible truths can be liberating.’
    ‘Maybe it’s partially in knowing that it’s impossible to fix a problem until one becomes aware, and acknowledgement is always the first step.’
    ‘It feels great to walk on the sunny side of the street, and that’s where most of us want to live. However, “God’s greatest creation” is also the cause of the most creative animal and human suffering.’
    Wow, what a great post!
    Really dovetails with what I was saying about beauty, and my husband and I had been speaking about when people start getting all spiritual and seeeing the beauty everywhere, and can get stuck there, I know I do/am, but that that is only half the story. As Jung said, enlightenment isn’t all about rainbows and butterflies and figures of light, it’s about making the darkness conscious. That isn’t exactly it, but the gist.
    And I had meant to add to your snowbirds post, that I am sure there is a world of options between the one you described in your post, and your description of life walking the dogs at home in winter down a glacial slope, alone, thinking about the risks, and remember Ann saying take your cellphone?
    Something in between, perhaps? But a good library counts for a lot, and in a whole park or village, if you just met one person you connected with, and that is always a possibility, that might do it, being as you don’t want some kind of huge social thing. On our trip we call it ‘Cosmic Resonance’ not our phrase, for when you meet someone you ‘recognise’ and really connect with.

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    1. Rachel, you’re right, what I wrote does dovetail into what you and your husband were talking about as you floated and swam about. And I really like your reference to Jung’s thoughts on enlightenment. To throw a blanket over ugliness and try to ignore it doesn’t always serve us well.
      Your thoughts on getting stuck on the search for beauty and enlightenment resonate with me. I understand and appreciate the search, but for me, the here and now usually takes a front seat.
      Although I wasn’t drawn to the snowbird lifestyle, I actually did connect with a few folks down in Mesa. Your term “Cosmic Resonance” is a great description of connecting with people! My wife and I have ruled out this option, so now we’re on to other possibilities regarding our future years together. Currently I’ve been totally sucked back into work life, just like I never left. It’s deflating and rewarding at the same time. Still, I can’t wait to leave it all behind (again).
      I so much appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts! I always wonder how my posts affect people, and it’s really nice to know that some people can see some merit in what I’m trying to say, as I attempt to be truthful, yet not too negative. Thanks much for reading and for your insight!

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