“I am writing this on a train”

I am writing this on a train, and I cannot get on with it because there are two very modern ladies next to me who are talking about vegetarianism and the higher life and spiritual evolution and other amusements of the rich. They are both wealthy and well dressed, as this kind of revolutionists always are; and they are both good looking, with the bleak blue eye which marks that esoteric religion of theirs; the only religion on earth that has in it no agnosticism and no humility. One of them is trying to show that she is very liberal, that she is not a fanatical vegetarian, which seems to me unthinking; for surely if a man is on moral grounds a vegetarian, he ought to be a fanatical vegetarian. He ought to be furious even with the moderate meat-eater: we do not tolerate a temperate cannibal. Meat-eating is either not wrong at all (as I think), or it is very wrong. In this it resembles murder, religion, and most other interesting things. But the lady who is talking has all the intrinsic modern thoughtlessness in thought. She says, in my personal and physical presence, the following calm and extraordinary words: ‘Of course the question is whether you still have the craving. If you can overcome the craving for meat, then you are on a higher plane. But as long as you have a craving for anything, you ought, of course, to do it. The craving shows that you ought to do it.’ This charming generalization (which should be of extraordinary interest to the whole human race, including tyrants, pick-pockets, dipsomaniacs, Thugs, fraudulent solicitors, men who like eating glass, men who wish to be worshipped as the Messiah, opium-smokers, bhang-eaters, military conquerors, sophists, blood-drinkers, and others too numerous to mention), this generalization, I say, moves me immensely. I feel strongly impelled to rise simply and suddenly in my place and speak as follows: ‘Madam, you will not, I am sure, be anything but delighted to learn that you have convinced me. A man should always do a thing as long as he has a genuine craving to do it. How true that is! How illuminating! And yet how simple! My present genuine craving, which is to strike you suddenly and sharply on the bridge of the nose, is one which, as it is far less destructive than meat-eating, will certainly command your theoretical acquiescence, and which also has this advantage, that it will give some sort of glimmering notion of what sort of world you are living in. As you say, I may survive the craving. After beating you on the nose for a day or two the desire itself may leave me. Then, no doubt, I shall pass to a higher plane.’

The Illustrated London News, 28 April 1906.

Published in: on February 7, 2007 at 1:54 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mmmm, glass.

  2. Interesting. If anyone thinks that Catholic crusaders and Islamic jihadists are flipsides of the same coin, I think this passage shows the difference between us: our violence is full of mirth, and theirs has none.


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