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The Uses of Diversity: A Book of Essays

by (Library Of Alexandria)

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I do not like seriousness. I think it is irreligious. Or, if you prefer the phrase, it is the fashion of all false religions. The man who takes everything seriously is the man who makes an idol of everything: he bows down to wood and stone until his limbs are as rooted as the roots of the tree or his head as fallen as the stone sunken by the roadside. It has often been discussed whether animals can laugh. The hyena is said to laugh: but it is rather in the sense in which the M.P. is said to utter "an ironical cheer." At the best, the hyena utters an ironical laugh. Broadly, it is true that all animals except Man are serious. And I think it is further demonstrated by the fact that all human beings who concern themselves in a concentrated way with animals are also serious; serious in a sense far beyond that of human beings concerned with anything else. Horses are serious; they have long, solemn faces. But horsey men are also serious -- jockeys or trainers or grooms: they also have long, solemn faces. Dogs are serious: they have exactly that combination of moderate conscientiousness with monstrous conceit which is the make-up of most modern religions. But, however serious dogs may be, they can hardly be more serious than dog-fanciers -- or dog-stealers. Dog-stealers, indeed, have to be particularly serious, because they have to come back and say they have found the dog. The faintest shade of irony, not to say levity, on their features, would evidently be fatal to their plans. I will not carry the comparison through all the kingdoms of natural history: but it is true of all who fix their affection or intelligence on the lower animals. Cats are as serious as the Sphinx, who must have been some kind of cat, to judge by the attitude. But the rich old ladies who love cats are quite equally serious, about cats and about themselves. So also the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, also crocodiles and beetles and all kinds of things; but they were all serious and made their worshippers serious. Egyptian art was intentionally harsh, clear, and conventional; but it could very vividly represent men driving, hunting, fighting, feasting, praying. Yet I think you will pass along many corridors of that coloured and almost cruel art before you see a man laughing. Their gods did not encourage them to laugh. I am told by housewives that beetles seldom laugh. Cats do not laugh -- except the Cheshire Cat (which is not found in Egypt); and even he can only grin. And crocodiles do not laugh. They weep. This comparison between the sacred animals of Egypt and the pet animals of to-day is not so far-fetched as it may seem to some people. There is a healthy and an unhealthy love of animals: and the nearest definition of the difference is that the unhealthy love of animals is serious. I am quite prepared to love a rhinoceros, with reasonable precautions: he is, doubtless, a delightful father to the young rhinoceroses. But I will not promise not to laugh at a rhinoceros. I will not worship the beast with the little horn. I will not adore the Golden Calf; still less will I adore the Fatted Calf. On the contrary, I will eat him. There is some sort of joke about eating an animal, or even about an animal eating you. Let us hope we shall perceive it at the proper moment, if it ever occurs. But I will not worship an animal. That is, I will not take an animal quite seriously: and I know why.

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  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Print Length: 153 Pages
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