Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/273

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ignorant or stupid. That the people of a neighboring tribe had descended from ducks, that rain resulted when certain deities began to spit upon the earth, that the island lived upon had been pulled up from the bottom of the ocean by one of their gods, whose hook got fast when he was fishing—these and countless beliefs equally laughable seem to him to imply an irrationality near to insanity. He interprets them automorphically—carrying with him not simply his own faculties developed to a stage of complexity considerably beyond that reached by the faculties of the savage, but also the modes of thinking in which he was brought up, and the stock of information he has acquired. Usually it never occurs to him to do otherwise. Even if he attempts to look at things from the savage's point of view, he most likely fails entirely; and, if he succeeds at all, it is but very partially. Yet only by seeing things as the savage sees them can his ideas be understood, his behavior accounted for, and the resulting social phenomena explained. These seemingly-strange superstitions are quite natural—quite rational, in a certain sense, in their respective times and places. The laws of intellectual action are the same for civilized and uncivilized. The difference is in complexity of faculty and amount of knowledge accumulated and generalized. Given reflective powers developed only to that lower degree in which they are possessed by the aboriginal man—given his small stock of ideas, collected in a narrow area of space, and not added to by records extending through time—given his impulsive nature incapable of patient inquiry; and these seemingly-monstrous beliefs of his become in reality the most feasible explanations he can find of surrounding things. Yet even after seeing that this must be so, it is not easy to think, from the savage's point of view, clearly enough to follow the effects of his ideas on his acts, through all the relations of life, social and other.

A parallel difficulty stands in the way of rightly conceiving character remote from our own, so as to see how it issues in conduct. We may best recognize our inability in this respect by observing the converse inability of other races to understand our characters, and the acts they prompt.

"Wonderful are the works of Allah! Behold! That Frank is trudging about, when he can, if he pleases, sit still!"[1]

In like manner Captain Speke tells us:

"If I walked up and down the same place to stretch my legs, they" (Somali) "formed councils of war on my motives, considering I must have some secret designs upon their country, or I would not do it, as no man in his senses could be guilty of working his legs unnecessarily."[2]

But while by instances like these we are shown that our characters are in a large measure incomprehensible by races remote in nature

  1. Burton's "Scinde," vol. ii., p. 13.
  2. Speke's "Journal of Discovery of Source of the Nile," p. 85.