Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/274

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
260
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

from ourselves, the correlative fact that their sentiments and motives cannot be rightly conceived by us, is one perpetually overlooked in our sociological interpretations. Feeling, for instance, how natural it is to take an easier course in place of a more laborious course, and to adopt new methods that are proved to be better methods, we are somewhat puzzled on finding the Chinese stick to their dim paper-lamps, though they admire our bright argand-lamps, which they do not use if given to them; or on finding that the Hindoos prefer their rough primitive tools after seeing that our greatly-improved tools do more work with less effort. And, on descending to races yet more remote in civilization, we still oftener discover ourselves wrong when we suppose that under given conditions they will act as we should act. Here, then, is a subjective difficulty of a serious kind. Properly to understand any fact in social evolution, we have to see it as resulting from the joint actions of individuals having certain natures. We cannot so understand it without understanding their natures; and this, even by care and effort, we are able to do but very imperfectly. Our interpretations must be in a greater or less degree automorphic; and yet automorphism perpetually misleads us.

 

One would hardly suppose, a priori, that untruthfulness would habitually coexist with credulity. Rather our inference might be, that, in virtue of the tendency above enlarged upon, people most given to make false statements must be people most inclined to suspect statements made by others. Yet somewhat anomalously, as it seems, habitual veracity very generally goes with inclination to doubt evidence; and extreme untrustworthiness of assertion often has, for its concomitant, readiness to accept the greatest improbabilities on the slenderest testimony. If you compare savage with civilized, or compare the successive stages of civilization, you find untruthfulness and credulity decreasing together; until you reach the modern man of science, who is at once exact in his statements and critical respecting the evidence on which facts are alleged. The converse relation to that which we see in the man of science is even now very startlingly presented in the East, where greediness in swallowing fictions goes along with superfluous telling of falsehoods. An Egyptian prides himself in a clever lie, uttered even without motive; and a dyer will even ascribe the failure in fixing one of his colors to the not having been successful in a deception. Yet so great is the readiness to believe improbabilities that Mr. St. John, in his "Two Years' Residence in a Levantine Family," narrates how, when the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments" was being read aloud, and when he hinted that the stories must not be accepted as true, there arose a strong protest against such skepticism—the question being asked, "Why should a man sit down and write so many lies?"[1]

  1. See pp. 79 and 127.