73: The Nobleness of Human Nature (A Post in the Wake of 11/9/2016)

In the aftermath of the horrific political event of four days past, an event occurring in what we must now regard as another American era, my fellow citizens chose to award the next presidency of our Republic to a reprehensible iteration of some very dark, atavistic forces. Down we go, I thought in the early morning hours of the Wednesday morning just past, as the deciding tallies were added to the already dismal counts, down, eagerly and happily, the most dangerous of rabbit holes, possibly never to emerge.

In my despairing reaction to this truly unexpected event–a reaction I know I share with many millions of good souls around the globe–I have tried, as have so many of these others, to find some ray of hope in the gloom, some beacon, however small, which might serve as a fledgling first step toward reclaming the vanished light. I believe I have in the following words of Mr. Ruskin’s–his reaffirmation, after long, intense, despairing experience of his own, that, at its core, human nature is both lovely and admirable, whatever the immediate indications may be which imply the contrary. His sentences come from a book of collected lectures bearing the wonderful title, The Crown of Wild Olive. Perhaps you will find them of some use and inspiration during these heavy days.

I speak with the conviction that human nature is a noble and beautiful thing, not a foul or a base thing. All the sin of men I esteem as their disease, not their nature, as a folly which can be prevented, not a necessity which must be accepted. And my wonder, even when things are at their worst, is always at the height which this human nature can attain. Thinking it high, I always find it a higher thing than I thought it, while those who think it low, find it, and will find it, always, lower than they thought it. The fact being that it is infinite, and capable of infinite height and infinite fall. But the nature of it–and here is the faith which I would have you hold with me–the nature of it is in the nobleness, not in the catastrophe.

Much good work yet to do, then; much good effort yet to be expended.


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5 Responses to 73: The Nobleness of Human Nature (A Post in the Wake of 11/9/2016)

  1. AJ vandenBlink says:

    Thank you, Jim. What Ruskin wrote is just what we need to keep our bearings in this nightmarish situation. Hope all is well with you and thanks again for this Ruskin post. It actually reflects some of the best of the New Testament’s writings on the subject. Blessings, Han

  2. Thank you, Jim. One of the first comforting things I have read. One thing that has struck me is how the satirists have failed us on this. It is too terrible to be funny about, it seems.

  3. Kateri Ewing says:

    Thank you, Jim. I shared this with many friends. Hope you are well! Kateri

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Tim says:

    Yes, thanks, Jim. In a similar vein, can I add Wordsworth’s final words to Coleridge at the end of the Prelude:

    Oh! yet a few short years of useful life,
    And all will be complete, thy race be run,
    Thy monument of glory will be raised;
    Then, though (too weak to tread the ways of truth)
    This age fall back to old idolatry,
    Though men return to servitude as fast
    As the tide ebbs, to ignominy and shame,
    By nations, sink together, we shall still
    Find solace–knowing what we have learnt to know,
    Rich in true happiness if allowed to be
    Faithful alike in forwarding a day
    Of firmer trust, joint labourers in the work
    (Should Providence such grace to us vouchsafe)
    Of their deliverance, surely yet to come.
    Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak
    A lasting inspiration, sanctified
    By reason, blest by faith: what we have loved,
    Others will love, and we will teach them how;
    Instruct them how the mind of man becomes
    A thousand times more beautiful than the earth
    On which he dwells, above this frame of things
    (Which, ‘mid all revolution in the hopes
    And fears of men, doth still remain unchanged)
    In beauty exalted, as it is itself
    Of quality and fabric more divine.

  5. Clive Wilmer says:

    I cannot add to Tim’s wonderful passage from Worsworth, or indeed to yours from Ruskin, Jim. But I would like us to say and hear more about one of Ruskin’s sentences. This one: ‘Thinking it [human nature] high, I always find it a higher thing than I thought it, while those who think it low, find it, and will find it, always, lower than they thought it.’ I find that impressively true, and it reminds me in a roundabout way of FDR’s famous pronouncement: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ It seems to me that to an unusual degree we were confronted in this election by those who, regarding human nature as low rather than high, fear one another. How it has come about that just under half of US voters see the world in this way is a dreadful mystery and we should all be appalled by it, but it seems to me that it is a more disturbing matter than whatever of good or bad President Trump will now perform. Even if he turns out to be a good President, that will remain the issue, because he won the job by posing as a monster.

    I should add that I am not pointing fingers at you Americans. I think a good deal of the world is afflicted by this same illness at the present time. A good deal of it has been exhibited during and since the Brexit campaign, for instance. It is in any case a deep threat to our world and our humanity. As a foreigner, however, I can only look in amazement at the country that elected Lincoln and Roosevelt and fought for humanity in the war against fascism.

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