Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Journeys - 2

By Mirjam Tuominen

II

Here again the people seemed neither happy nor cheerful - if one judged by their outer appearance. They looked dreadfully tormented, pale and sickly, and indeed the children - viewed with the inexperienced gaze of a stranger - were pure cripples. Instead, it could be said that here the cause was radiant, and there really was no reason to doubt people when they claimed to be happy in the service of the common cause.

Here prejudice was exalted into a religion. It had been said that the old religion had lost its grip on people's minds precisely because it was not prejudiced, but on the other hand it was clear that in the long run people could not live without belief; the belief that there must be something that was exalted above temporal existence was actually just as necessary to them as their daily bread; to proceed from any other hypothesis was to undervalue man - or to overvalue him, whichever way one wishes, but in any case absolutely wrong. Now it was desired to unite the social or the useful with the religious and it had been discovered that it was to society's detriment that man had been created so: with a left eye and a right eye, one hand that spread to the left and another that spread to the right. His inner being tried to conform to the physical, but could only do so in a dilatory, useless and therefore harmful way: what succeeded for the body, so that for example the two eyes saw a single image instead of two, was impossible for the soul and the consequence was dualism, disunion, splitting. Now what was desired here, in contrast to what had always been the case everywhere else, was to proceed not from the outer but from the inner. The physical must be adjusted, and as the basic tenet of the common religion a single saying from the annals of the old, inapplicable religion was borrowed: 'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.' More dogma than that was not really needed, for this one tenet gave rise to a countless number of variants and above all it fostered unity in a way that had hitherto been unknown.

Like people who had acquired an absolute formula for mutual happiness, they gave themselves up to selfless labour for the education of the growing race. To this end they set to work in the way that adults in every country usually do when children and the disciplining of children are involved: the adults pretended to do what the children had to do in earnest.

I visited one of their schools and I shall never forget that visit, such a powerful impression did the whole experience make on me. The teacher was a young man, pale, earnest, with the same tormented expression that seemed to be a part of people's physiognomy here. He wore a thick white bandage round his head, his right hand was in a splint and was held still in a broad, black-gleaming silken sling. After him followed the his little disciples, similarly bound up, in exactly the same manner, the only difference being that their bandages concealed real wounds and bodily injuries. They had that same morning had their right arms broken and their right optic nerves sprayed with a poison that had made them blind forever in that eye. But none of them complained, none even moaned, they walked silently and earnestly all the way to their work, which consisted of carrying heavy loads of bricks, and on the left side of their backs one could see the hint of a hump-like protuberance which in time would inevitably grow much bigger.

The young teacher fixed his burning dark gaze on me. Quite certainly he saw through me, for agnostic and foreigner unfamiliar with their customs as I was, I could not help watching the small children with growing anxiety. - You see, said the teacher, how happy they are, no adult can serve more selflessly than a child and make sacrifice for the sake of a great goal. When this race has grown up it will be invincible.
Thus did the teacher speak, but as I looked into his eyes, which could in their fanatical misery be called beautiful, there came over me an oppression so immense that never since have I been able to breathe naturally as I could before. I saw that the teacher was right, that these children might perhaps just as well be called happy as unhappy, and I saw for the first time full confirmation of the fact that man is prepared to make any sacrifice at all, just as long as he is assured of the existence of a clearly-defined good and is trained in the years of his youth to serve that good.

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

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