Yet another account of another man killed in a knife fight. This one, ironically, a butcher, stabbed in the throat by a newspaper writer having uncovered the butcher fucking his wife. The butcher, sitting in a tavern, was confronted by the writer. Each drew their knives. The writer, a former soldier, won.
Amos read the account. He said to his friend Sebastian what cruelty and barbarism there is in their fellow man. Amos insisted such barbarism is man’s most base defect.
Sebastian asked, “Then what is there to do about it?”
“In this case,” Amos said, “reason, not emotion, should have prevailed. The writer acted on impulse and emotion, surely. He should have taken the matter to the authorities if he had a grievance.”
“You are comforted by this appeal to authority?”
“Yes. Of course,” Amos said. “Look at the consequences otherwise. If we all acted on impulse as the writer did, ours would be a world of chaos.”
“And what if the butcher and his mistress conspired against the writer? What if they lied? Then where is the justice?”
“The burden of proof is on the writer. That is how justice works, imperfect as it may be. Besides, it is mere infidelity and infidelity cannot justify killing.”
“But, was it killing or murder?”
“That is for the law to decide.”
“Which law? God’s or man’s? I think this is the bigger question, since it was also an oath she broke – an oath she made to God and her husband. A sacred oath that she broke. A sacred oath and promise to do and be something she failed to be. It was a rule she broke, my friend. Something that you seem to hold precious – rules and consequences.”
“I will admit, perhaps she broke a moral rule. But not a rule of law. At least, not until it was proven.”
“It was more than a law. It was an oath. A pledge. And a pledge not just to the community, but explicitly to her husband and God. It was a formal oath. It was a pledge to be the kind of person she swore to be.”
“So breaking the oath justifies murder?”
“No,” Sebastian said. “But it was more than the mere breaking of a rule or law. It was breaking the oath of what she pledged before God to be.”
Amos went on to explain how impulse and emotion and irrationality lead to horrific consequences. He elucidated the myriad of ways the fight could have been avoided if only the writer had the will and discipline to temper his emotions.
“What if he doesn’t possess the will or temprement?”
“It’s never too late to cultivate them,” Amos said.
“How much have you cultivated your own?” Sebastian asked.
“Much, I would think.”
“And what efforts have you put forth? Or has it come to you mostly by way of your natural temperament and inclination, in the same way some are born with aptitudes toward music or mathematics or art?”
“I should think mine has come from discipline and measured, willful temperance,” Amos said.
“Yes, I should think you would like to believe that.”
“I hate violence,” Amos insisted. “It disgusts me. There is little place for it in the society of civilized men.”
“I think maybe you fear it,” Sebastian said. “Perhaps you are moralizing your fear. You fear violence terribly, so, in turn, you hate it.”
“It is simply wrong,” Amos insisted. “Violent justice is a thing for the courts to decided – not men in the heat of the moment.”
“Surely, like anything else, it is an imperfect solution to all matters of conflict. And perhaps you are simply too much the coward to ever engage in a knife fight. And being the coward, you hate that which makes you a coward.”
Amos continued with many “oughts” regarding men’ thinking and behaving and tempering themselves in order to avoid such turmoil.
“What about the butcher?” Sebastian asked. “Ought not he have fucked the writer’s wife? Ought he have taken the consequences into consideration? Or simply allowed the law to protect him?”
“Well, surely, he shouldn’t have transgressed with another man’s wife. He shouldn’t have trifled with another man’s life and family and future. But if he decided to, he should have had the assurance of the law behind him.”
“The law to protect him against his malfesence?”
“Yes,” Amos said.
“And, in all this analysis of how the writer ought and ought not to have acted and thought, you leave out the consideration of his emotions.”
“Of course,” Amos said. “It is the emotion that leads to the murder.”
“Then it must be considered, not excluded from the analysis, since emotion is as real as anything. Excluding it from your analysis is like excluding a whole set of facts from a complex case.”
“It is an ingredient to be excluded from the recipe,” Amos insisted. “It ruins the whole pot.”
“It is a necessary component. It is a necessary component of living. I understand your desire for everyone to be as rational as you. Or as cowardly, but justified through reason. I understand your desire for all people to be as purely analytic as you when it comes to complicated problems. But most are not. And most will never be. And your argumentation for it is not likely to change them. That, my friend, is idealism.”
“There’s nothing wrong with idealism.”
“I understand the sentiment behind it,” Sebastian said. “And, in some ways, it’s admirable. Though I question if it comes more from a place of fear in a world of knife fighting than a genuine concern for your fellow man. Fear that some day you may find yourself at the tip of a knife, terrified into inaction and woefully unprepared in a world where knife fighting is a potential.”
“I love my fellow man. That’s what this is,” Amos insisted. “I wish him to be better than a knife wielding brute.”
“Or perhaps you love yourself.”
“Reason,” Amos insisted. “Reason over emotion, dammit.”
“Pure reason is fantasy. Delusion. Pure reason is idealism in the real world. Pure reason is pure fantasy, my friend. And we don’t need any more pretend.”
“We need less violence,” Amos insisted. “We need men who can temper their emotions so as to not slay other men with their knives.”
“Perhaps what we need more is fewer men who fuck other men’s wives.”
“It sounds to me as if you justify violence,” Amos said. “Perhaps you are as much a lowly brute as the writer. Perhaps you have been cheated on and you feel the writer’s revenge is in part your revenge too.”
“Sadly, I have. Yet violence is not my prescription. I simply accept that it is in our nature,” Sebastian said. “And, as such, something to be examined critically. Very critically. Not secluded away in another room as we examine the problem in terms of a failure of reason. That seems to me folly.”
“But it’s the way it should be,” Amos insisted.
“And it is the way it will never be,” Sebastian also insisted.
“The thought of blood abhors me,” Amos said.
“As well it should, for some,” Sebastian said. “But, without butchers accustomed to blood, there would be no steak. And, without the threat of a knife in the throat for fucking another man’s wife, perhaps there would be far more ruinous infidelity.”
“Men ought not act as the impulsive writer did,” Amos held.
“But they will. They always will. So then what?”
“They shall be punished.”
“And he will. Justice will be served. So I fail to understand your upset.”
“I am upset because men should never lash out as the writer did.”
“But they will. They always will. In which case, it is man and the world that created him as the beast he sometimes is. It is the world’s creation that you rebel against. It is not even culture you rebel against. It is creation itself you rebel against.”
“Yes. I suppose so,” Amos said.
“Then I suggest you find a way of excluding yourself from it – completely. Or learn to accept it for what it is. Learn to accept it for its imperfections and the imperfect way we deal with those imperfections.”
“You seem to be advocating violence,” Amos moralized. “Something I simply cannot agree with.”
“I am merely pointing out there is reason and emotion. There are instances when emotion justly prevails. And there are instances when emotion unjustly prevails. It is imperfect, just as our reason is imperfect. So imposing our imperfect, fallible reason as an absolute – without taking into account the necessity of emotion to our being – seems folly. And I am suggesting as well that perhaps there is justifiable cause for violence too. When reason runs its course against a violent enemy, you are left with nothing but violence as a defense.”
“I hate it.”
“You are petrified of it. Not merely scared or alarmed or concerned, but petrified. You are petrified at the mere threat or existence of violence. Yet, the threat of violence is a necessary condition of existing with and among others. I owned a dog once that trembled and leapt at every sound and display of emotion. A sneeze sent him scurrying for a place to hide, while all the other dogs recognized, reacted and responded to the sneeze as a sneeze. So, it only makes sense that the hound, terrified by sneezes, would hate them.”
“I am not a hound. I am a man.”
“Perhaps,” Sebastian said. “But a man who seems to hate much of what he is. And hatred is a terrible thing to live with. Hatred of anything. Especially hatred of yourself. So try not to hate yourself, my friend. Try not to hate for the violent brute or the shameful coward that you are. Give yourself and us some reprieve. For life, like the coolness of a drink in summer, lasts a short time. So, please, enjoy while it’s still refreshing. Reach out for a swig while the mug is still sweating from the heat. Enjoy it for what it is in the moment rather than complain it won’t remain that way forever. Drink while it’s cold instead of watching and ruminating as it warms.”