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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11708/alas-poor-yorick-an-apology-for-the-human-race/

Alas, Poor Yorick! An Apology for the Human Race

February 22, 2010 by

All Western Civilization, the civilization of action and invention, informed by a glorified predatory Neanderthalism, could go by the board overnight without furnishing even a colorful incident in a march of events laid out on such an august scale. FULL ARTICLE by Albert Jay Nock


tawny February 22, 2010 at 10:52 am

What a delightful article; thanks for publishing it. I love Nock’s intelligence, style, and wry humor.

But he seems to be an optimist, even if a very long-range optimist; that is, he seems to find reason to hope that the ‘human animal’ is evolving, morally, and will somehow ‘evolve’ from its present deplorably benighted state, into something better. He seems to think that, given enough time, good ol’ mankind will become a wiser, kinder, gentler version of its present ‘grab the goods before someone else does’ self.

Since he himself points out that as regards our rapacious greed (and concomitant capacity for cruelty) we seem to be not one whit improved over the old Neanderthal, except insofar as we make better tools, I fail to see from whence he derives this optimism.

He differentiates between social critics who rail against mankind’s beastliness and those who view it with a detached, perhaps resigned, humor, finding, or assuming, the latter to be wiser.

I agree that the two types of social critics are different, but for a different reason. Those who are detached just can’t stand the pain of realizing that mankind is more of a sow’s ear than a silk purse, and evermore shall be. Those who rail and rend their garments simply are not able, or temperamentally inclined, to take refuge in such emotional detachment. The detached ones laugh so that they will not weep, mock as a refuge or relief from despair.

Human beings are seagulls on a garbage heap, basically. The problems will be with us as long as we are physically incarnate, so long as we have physical needs and are capable of physical pain.

So I would suggest to Mr. Nock that an end to this horrid beastliness won’t come on this plane but only, perhaps, in the hereafter, if such there be, when we are physically discarnate….

mpolzkill February 22, 2010 at 11:12 am


Fortunately, there is no describable entity “we”, and it *is* glorious when, right here in this world, one rises above tje state you describe (as every individual is capable of doing, if at least temporarily).

Also, you are the first person I’ve ever heard use the term “optimist” in describing Nock! You nicely describe the chestnut about how life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think. I imagine you know the one about how optimists believe this to be the best of all possible worlds?

Mel February 22, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Stephen Jay Gould wrote (in some essay that I won’t bother to look up now) that species tend to remain stable throughout their existence. I take that to mean that what we see of human nature throughout history–the whole range from devilishness to saintliness–is all there is to see. This needs to be understood in a dynamic, rather than static, sense: different times will exhibit different proportions of the characteristics, enhanced as may be by different “technologies” (in Nock’s broad sense). The first-rate critic would then be defined by an outlook that “takes it all in” in the present rather than by Nock’s teleological outlook that stretches reflectiveness into the future and Babbitry into the past. That would also give the Neanderthal his share of saintliness: I’m reminded of some report of evidence of flowers in Neanderthal graves, and I think that the depictions of “brute” Neanderthals is probably biased by the same teleology–evolution toward “perfection”–that Nock’s critical criteria are. I don’t know if this is optomistic or pessimistic–for me, it’s a way to appreciate the whole picture, the whole human species.

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