A Short Story
“Men will sometimes say that humans have defied the natural law and that our current way of life is unnatural. These are men who will plot together against a strong or virtuous man, send him to death in the wilderness, and afterwards claim: ‘Survival of the fittest.’”
“If one man has a woman, it is because he is genetically more fit than his brother, who also craves her. But he does not rise against his brother’s strength to claim her unless he accomplishes by fraud and trickery what he could not accomplish through force, or strength of character, and then his genes will get passed on.”
This struck David as an odd thought. Were these men trying to tell him that he was his uncle’s son, and not his father’s?
His uncle was a smaller man than his father, but he seemed to enjoy the joke. But, when the boy understood that, together with the two men now talking, his uncle had contrived his father’s death, married his father’s wife, his own mother, and taken his property, he felt that they had contradicted their own arguments. He had sent the stronger and more virtuous man to his doom, while they remained to beget a weaker and corrupted stock.
There was something in that child which they found frustrating, and which they could not control, so they redoubled their efforts, and sharpened their arguments:
“Think about it,” one said. “Why does one chimney-sweep die, while his brothers survive, if only because he was an unfit chimney-sweep, while his brothers knew their business. In the end, we are left with stronger and better chimney-sweeps.”
“Yes,” crooned the other. “And think you why in a drunken scuffle one man will fall, clutching his bleeding belly, while his assailants slip unhurt down the alley. It was because he was weaker, and in the end, we’re left with stronger and better drunkards.”
David felt that their arguments were contradictory, were perhaps ignoring some basic premise about the human condition, but he felt unable to articulate a counter-argument. All he could do was feel and see that their arguments were confused and self-contradictory. He could say nothing.
Then he thought of his father: Strong, tall, slate-grey hair, square jaw – stumbling; his sturdy legs failing beneath the repeated blows of his assailants; his great hand placed on the earth before him; head bowing; while his cretinous and cowardly enemies triumphed over him, clubs in their hands. Then some words occurred to him, words which, in some way, might be used to smash their arguments to pieces. Words such as virtue, justice, strength, right. But the exact formulation escaped him. He felt it would be something like justice and virtue were true genetic fitness in a human being, but he did not utter the statement, for he knew not whether it was true.
The two men continued: “So you see, you must not interfere with God’s law. This is not subject to reinterpretation, and any who attempt to do so will be struck down.”
By now David was completely inarticulate, and could only mumble vague mutterings in a deep nasal voice. He was incapable of grasping a coherent idea, and could only mumble of his broken intentions, unsure of how to formulate or express them.
He felt a bit like the man in the story, who when his brother died inherited his farm, together with the livestock and vineyards, but, because he was not a farmer and knew not how to milk a cow or press grapes, he starved and eventually became a beggar; or like the learned Jew who, in order to get some assistance from the state, disguised himself as a dumb peasant and who was so convincing in his act that he forgot all his learning and became, in the end, a dumb peasant.