A Cynic Looks at Life by Ambrose Bierce


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Cynic Looks at Life, by Ambrose Bierce

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
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Title: A Cynic Looks at Life
Little Blue Book #1099

Author: Ambrose Bierce

Editor: E. Haldeman-Julius

Release Date: July 21, 2005 [EBook #16340]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A CYNIC LOOKS AT LIFE ***




Produced by Ted Garvin, Dave Macfarlane and the Online
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[Transcriber's note: _ is equivalent to italics markup.]


LITTLE BLUE BOOK NO. 1099
Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius


A Cynic Looks at Life

Ambrose Bierce


HALDEMAN-JULIUS COMPANY
GIRARD, KANSAS

Copyright, 1912, by
The Neale Publishing Company

Reprinted by Special Arrangement With
Albert and Charles Boni, New York

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


A CYNIC LOOKS AT LIFE




CIVILIZATION


I

The question "Does civilization civilize?" is a fine example of _petitio
principii_, and decides itself in the affirmative; for civilization must
needs do that from the doing of which it has its name. But it is not
necessary to suppose that he who propounds is either unconscious of his
lapse in logic or desirous of digging a pitfall for the feet of those
who discuss; I take it he simply wishes to put the matter in an
impressive way, and relies upon a certain degree of intelligence in the
interpretation.

Concerning uncivilized peoples we know but little except what we are
told by travelers--who, speaking generally, can know very little but the
fact of uncivilization, as shown in externals and irrelevances, and are
moreover, greatly given to lying. From the savages we hear very little.
Judging them in all things by our own standards in default of a
knowledge of theirs, we necessarily condemn, disparage and belittle. One
thing that civilization certainly has not done is to make us intelligent
enough to understand that the contrary of a virtue is not necessarily a
vice. Because, as a rule, we have but one wife and several mistresses
each it is not certain that polygamy is everywhere--nor, for that
matter, anywhere--either wrong or inexpedient. Because the brutality of
the civilized slave owners and dealers created a conquering sentiment
against slavery it is not intelligent to assume that slavery is a
maleficent thing amongst Oriental peoples (for example) where the slave
is not oppressed. Some of these same Orientals whom we are pleased to
term half-civilized have no regard for truth. "Takest thou me for a
Christian dog," said one of them, "that I should be the slave of my
word?" So far as I can perceive, the "Christian dog" is no more the
slave of his word than the True Believer, and I think the
savage--allowing for the fact that his inveracity has dominion over
fewer things--as great a liar as either of them. For my part, I do not
know what, in all circumstances, is right or wrong; but I know that, if
right, it is at least stupid, to judge an uncivilized people by the
standards of morality and intelligence set up by civilized ones. Life in
civilized countries is so complex that men there have more ways to be
good than savages have, and more to be bad; more to be happy, and more
to be miserable. And in each way to be good or bad, their generally
superior knowledge--their knowledge of more things--enables them to
commit greater excesses than the savage can. The civilized
philanthropist wreaks upon his fellows a ranker philanthropy, the
civilized rascal a sturdier rascality. And--splendid triumph of
enlightenment!--the two characters are, in civilization, frequently
combined in one person.

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