Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Best Words Ever Written About "Human Nature"

Back in tenth grade I was first introduced to F. Scott Fitzgerald, by way of The Great Gatsby. I wasn't all that impressed with the book at the time, but I later came to be more appreciative--in part, I think, because I happened to run across Fitzgerald's earlier book This Side of Paradise.

The book has its quirks and limitations--its at times' ostentatiously Modernist experimentation, for one. Still, I was impressed with some of its more substantial exchanges, which happen to include, as the title of the blog post implies, the last of them, where the protagonist Amory Blaine debates the Social Question with an acquaintance of his dead college friend's father. Said acquaintance speaks of "'certain things which are human nature' . . . with an owl-like look, 'which always have been and always will be, which can't be changed.'"

Amory's response, after astonished looking from one man to the other:
"Listen to that! I can name offhand over one hundred natural phenomena that have been changed by the will of man--a hundred instincts in man that have been wiped out or are now held in check by civilization. What this man here just said has been for thousands of years the last refuge of the associated mutton-heads of the world. It negates the efforts of every scientist, statesman, moralist, reformer, doctor, and philosopher that ever gave his life to humanity's service. It's a flat impeachment of all that's worth while in human nature. Every person over twenty-five years old who makes that statement in cold blood ought to be deprived of the franchise."
Alas, a hundred years later we are still apt to hear that inane use of those two words, "human nature," most dismayingly of all, from ostensible progressives. But at the same time, Fitzgerald's reply to it still stands.

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