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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online

Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan


But last and least of the race rank the husbands of these Mothers,-- the necessary Evils,-- the males. They appear only at a particular season, as I have already observed; and their lives are very short. Some cannot even boast of noble descent, though destined to royal wedlock; for they are not royal offspring, but virgin-born,-- parthenogenetic children,-- and, for that reason especially, inferior beings, the chance results of some mysterious atavism. But of any sort of males the commonwealth tolerates but few,-- barely enough to serve as husbands for the Mothers-Elect, and these few perish almost as soon as their duty has been done. The meaning of Nature's law, in this extraordinary world, is identical with Ruskin's teaching that life without effort is crime; and since the males are useless as workers or fighters, their existence is of only momentary importance. They are not, indeed, sacrificed,-- like the Aztec victim chosen for the festival of Tezcatlipoca, and allowed a honeymoon of twenty days before his heart was torn out. But they are scarcely less unfortunate in their high fortune. Imagine youths brought up in the knowledge that they are destined to become royal bridegrooms for a single night,-- that after their bridal they will have no moral right to live,-- that marriage, for each and all of them, will signify certain death,-- and that they cannot even hope to be lamented by their young widows, who will survive them for a time of many generations...!


But all the foregoing is no more than a proem to the real "Romance of the Insect-World."

-- By far the most startling discovery in relation to this astonishing civilization is that of the suppression of sex. In certain advanced forms of ant-life sex totally disappears in the majority of individuals;-- in nearly all the higher ant-societies sex-life appears to exist only to the extent absolutely needed for the continuance of the species. But the biological fact in itself is much less startling than the ethical suggestion which it offers;-- for this practical suppression, or regulation, of sex-faculty appears to be voluntary! Voluntary, at least, so far as the species is concerned. It is now believed that they wonderful creatures have learned how to develop, or to arrest the development, of sex in their young,-- by some particular mode of nutrition. They have succeeded in placing under perfect control what is commonly supposed to be the most powerful and unmanageable of instincts. And this rigid restraint of sex-life to within the limits necessary to provide against extinction is but one (though the most amazing) of many vital economies effected by the race. Every capacity for egoistic pleasure -- in the common meaning of the word "egoistic" -- has been equally repressed through physiological modification. No indulgence of any natural appetite is possible except to that degree in which such indulgence can directly or indirectly benefit the species;-- even the indispensable requirements of food and sleep being satisfied only to the exact extent necessary for the maintenance of healthy activity. The individual can exist, act, think, only for the communal good; and the commune triumphantly refuses, in so far as cosmic law permits, to let itself be ruled eitherby Love or Hunger.

Most of us have been brought up in the belief that without some kind of religious creed -- some hope of future reward or fear of future punishment -- no civilization could exist. We have been taught to think that in the absence of laws based upon moral ideas, and in the absence of an effective police to enforce such laws, nearly everybody would seek only his or her personal advantage, to the disadvantage of everybody else. The strong would then destroy the weak; pity and sympathy would disappear; and the whole social fabric would fall to pieces... These teachings confess the existing imperfection of human nature; and they contain obvious truth. But those who first proclaimed that truth, thousands and thousands of years ago, never imagined a form of social existence in which selfishness would be naturally impossible. It remained for irreligious Nature to furnish us with proof positive that there can exist a society in which the pleasure of active beneficence makes needless the idea of duty,-- a society in which instinctive morality can dispense with ethical codes of every sort,-- a society of which every member is born so absolutely unselfish, and so energetically good, that moral training could signify, even for its youngest, neither more nor less than waste of precious time.

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