Saturday, August 28, 2010


Different Species

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 160 (Saturday, September 28, 1751):
We are, by our occupations, education, and habits of life, divided almost into different species, which regard one another, for the most part, with scorn and malignity. Each of these classes of the human race has desires, fears, and conversation, vexations and merriment, peculiar to itself; cares which another cannot feel; pleasures which he cannot partake; and modes of expressing every sensation which he cannot understand.
The fact that we humans are "divided almost into different species" always strikes me with special force when I see crowds of people. I can't imagine myself, under any circumstances, travelling hundreds of miles, at the beck and call of some television personality, to join thousands of people on the National Mall in Washington, waving signs, hollering, cheering, whooping, chanting, and gesticulating.

It's dehumanizing to submerge one's individuality in the crowd like that. Søren Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-1855, tr. R.G. Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 141 (XI1 A 384):
These millions, the law of whose existence is 'first be like the rest', this mass of aping—materially they look as if they were something, something great, something immensely powerful. And materially they are indeed something; but ideally this mass, these millions are zero, they are less than zero, they are wasted and forfeited existences.

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