Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Quotations: The Simple Math

"Those who enrolled in the 'sanitary squads,' as they were called, had, indeed, no such great merit in doing as they did, since they knew it was the only thing to do, and the unthinkable thing would then have been not to have brought themselves to do it. These groups enabled our townsfols to come to grips with the disease and convinced them that, now that the plague was among us, it was up to them to do whatever could be done to fight it. Since plague became in this way some men's duty, it revealed itself as what it really was; that is, the concern of all.
"So far, so good. But we do not congratulate a schoolmaster on teaching that two and two make four, though we may, perhaps, congratulate him on having chosen his laudable vocation. Let us then say it was praiseworthy that Tarrou and so many others should have elected to prove that two and two make four rather than the contrary; but let us add that this good will of theirs was one that is shared by the schoolmaster and by all who have the same feelings as the schoolmaster, and, be it said to the credit of mankind, they are more numerous than one would think, such, anyhow, is the narrator's conviction. Needless to say, he can quite clearly a point that could be made against him, which is that these men were risking their lives. But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.
"The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is that of knowing whether two and two do make four. For those townfolk who risked their lives in this predicament the issue was whether or not plague was in their midst and whether or not they must fight against it.
"Many fledgling moralist in those days were going about our town proclaiming there was nothing to be done about it and we should now bow to the inevitable. And Tarrou, Rieux, and their friends might give one answer or another, but its conclusion was always the same, their certitude that a fight must be put up, in this way or that, and there must be no bowing down. The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude: it was merely logical."
--Albert Camus, The Plague
 I'm not quite done it yet, but so far, this book is the most depressing version of the sentiment "we're all in this together" that I've ever read.
Later Days.

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