comment by Stefan_Schubert ·
2014-09-17T10:56:41.896Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
The following quote from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, is not an Effective Altruist quote in the narrow sense, but it exhibits a spirit that is similar to that of the EA movement. I find Mann's slightly ironizing depiction of a certain kind of didacting rationalist both amusing and spot on.
The Magic Mountain is viewed as one of the greatest 20th century novels on the theme of progressive rationalism vs conservative irrationalism. I much recommend it.
Herr Settembrini had delivered a private lecture, almost whispered it into his ear, with his back to the rest of the people in the room; it had been so pointed, so unsocial, so little conversable in its nature, that merely to command its eloquence seemed lacking in tact. One does not tell a schoolmaster that he has expressed himself well. Hans Castorp, indeed, had done so once or twice in the early days of their acquaintance, probably from an instinct to preserve the social equilibrium; but the humanist's utterances had never before reached quite such a didacting pitch. There was nothing for it but to pocket the admonition, feeling as embarrassed as a schoolboy at so much moralizing. Moreover, one could see by Herr Settembrini's expression that he had not finished his train of thought. He still stood so close to Hans Castorp that the young man was constrained to bend a little backwards; and his black eyes gazed fixedly into the other's face.
"You suffer, Engineer," he went on. "You are like one distraught - who could help seeing it? But your attitude could be a European attitude; it should not be the oriental, which in its soft abandonment inclines so readily to seek this spot. The oriental attitude toward suffering is one of pity and a boundless patience - that cannot, it ought not to be ours, to be yours! - Look - we were speaking of what the post had brought us, look at these! Or better, come with me, it is impossible here - let us withdraw, and I will disclose to you certain matters. Come with me!"
"These papers", he said, "bear the stamp, in French, of the International League for the Organization of Progress. I have them from Lugano, where there is an office of a branch of the League. You inquire after its principles, its scope? The League for the Organization of Progress deduces from Darwinian theory the philosophic concept that man's profoundest natural impulse is in the direction of self-realization. From this it follows that all those who seek satisfaction of this impulse must become co-labourers in the cause of human progress. Many are those who have responded to the call; there is a considerable membership, in France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and in Germany itself. I myself have the honour of having my name inscribed on the roll. A comprehensive and scientifically executed programme has been drawn up, embracing all the projects for human improvement conceivable at the moment. We are studying the problem of our health as a race, and the means for combating the degeneration which is a regrettable accompanying phenomenon of our increasing industrialization. The League envisages the founding of universities for the people, the resolution of the class conflict by means of social ameliorations which recommend themselves for the purpose, and finally the doing away with national conflicts, the abolition of war through the development of international law. You perceive that the objects toward which the League directs its efforts are ambitious and broad in their scope. Several international periodicals are evidence of its activities - monthly reviews, which contain articles in three or four languages on the subject of the progressive evolution of civilized humanity. Numerous local groups have been established in the various countries; it is expected that they will exert an edifying and enlightening influence by means of discussion evenings and appropriate Sunday observances. Above all, the League will strive its utmost to aid with the material at its disposal the political party of progress in every country. You follow me, Engineer?"
Herr Settembrini appeared satisfied. "I assume that these are new and surprising ideas to you?"
"Yes, I confess this is the first time I have heard of these - these endeavours."
"Ah, Settembrini murmured, "ah, if you had only heard of them earlier! But perhaps it is not yet too late. These circulars - you would like to know what they say? Listen.
[T]he League for the Organization of Progress, mindful of its task of furthering human happiness - in other words, of combating human suffering by the available social methods, to the end of finally eliminating it altogether; mindful also of the fact that this lofty task can only be accomplished by the aid of sociology, the end and aim of which is the perfect State, the League, in session at Barcelona, determined upon the publication of a series of volumes bearing the general title The Sociology of Suffering. It should be the aim of the series to classify human suffering according to classes and categories, and to treat it systematically and exhaustively. You ask what is the use of classification, arrangement, systematization? I answer you: order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject - the actual enemy is the unknown. We must lead the human race up out of the primitive stages of fear and patient stupidity, and set its feet on the path of conscious activity. We must enlighten it upon two points: first, that given effects become void when one first recognizes and then removes their causes; and second, that almost all individual suffering is due to disease of the social organism. Very well; this is the object of the Sociological Pathology. It will be issued in some twenty folio volumes, treating every species of human suffering, from the most personal and intimate to the great collective struggles arising from the conflicting interests of classes and nationals; it will, in short, exhibit the chemical elements whose combination in various proportions results in all the ills to which our human flesh is heir. The publication will in every case take as its norm the dignity and happiness of mankind, and seek to indicate the measures and remedies calculated to remove the cause of each deviation. Famous European specialists, physicians, psychologists, and economists will share in the composition of this encyclopedia of suffering, and the general editorial bureau at Lugano will act as the reservoir to collect all the articles which shall flow into it."
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, London 1924/1999, pp. 243-246.