Noble Causes


Joseph Conrad in his short novel shreds western illusions viscerally. For example,  Fresleven, was the most gentle and quiet creature enthralled by the “noble cause,” but he was seen whacking an old black chief with a stick.   Conrad knew that the illusions would fail and then something brutal would happen.  I want to warn you there is an awful word coming here. Conrad described it this way, “he probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched.” That tells you a lot about Fresleven. It wouldn’t be the same without that awful word.

Kurtz came to the centre of Africa thinking he would do good work. He had the best of intentions.  Yet those intentions ended with a ring  of hideous human heads on spikes around a campfire in the centre of the dark jungle. This was a place where Kurtz came to be worshipped like some evil god. That is where his good intentions and illusions inexorably led.

After being in the jungle, in that darkness, Kurtz came to see everything as belonging to him.  It was all his.  As we know that is a common western attitude. As Kurtz said,

“‘My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my’– everything belonged to him It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places.  Everything belonged to him—but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own.  That was the reflection that made you creepy all over. It was impossible—it was not good for one either—trying to imagine.  He had taken a high seat among the devils of the land—I mean literally. You can’t understand with pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums—how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man’s untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude—utter solitude without a policeman—by the way of silence—utter silence where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering of public opinion?”

The Europeans thought they owned everything. There was a big illusion.

In that dark place people no longer have their illusions to protect them. They are naked subject to the devilish forces hiding in the dark terrible forest. No policeman can help us there, for none is available.  We have to rely on our own inner strength and convictions genuinely held. False pretenses of doing charitable work will not save us.  No cause no matter how noble will be enough. Only the truth can save us.

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