Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Twenty-Eight



THAT EVERYTHING that is desirable is not worth having -- that happiness and unhappiness are emotional rhythms that are so nearly independent of one's circumstances that good news or bad news only stimulate the amplitude of these waves, without affecting the ratio of ups to downs -- or that one might as well try to make, in a pond, waves that are altitudes only, as to try to be happy, without suffering equal and corresponding unhappiness.

But, so severely stated, this is mechanistic philosophy.

And I am a mechanist-immechanist.

Sometimes something that is desirable is not only not worth having, but is a damn sight worse than that.

Is life worth living? Like everybody else, I have many times asked that question, usually deciding negatively, because I am most likely to ask myself whether life is worth living, at times when I am convinced it isn't. One day, in one of my frequent, and probably incurable, scientific moments, it occurred to me to find out. For a month, at the end of each day, I set down a plus sign, or a minus [313/314] sign, indicating that, in my opinion, life had, or had not, been worth living, that day. At the end of the month, I totted up, and I can't say that I was altogether pleased to learn that the pluses had won the game. It is not dignified to be optimistic.

I had no units by which to make my alleged determinations. Some of the plus days may have been only faintly positive, and, here and there, one of the minus day may have been so ferociously negative as to balance a dozen faintly positive days. Of course I did attempt gradations of notation, but they were only cutting pseudo-units into smaller pseudo-units. Also, out of a highly negative, or very distressing, experience, one may learn something that will mean a row of pluses in the future. Also, some pluses simply mean that one has misinterpreted events of a day, and is in for much minus --

Or that nothing -- a joy or a sorrow, the planet Jupiter, or an electron -- can be picked out of its environment, so as finally to be labelled either plus or minus, because as a finally identifiable thing it does not exist -- or that such attempted isolations and determinations are only scientific.

I have picked out witchcraft, as if there were witchcraft, as an identifiable things, state, or activity. But, if by witchcraft, I mean phenomena as diverse as the mimicry of a leaf by a leaf-insect, and illness in a house where "Typhoid Mary" was cooking, and the harmless impalement, on spears, of children, I mean, by witchcraft in general, nothing that can be picked out of one commonality of phenomena. All phenomena are rhythmic, somewhere between the metrical and the frenzied, with final extremes [314/315] unreachable in an existence of the metrical-unmetrical. The mechanical theory of existence is as narrowly lopsided as would be a theory that all things are good, large, or hot. It is Puritanism. It is the text-book science that tells of the clock-work revolutions of the planet Jupiter, and omits mention of Jupiter's little, vagabond moons, which would be fired from any job, in human affairs, because of their unpunctualities -- and omits mention that there's a good deal the matter with the clock-work of most clocks. Mechanistic philosophy is a dream of a finality of exact responses to stimuli, and of absolute equivalences. Inasmuch as the advantages and disadvantages of anything can be no more picked out, isolated, identified, and quantitatively determined, than can the rise of a wave be clipped from its fall, it is only scientific dreamery to say what anything is equal and opposite to.

And, at the same time, in the midst of a submergence in commonality, there is a permeation of all phenomena by an individuality that is so marked that, just as truly as all things merge indistinguishably into all other things, all things represent the unmergeable. So then there is something pervasive of every action and every advantage that makes it alone, incommensurable, and incomparable with a reaction, or a disadvantage.

Our state of the hyphen is the state of the gamble. Go to no den of a mathematician for enlightenment. Try Monte Carlo. Out of science is fading certainty as fast as ever it departed from theology. In its place we have adventure. Accepting that there is witchcraft, in the sense in which we accept that there is electricity, magnetism, or [315/316] life, the acceptance is that there is no absolute poise between advantages and disadvantages --

Or that practical witchcraft, or the development of wild talents, might be of such benefits as to draw in future records of human affairs the new dividing line of A.W. and B.W. -- or might be a catastrophe that would drive all human life back into Indians, or Zulus, or things furrier --

If by any chance the evils of witchcraft could compare with, or beat to an issue, the demoralizations of law, justice, business, sex, literature, education, pacifism, militarism, idealism, materialism, which at present, are incomprehensibly not yet equal and opposite to stabilizations that are saving us from, or are denying us, the jungles --

Or let all persons of foresight, if of sedentary habits, shift positions occasionally, so as not to suppress too much of their vertebral stubs that their descendants may need as bases of more graceful appendages.

But my own expression is that any state of being that can so survive its altruists and its egoists, its benefactors and its exploiters, its artists, gunmen, bankers, lawyers, and doctors would be almost immune to the eviler magics of witchcraft, because it is itself a miracle. [316]

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