When he does it, it is the law of HIS make. HE can't bear to see the child in that peril (a man of a different make COULD), and so he tries to save the child, and loses his life. But he has got what he was after--HIS OWN APPROVAL.

Y.M. What do you call Love, Hate, Charity, Revenge, Humanity, Magnanimity, Forgiveness?

O.M. Different results of the one Master Impulse: the necessity of securing one's self approval. They wear diverse clothes and are subject to diverse moods, but in whatsoever ways they masquerade they are the SAME PERSON all the time. To change the figure, the COMPULSION that moves a man--and there is but the one--is the necessity of securing the contentment of his own spirit. When it stops, the man is dead.

Y.M. That is foolishness. Love--

O.M. Why, love is that impulse, that law, in its most uncompromising form. It will squander life and everything else on its object. Not PRIMARILY for the object's sake, but for ITS OWN. When its object is happy IT is happy--and that is what it is unconsciously after.

Y.M. You do not even except the lofty and gracious passion of mother-love?

O.M. No, IT is the absolute slave of that law. The mother will go naked to clothe her child; she will starve that it may have food; suffer torture to save it from pain; die that it may live. She takes a living PLEASURE in making these sacrifices. SHE DOES IT FOR THAT REWARD--that self-approval, that contentment, that peace, that comfort. SHE WOULD DO IT FOR YOUR CHILD IF SHE COULD GET THE SAME PAY.

Y.M. This is an infernal philosophy of yours.

O.M. It isn't a philosophy, it is a fact.

Y.M. Of course you must admit that there are some acts which--

O.M. No. There is NO act, large or small, fine or mean, which springs from any motive but the one--the necessity of appeasing and contenting one's own spirit.

Y.M. The world's philanthropists--

O.M. I honor them, I uncover my head to them--from habit and training; and THEY could not know comfort or happiness or self-approval if they did not work and spend for the unfortunate. It makes THEM happy to see others happy; and so with money and labor they buy what they are after--HAPPINESS, SELF-APPROVAL. Why don't miners do the same thing? Because they can get a thousandfold more happiness by NOT doing it. There is no other reason. They follow the law of their make.

Y.M. What do you say of duty for duty's sake?

O.M. That IS DOES NOT EXIST. Duties are not performed for duty's SAKE, but because their NEGLECT would make the man UNCOMFORTABLE. A man performs but ONE duty--the duty of contenting his spirit, the duty of making himself agreeable to himself. If he can most satisfyingly perform this sole and only duty by HELPING his neighbor, he will do it; if he can most satisfyingly perform it by SWINDLING his neighbor, he will do it. But he always looks out for Number One--FIRST; the effects upon others are a SECONDARY matter. Men pretend to self-sacrifices, but this is a thing which, in the ordinary value of the phrase, DOES NOT EXIST AND HAS NOT EXISTED. A man often honestly THINKS he is sacrificing himself merely and solely for some one else, but he is deceived; his bottom impulse is to content a requirement of his nature and training, and thus acquire peace for his soul.

Y.M. Apparently, then, all men, both good and bad ones, devote their lives to contenting their consciences.

O.M. Yes. That is a good enough name for it: Conscience-- that independent Sovereign, that insolent absolute Monarch inside of a man who is the man's Master. There are all kinds of consciences, because there are all kinds of men. You satisfy an assassin's conscience in one way, a philanthropist's in another, a miser's in another, a burglar's in still another. As a GUIDE or INCENTIVE to any authoritatively prescribed line of morals or conduct (leaving TRAINING out of the account), a man's conscience is totally valueless. I know a kind-hearted Kentuckian whose self-approval was lacking--whose conscience was troubling him, to phrase it with exactness--BECAUSE HE HAD NEGLECTED TO KILL A CERTAIN MAN--a man whom he had never seen.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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