A man is never anything but what his outside influences have made him. They train him downward or they train him upward--but they TRAIN him; they are at work upon him all the time.

Y.M. Then if he happen by the accidents of life to be evilly placed there is no help for him, according to your notions--he must train downward.

O.M. No help for him? No help for this chameleon? It is a mistake. It is in his chameleonship that his greatest good fortune lies. He has only to change his habitat--his ASSOCIATIONS. But the impulse to do it must come from the OUTSIDE--he cannot originate it himself, with that purpose in view. Sometimes a very small and accidental thing can furnish him the initiatory impulse and start him on a new road, with a new idea. The chance remark of a sweetheart, "I hear that you are a coward," may water a seed that shall sprout and bloom and flourish, and ended in producing a surprising fruitage--in the fields of war. The history of man is full of such accidents. The accident of a broken leg brought a profane and ribald soldier under religious influences and furnished him a new ideal. From that accident sprang the Order of the Jesuits, and it has been shaking thrones, changing policies, and doing other tremendous work for two hundred years--and will go on. The chance reading of a book or of a paragraph in a newspaper can start a man on a new track and make him renounce his old associations and seek new ones that are IN SYMPATHY WITH HIS NEW IDEAL: and the result, for that man, can be an entire change of his way of life.

Y.M. Are you hinting at a scheme of procedure?

O.M. Not a new one--an old one. One as mankind.

Y.M. What is it?

O.M. Merely the laying of traps for people. Traps baited with INITIATORY IMPULSES TOWARD HIGH IDEALS. It is what the tract-distributor does. It is what the missionary does. It is what governments ought to do.

Y.M. Don't they?

O.M. In one way they do, in another they don't. They separate the smallpox patients from the healthy people, but in dealing with crime they put the healthy into the pest-house along with the sick. That is to say, they put the beginners in with the confirmed criminals. This would be well if man were naturally inclined to good, but he isn't, and so ASSOCIATION makes the beginners worse than they were when they went into captivity. It is putting a very severe punishment upon the comparatively innocent at times. They hang a man--which is a trifling punishment; this breaks the hearts of his family--which is a heavy one. They comfortably jail and feed a wife-beater, and leave his innocent wife and family to starve.

Y.M. Do you believe in the doctrine that man is equipped with an intuitive perception of good and evil?

O.M. Adam hadn't it.

Y.M. But has man acquired it since?

O.M. No. I think he has no intuitions of any kind. He gets ALL his ideas, all his impressions, from the outside. I keep repeating this, in the hope that I may impress it upon you that you will be interested to observe and examine for yourself and see whether it is true or false.

Y.M. Where did you get your own aggravating notions?

O.M. From the OUTSIDE. I did not invent them. They are gathered from a thousand unknown sources. Mainly UNCONSCIOUSLY gathered.

Y.M. Don't you believe that God could make an inherently honest man?

O.M. Yes, I know He could. I also know that He never did make one.

Y.M. A wiser observer than you has recorded the fact that "an honest man's the noblest work of God."

O.M. He didn't record a fact, he recorded a falsity. It is windy, and sounds well, but it is not true. God makes a man with honest and dishonest POSSIBILITIES in him and stops there. The man's ASSOCIATIONS develop the possibilities--the one set or the other. The result is accordingly an honest man or a dishonest one.

Y.M. And the honest one is not entitled to--

O.M. Praise? No. How often must I tell you that? HE is not the architect of his honesty.


Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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