Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How I Found Livingstone in Detroit

... or something like that.

After being inspired by the book Willpower to read some of Henry Stanley's African adventures*, I picked up How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa on Audible. I'm a half hour in and the book is terrific. Having marinated in illegitimacy statistics and scoped out the resulting videos from cities where civilization has collapsed along with the traditional family, I was struck by a passage from the second chapter of Stanley's book.
I remember what Capt. Webb, the American Consul, told me on my first arrival, when I expressed to him my wonder at the apathy and inertness of men born with the indomitable energy which characterizes Europeans and Americans, of men imbued with the progressive and stirring instincts of the white people, who yet allow themselves to dwindle into pallid phantoms of their kind, into hypochondriacal invalids, into hopeless believers in the deadliness of the climate, with hardly a trace of that daring and invincible spirit which rules the world.

"Oh," said Capt. Webb, "it is all very well for you to talk about energy and all that kind of thing, but I assure you that a residence of four or five years on this island, among such people as are here, would make you feel that it was a hopeless task to resist the influence of the example by which the most energetic spirits are subdued, and to which they must submit in time, sooner or later. We were all terribly energetic when we first came here, and struggled bravely to make things go on as we were accustomed to have them at home, but we have found that we were knocking our heads against granite walls to no purpose whatever. These fellows—the Arabs, the Banyans, and the Hindis—you can't make them go faster by ever so much scolding and praying, and in a very short time you see the folly of fighting against the unconquerable. Be patient, and don't fret, that is my advice, or you won't live long here."
Modern translation: don't be too harsh on the folks who live in Detroit or East St. Louis or Newark. Immersed in a culture of self-destructive behavior, you'd find it pretty hard to resist the tide, too.

* - Stanley is a first-ballot inductee into the Willpower Hall of Fame.

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