I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen Academicals’ recently, and recalled this particular excerpt where the daunting Patrician – getting a litle tipsy – recounts a personal childhood experience:
The Patrician took a sip of his beer. ‘I have told this to a few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.’
This mini-tale called to mind a personal experience when gorge-walking with a group of youths somewhere in Devon. The party came across a sheltered rock pool between turbulant waterfalls, in which we were greeted by a lone duckling. It chirped without fear and swam right up to us. As we passed through the pool it followed us with uncertain paddling and bobbing, the ripples of our passing threatening to drown it at any moment. Then, after we had traversed the pool, and helped one another to clamber up the next obstacle, it watched us leave, spinning in circles and attempting to follow. Of course the water kept throwing it back each time it tried, in vain, to come with us. We stood atop the waterfall, catching our breath, and discussed the situation. The duckling had likely become separated from its mother and been swept downstream to this place where it was effectively trapped. We could not help it for fear of our human scent rendering it alien to its own kind anyway. All in all it was a particularly heartbreaking moment and when asked what was likely to happen to it I was pretty frank about its minimal chance of survival.
As we pass through life our roles change, sometimes we are gods holding powers of life and death in our hands, and sometimes we are victims of forces that threaten to devour us. Some feel trapped in roles they feel compelled to play, through love, fear, notions of duty and myriad other reasons that twist and twine into bonds. I wonder, if those bonds were severed, what kind of god would you make? In whose image would you attempt to craft the world, and according to what principles? The Patrician speaks of becoming the moral superior of a supreme being, but given the status quo I do not feel that is remotely difficult. The difficulty may rest in retaining your notions of morality as you become a god. Power transfigures the best of us, and the result may be scarcely recognisable…