The Mystery of Life and the Toad

By Theodore Dalrymple

Translated by Wu Wanwei

The wife doesn’t like toads, and she should agree with most people on this point. So if a large, chubby, sluggish toad is found in the garden, she can’t help feeling sick and screaming in horror. Sometimes she asks me to clean it out, out of sight, so as not to be upset.

Overall, Toad has a bad reputation. As far as I know, “you toad” is by no means a compliment. When the poet Philip Larkin protested against wage labor dictatorships, he wrote:

why do i let toad work like that

Squat on my shoulders?

It’s hardly a coincidence that the toad was chosen as the disgusting thing to squat on the shoulder: there are many creatures denoted by infamous monosyllabic words – rats, snakes, pigs, wolves, foxes, snails, slugs, wasps, sharks – He can choose, but only the toad is the most appropriate.

However, my attitude towards toads is slightly different, and I actually have a soft spot for them.

Toads have had an impact on the development of my mind. I went out into the field with my classmates—probably in our teens at the time—and I came across a toad that proved to me that nature, as wonderful as it is, is by no means totally benevolent. The poor toad was eaten alive by maggots, and its head was covered with maggots. The toad was still alive, but not moving much; it was evidently powerless against such a terrifying attack.

I told the teacher what I had seen, and he replied that it was a hallucination I had: I thought I saw something I didn’t really see, maybe he wanted to prevent me from having nightmares. I kept the secret deep in my heart and didn’t defend it; at that time, the students didn’t dare to contradict the teacher, but on the whole, I thought it was a good thing.

However, I myself cannot deny the truth of what I have seen. The teacher’s categorical denial made me realize that authority is not necessarily correct. People sometimes have to insist on the evidence they have seen with their own eyes (or evidence obtained by other senses or reasoning), and at the same time Remember that you can make mistakes, because your authority can be seen as deceptive by others.

Years later, I learned that it wasn’t a maggot, but a fly called Lucilia

bufonivora), which lay eggs directly on the toad’s skin, especially near openings such as the nostrils or near the eyes, where the hatched larvae burrow into the toad’s muscle tissue. A toad with this kind of parasite is almost certain to die, although I’m happy to say that there aren’t many blowflies that would threaten the toad’s survival. The blowflies and toads live in a stable equilibrium, and it is not in their own interest for the blowflies to reproduce too quickly and exhaust their food sources. However, my overall moral message in telling this story remains that people should maintain a certain level of confidence in the evidence they have seen with their own eyes, even when rejected by a higher authority; but at the same time try to maintain a certain level of humility , without making oneself the highest and sole authority.

Another toad that was important to my mind and spiritual development was The Wind in the Willows (published in 1908, the last book by the British author Kenneth Graham) The work, is a typical animal fairy tale – translation) in my own favorite character, Mr. Toad (Toad of Toad Hall). It is he who sings an ode to praise himself, read it once and never forget it again :

smart man in oxford

know everything you need to know

but none of them

Has half the wisdom of Mr. Toad

Mr. Toad is morally constructive because he’s flamboyant, arrogant, stupid, and pretentious—though we still like him because of his character flaws. He has no ill will, indeed, but no one wants to see him as an example to follow: but a world without Mr. Toad would be barren because of his absence. This means that we have to learn a certain kind of tolerance and gradually see that virtue is not the only thing in human worth. It teaches us to recognize the errors of Puritanism. If everyone was a cookie-cutter good person, it would be consistency rather than kindness that would be unbearable for us.

Now if I come across a toad, I tend to pick it up and put it on a table outside the house so I can look at it more closely. It seems to me that the toad always has a melancholy rather than a frightened look, like someone who never expects good things to happen in this world. He also has the air of self-righteousness, like the banker after a sumptuous dinner, glass in hand and cigar in his mouth, bemoaning the troubled world economy that will eventually kill him. Toads are sad creatures, perhaps realizing that no one likes them. The venom on its skin is actually not strong, but because it is so ugly, no creature will consider it a delicious food.

However, the toad has a very beautiful feature, just like the kind-hearted people often say that the ugly girl often praises her eyes as the most beautiful eyes, which are the creation of nature. In his essay “A Few Thoughts About the Common Toad,” the British author George Orwell noted:

Toads have the most beautiful eyes of all creatures. It’s like gold, or more precisely, like the golden fake gemstones that people sometimes see on signet rings, which I think might be called chrysoberyl.

If I were to describe a toad’s eye, I would call it amber in the light. It is simply the soul illuminated by the toad’s eyes: the toad’s thoughts and emotions are buried too deeply to be expressed in any other form.

Of course, Shakespeare also noticed the beauty of the toad’s eyes. Juliet said, “Some say that the lark once exchanged eyes with the ugly toad,” and that ugly eyes grow on beautiful creatures, and ugly creatures have beautiful eyes. Just as the kind-hearted people mentioned above notice the beauty of the ugly woman’s “beautiful eyes,” said Duke Senior in As You Like It,

Adversity also has its benefits,

like ugly and poisonous toads,

It has a precious gem on its head. (This sentence is borrowed from Zhu Shenghao’s translation of “Everyone is Happy”—annotation).

The toad never seemed to be particularly annoyed by my attitude towards it, it lowered the world’s expectations after all – I didn’t keep it for too long, if not put it back, at least where I thought it was right for the toad place. It seemed neither grateful nor unappreciative, just slowly walking away. It didn’t even appear to think it was good luck to escape the clutches.

When I think about the toad on my desk, a peculiar, even stupid thought always pops into my head: “Poor fellow, it also became a toad of its own accord. Be a toad.” This thought naturally made me wonder about the mysteries of human life, how did we become what we are now? Are we born human because we have great merit? We have no say in this matter: we also have no say in what will become of us after an inexplicable amount of time. Because of the environment or genetic talent, many things are not with us, such as height, we have no say. As the Gospel of Matthew says, “Which of you can add an hour to your life by worrying about it? (or add a cubit to your stature) (Biblical Simplified Modern Punctuation and Combined Version, Matthew 6) Chapter 28, p. 11.—annotation)” But we can’t, I don’t think of ourselves as bacteria in a petri dish, at the mercy of the incredibly powerful scientist in the lab who controls us by altering our chemical environment at will growth rate.

Unique in the universe, as far as we know, here on Earth, we feel that we are partly responsible for what we are. Of course, not everyone agrees with this. Determinists speak of us (and of themselves no different, unless they try to evade or evade legal action against them) that our contribution to our character is of the same nature as anything else affects us, as we do to ourselves The effects of being are only through what we have, and what we have can be traced back to things beyond our control, that is, genetic endowments and birth environment. Therefore, we are not much more responsible to ourselves than the toad on the desk. If we’re ready to say, “Poor toad, he became a toad of his own accord,” in the same way, we should also be ready to say, “Poor man, we’ve become what we are involuntarily,” in order to assassinate Caesar. The famous ancient Roman general Cassius was completely wrong when he said “Dear Brutus, the error is not in our horoscope/but in ourselves, we are subordinates.” If the error is 100% not in ours Astrology, the rest is in our DNA. It is they that determine our destiny. Besides genes and environment, what else is there? What else could it be?

However, this feeling is inaccurate, or even unrealistic. When explaining human character, we often refer to the influences that shape the character, which is indeed true, however, we do not believe that these shaping influences explain everything, because in fact we cannot be the kind of person who does not have any discretion The creature is like a pinball meets another pinball, we have no activity, no vitality. If so, unless we claim to have a completely different order from that person, we should see ourselves in the same light, and we can’t.

Broadly speaking, there is a tendency today among philosophers and neuroscientists to condemn, or at least depreciate, the importance of mystical properties such as consciousness and self-awareness. They identified consciousness as an epiphenomenon, an appendage of what really happened. Of course, Freud did the same with the unconscious, preferring to mysteriously discover its workings in himself (which, according to him, is unique to world history). Here, parallel to it, is Marx, who claims that the bourgeoisie has managed to escape the inevitable ideological deformities that come with being a bourgeoisie.

By this time philosophers and neuroscientists say things are different, this time we have scientific evidence that consciousness is not that great, it is an illusion or an incidental phenomenon (freud is not a real scientist), for humans Life is not decisive. I have seen quite a few books that make exactly this point of view.

I find this very weird. Can one discover that consciousness is an incidental phenomenon without the help of consciousness? If so, how important is such a discovery? Self-evident truth (Ex hypothesi), it changes nothing. The irrelevance of consciousness is equally bizarre from a Darwinian perspective. One has to argue that consciousness played no role in the biological miracle that humans have spread across the planet. (This is not to say that man is the ultimate triumph of evolution. I don’t think it’s possible that we could survive for as long as simple-minded dinosaurs.)

Ah, someone might answer, the mystery of that man’s self-creation, how do you explain it? First, I want to point out that recognizing that an answer is wrong doesn’t necessarily mean knowing what the right answer is. Secondly, I’m happy to admit that I don’t have an answer to this mystery, it’s still a mystery to me. I also want to go a step further: I’m glad it’s still a mystery, and if it wasn’t a mystery, the guy with the answer to it would definitely abuse it to expand his power. We are creatures doomed to seek self-understanding, but we are doomed to fail.

From this paradox, I think the toad is free, although I am not sure. Sitting involuntarily at my desk, the toad may be singing about its toad nature, as King Richard III of England is singing about his deformity (the most vicious king in history, the tyrant, is said to be a Thin-armed, deformed, hunchbacked, cruel, calculating people who will do anything to secure their power.—Annotation).

Translated from: The Mystery of Life and Mr Toad by Theodore Dalrymple

About the Author:

Theodore Dalrymple, editor of City Magazine, is the author of Not a Trumpet nor a Violin (with Kenneth Francis and Samuel Hooks), Existential Fear: From Ecclesiastes to the Theater of the Absurd (with Kenneth Francis) and Memoirs of a Pharaoh, among others.

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