Monday, 21 April 2008

Monday's Bit of Wisdom #5

This week's thought comes from the witty pen of Terry Pratchett, via the very useful The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld:
On the veldt of Howondaland live the N'tuitif people, the only tribe in the world to have no imagination whatsoever.

For example, their story about the thunder runs something like this: 'Thunder is a loud noise in the sky, resulting from the disturbance of the air masses by the passage of lightning.' And their legend 'How the Giraffe Got His Long Neck' runs: 'In the old days the ancestors of Old Man Giraffe had slightly longer necks than other grassland creatures, and the access to the high leaves was so advantageous that it was mostly long-necked giraffes that survived, passing on the long neck in their blood just as a man might inherit his grandfather's spear. Some say, however, that it is all a lot more complicated and this explanation only applies to the shorter neck of the okapi. And so it is.'

The N'tuitif are a peaceful people, and have been hunted almost to extinction by neighbouring tribes, who have lots of imagination, and therefore plenty of gods, superstitions and ideas about how much better life would be if they had a bigger hunting ground.

Of the events on the moon that day, the N'tuitif said: 'The moon was brightly lit and from it rose another light which then split into three lights and faded. We do not know why this happened. It was just a thing.

They were then wiped out by a nearby tribe who knew that the lights had been a signal from the god Ukli to expand the hunting ground a bit more. However, they were soon defeated entirely by a tribe who knew that the lights were their ancestors, who lived in the moon, and who were urging them to kill all non-believers in the goddess Glipzo. Three years later they in turn were killed by a rock falling from the sky, as a result of a star exploding a billion years ago.

What goes around comes around. If not examined too closely, it passes for justice.

This marvellous passage comes originally from The Last Hero, and I am dashing out first thing tomorrow to buy a copy!


Dorid said...

If you haven't read them yet, I suggest that you read all of them... I think you'll especially like Small Gods...

I love Pratchett so much, I wanted to name my cat Rincewind. Unfortunately, the kids vetoed my suggestion by repeatedly calling the cat "Puck".

Greg said...

In the real world it would be one of the people with little imagination who uses the people with imagination to leverage power against the rest of the people without imagination. Often the person with little imagination cannot imagine how a tiny little atom could hurt so many people.

Puddock said...

Dorid - Puck's a good name too!

I've never made it through a whole Pratchett book. I love his wit and his one-liners but so far I've never been able to suspend my disbelief to believe in Discworld for a whole book. Reckon I'll have another go though!

Puddock said...

Greg, I agree with you about people with no imagination in the real world - the jobsworths, the greasy pole climbers - but I think Pratchett was using imagination as a tricksy word in a playful way. I don't know his work terribly well, but I think it's a classic Pratchett trick both to subvert normal language and to be rather gentle about it.

After all, if he really thought an imagination was a bad thing, he'd have been an accountant instead of the creator of the mad and wacky Discworld!

Greg said...

Well, yes, I realize the analogy that was occurring and went along with it. So if I have to restate then I would say: in the real world it is the non-believers who use the believers to leverage power against others including other non-believers.

Claiming that religion is the bane of humanity is poor logic. Many examples exist of non-religious people being detrimental to society. This is why I often call atheism a religion in itself. As I've stated elsewhere, it is the quest for power that has led to bad things happening. Religion is just one of the many things that gets used as a tool or gets caught up in this quest.

It isn't logical to believe that if all religions were gone today then the world would be a better place. I suspect it would actually be worse off because many people are placed in check by their beliefs. If I had to say it differently I might say: think about some of the religious people who are just awful and imagine how bad they would be without something to believe in.

Many popular atheists have a false notion that religion impedes intelligence. This isn't true. Laziness impedes intelligence, and people are naturally lazy. I can have more respect for a religious person who for the most part makes logical statements than I could for a non-religious person for who the most part makes unfounded statements.

Puddock said...

Greg - I couldn't disagree more, but I'm always happy to hear from you!