Friday, July 01, 2011

Two Fathoms

As some people know, Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Clemens. What I didn’t know was that although Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain shared the same body, they were two very different people…a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But the purpose of this article is to investigate, not necessarily answer, one question: Do we live in a two-faced society?

To best describe the premise of my question, I will continue with the Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens analogy.

Samuel Clemens was an aristocrat, hobnobbing with captains of industry, living in multi-million dollar homes and being waited upon by many black servants.

As a matter of fact, one of his closest friends was Henry H. Rogers, a very wealthy and influential Standard Oil Executive.

Mark Twain, on the other hand, wrote about the average person and he demonized the establishment. For example, Mark Twain co-wrote a book called “The Gilded Age – A Tale of Today” and it satirized greed and political corruption.

Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain...two very different people indeed.

Apologies for the slight detour, but in order to continue this investigation, I need to write about 19th Century Steamboat Captains.

In order to safely navigate the Mississippi, Captains used a sounding line to determine the depth of water. The point where water was deep enough to be considered as “safe water” began at a depth of 12 feet, or two fathoms.

Now, depending on the direction you were going, Two Fathoms could also be considered as the point where shallow, or "dangerous water" began.

Two Fathoms - on one side, you have "safe water," on the other side, you have "dangerous water"

There was another term they used back in the 19th Century to describe that two fathom mark: Mark Twain.

...and as it so happens, Samuel Clemens (before he became a "Mark Twain") was a steamboat captain.

If you ever have a chance, take a deep look at some of Mark Twain's famous quotes and you will notice that he was probably one of humanity’s biggest critics. Here’s one quote in particular that I'd like to share:

"Of all the creatures that were made, man is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one - the solitary one - that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices--the most hateful. He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain. Also, in all the list he is the only creature that has a nasty mind."

And I'm interested in understanding the human mind. What makes people ignore their values? their morals? their judgment of what’s right and wrong?

So, it is probably fair to say that Samuel Clemens was a hypocrite. He was a millionaire who detested millionaires.

Perhaps it may be more accurate to say that he was halfway cooked. He recognized that Man’s actions were, for the most part, motivated by basic, primal instincts. But, he was a preacher…do as I say, not as I do.

This is the quintessential moral equivalent of "having your cake and eating too."

Hopefully one day we will have a society that can better control their basic, primal instincts. A society of Mark Twain’s…both in mind, and in body.