Sweet-Smelling Lies

Mark Twain from Lapham’s Quarterly:

There are certain sweet-smelling, sugarcoated lies current in the world which all politic men have apparently tacitly conspired together to support and perpetuate. One of these is that there is such a thing in the world as independence: independence of thought, independence of opinion, independence of action.

Another is that the world loves to see independence—­admires it, applauds it. Another is that there is such a thing in the world as toleration—in religion, in politics, and such matters; and with it trains that already mentioned auxiliary lie that toleration is admired and applauded. Out of these trunk lies spring many branch ones: to wit, the lie that not all men are slaves; the lie that men are glad when other men succeed; glad when they prosper; glad to see them reach lofty heights; sorry to see them fall again. And yet other branch lies: to wit, that there is heroism in man; that he is not mainly made up of malice and treachery; that he is sometimes not a coward; that there is something about him that ought to be perpetuated—in heaven, or hell, or somewhere. And these other branch lies, to wit: that conscience, man’s moral medicine chest, is not only created by the Creator but is put into man ready charged with the right and only true and authentic correctives of conduct—and the duplicate chest, with the self­same correctives, unchanged, unmodified, distributed to all nations and all epochs.

More here.