In almost every person, to one degree or another, lies the rankling idea that he or she, this person we are talking about, is nothing when he or she should be everything. Every person sees the world from the center of himself or herself. If God, as Augustine or Aquinas or somebody said, is a circle whose circumference is everywhere and whose center nowhere (do I have it right?), a man is an almost infinitesimal dot who, because of his self-consciousness, cannot help seeing himself as the clearly defined (to himself at least) center of existence.
Such a perception leads to all kinds of problems, not the least of which is resentment. I don’t know that I can add anything to the brilliant observations Nietzsche makes about resentment, but I will say that when resentment is coupled with a savior complex, trouble is brewing, this need to purge the world of its imperfections. In truth, Ahab’s hunt for the white whale is about Ahab, his flaws, not the imperfection of creation. We know that the white whale, or whatever the great beast is a symbol of, in its massive indifference will never give Ahab the validation he wants, the answers he wants. And if, as Melville intended, the Pequod is a microcosm of the world, then we see what kind of suffering and cruelty this kind of madness can evoke. Why do men listen to and adore the Ahabs? The wonder is that some don’t. Ahab taps into the darkest truth of mankind: why is the world not made to my desire? Why will the world not explain what it is the way it is?
I am indulging in blatherskite, I understand, and I am hardly fit to write about such things with any certitude, to shadow box while Melville and Nietzsche climb into the ring and slug it out, and I would not mention the topic at all except that last night while I was reading in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory I came across a rather remarkable insight into the resentful character, the man who would, because of his outrage at the arrangement of the world, strike at heaven, who would kill God and thus empty the world of all unfairness and whim. In the late 30s one Mexican province has outlawed religion, resorted to the shooting of priests and the despoliation of churches. Only one priest, a “whiskey priest,” remains in the province. He is on the run, finding refuge where he can, performing maimed rites for those who hide him for a few hours, give him shelter. He is pursued by an idealistic young police lieutenant, whose aim is simple: find the priest and kill him.
One day the lieutenant finds himself talking with a child, a peasant boy. Thinks the lieutenant:
[I]t is for these he was fighting. He would eliminate from their childhood everything which had made him miserable, all that was poor, superstitious, and corrupt. They deserved nothing less than the truth–a vacant universe and a cooling world, the right to be happy in any way they chose. He was quite prepared to make a massacre for their sakes–first the church and then the foreigner and the politician–even his own chief would one day have to go. He wanted to begin the world again with them, in a desert. (my emphasis)
Those who want to destroy the world, flood the place with blood, turn the earth into a giant blotter to soak up the carnage, don’t know that this new world would eventually become just like the old one.