"Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real."
Other humans are aliens to us.
How can we establish contact?
How can I enter into the mindset of the Puritan minister whose greatest fear for his kidnapped children
is that the Catholic Mohawks will convert them to the "popish" religion?
How could you explain sleep to the ocean? *
Entering into history requires the kind of love Murdoch writes about.
(One reason historical fiction is so difficult to get right--
most of it just dresses us moderns in funny old costumes.)
Reading about the 18th century Anglo-American colonists and Indians, I hardly know what to make of them, their realities are so extremely different from mine.
I know they are sane human beings--like me (but radically not like me)--and not denizens of an alien planet.
But sometimes the only thing I can find in common between us is something extremely simple:
starting, for instance, with the shared reality that
being burned at the stake is something we humans want to avoid.
This was a meeting point between the colonists and their kidnappers:
a threat to burn prisoners was effective in bargaining for ransom money.
Everyone understands that none of us wants to get burned alive...
... or get our feet wet, either.
LEFT: George Orwell standing third from left at the Mandalay, Burma, police training school, 1923.
(via As It Ought to Be)
There's the most astonishing (famous?) moment of experiencing the common human denominator in George Orwell's short piece, "A Hanging".
The speaker is a British colonial policeman in Burma (like Orwell, though he said this was "a story").
He's watching a man walk to his own execution:
"It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, ... And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.This realization is the slim wedge, the toe dip, into love, into history.
"It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide."
Probably most of the time when we look at other people, we look into a mirror.
The stuff that doesn't look like us we discard without even registering it.
How not? [That's not a rhetorical question.]
We are like Captain Kirk:
when he travels in outer space, he just keeps meeting versions of himself.
You know I'm crazy about Star Trek,
but it's very, very rare that it's anything more than us in fancy dress.
* The idea that the ocean has no conception of sleep is a funny little touch in Sol(y)aris.