You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 4

Assertion

THIS insane urgency of our mad Mother Nature to make us seek “relief” was not by any means all that was happening to Homo Tewler in his metamorphosis. A number of other things, and some of them even more fundamental than this insistence upon unintelligent futile orgasms, were also breaking out in his changing personality.

The tadpole Homo Tewler is an abject timid thing, a thing of flight and refuge, but with the metamorphosis into an adult specimen of the Primates, quite a new series of later acquisitions break into the gathering personality. The apes, including the Hominida, left the monkeys and lemurs at an early stage and developed along a line of their own, into ego-centred combative creatures with a disposition to own all the universe within sight. Reluctantly Homo in his various species, has been forced into an uncongenial social life in the brief course of a million years or so. Yet still his fundamental nature remains. Still he wants to feel successful, masterful, lord and owner of all he surveys, and if he can feel so, he will.

That is something much more persistently present than hunger or lust, which are impulses that can be sated and suppressed for a time. But Homo craves for self-assertion and reassurances from the sprouting of his whiskers to his death rattle. It is his natural resistance to the social envelopment that has happened to him, and which continues to restrain his anarchistic disposition. He never forgets about himself, never just grazes on like a sheep or nibbles like a rabbit.

It is unavoidable, and even if the breed of Homo Tewler rises presently to a point where it may indeed merit this name it has usurped so prematurely, Homo sapiens, this conflict, the moral conflict, the need for education, for being trimmed to fit into social life which is the cause of all religion, will still be in it. It may be controlled, propitiated, diverted and sublimated, but it will be there. We must not indulge in prophecies and speculation. In this book we are not concerned with that possible but improbable animal, Homo sapiens, who may rise indeed in revolt against old Mother Nature and try to wrest his destiny out of her hands. But we are dealing with an animal living far below the intellectual level of any such Satanic revolt. We are concerned with our specimen of Homo Tewler and his individual impulse to exist as emphatically as he could in society as he found it.

That amiable philosopher, Adler, dealing with problems of education and general behaviour rather than with sexual aberrations, thrust much of the Freud–Jung psychology into a minor role, and concentrated upon what he called the “inferiority complex.” But he seems to have thought of it as something to a large extent curable, whereas in truth, with all the social Hominida, up to and including every living specimen of Homo Tewler, great or little or bond or free, it is an integral part of their make-up.

“I exist,” says this innate complex, “but do I exist importantly enough? Are these creatures about me getting the better of me, pushing in front of me? This I must not and cannot stand. Do they realise my existence?” This is something over and above every other urgency. It can blend with and pervade the sexual complex. Dogs, other social animals, betray an inferiority complex, but to nothing like the same extent as Homo. Edward Albert’s hatred of his college teachers and lecturers was one of its manifestations. He detested concerts because he had to sit still while the performers, as he put it, “showed off.” He detested most of the people at a concert because they affected a discriminating taste for music and so got away with it. They were Beastly Prigs and so the wound was healed. Few conductors realise the little spots of hatred scattered through the audiences they dominate. Singers particularly, Edward Albert loathed. He would have produced horrible parodies of the sounds they made had he dared. The dear old British B.B.C. at its virtuous outset tried to give the English Tewlers improving doses of classical music. The Tewlers in their millions protested with passion. What Edward Albert wanted was slave music that ministered to him, so that he could take possession of it, drum with his fingers, jig with his feet, vocalise as it went on, get up and caper, stamp on it. That was a bit of all right.

And at Doober’s all the time, Edward Albert and all his kindred Tewlers without a solitary exception, each after his or her manner, sustained a continuous unconfessed struggle to assert themselves. There were differences in finesse and that was all. And the uneasy peace of the establishment was maintained by a continual give and take of resolute pretension and insincere mutual acquiescence.

Thackeray was a novelist with a strange impulse towards truth-telling, and he wrote for a public that had to be propitiated and could be propitiated by the bare-faced flattery of inviting them to share his amusement at the foibles of other people. His Book of Snobs, broadened out, embraced his unsuspecting public and himself and all mankind, and showed our universal effort to escape from insignificance.

[But here a reader protests, quite a nice contented reader, with a twinkle in her eye. “Not quite universal,” she pleads. “There are people of good breeding who can be absolutely unpretentious. I admit the struggle. Nowadays one sees it all about one. In a time of shifting values, when no one knows his place, there is a vast amount of pushing and pretending. Some of it is quite ridiculous. I can’t help being amused. I laugh to myself. But so far as I am concerned, none of these things make the slightest difference to me. I can assure you. I’m just simply myself with everyone.”

To which the only possible reply is: “Exactly, Madam.”]

The development of self-assertion in Edward Albert’s mind throughout his teens was by no means confined to such simply negative reactions as his hatred of lecturers, classical music and singers. He was giving increased attention to the effectiveness of his personal appearance. He meditated suits, with a sub-purple glow, shirts, handkerchiefs and ties to correspond. Suppose, he thought, he got some gold cuff links, real gold, and just let his hand lie on the table. . . . They’d see.

Old Mr Blake, the erudite Frankincense, the young Indian, continued for the most part to treat him as an invisible man, but the women, he felt, noticed all these things. He was discovering a new use for women. They were interested in and affected by the clothing of the male. A new suit, a new cut of collar, a fresh tie — they saw it directly you came into the room. They looked at each other. He caught them at it. Thump was friendly, but he missed Edward Albert’s finer points.

Our hero was steadily becoming more unobjective and more autobiographical in his mind. When he went for a walk nowadays he found a new interest in the reflection of himself in oblique shop windows. He hardly ever looked at people. He looked for people who were looking at him. Sometimes he carried it off all right, but sometimes doubt would seize him and he would find himself uncertain about his steps and his hands became an encumbrance. Then he felt he would like to go home at once and change his clothes,

In spite of these incidental failures he would plan fresh aggressions. He had a vision of coming into the dining-room at seven-thirty sharp, eating his dinner in a tremendous hurry and departing headlong — in faultless evening dress — to some high and unknown destination! That would make them think. He carne near to ordering that evening dress merely for the sake of that reverie,

But in truth Doober’s was far too occupied with its own individual schemes of aggression to notice the mental stresses and turmoil of our hero. They thought of him, when they thought of him at all, merely as a gawky, growing young man with a rather convulsive, guilty manner if spoken to suddenly, a definitely Cockney accent, and an odd taste in dress.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30