Friday, September 19, 2003

Dog days

Sometimes people walk along the street with their head buried in a book. They don't look where they're going. It's the ultimate in selfishness.
I love to see people reading. When you ride on the tube, and you see a whole carriage with books, magazines, whatever, it lifts your heart a little, because you know there's still a market, an audience. We have not stopped reading, even if we are only doing it because we are shut inside a train with no TV, computer or other distraction (god forbid we should talk to one another).
But the guy walking down the street, head in book, is relying on the rest of us to look out for him.
Sometimes I feel I should run into those guys, and shout "Why don't you look where you're fucking going?" But the small thrill I would get from that would probably not be worth the guilt that would bother me for days afterwards. (Yes, I'm one of those sad beings – a person who cannot do wrong because of his conscience.)
The idea that selfishness is bad informs much of my moral structure. I don't know whether I didn’t share as a child and got a good hard spanking for it, but somehow the idea fixed itself in me that it's good to think of others and do things for them. It's one of those base feelings, if you like, an idea that I have without ever having really thought about it.
But it seems to me that it's how we get along. We cooperate, which means largely that we give a little. It's easily forgotten in our world, where dog eats dog and expects the eaten to be grateful for the opportunity to be dinner. But the dogs forget that no one of them on their own could make a thing – they need the dogs they are hungrily eyeing to make the world go round for them.
It's nice to read as you walk. I'd like to do it. But I don't. Because I know and can never seem to forget that if we all did it, none of us would be able to walk anywhere. The world can only stand so many hungry dogs before it's chaos.


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