In the aftermath of California's attempt to make legal the denial of people's rights ...

I offer this observation made by Herman Melville in his magnum opus, Moby Dick -- the fictionalized re-telling of the story of the sinking of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex,* attacked and destroyed by a sperm whale off the west coast of South America, the survivors following the "Custom of the Sea"** and eating their shipmates' dead bodies, drawing lots to determine who would next be killed for food. Very few people realize the fact that Melville had a fine sense of humor, although it gets lost among the detailed descriptions of killing and rendering the great whales. It's much more evident in his novel The Confidence Man: His Masquerade, the main character being usually interpreted as Melville's view of The Creator (the book takes place on April 1, 1857 and was Melville's tenth and last book, abandoning writing for lecturing).

"As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name.

"I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;- but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all- Presbyterians and Pagans alike- for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."


* The original tale was told in a book titled Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex written by the surviving first mate, Owen Chase. It was out of print for many years, but reprinted as Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex.

A more modern (i.e., readable) version was written by contemporary historical author, Nathaniel Philbrick, under the title In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. In addition to being told in contemporary language, Mr. Philbrick has been able to put the event into historical context.


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