Kipling Friday

This week’s poem is The Inventor. More Kipling, enjoy.

The Inventor

Time and Space decreed his lot,
But little Man was quick to note:
When Time and Space said Man might not,
Bravely he answered, “Nay! I mote.”

I looked on old New England.
Time and Space stood fast.
Men built altars to Distance
At every mile they passed.

Yet sleek with oil, a Force was hid
Making mock of all they did,
Ready at the appointed hour
To yield up to Prometheus
The secular and well-drilled Power
The Gods secreted thus.

And over high Wantastiquet
Emulous my lightnings ran,
Unregarded but afret,
To fall in with my plan.

I beheld two ministries,
One of air and one of earth —
At a thought I married these,
And my New Age came to birth!

For rarely my purpose errs
Though oft it seems to pause,
And rods and cylinders
Obey my planets’ laws.

Oil I drew from the well,
And Franklin’s spark from its blue;
Time and Distance fell,
And Man went forth anew.

On the prairie and in the street
So long as my chariots roll
I bind wings to Adam’s feet,
And, presently, to his soul!

  • Eveningsun

    Thanks for all the Kipling. I’m a big fan of Kim–a great novel.

    I was interested in some of your comments in the post below about Sandra Day O’Connor. Not what you said about her so much as about what would happen to VMI if it let in “the moral relativists,” etc. Aren’t there already moral relativists at VMI? (Cadets? Professors?) Moral relativism is a philosophically respectable position, by which I mean it’s defended by a number of respectable philosophers.

  • Andrew

    I think I may have over-simplified the matter. At The Institute, we adhere to a singular moral code when it comes to Honor. There is no room for it to be “relativized” and hemmed and hawed over. It is black and white: A Cadet will NOT lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.

  • Eveningsun

    Andrew, thanks for clearing up the sense in which you were using the term “moral relativists.”

    In moral philosophy the term is used differently. A true moral relativist would hold that lying, cheating, stealing, and tolerating those who do is ALWAYS wrong–anywhere and anytime. A moral relativist would hold that such a belief might be right for the VMI cadet but not for others. It might be moral at VMI, but not necessarily elsewhere.

    A VMI cadet is morally obligated not to lie, etc., because those things are wrong within the “culture” the cadet has willingly joined. Others who are not part of that culture might not be similarly obligated. The cadet has agreed to honor the code, but others haven’t. Thus others are morally bound to the code only if the code is universal. But I would say it’s relative and (as I will argue shortly) it’s a good thing, too.

    The VMI Honor Code is in the philosophical sense “morally relative” because it is held to apply to VMI cadets, but not universally. You might personally believe that the code SHOULD apply universally, which would make you, personally, a moral absolutist, but the code itself is relative to VMI. That’s why you wrote, “AT THE INSTITUTE, we adhere to a singular moral code….”

    My point is that a VMI cadet could be a moral relativist without in any sense being a bad cadet. A moral-relativist cadet would simply believe that the Honor Code applies without exception to the cadet, but not universally.

    Actually, there’s not likely to be much disagreement about lying, cheating, or stealing. People find those things wrong pretty much always and everywhere. But consider the bit about “not tolerating those who do.” A good moral case could be made that there are times when the moral thing to do IS to tolerate it.

    It’s not hard to see how tolerating a thief or a liar might be the moral thing to do. Suppose you’re in Iraq and your job is to gain the trust and support of a local warlord. Suppose you’re giving him a lot of money for arms, etc., and he’s keeping a fair amount of that money for himself. And when you ask him about it, he denies it.

    Suppose finally that this guy, despite his flaws, is doing a great job for you. He’s pacified his neighborhood and giving you great intel. On the other hand, he’s definitely stealing and lying. So, do you tolerate it or not? I would say that yes, the moral thing is to tolerate it. Perhaps you would never tolerate it, under any circumstances, at VMI, but you would tolerate it under certain circumstances in Iraq.

    In which case you might well be a (gasp!) moral relativist.

    I would add finally that “moral absolutism” is not the same as “unchanging.” Because institutions are made up of fallible human beings, an institution might discover that something it had for ages thought of as absolutely morally right was in fact absolutely wrong.

    Racial segregation is a good case in point. I trust you would agree that it is morally wrong to bar black students from VMI solely on the basis of their skin color. VMI did so for generations, then discovered its mistake and changed its policy. But that change was neither morally relativist nor PC. It was, rather, a morally correct response to the absolute immorality of racism.

    For bearing with me this long, I offer you a short Kipling poem from his “Something of Myself”:

    Try as he will, no man breaks wholly loose
    From his first love, no matter who she be.
    Oh, was there ever sailor free to choose,
    That didn’t settle somewhere near the sea?

    Parsons in pulpits, tax-payers in pews,
    Kings on your thrones, you know as well as me,
    We’ve only one virginity to lose,
    And where we lost it there our hearts will be!

  • Hello. I’ve been working on a lesson plan and this poem is the main topic of my lesson. Do you know the meaning of this poem? I cannot find any analysis on the net. Thanks. :