This article was published in the Autumn 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
The Sense of Right
and a Man-to-Man Talk With Archy
About Women
by Richard O. Hammer

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The other day Archy and I were talking about women.

But before proceeding let me explain that Archy, so far as I know, exists only in imagination. I met him in a series of poems, written in the early decades of this century by Don Marquis. Archy, you will need to understand, finds himself living this current life in the body of a cockroach. However, since he possesses the transmigrated soul of a human poet, I can commune with him.

Back to the women. Archy tells that he has taken a liking to a shiny and smart young roachess who lives over behind the cabinet. I tell that my fancy has been caught by a female of my present species.

If beauty is beauty, you might think that Archy and I would fight over the same lady. Yet Archy seems not the least tempted by mine. And I can not say that I feel anything for his. So what is going on here?

Well, probably it is obvious. It has to do with survival. We are each programmed to seek females with whom our genes might, well, carry on. So, when one of us says that he sees beauty, that tells of more than just the attractiveness of the lady, it tells also of the needs of the one who sees the beauty. Beauty exists, partly at least, in the eyes of the beholder.

Now Archy and I both understand this. Being cultivated, civilized, and all that, we do not fall into bitter dispute because we disagree about which lady is more beautiful. We laugh about the difference, because we see ourselves as pawns in the greater game of survival.

But we do get into a tiff sometimes when our other senses, especially our senses of right, recommend different rules of conduct. The other day, for instance, we were discussing regulation of traffic in public thoroughfares. We differed on the question of whether it is right for a human to sound warning before walking onto the kitchen floor. I argued it was a waste of time. Archy thought it absolutely essential. Archy, in fact, got heated about it.

But then, you know Boss, I was thinking. Maybe this sense of right, which causes me to form opinions about how I should regulate my actions in order to consider the needs of others, has been programmed into me, just like my sense of beauty. Maybe I have it because it helps my kind survive. Maybe my genes have figured out that they have a better chance of surviving if human individuals are programmed to hunger for rules of behavior which favor cooperation over conflict. Well, if that is true, then we who are cultivated, civilized, and all that, can add some objectivity to our discussion of what is right.

This of course does not change what we feel. We still sense right and wrong. But, given understanding that our sense or right, just like our sense of beauty, derives from demands of survival, we are given greater power. We can temper our prescriptions with reason. D


You can meet Archy in, for instance, archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis, Doubleday, 1930.

I do not think I can claim to have originated the idea presented here. It seems an obvious extension, if not a downright theft, of ideas presented in books such as: On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas.

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