There’s no god dare wrong a worm
What follows is an experimentation upon, and not an interpretation of, Emerson’s “Compensation”. If all goes well, I shall have created a monster.
My star in dark hours, as I worm my way through crooked, damp passages, is the knowledge that the best part of each writer is that which has nothing private in it—that is, not that part which is not the product of active invention, but those experiments in younger souls to which the writing gives rise, violent and cruel to the writer’s intent as they might be. It is not doctrines that sustain us.—But this, too, is a monster.
There’s no god dare wrong a worm
An inevitable dualism bisects nature. Each thing is a half, and needs some other to be made whole. Aristophanes at the Symposium can be faulted only for modesty, for applying only to human love what is the fundamental principle of nature. Among these dualisms one wriggles and burrows with a peculiar motion: the dualism of worm and God or gods. The soil turned by this dualism is fruitful; let us see what may grow in it.
The gods, we are told, have the power to wrong worms, for otherwise it matters not that they do not dare do so. They could, if they dared. But they dare not. Why is this? But we have gotten ahead of ourselves. Aristotle wisely recommends, in his Posterior Analytics, that we first ascertain if it is before asking what it is, that we possess the fact firmly before asking for the reason why. So let us ask: is it true that there’s no god dare wrong a worm? We suspect it is not so.
The dice of God are always loaded
We know what it means to say that God plays with loaded dice: he does not allow chance occurrences. Einstein denied that God plays dice at all—even loaded dice are too unsure a proposition for Einstein’s God. But let us content ourselves with a God content to take the chance, however slight, that his loaded dice will come up the wrong way. Thus we have the law of compensation. God does not allow virtue and reward to assort independently. Search, and you will find them close together on the chromosome, though of course the chance of crossing over remains.
Yet we are not concerned with meaning; we have announced this. Let us look instead to the undercurrent, the voice speaking below the pleasing, mild waves. Now we must suspect deception, cheating: God has loaded the dice. Some other player is being wronged, is denied a fair chance. Perhaps they are denied virtue and reward altogether. Such is the predicament of the worm. The human race reserves for itself virtue and leaves none for the worm, and indeed makes it a symbol of decay. The dice throw has come out against the worms, and who could have expected otherwise?
You object: but man and God are separate. Not so. The Greeks called Jupiter, Supreme Mind, yet they ascribed to him base actions, and found themselves compelled—against their knowledge, perhaps—to tie up the hands of so bad a god, to leave him helpless. But if humans may tie the hands of gods, then the distinction is effaced. A second response: who are we told gave man dominion over the earth? None other than God. Yet it is man himself who has awarded himself that right—historically, again, the distinction collapses.
It will soon corrupt and worm worms
There is a price for this hoarding of virtue. Will the human race place itself above the worm, take the worm as a sign of decay and degeneracy, reserve for itself all virtue and dignity? Then humans shall be humbled by being eaten by worms. Humans ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became mortal, which is to say, became food for worms. Our good and evil, our dignity, itself decays, and worms are the agents. God plays with loaded dice, but there is a higher compensation.
Put God in your debt
This higher compensation follows the model of debtor and creditor. The creditor holds the power, even if the debtor has the creditor’s resources. God takes all, and so owes all. The worm has put God in its debt, and at the end of life comes to collect. Yet we have spoken so far of antagonism only. Yet the dualistic doctrine says each half is incomplete without the other. What emerges from this violence?
The soul assimilates all, and so the gods must assimilate the worms. The god who hoards virtue festers and decays and is gorged upon by worms. Which god is it who so decays? The god who cannot slough off dead circumstance. The past is the greatest danger, both the past of all humanity and one’s own past. Yet on both scores worms are allies. In feasting on the bodies of the dead, worms clear them away, until they have no power of their own to tyrannize over the living gods—no power not given to them by the living gods, that is. In this way compensation is made possible in the first place by worms alone. Further, within the body of the healthiest gods worms crawl, always at work. They eat away at dead skin, are the mechanism by which what is dead and past within is removed. All the freedom of the gods is a gift of the worms, in whose debt we permanently stand.
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I have exposed my flank. I now throw myself on the side of my assassins.