The Mock Turtle's Story

Studies in Alice IX, by Marc Edmund Jones

This lesson considers the ninth chapter of Alice in Wonderland and the ninth great principle of wisdom in the Philosophy of Concepts as revealed through the adventures of Alice is that morals and ethics are a matter of fashion and a product therefore of their times and of the conditions of their period. In all human conduct there must be a standard and a background of action, and while it is perfectly true that nature or instinct and natural impulse is an initial controlling agency in human act yet the general tendency to attribute an inherent intelligence to all matter and form is equally a weakness of deistic and mechanistic theories because too often it is an excuse to avoid the real labor of tracing natural intelligence to its source. To take an unlovely but ideal example of the origin of human and animal conduct in reference to the sanitary disposal of bodily excrements, it may superficially be said that the unpleasant odor of such decomposing matter is given an unpleasant odor by a natural intelligence to warn life that such matter is poisonous. All poisons however do not have a bad odor. Some appear quite seductive to several of the senses simultaneously but it is to be noted that manure and virtually all fertilizer vital to agriculture are most offensive to the nostrils. Man's investigation has been improperly directed. The question is not the explanation of the emanation from the material but the accounting for the fact that it smells unpleasantly to man. The intelligence is not in the odor but in the sharp distinction between pure conduct or volitional act and pure reflex action. Conduct gains its value in contrast with idea, and the development of man has been from the early tribal taboo stage to the present social insistence on individual good manners. To assume that conduct recognized as moral and ethical today will be so tomorrow is to assume that all progress of man as a social entity is at an end.

Here is the principle of self-analysis. The aspirant to eternal wisdom cannot go very far on his path by simple conformity to any outer ritual or even by the more superficially attractive device of emulating someone who has preceded him. Imitation is valuable in children but in adults it is an effective bar to real growth. In life man must be able to justify each act, and while too great a degree of introspection is morbid and destructive to growth yet a constant balancing of action and idea is necessary to understanding. The symbolism of the ninth chapter of Alice is therefore interesting in showing through the Duchess and her sharp chin the manner in which life automatically will direct all tendency toward conformity with what is. Modern slang has coined a most effective term in yes man since life is filled with yessers and even transcendental realms, for instance in clairvoyance and psychic investigation, the degree to which an earnest seeker first gets superficial confirmation of his notions is not as easy as it seems to be. If a person seeks to conform to life, the inner yesser cheerfully co-operates and adds bondage to outer conditions as they are. Yet curiously enough if the seeker wishes to express himself and run counter to ordinary manifest tendency, life itself then proceeds to yes him in an equally superficial co-operation. The Duchess as the emotional nature of Alice is at pains to agree with her on every point possible. Alice dislikes the sharp chin as intrusion of the outer yessing influence and chooses to fight clear of any bondage to conditions as they are. Her assertion of independence makes possible her further development.

The achievement of imagination in the chapter, or the ninth great scientific anticipation, is the revelation of the principles of advertising or the modern forcing of outer things into mass consciousness and is one of the age's greatest achievements in the development of an advanced social scheme. Advertising is not generally regarded as a science by laymen because of its close touch to common or daily life, but it is an integral part of the culture of a new and wholly different sort of civilization as analyzed in the third lesson and as an art of liaison in desire it has been America's greatest transforming force. Not only has it supported cultural genius and reared a new art and architecture but it has founded a cult of beauty in clothes, homes, office and through everyday detail. P.T. Barnum has been the picturesque figure of the early days of the new showmanship and it is to him that America owes the statement of the principles of attention, although Samuel Johnson's prior expression of the thought has been used in the fourth lesson and the importance of the reminiscent strain has been stated in the second. The catch phrase or identifying image is the basis of advertising, and the trade mark is therefore recognized as having legal status. The cleverest phrase or image is built on the twisting or adaptation of the familiar. Here the genius of Lewis Carroll's work is most remarkably expressed. His book has lived because of outrageous distortion of the exceedingly familiar that creates a most real unreality.

The symbolism of the mock turtle and gryphon or griffin is an illustration of fancy catching or advertising genius of the first order. What child has not wondered what sort of beast a mock turtle would be? From soup to classical mythology is a leap of fancy that any child or highly evolved soul would love for the sheer breadth of it and be perfectly at home and safe on the foundation of the soup. In his puns the mock turtle is incorrigible, and an excellent intelligence test is provided in the curriculum of the underseas school by timing some unsuspecting soul in the translation of the terms back into their common school originals. The pun is the lowest form of humor and in consequence can be said to be the foundation of all wit. Fundamentally humor is the power of ridicule or the twisting of things. It is the basis of entertainment and the underlying element in all extensions of consciousness. When a man takes a thing too seriously he is in bondage to it, but when he can see the humor of it or make a pun and twist it then he is master indeed.

The law of applied psychology or the ninth big idea for the solution of personal problems is brought out here in the technique of appropriateness. Alice decides to associate pepper with hot tempered people, vinegar with sour ones, camomile with bitter ones and so on. Fittingness in life is created and is not the result of accident. There are styles and fashions in thought and these underlie all standards of action. Morals involve more than conduct which is but outer conformity to the accepted idea. As man is able to put appropriateness into things he gains mastery of life and this is the principle behind the achievements of artists and leaders in all lines. They create within themselves that which reflects their acts and conduct, lends new appropriateness to tendencies revealed about them and brought through them to completion. The student must learn to MAKE IT MEAN SOMETHING in the case of any difficulty. He must cultivate sentiment in life, gain associative value in all things and fit everything into larger and more eternal schemes that add to all life.