The Queequeg Phenomenon

November 4, 2012 Comments Off on The Queequeg Phenomenon

The Queequeg Phenomenon is described in Chapter 10 of Moby Dick.  Here is the hero reflecting on his roommate’s invitation to join him in the worship of a heathen idol:

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth—pagans and all included—can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?—to do the will of God—THAT is worship. And what is the will of God?—to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me—THAT is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.

The Queequeg Phenomenon consists, on the one hand, of the inborn human expectation that people who wish to be our friends will worship our idols (our gods, our songsters, our political candidates, our moral principles, our pictures); and, on the other, the general human readiness to trade our likes and dislikes, more or less honestly, in exchange for the chance to make friends and influence people.

Is it obvious only to me that views tradeable for influence aren’t really views and that friends won through dissimulation cannot possibly be worth having?


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