Bernard Page 10
There seems to be no bottom to the evil human beings are capable of when in the grip of an idea that seems to justify it: an idea of a "higher good"~that is, a good higher than the protection of human beings from suffering and death. Johnson mentions the "heartlessness of ideas": to this I would have to add the heartlessness of ideologues, both secular and religious, which absence of the organ of love I suspect has something to do with the excessive clarity, or apparent clarity, of language, particularly written language, and the ease with which language can be abused. It is very easy to translate such abuse into the abuse of human bodies when a particular text is treated as an authority for action (the Bible, the Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, etc.). As Wittgenstein insisted, we can indeed be hypnotized by language~so much so that we can become blind to the world we live in, sleepwalkers following the injunctions of a dead or absent

authority, simply on the basis of a powerfully persuasive thread of words.

The written word can be a moral danger because its author~who might qualify or elaborate on a written text's apparent certitudes~is usually not available for consultation. And his readers can be tempted to invest his words with an authority they may not deserve. The impulse can be to create a world as unambiguous as a book~or as our interpretation of that book.

And so we need to be a little suspicious of the word, roping ourselves to the mast of our doubt against the sirens' song of language. Literature is, paradoxically, one way of doing this: by immersing ourselves in the schoene schein~the beautiful illusion~of literature, we can, maybe, break the spell of language: we learn how easily and