A Social Nuisance

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco Examiner/January 18, 1903

The devil is a citizen of every country, but only in our own are we in constant peril of an introduction to him. That is democracy. All men are equal; the devil is a man; therefore, the devil is equal. If that is not a good and sufficient syllogism I should be pleased to know what is the matter with it.

To write in riddles when one is not prophesying is too much trouble; what I am … is the horror of the characteristic American custom of promiscuous, unsought and unauthorized introductions.

You incauitously meet your friend Smith in the street; if you had been prudent you would have remained indoors. Your helplessness makes you desperate and you plunge into conversation with him, knowing entirely well the disaster that is in cold storage for you.

The expected occurs; another man comes along and is promptly halted by Smith and you are introduced! Now, you have not given to Smith the right to enlarge your circle of acquaintance and select the addition himself; why did he do this thing? The person whom he has condemned you to shake hands with may be an admirable person, though there is a strong numerical presumption against it; but for all Smith knows he may be your bitterest enemy. Smith has never thought of that. Or you may have evidence (independent of the fact of the introduction) that he is some kind of a thief—there are one thousand and fifty kinds of thieves. But Smith has never thought of that. In short, Smith has never thought. In a Smithocracy all men, as aforesaid, being equal, all are equally agreeable to one another.

That is a logical extension of the Declaration of American Independence. If it is erroneous the assumption that a man will be pleasing to me because he is pleasing to another is erroneous too, and to introduce me to one that I have not asked, nor consented, to know, is an impudent evasion of my rights—a hideous denial and limitation of my liberty to a voice in my own affairs. It is like determining what kind of clothing I shall wear, what books I shall read, or what my dinner shall be.

In calling promiscuous introducing an American custom I am not unaware that it obtains in other countries than ours. The difference is that in those it is mostly confined to persons of no consequence and no pretensions to respectability; here it is so nearly universal that there is no escaping it. Democracies are naturally and necessarily gregarious.

Even the French of today are becoming so, and the time is apparently not distant when they will lose that fine distinctive social sense that has made them the most punctilious, because the most considerate, of all nations. By those who have lived in Paris since I did I am told that the chance introduction is beginning to devastate the social situation, and men of sense who wish to know as few persons as possible can no longer depend on the discretion of their friends.

To say so is not the same thing as to say “Down with the republic!” The republic has its advantages. Among them is the liberty to say “Down with the empire and the monarchy!” and to be a stockholder in a Panama canal company.

It is to be wished that some great social force, say a billionaire, would set up a system of disintroductlons. It should work somewhat like this:

Mr. White—Mr. Black, knowing the low esteem in which you hold each other, I have the honor to disintroduce you from Mr. Green.

Mr. Black (bowing) Sir, I have long desired the advantage of your unacquaintance.

Mr. Green (bowing)—Charmed to unmeet you, sir. Our acquaintance (the work of a most inconsiderate and unworthy person) has distressed me beyond expression. We are greatly indebted to our good friend here for his tact in repairing the mischance.

Mr. White—Thank you. I’m sure you will become very good strangers.

This is only the ghost of a suggestion; of course the plan is capable of an infinite elaboration. Its capital defect is that the persons who are now so liberal with their unwelcome introductions will be equally lavish with their disintroductions, and will part the best of friends with as little ceremony as they now observe in their more fiendish work.


(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/457310862/?terms=Ambrose%2BBierce)


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