This is how I try to live. I’m not great at it, but this is my philosophy.
In Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, translated by Philip Gabriel, the teenage runaway protagonist has ended up in a library in southern Japan, where he meets the library’s owner, Miss Saeki, and her young assistant, the cerebral, angelic Oshima. Miss Saeki and Oshima are two of the most perfectly, exquisitely, heartbreakingly human creations I’ve ever read in fiction. After a particularly epic win scene shooting down two hateful “feminists” who called him a typical patriarchal male, Oshima tells Kafka this:
“I’ve experienced all kinds of discrimination,” Oshima says. “Only people who’ve been discriminated against can really know how much it hurts. Each person feels the pain in his own way, each has his own scars. So I think I’m as concerned about fairness and justice as anybody. But what disgusts me even more are people who have no imagination. The kind T.S. Eliot calls hollow men. People who fill up that lack of imagination with heartless bits of straw, not even aware of what they’re doing. Callous people who throw a lot of empty words at you, trying to force you to do what you don’t want to do. Like that lovely pair we just met.” He sighs and twirls the long slender pencil in his hand.
“Gays, lesbians, straights, feminists, fascist pigs, communists, Hare Krishnas — none of them bother me. I don’t care what banner they raise. But what I can’t stand are hollow people. When I’m with them I just can’t bear it, and wind up saying things I shouldn’t. With those women — I should’ve just let it slide, or else called Miss Saeki and let her handle it. She would have given them a smile an smoothed things over. But I just can’t do that. I say things I shouldn’t, do things I shouldn’t do. I can’t control myself. That’s one of my weak points. Do you know why that’s a weak point of mine?”
“‘Cause if you take every single person who lacks much imagination seriously, there’s no end to it,” I say.
“That’s it,” Oshima says. He taps his temple lightly with the eraser end of the pencil. “But there’s one thing I want you to remember, Kafka. These are the kind of people who (spoiler) murdered Miss Saeki’s childhood sweetheart. Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors in judgment can usually be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form, and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here.”
Oshima points at the stacks with the tip of his pencil. What he means, of course, is the entire library.
“I wish I could just laugh off people like that, but I can’t.”