Sympathy for the Scorpion

You can no more control the actions of other people than you can control the weather. Most people would consider it foolish to get mad at the wind for blowing or a raincloud for raining, even if the rain and wind harmed and inconvenienced you. Yet we get mad at other people’s behavior and consider it normal.

“But other people are thinking beings, able to make conscious moral choices.” Sure. Doesn’t matter even a little bit. Whether they are morally blameworthy for their actions does not mean you can control them. Just because they should make better choices doesn’t mean you can make them make the ones you want. They are tornados, and you have to grapple with that.

In the parable of The Scorpion & The Frog, the scorpion is no more the villain than is the rising river. In fact, from the point of view of the frog, the river and the scorpion are exactly the same. Both are deadly forces that the frog cannot control – and that is the only thing the frog should have considered. In the parable, the frog’s final thoughts are of frustration and anger at the scorpion – “why did you sting me, now we’ll both drown” – when he should have been, if angry at all, angry only with himself. “Through my own actions, I have doomed myself. I should have let the scorpion drown.”

And this is the vital moral distinction – the frog letting the scorpion drown is not a moral failing on the part of the frog, and nor is it the frog punishing the scorpion for his nature. That is some guilt that the scorpion will try to lay on you, but that’s just part of its nature, too. It’s just a trap to get you close enough to sting.

You can watch the scorpion sinking beneath the water and feel sympathy. You can even mourn. But sympathy is not obligation, and you should see the stinger for what it is.

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