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On Nice People

On Nice People is an essay by Bertrand Russell:

"The chief characteristic of nice people is the laudable practice of improvement upon reality. God made the world, but nice people feel that they could have done the job better. There are many things in the Divine handiwork which, while it would be blasphemous to wish them otherwise, it would be by no means nice to mention. Divines have held that if our first parents had not eaten the apple, the human race would have been replenished by some innocent mode of vegetation, as Gibbon calls it. The Divine plan in this respect is certainly mysterious. It is all very well to regard it, as the aforesaid divines do, in the light of a punishment of sin, but the trouble with this view is that while it may be a punishment for the nice people, the others, alas, find it quite pleasant. It would seem, therefore, as if the punishment had been made to fall in the wrong quarter. One of the main purposes of the nice people is to redress this no doubt unintended injustice. They endeavor to secure that the biologically ordained mode of vegetation shall be practiced either furtively or frigidly, and that those who practice furtively shall, when found out, be in the power of the nice people, owing to the damage that may be done to them by scandal. They endeavor to insure also that as little as possible shall be known on the subject in a decent way; they try to get the censor to forbid books and plays which represent the matter otherwise than as an occasion for sniggering nastiness; in this they are successful wherever and in so far as they control the laws and the police. It is not known why the Lord made the human body as he did, since one must suppose that the omnipotence could have made it such as would not have shocked the nice people. Perhaps, however, there was good reason. There has been in England, ever since the rise of the textile industry in Lancashire, a close alliance between missionaries and the cotton trade, for missionaries teach savages to cover up the human body and thereby increase the demand for cotton goods. If there had been nothing shameful about the human body, the textile trade would have lost this source of profit. This instance shows that we need never be afraid lest the spread of virtue would diminish our profits."

originally written 1931, republished in Why I am not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, by Bertrand Russell George Allen & Unwin LTD., 1957 pp. 152-153