She left the barb to rankle in Miss Gleason’s breast, and followed her mother to her room, who avenged Miss Gleason by a series of inquisitional tortures, ending with the hope that, whatever she did, Grace would not have that silly creature’s blood on her hands. The girl opened her lips to attempt some answer to this unanswerable aspiration.
The sanctimonious aspiration is as old as the hills and just as unanswerable as it ever was. Dishonest aspirations of this general type are not usually as explicit as in the above quote and those we see in the public arena tend to be political. Nauseating of coursed but essentially political.
Equality – we don’t want people to suffer from unequal treatment do we?
Feminism – isn’t it a scandal that women still have to demand equal treatment?
Profit – who supports profit for the few over decent standards for all?
Education – surely no child deserves to be left behind.
Environment – the planet belongs to everyone not just the rich.
General purpose – the future of our children and grandchildren blah, blah, blah...
And so on and so on. Such mantras which come in infinite variety are merely sanctimonious aspirations intended to choke off debate. In particular they are intended to evade a genuine exploration of human nature, difficult social realities and limited economic resources.
It is a kind of back-stop for situations where outright banning of free speech has not been possible or successful. Slightly more subtle than a hysterical harangue and almost always as difficult to handle as in Howells’ fictional case.
To begin with the assumed moral high ground has to be tackled and levelled off. After that nuances and complexities have to be introduced to set the stage for a discussion which is at least realistic. It is hard and unrewarding work and we should not be surprised if many don’t bother.