“The Worthing Saga” by Orson Scott Card

There is nothing so stupid or dangerous that people won’t eagerly do it, if by doing it they will make others believe they are better or stronger or more honorable.

Any dog can do that. Are you a dog? You’re not a human being until you value something more than the life of your body. And the greater the thing you live and die for, the greater you are.

The only people awake long enough to accomplish anything were the second-rate minds. Almost every nation does that to themselves, given enough time. They make their great minds so secure, they bog them down so much with being honored and famous, that they never accomplish anything in their lives. I was not a genius. I was merely clever and awake.

“You had no choice.”

“No, but you’d be amazed at how often people who have no choice act as if they had one, and lose everything because they could not bear to do what had to be done.”

That is civilization, to bear pain for the sake of joy. Hoom grew up before I. He found out that if you try to eliminate the pain from your life, you destroy all hope of pleasure, too. They come from the same place. Kill one, you’ve killed all.

But if there were no pain, if there were no fear, then what does it matter that we live together, that our lives touch? If our actions have no consequences, if nothing can be bad, then we might as well die, all of us, because we are just machines, contented machines, well oiled and running smoothly with no need to think, nothing to value, because there are no problems to solve and nothing we can lose. You love Hoom because of what he did in the face of pain. And because you love him, you have become him, in part, and others, knowing you, will also become him, in part. It’s how we stay alive in the world, is in the people who become us when we’re gone.

And they looked into their own hearts, and saw what memories had endured through all the ages of time, and they were memories of struggle and accomplishment, sacrifices – these had lasted, while the simple contentment had not. They saw that this was what had made them good, even in their own eyes; and because they had left the rest of man no evils to overcome, they had robbed them of the hope of greatness, of the possibility of joy.