The Economic Barrier
First comes the economic barrier.
We must live. We must secure food, clothing, shelter—all the essentials of comfort to which the progress of mankind entitles us. We must adopt methods of procuring the things which we desire as well as the things we need. If we adopt an economic policy which provides us three things: security, satisfying work, independence—we procure not only what we need and desire, we provide the conditions for spiritual comfort as well. Without such a policy we may have all the creature comforts of civilization and still be uncomfortable.
Today it is the convention to solve the problem of living by earning money, and to buy with the money what we need and desire. So overwhelming is the force of this convention that even those who inherit wealth in this country feel compelled to devote their time largely to money-making—while those who do not inherit wealth seem unable to think of any other method than that of earning money with which to buy the means to live according to the standard to which they aspire.
But for those of us who aspire to live the superior life, conformity to the convention that we must devote ourselves to the immediate material conquest of comfort, means an almost certain sacrifice of the ultimate spiritual conquest of comfort. Conformity to this convention of our factory-dominated civilization seems incompatible with the security, the satisfying work, and the independence necessary to real comfort.
For us, mere conformity to a scheme of existence which seems designed by the quantity-minded for the exploitation of the rest of mankind is no solution of the economic problem. Only the herd-minded can dispose of their problems by conformity to convention. Only those who are insensitive to the spiritual outrage of a life of insecurity, of inexpressive work, and of subservience to modern business can be comfortable through conformity to the earn-and-buy economy of today. For us, the alternatives of economic conformity or non-conformity represent a choice between frustration or deliberate adoption of an economic policy which makes it possible to secure both the essentials of comfort and the wisdom necessary to their enjoyment.
Such an economic policy has been described in some detail in Part IV of this book. No doubt there are other policies which we might adopt to attain the same ends. But whatever the policy we adopt, it should at least equal the one which I recommend in providing security as to the essentials of existence; in providing opportunities for engaging in satisfying work, and in providing freedom to devote time to work and play which is expressive of our real aspirations. All three of these are essential to any conquest of comfort. The last, we must not forget, is most important to those who would live the superior life.
So we come to what seems to me the basic principle upon which we must devise a policy which will surmount the economic barrier to the comfortable life. Economically we must be dependent upon no one but ourselves and those of our own household. For to the degree in which we are dependent economically upon others, to that degree do we cease to be free to live as we would like to live.
In the feudal civilization of the past we had to work for the nobility, and had therefore to be servants to the nobles and the kings.
In our present factory-dominated civilization we have to work for the factory in order to procure the essentials of life, and so we are servants to the capitalists who own the factories.
In a socialistic civilization we would have to work for the state, and we would become servants to the men who govern the state.
No matter how radically civilization changes, for us dependence always means submission to the conventions, the disciplines, the censorships, the cultural values of predatory, ruthless, acquisitive, quantity-minded human beings who are more interested in the exploitation of their fellows than in the question of how life should be lived.
A very homely story from the Old Testament makes it clear that when one man becomes dependent upon another, he may be forced to sacrifice his birthright of freedom and happiness. The story, somewhat freely quoted, is as follows:
And Jacob had pottage.
And Esau came from the hunt, and he was faint.
And Esau said to Jacob: “Feed me, I pray thee, with that same pottage, for I am faint.”
And Jacob said, “Sell me this day thy birthright.”
And Esau said, “Behold, I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do me?”
And Jacob said, “Swear to me this day.”
And Esau swore to him and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way.
Thus Esau lost his birthright.
Quantity-minded Jacob; how well he knew how to get what he wanted! And Esau, mighty hunter though he was, was shorn of his birthright simply because he had neglected to provide for his elementary economic needs.
The legend of Jacob and Esau is an excellent illustration of the operation of one of the most important of all economic laws: the law that the terms upon which an exchange is made between two parties are determined by the relative extent to which each is free to refuse to make the exchange. If both are free to refuse, then the exchange will be made on equitable terms. Had Esau been free to refuse to buy, he would have paid Jacob only the reasonable, the market, the competitive, the just price for the food he wanted. But he was not free. He was unable to refuse to buy while Jacob was able to refuse to sell. The one who was “free” (to refuse to make the exchange), dictated the terms of the sale, and the one who was “not free” to refuse, had to pay whatever price was exacted from him.
So it is today. So it has always been and will probably always be.
Certainly in this factory-dominated civilization, the quantity minded, by concentrating upon the acquisition of wealth, naturally achieve a higher degree of freedom to refuse to make exchanges than do we. For to the degree in which we become interested in the qualitative aspects of life, we tend to neglect the acquisition of this freedom. Thus the quantity-minded, who are nearly always free, determine how and when and where we should work, and what we, who are rarely free, should receive for our work. But let us make ourselves free to withhold our services, and we will determine not only the terms for which we work but also the nature and the quality of the work we do.
What is more, just as our services as a whole are essential to the maintenance of civilization, so our services individually are important to the factories to which the quantity-minded today devote themselves. Once we are able to withhold our services, the quantity-minded would have to deal with us upon the basis of dependence upon us instead of upon the basis of our dependence upon them. With the reversal of the present relationships of dependents and independents would come a reversal of the present division of the returns from common effort. For to the degree in which we become free to refuse to contribute our services to the enterprises upon which the quantity-minded are engaged, to that degree we become able to dictate terms and to secure a premium price for what we choose to do or choose to produce.
This is a policy which puts self before society, but only because it is the essence of wisdom to put first things first. Civilization exists for man; not man for civilization. Those who contribute most to civilization take only what is theirs in common justice if they organize their lives so that they are able to work as they think best.
Until we have secured the essentials of comfort; until we are able to devote ourselves to satisfying work; until we are free to refuse to work and to play as those with inferior values and with vulgar aspirations would force us to, a less selfish economic policy is neither good for ourselves nor good for civilization.
Only by the deliberate adoption of a policy which provides those of us who aspire to the superior life with the freedom for the expression of our own aspirations can we make civilization less ugly than it is today.
For if we free ourselves through such an economic policy as has been here outlined, the humiliating process of waiting years, generations, and centuries until the quantity-minded find it to their interest to adopt our ideas would be ended. Newer ideas and higher values would much more directly enter into the conventions of civilization. The great lag in time between the conception of new ideas and their acceptance by mankind would be shortened.
Civilization would become less ugly at the same time that life for us would become more comfortable.
The Physiological Barrier
We come secondly to the consideration of the physiological barrier to comfort.
We are animals with an insistent animal need of nutrition and excretion, exercise and rest.
Today we submit to an incalculable amount of physical discomfort because we conform to the conventions as to how we should live and as to what we should do when we are ill. We are the victims of an enormous body of misinformation concerning our bodily processes. Some of this is merely our traditional heritage of ignorance but much of it is the result of deliberate propaganda by those who profit from the foolish habits of eating, drinking, clothing, sheltering and caring for ourselves in which we unthinkingly acquiesce.
Yet an enormous body of knowledge concerning the physiological processes has already been accumulated. Most of us, however, do not have the time to acquire this knowledge, and many of us, even if we were to acquaint ourselves with it, would lack the courage to use it. For we find it difficult to practice what is preached by the men and women who have accumulated this knowledge—not always recognized scientists—when our lives are organized for us, in utter disregard of our normal physiological needs as animais, by the factory-dominated civilization by which and for which we live.
As long as we devote ourselves whole-heartedly to the occupational specialties for which our factory-directed schools have trained us and fill the rest of our lives with the routines which naturally accompany them, it is difficult to develop a conscious policy as to what we should eat and drink and how we should work and rest.
Yet such a policy is essential to the real enjoyment of life.
For man is as artificial an animal as is the dog, the cow or the chicken. Unlike a wild animal, he cannot rely upon his instincts in physiological matters because his instinctive reactions have atrophied during the long ages throughout which he has been domesticating himself. He must substitute intelligence for instinct, or accept the discomforts of contemporary physiological life.
Certainly few of us use our intelligence with regard to this aspect of our lives. We are not supposed to use our own intelligence. We are supposed to leave it to those who specially devote themselves to such matters. We leave it to advertisers to tell us what we should eat and drink; to offices and factories to tell us how we should work, and to doctors and druggists to tell us how we should care for ourselves when we are ill.
Naturally we accept the mental and physical ailments which accompany such living as among the unavoidable ills of life.
Our factory-dominated civilization is making us into an over fed, constipated, nerve-racked, physically inferior race. Hospitals, sanitariums, and asylums multiply endlessly. We seem to be sacrificing the abounding vitality we need if we are to be comfortable, to the exigencies of surviving at all under our factory regime.
Consider, for instance, the matter of food and eating.
We eat, not when we are hungry, but when the clock tells us to do so, and without normal outdoor work and play, we eat too often and too much.
We eat too fast. We breakfast too fast because we have to get to work on time; we lunch too fast in so-called “quick-lunches” much as horses eat in their stalls; we dine too fast so that we may the more quickly go out to amuse ourselves.
We eat foods which the factory produces for us and to an ever increasing extent leave it to bakers, delicatessen and restaurants to cook and serve them to us.
But since so much of what we eat consists of foods first devitalized by the factory, we have to turn more and more to doctors, dentists, osteopaths, chiropractors and physical culturists to repair the damage which our dietetic conventions inflict upon us.
For the devitalizing of our foodstuffs seems to be an inescapable accompaniment of our present system of divorcing production from consumption. Producing food in one place and consuming it in another makes it necessary to transport and store (and therefore embalm) foodstuffs which in their normal state decompose with great rapidity. All the skill of modern science and all the ingenuity of modern business are therefore focused upon the development of processes which make it possible to transport foods thousands of miles and to preserve and store them for months and years. Not palatability but salability is the objective of the processing of wheat, corn, sugar, rice and practically all our staple foodstuffs. Our conventional dietary of lean meat, white bread, cooked starches and plenty of fats and sugars, no matter how abnormal physiologically, seems an inevitable consequence.
Is it any wonder that so many of us really die at forty and then rely upon drugs and doctors to keep us existing during the rest of our lives?
But when we turn the solution of any of the problems of living over to those who pretend to be able to do what they manifestly are incapable of doing, we invite quackery. The conventional treatment of the commonest, and therefore the most important of our ailments by our physicians, surgeons and dentists proceeds with a disregard of elementary physiological principles almost as complete as that of shamans, voodoo men and other primitive medicine-men. Modern practitioners of the art of healing find it just as profitable as the quacks whom they have supplanted to be blind to the fact, (to which their victims seem equally oblivious), that the real cure for our ills is not to be found in correct medication but in correct living. Their preoccupation with the pathological is really a subtle form of quackery fully as dangerous to our comfort as are many of the recognized forms of quackery.
One of the great disservices rendered us by this conventional medical emphasis on pathology is preoccupation with the germ theory.
In the pre-scientific past, it was difficult enough to see that disease was really caused by some deviation from normal living. As long as disease was ascribed to the instrumentality of demons and devils, mankind devoted itself to propitiating the supernatural agencies which were believed to cause it. But it is almost as difficult for us today to appreciate the importance of normal living now that all disease is believed to be caused by those minute invisible organisms, (popularly called germs), which mysteriously ignore some of us and equally mysteriously seize upon others for destruction. Now that disease is ascribed to the activities of germs, naturally we devote ourselves to the destruction of these malign creatures instead of learning how to maintain health through normal living.
For the amazing thing about our bodies is the remarkable extent to which they are self-protective and self-regulatory. Let us live a normal life; let our bodies function normally so far as nutrition and excretion are concerned; let us work and rest normally and a normal blood-stream is the inevitable result. With a normal blood-stream we will have normal organs, normal muscles, normal bones and normal skins and membranes and these will make short shrift of germs when they do enter our bodies, as enter they will no matter how many antiseptic precautions we may employ.
To live comfortably, we need normal exercise and we need normal rest.
But the work which we do today and the rest which we are able to secure furnish us neither.
We spend most of our time indoors, and we herd in cities in which great crowds, tall buildings, factory smoke and automobile exhausts vitiate the good fresh air and shut out the health-making sunshine. We either do work which uses practically none of our muscles, as in office work, or perform the same operations over and over again, and so use only a few of the many muscles we ought to use. And the tempo of our work, instead of being set by some such rhythm as that of recurring seasons of the year, is set by clocks and machines. We move at the pace which machines dictate or work with papers at a desk at a tension equally abnormal. Business makes us write or dictate large numbers of letters; call and receive dozens of telephone messages; rush here and there in subways, street cars, taxis, autos, trains, and crowd as many human contacts into each of our days as the necessities of the gigantic mechanism of which we are cogs require.
As for our leisure, that too is keyed to a tempo over which we have relatively little control. We read newspapers daily, not one but several, because newspapers must get out edition after edition. We eat regularly—and rapidly—in restaurants in which we have to vacate our seats before the food served us has hardly been ingested, and when we eat at home, rush through our breakfasts in order to catch trains and too often rush through our dinners in order to go to movies, dance halls or clubs to amuse our tired selves. And after this sort of “play” we rush home to a fitful sleep, from which an alarm-clock wakens us to resume the factory dominated rhythm from which there seems to be no escape.
Such a regime literally forces us into a physiological life which inevitably proves a barrier to comfort. And there is no hope of comfort until we discover that conformity to a regime evolved by men “who aren’t in business for their health,” is a sin against the holy ghost.
There can be no real enjoyment of comfort until we discover that the most important thing for which we ought to be in business is our health.
Certainly those of us who aspire to live a superior life must devote more of our thinking to the problem of how to live and less to the problem of how to earn a living.
The Social Barrier
Third comes the social barrier.
We are inescapably gregarious and to enjoy the society of our fellows are confronted with the demand that we conform to the social conventions amidst which we find ourselves. We are expected to sacrifice individual ideas of social intercourse which seem good to us because society cherishes such absurdities as the belief that strange ideas are essentially bad while familiar ideas are essentially good, and the belief that whatever is new is better than what is old not because it is truer, better, or more beautiful, but just because it is newer. To accept conventions which proceed from assumptions of this kind, (without regard to whether they increase or decrease our own enjoyment of living), is to surrender our birthright of individuality. An unthinking acceptance of conventions which are considered valid not in proportion to their reasonableness, their kindliness, or their beauty, but merely in proportion to the effectiveness with which they impose the ideals of society as a whole upon each individual, makes any real conquest of comfort impossible.
We cannot, of course, entirely ignore the social conventions; we must provide for meeting our fellow human beings. We must work and transact business with them; we must agree with them about political matters, and what is equally important, learn how to disagree with them; we must play with them; entertain and be entertained and give to our children the opportunity for meeting those of the opposite sex so that they may not only mate but also experiment with life; finally, we must be alternately participants and audiences in the play-aspects of life—artists displaying what we have created for the appreciation of others, and audiences appraising what others have created. If we leave the whole of this vast area of life to conventions evolved by the masses of mankind out of the imperfectly understood ideas of quality minded individuals, social life becomes a perpetual crucifixion of the beautiful life.
Social conventions we must therefore have, though not necessarily those which prevail at present. We must have them, solely and simply because of their convenience. They make it unnecessary to provide by a sort of special legislation for each occasion upon which we come in contact with our fellow human beings. They save both time and tempers. They eliminate irritations which are inevitable unless human beings are in some kind of agreement as to how they will behave when they have to meet each other.
Conventions of this kind are really nothing other than forms of etiquette. They have no more justification for their being than that which justifies the manners of any polite society. They should be subject to revision, suspension, and revocation, whenever they no longer serve the purpose for which they were originally devised or whenever special circumstances dictate the wisdom of a change in them. Each individual and each group must determine this for themselves, and the deviation and the deviator from these conventions must be judged solely from the standpoint of the purposes and consequences of his conduct.
The formulation of these conventions—the general mould of social life—must therefore be taken from the churchmen, politicians and captains of industry, from the quantity-minded dominators of mankind and assumed by those to whom living is a test of art and of intelligence and not merely the gratification of undisciplined appetite or unthinking acceptance of whatever is.
Unfortunately, few of us are really free to experiment in this sense with conventions. Instead of our social life being a deliberate experiment in creating conventions, it involves a repressive conformity to pre-existing patterns.
We stand in abject terror of what “they” will think about the way we live. The terror may be sub-conscious, and the degree to which social pressure influences our actions may not be recognized. Yet it affects practically every moment of our lives. Our treatment of each other, even in such intimate relations as husband and wife and parent and child, is dictated by the conventions of our class. We dress ourselves, we shelter ourselves, we feed ourselves and we entertain ourselves, not the way beauty and comfort dictate as to dress, as to housing, as to food and drink, as to work and play, but according to the conventions which “the crowd” accepts. And we dare not depart from the conventional social form of life; it would mean, not only ostracism from society, but ostracism from business. For conformity to convention is not merely a price exacted of us for acceptance by society; it is a price which we have to pay today if we are to be permitted to support ourselves at all. Plainly, we can indulge in no individual experimenting in social life until we can afford to ignore the conventions of society; until we are independent enough to dictate the terms upon which we will cooperate with the integrated mechanism of business, and until we have provided against loneliness by placing ourselves within a group such as the family in which our own position is so secure that we can dare to be ourselves.
The Biological Barrier
We come fourth to the barrier formed by our civilized sex conventions.
We are biologically incomplete, male or female halves of personality subject to an imperious mandate that we mate and consummate our beings in the reproduction of our own kind. This effort at consummation constitutes our sex-life.
We cannot, even if we try, evade living a sex-life. For if we try to evade it by refusing to live a normal sex-life, we find ourselves rewarded with a redoubled volume of sex of a perverse type.
St. Anthony immured in his solitary desert cave did not escape living a sex-life. He did not conquer sex by repudiating it. He succeeded only in saturating his life with it.
In our factory-dominated civilization, mating has to be postponed long after nature most strongly urges us to mate. Marriage is a luxury in which marriageable youth, if it is at all intelligent, hesitates to indulge.
As industrialization becomes more and more complete, and the integration of production makes more and more vocational specialization necessary, the spread between the time when it is easiest for us to adjust ourselves to a mate and the time when our income permits us to marry grows wider.
The more ambitious we are to wrest creature comforts from our complex civilization, the greater becomes the spread. The higher the place we strive to attain in the hierarchy of modern business, the longer is the apprenticeship we must serve at meagre pay, after spending years at school and college earning nothing at all. By postponing the time when earning can begin so long after adolescence, conventional education tends to pervert our entire life. Education, which ought to be a course of instruction in the essentials of the good life, is thus warped into an actual barrier to it.
But while industrialization can press us to postpone marriage, it cannot postpone sex-development. Here the church steps in with conventions which forbid all pre-marital sexual experiences. Marriage, says the church, is the only thing that can sacerdotalize sex-life. Between the church with its categories of sin and the law with its categories of crime, the sex-starved followers of convention are impaled either on the Scylla of frigidity or the Charybdis of prostitution.
True, the revolt of womankind, or rather the economic independence which the factory has conferred upon them has encouraged pre-marital sex-experimentation. But while this experimentation does temper the evil of both frigidity and prostitution, it can contribute little to our happiness until the excessive importance which convention attaches to chastity is ended. Its claim that all sex-life must be suspended until we are ready to marry with benefit of clergy must be ridiculed out of existence.
For the church, with its idiotic cry of “unclean,” has made us associate the sex-act with a mystic carnality only to be exorcised through sacraments of which the clergy are the dispensers. So pervasive is the association of ideas with which the church has infected western civilization that even irreligious nonconformists cannot entirely escape from the association of sex and evil. Because of its unearthly and unnatural idea that the sex-act is the original sin, the church strives with threats of hell to confine all sex-life within the marital state. As long as the idea prevails that marriage is a sacred and indissoluble union necessary to sacerdotalize the sex-act and justifying the suppression of all extra-marital experimentation, there is no hope that we shall be able to evolve more beautiful sex-conventions. Hypocrisy, jealousy, frigidity, prostitution, abortion—these fruits of our present sex conventions will remain to plague us. The rigors of the marital tie will not be relaxed. Departures from sexual fidelity will continue to have an undue importance for us. And marriage, instead of being a voluntary experiment in the consummation of being, will remain one of the most disappointing of all our institutions.
It is not the least of the discomforts we can attribute to this factory-dominated civilization that it has put a blight upon parenthood.
For there can be no true conquest of comfort without parenthood.
Parenthood is a great adventure. It offers us unlimited opportunities for self-expression, yet it is the greatest of all disciplines. Parenthood, through every stage—conception, pre-natality, infancy, childhood, adolescence, mating, and finally the second cycle of life—is potent with joys that can fully compensate us for the pain and suffering which seem invariable accompaniments of everything worthwhile.
But to make parenthood enjoyable, it must be freed from the black curse under which it struggles and labors today. For children today are economic catastrophes. We marry late and have few or no children, for a decent standard of living can be maintained only on condition that we sacrifice our normal life as mates and parents and, for all practical purposes, sterilize ourselves. So we turn to contraception and even embrace abortion, with its risks, rather than burden ourselves with the economic handicap of children.
Birth should certainly be controlled, and the coming of children spaced so as to minimize the unavoidable physical and mental strains upon the mother, but children should not be prevented from coming altogether. Contraception should be used to regulate child-bearing, not to end it. Unfortunately, in this urbanized and factory-dominated civilization, the invention of means for controlling birth, surely one of the greatest steps yet taken toward the realization of a really beautiful civilization, is being used not to increase true comfort, but merely to make it possible for us to sustain life and to secure the things which our factories belch forth.
No really beautiful civilization can be built as long as we merely increase population quantitatively. It is quality, not quantity, that is important. Cultural values can be high only when the proportion of individuals of high sensitivity, who are interested in qualities rather than magnitudes, is also high.
It is ugliness and not beauty that is inevitably coming from the present steady increases in the quantity of herd-minded human beings. This is the type of all types which should be encouraged to exterminate itself. Where this type increases rapidly, mobs, not individuals, are created. Politicians profit from the existence of mobs of herd-minded voters; imperialists, from the existence of mobs of herd-minded “cannon-fodder”; churchmen from the existence of mobs of herd-minded worshippers, and business men from the existence of mobs of herd-minded workers and customers.
A fecund population of this type is necessary to a factory dominated civilization with its constant proliferation of factories, first to consume its constantly increasing production of goods, and secondly to furnish it automatons who will contentedly produce and distribute them.
Against the family, that remarkable instrumentality slowly evolved to meet the imperious biological mandate that we reproduce our kind, the factory wages a ruthless war of extermination. For the family is essentially centripetal. As long as it creates and produces it tends to be self-sufficient. It tends to absorb itself in the task of making life endurable for its members. It is a conservator of our independence. Industrialism seeks to root out individual devotion to the family and the homestead and to replace it with loyalty to the factory, just as religion seeks to transfer it to the church, and politics to the state and nation. The factory has pretty well succeeded in dissolving the family into its component parts and in transforming the individuals thus produced into malleable mobs who produce and consume, work and play, live and die, all for its glory.
We may think the economic conventions of the day too strong; we may think the satisfaction of sex apart from parenthood more pleasant; we may think the development of our individual egos most important, and on these grounds seek for some novel instrumentality to take the place of the family. But to the degree in which we aspire to the superior life we must intelligently provide for the functions which the family can perform and which no other institution yet devised seems better fitted to perform.
First, the family can provide for our economic functions. It can furnish us a superior instrumentality for securing most of the essentials and many of the luxuries of life.
Secondly, the family can provide for our biological functions. It can furnish us with desirable conditions under which to mate, reproduce, and rear our children.
Thirdly, the family can provide for our social functions. It can furnish us a really satisfying field in which and through which we can entertain, educate and express ourselves.
Given these four factors: (1) ourselves, with aspirations different from our fellows; (2) the rest of mankind, incapable or unwilling to interest itself in our ideals; (3) the present political status and prevailing money-economy, and (4) the existing machines and methods, labor and resources for procuring the essentials of living, and the family seems to me an institution which can perform these three functions far better than the best combination of factory-hotel-laboratory-club which socialization offers.
The family is an institution potent for comfort to those of us who value above all else our individualities. Abandonment of the family and the institutionalization of the economic, biological, and social functions the family can so well perform, seem desirable only to those to whom extreme independence has become abhorrent, perhaps because our factory regimentation of life has habituated them to herd-living and inculcated in them a distaste for individual solutions of the problems of life.
That the average man should seek to solve his problems by turning to something exterior and in his opinion superior to himself, is natural. In the past, his problems were solved for him by the nobility and the church; in the present they are being solved for him by our factory-dominated conventions; in the future why should they not be solved for him by a benign and intelligent state? That the herd-minded individual should look to something exterior to himself is only to be expected. But when we look to something outside of ourselves, we abandon our birthrights; we sacrifice upon the altar of conformity the one quality which lifts us above the herd. We blunt our personal reactions to life in compromising with conventions evolved for the exploitation of mobs of individuals, organized crowds, and the populace of a whole nation.
The development of a family on a homestead of its own is not only potent with comfort; it is potent with social progress. For the family on its own homestead is a social microcosm. It furnishes us the opportunity to deal with all the problems with which society as a whole has to cope. What is most important, the problems of private property, land tenure, inheritance, rent, taxation, free trade, tariff, law, education as they develop in the life of the family may be disposed of without sacrificing the unique interests of the individual to the supposed interests of the different masses.
Were we to accept the family and not the factory as the true stage upon which to enact the drama of our lives, not only would we be free from the exactions of our factory-dominated civilization but the less independent rank and file of mankind would be tempted to imitate the sort of life that they would see us live in order to win a similar freedom. By degrees their folkways would absorb our conceptions of how life should be lived. More of the ideas of those of us who are interested in the qualitative aspects of life and fewer of the ideals of those who are interested in its quantitative aspects would be accepted by them. And those of us who believe that life is enriched by the degree in which we individually control our environment would be able to nullify the activities of those who believe that the social environment—the factory, the church, the state—should control all of the important activities of individuals.
Fear of the high cost of living, a barbaric desire for sex gratification alone, or an overweening concentration upon our own egotistic ambitions may lead us to reject the whole scheme of life for which the family stands.
We may, it is true, refuse to reproduce our kind. Or we may institutionalize the family, as some idealists believe is desirable, and concentrate the actual procreation and education of our kind upon selected individuals. But if we do, each of us, who individually make the refusal, incur the penalties of self-frustration. If we reject parenthood, on the theory that frustration is the lesser evil, then we not only embrace the discomforts of frustration; we reject a way of living which may be made, if we are wise enough, a positive contribution to the enjoyment of life.
Surely it is the part of wisdom for us to take up the family, which is already ours to develop and which requires no preliminary political reform or social revolution, and with all the intelligence we can command transform its potential contribution to our comfort into a reality.
The Religious Barrier
We come now to the consideration of the religious barrier to comfort.
We are fearful; fear is bred, and perhaps, born into us. It is an emotion which we share in common with all animals. We tend to be fearful for the same reason that all animals tend to be fearful; because it makes us run, or strive to destroy, what is strange and therefore probably dangerous to us. We have scarcely ceased from running from unusual noises like thunder; from unusual sights like lightning; above all from unusual ideas like atheism.
But fear is a protective device for us only as long as it remains a device to insure caution. When we become fearful of non-existent dangers; when we begin to fear ghosts, sex, gods, hell and their like, then we transform the figments of our imagination into actual dangers. We make real dangers out of what actually has no reality at all. And fear, which should be an instrumentality for our protection, becomes an agency for our destruction.
Religion1) Throughout this discussion, the term “religion” refers more particularly to the theology of the various churches rather than to the very often beautiful “way of life” which those with a flare for mysticism refer to as religion. is a solace, a habit and an escape. It is a solace for the fearful; a habit which justifies those who do not think, and an escape for them from the hard facts of life.
Yet it is nearly all snare and delusion. It evades the problems with which it purports to deal. It does not settle them. On the contrary, its evasions create more problems than there are to be disposed of originally.
Why is it not wiser to leave unanswerable questions unanswered, than to accept pseudo-answers to them which rarely have much more than their antiquity to recommend them?
Until we utterly and completely exorcise all religion from our being; until we drop all fears, superstitions, rituals, habits which spring from religion, no true spiritual comfort is possible; we are not properly equipped to extract from every moment of life the uttermost of truth, goodness and beauty.
Religion first of all invents a god or gods, or mystic powers over and outside of the tangible powers we know.
But whereas both common-sense and science begin with premises and end with conclusions that are demonstrable and tend therefore to dispose of the questions with which they deal, religion with its resort to god raises more questions than it answers. Nothing is gained by shifting the point of inquiry from nature which can be observed, measured and analyzed, to god who cannot be known and concerning whom the lowest savage and the most highly civilized man can speak with equal authority.
What profit is there in disposing of the question of the nature of nature by substituting the question of the nature of god? Nothing is gained, and something very valuable is lost. What is lost in the process is our acceptance of ignorance as a natural state. The superior man knows that he cannot know very much. The more he knows, the more he discovers what he does not know. For him, education is a voyage of discovery which always reveals new and hitherto unknown areas of ignorance. The superior man goes through life with a host of questions to which he has only provisional answers. He accepts his ignorance as he accepts any other of the inescapable facts of life.
Only the truly inferior man is unconscious of his ignorance.
The more conventional, the more religious, the more ignorant a man is, the greater is his assurance of knowledge. He knows there is a god. He knows what he must do to get into heaven and to keep out of hell. He is a vade mecum of such “facts” and not the slightest doubt concerning their verity ever ventures to obtrude upon his assurance.
As we begin to doubt, we begin to understand. The more we doubt and question, the more conscious we become of our ignorance. To accept god is simply to ignore the fact that we do not know the nature of nature.
The physicist who accepts god may be a good physicist. He may be able to restrict his dogmatism to that carefully circumscribed area of his mind which he calls his religious sense. The fact that he has failed to be provisional in religion may not interfere with his being provisional in physics. But it tends powerfully to warp the application of what he knows to the problem of living. It creates in a thousand different aspects of his thinking the habit of being dogmatic—a habit from which we must protect ourselves, if we are to be comfortable, as we must protect ourselves from dependence and disease.
How can we avoid being both agnostic and atheistic? We must be agnostic in that we are willing to admit that we may be mistaken about any position we take. But we must be atheistic in that we must deny the existence of any of the gods which man up. to the present time has evoked.
“For I the Lord thy God am a Jealous God,” says the Bible. This seems to be true of most gods. Once we begin to believe in a god; once we begin to propitiate him; once we begin to resolve our problems by putting the issue and responsibility on god, we put more and more belief, and worship and responsibility upon him. The Bible merely rationalizes the process when it says that we ought to do this because god jealously requires us to do it. The process itself is an indubitable psychological fact; it is an easy way of dodging the need of thinking about life. Once we discover how apparently easy it is, we are tempted to dodge more and more.
How can any intelligent man believe in the existence of a jealous god? About a jealous Jehovah we must be atheists, just as we must be about a triune god consisting of Father, Son and Holy Ghost; just as we must be about gods like Jove and Juno; just as we must be about gods like Kali and Siva or Isis and Osiris.
While we do not have to deny the existence of what is called the supreme power, we very nearly must deny the existence of a supreme personality, of a supreme intelligence, of a supreme goodness. Personality is the sum total of the flavor of a person—of a being that has brains, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, legs; in short, of a man. Take from man all there things—not just some of them—but all of them—above all take from him the limitations inherent in them, and personality disappears. The personality of a painter is a product not merely of his capacity for seeing but of the limitations of his sight. Let him be all-seeing and he would have no more personality than has a photographic camera. By every definition of personality, no supreme being can possibly be endowed with it.
So it is with intelligence and goodness. By every possible definition of the term intelligence, there is no intelligence in the universe as a whole. Intelligence is man’s means for rationalizing his reactions to an apparently irrational environment. It is a survival mechanism. Without what he calls intelligence, he could not build and create and live as he does. Intelligence is a harmonizing, a designing, a rationalizing reaction to life. It is a reaction which is evoked inside each individual man, and never quite alike in any two of them. And no matter how much he exerts himself to impress his intelligence upon nature as a whole, in the end the implacable, impersonal and irrational events that we call nature prevail. The music of the spheres is musical only to those who can hear music; to the untrained ear it is merely noise.
Nor can there be a supreme goodness in the universe, by any definition of goodness which is understandable to man. The good man does not brutally, painfully, slowly, tortuously, remorselessly destroy those whom he loves. And certainly he does not do this with the deliberation which would have to be assumed as a part of the proceedings of an all-wise, all-powerful being. Yet this is precisely what god does, has always done, and will always continue to do, except as men’s intelligence lessens momentarily the implacable, inexorable, inexpugnable processes of the world god is supposed to have created.
Out of our fear and our egotism, religion has evolved immortality. And immortality, of all the ideas with which religion has cursed us, is one of the greatest barriers to the comfortable life. It makes life seem long, whereas life in reality is short—a brief candle, as the poet put it. Being so short, a moment between two eternities of nothingness, life has a sacredness of which religion, with its immortality, robs it.
The doctrine of immortality is a crime against the sacredness of this life.
By making us think of ourselves as immortal souls, religion makes what we do here and now shrink in importance, as the finite shrinks when compared to the infinite. As long as we accept our common mortality—as long as we live upon the theory that this life ends all; each year, each day, even each hour we live has the importance which comes only from the unique and the irreplaceable.
Into this life, into this adventure, into this moment we must therefore put the very best that is in us, and from it we must, by the same token, extract the very uttermost that we can.
But of all the weird, horrible, unimaginative inventions of religion, heaven and hell are the most outrageous.
Religion having invented a soul and then endowed it with immortality, some sort of celestial residence had to be devised for the immortal soul. Heaven and hell are really postulates devised to make tenable the prior postulates of religion.
Religion postulated god, and then found that it had to explain why he created mortal man. It explained man by postulating eternity for his immortal soul. But when it postulated an immortal soul, religion found that it had to explain where that soul was destined to go. And so it explained by postulating heaven and hell. Now there is nothing in life, horrible as it is in many of its aspects, that is as horrible as hell, and there is nothing in life, monotonous as so much of it is, that is quite so inane as an eternity of heaven. Heaven does not attract nor hell terrify individuals of discriminating taste.
The doctrine that we are doomed to either heaven or hell has neither the internal validity which can make intelligent people embrace it nor the external value which would make them recommend it for the rest of mankind. There is little evidence that threats of hell or hopes of paradise have made the masses of mankind better, while there is unlimited evidence as to the untold misery of religions warfare, persecution and bigotry for which the doctrine is responsible.
There is not a single good reason why those of us who would be comfortable should give to ideas of this sort a moment’s time beyond that necessary for dismissing them.
The dictionary tells us what religion is. It says that religion involves the recognition of god as an object of worship, love and obedience; that it is a system of faith or worship. But unfortunately the dictionary does not tell us what it is not. I say unfortunately because religious apologists always go much farther than the dictionary. Sooner or later they always claim that it is also the basis of morality and good conduct.
But the selfsame theory of revelation upon which the Christians base the validity of their moral law, makes valid the moral laws of all religions. The same sort of prophetic intuitions that make Christian canons the moral law, make Mohammedan canons and Buddhist canons and Aztec canons moral law. If all there codes agreed with each other there would be some plausible argument for assuming that there is such a thing as moral law, and that the codes of each of the religions were merely different statements of the same absolute ethic. They do not, however, agree with each other. Worse, they utterly contradict each other. So that we are driven to conclude that no religion speaks with authority upon morality, and that morality has nothing whatsoever to do with the basic fears with which religion itself deals.
We must get rid of religion, among other reasons, because it is a hindrance to the formulation of a morality intelligent enough to make possible the conquest of comfort.
There are certain questions which are of tremendous importance. There are other questions which have a reputation for being important, but which are as a matter of fact of little or no real importance at all.
Take the question of foodstuffs and eating. Now there we have a really important question. In some way or other we must answer it daily—not daily but several times each day. It acquires its importance from this, that we must eat or die.
So it is with all the really important questions in life—nature puts them to us, and nature demands that we answer them in some way or other under penalty of the natural consequences of our failure to do so. It is this way with the food supply and eating; with the water supply and drinking; with the shelter which we must erect against the inclemency of the weather.
But there are many questions of little real importance which convention makes loom large in our eyes. These are questions which seem to be important, which have a reputation of being important, which have been made to have a sort of artificial importance but which, in the fundamental sense outlined above, are of no importance at all. We may attempt to answer them or we may ignore them; we may answer them affirmatively or negatively; we may build our whole lives around them or we may treat them as unimportant incidents in life—and nature will exact no penalty for our attitude toward them as long as we do not let them affect our attitude toward the really important questions in life.
Religious questions are of this sort. They are questions which have acquired a factitious importance. We make much of them, not because nature requires that we pay any attention to them, but because convention tells us that we must concern ourselves about them because of the penalties which god is supposed to inflict upon the irreligious after they are dead, and because sad experience tells us that we had better pretend to do so in order to avoid the more tangible penalties which society inflicts upon the irreligious while still alive.
The question of god, for instance, is considered an important question. Most of us are born to believe that there is a god, and never really have occasion to ask ourselves the question because our parents or our churches have answered it for us. All that we have to do is to accept it. Some of us, like Cotton Mather, have wrestled with the question in pain and sorrow and acquired a belief in god, while a few of us after similar considerations of the question have finally come to the conclusion that there is no god. Society has said, believe in god or suffer ostracism. The church has said, believe in god or suffer excommunication. Sometimes the state has said, believe in god or suffer prosecution.
Nature, however, has said nothing. The sun shines and the rain falls precisely the same upon believer and upon unbeliever. The foodstuffs they eat will nourish the two precisely alike; the water refresh them alike; the coal and wood warm them alike.
So that in the truest sense this question is an unimportant question, and would deserve nothing at our hands, but for the importance which the masses of men are made to attach to it. If we are to avoid the discomfort of having to conform to their opinions with respect to religion; of being silent about our beliefs; of perhaps having to render obeisance to the church; and worst of all, of contributing to the support of the church and of the institutions which propagate religions ideas, we will have to be economically independent of those who believe in them and of those who use the belief in them to buttress institutions—such as the state—which they control.
Only then will the religious barrier to our comfort really disappear.
If we must have the psychic release of genuine religious experience; if we must aspire to something above our individual selves and worthy of our worship, let us devise a new worship of the lares and penates—of the spirit of the home, the family and the fireside. These at least are worthy of consecration at our hands, because they are capable of responding to the best that we may give to them.
If we must have a religion, let it be this religion which conduces to our comfort rather than erects barriers to it.
The Political Barrier
We come next to the political barrier to the comfortable life.
We are born into a political status.
We have no choice about the matter. We are subject, or citizen, or comrade by virtue of the fact that we are born under the dominion of politicians who have constituted themselves into a monarchy, a republic, or a commune. We can change our political status by emigrating from the subjection under which we are born to some other which we may think more desirable, but we cannot free ourselves from subjection to government altogether. In this respect we have somewhat less freedom today than even with regard to religion. We can avoid tithes, in many states, but none of us can avoid taxes. Public opinion has progressed to the point where it recognizes that abandonment of the church is not in itself an evil however sinful it may be from the standpoint of the clergy. But it has not yet arrived at a point where it recognizes that the abandonment of the state is equally free from evil. In deed, the process of turning one’s back upon the government, especially during times of crisis, is stigmatized as treason, and the unpatriotic individual who dares to do so is fortunate if he escapes the jailer’s and executioner’s attentions for his temerity.
But while we may have to consent to a political status and to contribute to the support of the government, we do not need to over-estimate the extent to which politicians and the political state contribute to our comfort.
For government is, at best, a necessary evil. It does not become less evil because it seems necessary.
There are three needs of mankind, and therefore three functions, which seem to justify the existence of governments. The first is the protection of society as a whole, and of the law-abiding members of it, from the illegal, and sometimes anti-social activities of individuals. The performance of this function has brought into existence the police powers of the government: law, law enforcement and the courts of law.
The second function is the protection of the government itself, from the attacks of other governments, and by virtue of what is presumably the corollary of self-defense, the function of attacking other governments which may for some reason—good, bad or indifferent—interfere with the activities of the attacking government. The performance of this function has brought into existence the war powers of the government: armies and navies, international law and diplomacy.
The third function is that of rendering various social and economic services which seem, like our schools, too important to en-trust to private initiative, or which seem, like the issue of money, too dangerous to entrust to private monopoly. The performance of these functions has brought into existence the social activities of the government: public schools, postal service, streets and roads, fire protection, water supply and a myriad of similar municipal and national activities.
If we admit, for the moment, that these functions are essential to mankind’s well-being, it does not necessarily follow that the only way in which they can be provided is through the agency of political government. History, which is one long record of the imbecilities and the injustices of governments, furnishes us good grounds for seeking some alternative solution for them. And the comfort which we as individuals seek makes it very desirable that the alternative should be controlled as far as possible by us personally and not by the community as a whole.
We develop government because it is an agency which generates social control, when we should develop institutions like the family which are agencies for generating self-control.
What we call a government is after all nothing but a group of individuals, who, by a variety of sanctions, have acquired the power to govern their fellows. The sanctions range from the fraud of divine right to that of sheer conquest; from the imbecility of hereditary privilege to the irrationality of counting voters. In most cases the extent to which these sanctions produce capable legislators, judges and administrators, will not bear critical examination
Nominally, government exists and functions for the public. Actually it exists and functions for the benefit of those who have in one of these absurd ways acquired power to govern. It is accepted mainly because of the sheer inertia of great masses of people. Ostensibly, of course, it is accepted because it confers a sufficiency of visible benefits upon society to make the officials who operate it tolerated in spite of the selfish and idiotic exercise of the powers conferred upon them.
Unfortunately for quality-minded individuals above all others, government furnishes for quantity-minded individuals the opportunity to sate to the full their greed for wealth and power. Power, for its own sake, is rarely attractive to the quality-minded individual. It is too ineradicably quantitative. The really superior man, just because he is intelligent enough to know the limitations of his knowledge and the fallibility of his judgments, has no taste for the ruthlessness which is essential to the exercise of power.
For government officials must, first of all, maintain power. Only by maintaining power can they have the opportunity to exercise it. Their preoccupation with the arts which lead to power and which enable them to maintain it after they have secured it is inescapable. The ambitions which should animate them and the purposes for which their power should be used have to be subordinated to “practical politics.”
Rarely does the true quality-minded individual attain to power. When he does, he is almost compelled to sacrifice the ideals to which he may originally have been genuinely devoted in order to maintain power. He is almost certain to sacrifice them unless his tenure of power is accompanied by a social convulsion which carries his ideals into force almost in spite of what he himself may do. Ordinarily the task of maintaining himself, and his party, in office is so great that the inclination to make wise use of whatever power he secures rarely survives the ordeal.
Generally, the quality-minded man functions in politics only to the degree that politicians find it necessary to use his abilities, and though he sometimes imposes his ideas upon the politicians the process of emasculation to which they are subjected by legislative, judicial and administrative officials so alters them that they defeat the purposes for which they were originally conceived.
A life-long study of politicians, of all quantity-minded men perhaps the most odious, made Henry Adams use these biting words to describe political office, the struggle to acquire it, maintain it and administer it:
Office was poison; it killed—body and soul—physically and socially. Office was more poisonous than priestcraft or pedagogy in proportion as it held more power, but the poison he complained of was not ambition; he shared none of Cardinal Wolsey’s belated penitence for that healthy stimulant, as he had shared none of the fruits; his poison was that of the will—the distortion of sight—the warping of mind—the degradation of tissue—the coarsening of taste—the narrowing of sympathy to the emotions of a caged rat.48
Incompetent and imbecile, with a saving trace of grandeur this describes government as it is and not as idealists, aristocratic, democratic or socialistic, would have it.
How are we to permit such an institution, (with which we must come to terms) to function in the directions in which it ministers to our comfort and yet reduce the annoyances it can cause us to the minimum? Short of escape to a desert island, how can we live the good life in spite of it?
Economic independence cannot, unfortunately, completely free us from government. But it can enormously reduce the field of activity for government as a whole.
(1) Dependence upon the public services furnished by the government itself or by quasi-governmental institutions operated upon franchises, can be materially lessened. We can furnish our own water supply; our own sewerage system; our own fire protection; our own schooling. Some of these things for which we now turn to the public services we can do completely for ourselves. Others we can do only in part. To the extent to which we enable ourselves to do them, we avoid the annoyance and escape the incompetence of having them performed by the state.
(2) Support of the government through the taxes we pay we cannot avoid, nor can we entirely escape from such forms of government support as military service and jury duty. But in accordance with the illustrious precedents recorded on every page of the histories of government, judicious flattery and bribery of officials can enable us either to eliminate entirely or in large part reduce taxes and similar demands upon us. Fortunately, we have progressed to such a point that it is possible to yield to these various forms of duress without too great suffering. Perhaps philosophy can reconcile us to paying the taxes imposed upon us, even though we see every day how the taxpayers’ money is wasted by those who hold political office.
(3) Voluntary contributions to the work of government, such as voting, party work, office-holding, and agitating, educating and organizing reform movements—these can be reduced to almost nothing. An occasional effort in this direction may be justified, but earnest devotion to these contributions to government is almost certain to disillusion and disappoint us.
But if we thus abandon hope of achieving much improvement through the agencies of government, is there any field of effort which we can cultivate in order to impose upon society a superior conception of how life should be lived? For the more sensitive we are to the stupidities, the injustices and the ugliness of civilization, the more important it becomes that we give expression to our feelings in some activity designed to correct them.
Such fields of effort do exist, and unlike the field of government, we are temperamentally fitted to engage in cultivating them. Let us make the arts, the amusements, and the educational institutions of society our own, and we will have: first, a channel into which we can pour our own creative instincts, and secondly, a powerful instrumentality for the improvement of mankind. Let these three fields be kept free from malformation by the greedy, the fanatic and the ignorant, and ideas, now neglected, misinterpreted or falsified for the sake of securing and holding wealth and power, will be developed, dramatized and publicized. Let the fine arts end their present status of sufferance at the hands of dealers in antiquities; let the stage, the concert hall, and the arena be taken from those who cater to the vulgar; let newspapers and magazines declare their independence of the advertising industry, and schools and universities refuse to continue the manufacture of mere specialists for our factory-dominated civilization—let these become the fields of expression of living artists; of those to whom music, drama and the dance are first of all expressions of the creative spirit; of those to whom journalism, literature, art, science, philosophy are fundamentally means to the good life, and we will find that we can safely surrender politics and government entirely to the politicians because we will be able to impose upon them ideas immeasurably superior to those which they now promote.
But to take possession of these fields of activity, we must make ourselves economically free to boycott the quantity-minded individuals who now control them. Once we make ourselves free to engage in or to refuse to engage in work for which we have prepared ourselves and for which we have developed unusual skills, the artistic, amusement and educational institutions will become ours by sheer force of their dependence upon us. With these in our hands, public opinion could be made a civilizing instead of a vulgarizing influence. And the politicians, with their fear of their constituents, would prove just as responsive to an enlightened public opinion as they now do to a vulgarized public opinion. For politicians live by anticipating the direction in which public opinion turns; they do not actually direct its movement.
With these three instruments we could lessen the veneration which gives to the government its present sacred character in the opinion of mankind; we could persuade the public to deny to politicians their ever-increasing tendency to interfere with the rights of the individual, and we could end by so reducing the need of social control as to gradually reduce government and the politicians who operate it to a state of innocuous desuetude.
Having failed throughout all history, over and over again, in competition with the quantity-minded for the control of government, it is the part of wisdom to reconcile ourselves to the fact that government is one of the institutions which we cannot directly use to make civilization more beautiful. Above all, we must guard against over-valuing the cultural potentialities of government and of under-valuing institutions like the press, the stage, and the class-room which are so much more adaptable to intellectual, moral, and artistic idealism. By over-estimating the importance of legislative, judicial, administrative, and military activities, we tend to ignore the evil of the prostitution of what might be called our primary fields of activity to the selfish interests of the quantity minded and forget how many of us are forced to prostitute ourselves to the industrial behemoth which they have brought into being, by designing, writing, acting, and teaching what we do not believe to be good or true or beautiful.
As long as we are content to be chained to behemoth, we shall lack both the freedom and the time to make our ideas dominant in the fields of activity where they would contribute most to the individual improvement of mankind and we shall continue unable to refuse to do work which outrages our highest aspirations. But with freedom from the constraints which behemoth imposes upon us as long as we are dependent upon it, we would be enabled to develop the techniques and the disciplines needed to secure control of the institutions which are the most efficient vehicles for projecting ideas into society.
In a society in which the press, the stage, and the class-room were controlled by the quality-minded, leviathan would be reduced to normal dimensions. Control of the irreducible minimum of government remaining would become of little importance because the ideas of the quality-minded, rather than the interests of the quantity-minded, would become of paramount interest to government officialdom.
Government derives its potency mainly from two things: ideas and force.
Ideas tend to impose themselves upon those who actually wield the forces of government. It is the fact that ideas possess this power that makes progress possible at all. Whatever we are able to accomplish toward the making of a more beautiful civilization comes from the innate strength and persuasiveness of the ideas which we launch.
What is for us, therefore, supremely important is that we shall be free to experiment with our ideas—all the ideas which occur to us. We must put ourselves into a position where the ideas which interest us can have real opportunity to function.
In a civilization in which the arts, the amusements, and the educational institutions were the forums of its superior individuals, government would shrink in stature and importance, and beauty would develop in myriads of directions in which it is today cramped, cribbed and confined.
To free ourselves so that we can devote ourselves to the work we like, would mean that we would be able to develop, to dramatize and to publicize our ideas.
The facile assumption of sovereign power, so flattering to the herd-minded voter, we would lose through recognition of our impotence in directly wielding the forces of government. But we would be compensated for this loss by the real enjoyment we would secure from conscious devotion to what we like best to do.
And because of the indirect influence we would thus exert upon government we would not only be adding to our own comfort but to that of all mankind.
The Moral Barrier
We come now to the moral barrier.
We are creatures which have to be moral because we cannot live without affecting our fellows.
We act. Our actions affect our fellows. But the judgments of society upon our acts, and our efforts to adjust ourselves to these social judgments, make the conquest of comfort impossible for us as long as we are conventionally dependent upon conventional society.
For until we can deliberately discipline ourselves to a self consciousness which enables us to utilize moral values of our own devising, we act as conventional morality would have us act; we think of our own actions as conventional morality would have us think, and we judge the actions of others as conventional morality would have us judge them.
If our own actions and our judgment of the actions of others are in conformity with the conventional codes and creeds of so ciety, we are considered moral and we think of ourselves as good. Moral conduct may not make us comfortable—conventionally good people seldom are—but we can at least console ourselves with the conviction of our innocence.
If, however, our actions and our judgments upon the actions of others are not in conformity with the accepted patterns of conduct; if, on the contrary, they violate the accepted standards, then society adjudges us sinful and criminal, and we tend to think of ourselves as bad. Immorality may not make us comfortable—conventionally immoral people seldom are—but in addition we suffer the discomfort of living under a conviction of guilt.
No progress over the moral barrier is possible until we have the time and the freedom for two things: the devising of moral values of our own and the development of a self-consciousness which enables us to utilize our own values. Progress over the barrier can then begin because we are ready to abandon the sacerdotalism upon which conventional morality relies to validate its right to speak with authority.
For morality is not absolute. It is relative. The current morality furnishes us no intrinsic evidence of its validity. Tested by its own canons, it is self-contradictory. And the extrinsic evidence is equally disappointing. The will of nature, so far as morality is concerned, is as inscrutable as the will of god is uncertain. Neither sacred scriptures nor pure sciences furnish any evidence of absolute moral authority.
The sense of sin and the conviction of innocence are therefore mistakes. The voice of conscience furnishes no rational guidance upon moral questions. Because our acts are in themselves neither abstractly good nor abstractly bad, conscience must be replaced by values which we ourselves decide are most conducive to comfort.
Every act of ours is a unique event.
It is the essence of conventional morality to ignore this unique ness; to classify our acts and upon the basis of the classification to reward or punish. Whereas in truth we merely act, and it is the consequences of the act upon all involved which are important. Acts which our conventional code calls immoral often have consequences which are good, and acts which are called strictly moral often have consequences which are bad.
The masses of fools stick to morality when every mandate of wisdom cries out that intelligence should be substituted for it.
The ten commandments constitute a code that applies to childhood, youth, maturity and old age; to the married as well as the unmarried; to parents and those not parents; to both men and women; to the strong and the weak; the rich and the poor; the stupid and the intelligent.2) In this respect the ten commandments are inferior to much of the law with its distinctions between minors and adults, masters and servants, competents and incompetents. Unfortunately the onward sweep of democracy is emphasising more and more the assumption of the equality of all persons before the law. That is why in this “democratic” country people like to say that ours is a government of laws, not men.
It is a code which assumes not only that we are all alike but that we are alike throughout all our life. Yet the assumption is false in both respects. Just as we are, each of us, not alike but different from each other, so individually we are not one unchanging individual, but a succession of different individuals. If we are to develop intelligent principles of conduct for ourselves we must provide for these differences between ourselves and other persons and for the changes in ourselves at successive ages in our lives.
Only a relative morality meets these requirements.
What may be moral in one person, may not be in another; what may be moral at one age, may not be at another.
Today we dispose of the problem of regulating our conduct by conformity to conventional morality. And this morality we are told is validated by the supreme ethical and moral value of duty. Duty to god; duty to humanity; duty to the nation; duty to family; duty to self—these are the supreme values of our present moral philosophy. Yet if comfort is the great good to be sought, duty becomes a manifestly inadequate value by which to guide our selves. For duty is not an arbitrable ideal. It plunges us into arbitrary decisions concerning mutually irreconcilable alternatives. It validates all moral conduct on the one ground of duty, yet no statement of our duties but contains mutually inconsistent provisions.
It is our duty to live and to support our families.
Yet in time of war, it is our duty to the nation to die.
With such conflicts of duty we torture ourselves endlessly.
Our moral philosophy ought to deliver us from this kind of conflict. It should furnish us a technique for compromising between immediate desire and ultimate interest; between direct contacts with our fellows and remote contacts with them. It should aim at reasoned compromises between what we decide will yield us the maximum of immediate satisfactions and what we believe will insure the maximum satisfaction in the future. It must produce comfort both in time and in space: in time by providing comfort now and in the future, and in space by providing comfort in our contacts as we meet our fellow humans.
The moral judgment, which precedes action, should follow not upon instinctive but upon conscious decision; not upon deliberate effort to act in conformity with the conventional code but upon deliberate effort to determine the immediate and the remote consequences of the acts which we are contemplating. Our acts may seem inconsistent with each other from time to time and from place to place, yet they may be thoroughly consistent from the standpoint of this principle. And if we proceed intelligently, we shall inflict less discomfort both upon ourselves and others than if we try to act in accordance with the prevailing morality. What is more, we shall avoid not only the folly but the hypocrisy of pretending to be unselfish.
We will discover that the most intelligently farsighted conduct will make us as considerate of others as it is of universal interest that we should be.
If we are intelligently true to ourselves, we will be as just to all whom our acts affect as we can be.
Obviously we can devise no such philosophy of morals as long as we permit our conduct to consist of habitual conventional reactions to the circumstances of life. For such a morality implies intellectual self-approval of ourselves and what we are doing. To attain this self-approval we must condition ourselves, as the behaviorists would say, so that our habitual reactions become intelligent rather than conventional; to temper our actions by “sick lying them o’er with the pale cast of thought.”
Such conduct may not invariably, it is true, furnish us full gratification. It is utterly opposed to the idea that happiness is only to be found in self-satisfaction. It involves enlightened choices between conflicting desires—neither a full yielding to instinctive impulses nor yet a stifling of all impulse by too great consideration of remote satisfactions. It merely tempers the desire for immediate satisfaction by consideration for the future. It takes into account the fact that we are not only confronted by the necessity of compromising between the present and the future. We are also confronted by the necessity of choosing among hosts of mutually exclusive immediate desires. No matter how our choices are determined—whether we let conventional morality dictate our choices for us or we substitute a personal morality according to which we make our choices—the actual choices in specific instances can be only one of the many conflicting desires with which we are on each occasion confronted.
But choose we must. And if we substitute intelligence for convention, the choice will mean conduct which consciously relates each of our acts to the sequences of life as a whole. To each moral judgment we apply all our wisdom in an effort to extract the utmost gratification both from the particular event and from the sequences of life in its entirety.
We escape the inhibitions which convention imposes even though we deny ourselves the emotional releases of satisfying unrestrained desire. What we lose, however, in superficial satisfaction because of the restraints we impose upon ourselves, we more than gain by the depth of our understanding of all that we do permit ourselves to experience.
Such a morality is manifestly impossible as long as we permit ourselves to be intimidated by what religion, what society, what law prescrites with regard to human conduct. We must feel free to act upon our own judgments. Our conventionally-conditioned consciences must be dismissed as guides to conduct.
The sins, the vices, and the crimes, on one side, and the virtues on the other, which have been evolved because of our conventionalization of our survival habits must be replaced with conscious, voluntary, intelligent compromises designed to make life richer, more beautiful, more satisfying both in the present and the future.
For there are no supreme ends which can justify our inflexible adherence to what convention calls duty. The ends which are supposed to justify this adhesion are never noble enough. Conventional morality is for us under a constant obligation to prove that the ends at which it aims are worth the price which conformity exacts of us. It is the greatest of all crimes to sacrifice what makes us happy immediately merely in order to attain an end which our intelligence tells us does not merit the sacrifice, just as it is the greatest of all virtues joyously to sacrifice an immediate desire when we are convinced that the ultimate end fully justifies it.
The full application of such a principle to conduct no doubt has shocking implications to the conventional soul. For it implies that not all lying is bad; not all stealing is bad; not all killing is bad; they become good or bad by virtue of their consequences. Moral conduct ceases to be behavior in accordance with the accepted creeds and codes. It becomes a test of our ability to apply intelligence to action—of understanding the immediate and foreseeing the remote consequences of our behavior.
As long as we are afraid of the law, as long as we are afraid of society, as long as we are afraid of conscience, we cannot substitute moral values devised for our comfort for the morality which the quantity-minded minority finds so well adapted to the exploitation of mankind.
But if we are free enough to disregard the opinions of society, clever enough to elude the clumsy activities of the law, and courageous enough to rid ourselves of all fear of that part of our subconscious memory which we now venerate under the name of conscience, we can make the court of intelligence and not the code of morality the supreme arbiter of our conduct.
The Psychological Barrier
We come now to the psychological barrier to comfort.
We are emotional beings. Unfortunately we are seldom very desirable emotional beings. Our minds, just as our bodies, are so far from any well designed norm that our psychological equipment for life probably constitutes one of the greatest barriers to the conquest of comfort.
For civilization tends to make us into emotional illiterates.
By the time we have arrived at the age of discrimination, most of us are emotional ruins—our minds are habituated to react ruinously in situations where above all others they should help us to act with real wisdom.
To become psychologically normal we need from infancy contact at first hand with those aspects of life that most powerfully touch the emotions. This contact with reality is the prime essential for a normal emotional education.
But our factory-dominated civilization seems determined to rob us more and more of such an education.
It deprives us almost entirely of all direct contact with birth and death. These crucial events in life are hidden behind the awesome walls of our modern hospitals. Thus we are deprived of the prophylactic influence of naturally accustoming ourselves to them. Birth and dying are the “business” of a professional caste of physicians and nurses. Neither are a part of the normal lives of ordinary men, women and children.
And while the physicians and nurses are calloused by over exposure to them, we are emotionally atrophied because we never experience normal contact with them at all.
This divorce between real life and what we experience of life makes our emotions, which ought to be cushions which relieve us of the jolts and shocks of life, the very sources of the neuroses by which most of us today are plagued.
We have been made emotionally abnormal by deprivations which have dried up our affections; starved our sympathies; made us indifferent to misfortune, and paralyzed our understanding.
What the hospitals and modern medicine do to us with regard to birth and death is typical of what is being done to us in regard to other aspects of living equally important to the development of a normal emotional system.
Take work for instance. Let us be deprived of all useful work, and the result is emotionally disastrous. But it is almost equally harmful to our emotional development if we are deprived of certain kinds of work—if we do no manual work; no creative work; no artistic work; no outdoor work; no so-called unpleasant or dirty work. Without experiencing all these kinds of work, it is almost impossible to understand the work of the world, much less to plan intelligently as to how we should ourselves work.
What is true of work is also true of love and sex; of marriage and parenthood; of singing and music; of acting and dancing, and of every phase of life which we can enjoy only if we have been emotionally prepared for it by first-hand experience with it. Normal psychological development is impossible for us if the contact with reality which doing these things represents is taken from us and from our homes, and transferred to specialists and professionalism and to the institutions in which they devote themselves exclusively to perform them for us.
We cannot equip ourselves psychologically for life if we secure our knowledge of it vicariously from books, plays and pictures. No school, no pedagogic system nor textbook can take the place of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and feeling for ourselves. Vicarious experience may illuminate personal experience, but it cannot act as a substitute for it. Only by a sufficient amount of personal experience can we acquire the psychological mastery of ourselves and the emotional training which is essential for the conquest of comfort.
If we run from the crassness and the crudity of real life, or if we are shielded from it by institutions which presumably serve us, we become psychological cripples.
Here self-sufficiency can serve us supremely well. It not only releases us from servitude to the factory-dominated civilization which today aborts our psychological development, but it furnishes us in place of it a whole life of emotional education through contact with reality.
And in thus reducing our emotional maladjustment to life and stimulating our emotional adaptation to it, we tend to overcome the psychological barrier to comfort.
The Educational Barrier
We come now to the educational barrier to comfort.
We think and therefore education becomes important. Our thinking is often of a very low order, and the premises upon which we base it generally abound in error. Yet think we do, and the amazing fact is not that a few reason so well, but the fact that even the lowest and most ignorant of men think at all.
It is the possession of this faculty of thinking with its limitless capacity for enriching life which gives to education its great importance.
It is the convention today to consider work the business of adults; education the business of children. Because of this we tend to feel that education should be laid aside with other childish things when we grow up. We think of education as a process of equipping ourselves in childhood for our work as adults.
But since our conception of work in this factory-dominated civilization is confined to activities which enable us to earn money, conventional education warps our entire framework of thought in a most unholy fashion. It implants a set of values in us during childhood in which acquisition is exalted and sensitivity blunted. We emerge from our schooling fully convinced that the problem of how to live and what to think about life is nothing more nor less than the problem of becoming successful—of wresting enough things from nature or our fellow men to gratify our needs and desires.
Our education makes us begin life toughened into a quantity mindedness that is in most cases certain to disappoint us because so few of us have the ruthlessness necessary to attain the levels of acquisition to which convention dictates that we should all aspire.
As the factory system grows into every nook and cranny of life, the demand for specialization becomes more and more insistent. Education becomes vocational to an ever-increasing extent. It becomes hardly much more than preparation for a specific kind of employment in a civilization which has use only for specifically trained individuals.
True, education has always been to some degree vocational. It was a preparation for a military, a legal, a clerical or a political career not so long ago. But modern education is dominated as never before by the driving need of equipping us for a career of money-making. The matter of equipping us for living beautifully is relegated to a subordinate place when it is not entirely forgotten by our educational institutions.
As long as we think of education as pre-eminently preparation for money-making, we will never adequately prepare ourselves to live the comfortable life.
Conventional education with its bias toward money-making is, to those of us potentially capable of the good life, a dangerous barrier to the conquest of comfort. For conventional education inoculates us so strongly against non-conformity that nothing which we may subsequently experience can furnish us a better set of values than those which now satisfy the masses of mankind.
Conventional schooling makes education, which should be the principal instrument in our warfare upon ignorance, the principal agency in keeping us ignorant.
Instead of education furnishing us keys with which to unlock the doors to ever higher planes of values, it locks them irrevocably against us.
Education ceases to be a barrier to comfort only if we can afford to make the whole of life a two-fold process—a process of acquiring facts about living, and of acquiring understanding of their significance. The two processes must continue unremittingly throughout life.
A lifetime devoted to such education may not, it is true, make us perfectly wise, but it should at least make us wise enough to escape from the false values to which the masses of mankind unthinkingly dedicate their existence.
The Individual Barrier
And thus we come to what seems to me the final barrier to the conquest of comfort.
We are individuals, with needs and desires of our own, the satisfaction of which is opposed to and in conflict with much that is necessary if we are to be successful mates, parents and social beings. And the greater our individual endowment, the greater is this antithesis with which life confronts us. We crave the joy which we can secure from doing creative work; we crave the fame it may bring us, the wealth it may secure us and the immortality it may win for us.
And so we are torn between the desire to sacrifice everything and everybody to express ourselves in our personal activities, and the overwhelming instinct to mate and to live the social life which makes normal reproduction possible.If we are to conquer this final barrier to comfort, we must resolve the conflict between our individual desires and cravings for a personal fulfillment, and the demands and limitations which marriage and home and society place upon us. We must end the antithesis between our own ego and the other egos with which it is necessary for us to come to terms.
Here it is that friendship can make its great contribution to comfort. For friendship offers us the only satisfying synthesis between ourselves and our fellow human beings.
Friendship is a mutual feeling. It presupposes a friend—one who feels as friendly to us as we feel to him. To function satisfactorily, it must be reciprocal. When we feel friendship for someone who does not reciprocate it, or for large crowds which cannot reciprocate it, friendship ceases to be a normal expression of being. It becomes pathological. The statesman who thrusts his sentiments upon indifferent multitudes; the philanthropist who thrusts his goodness upon indifferent beneficiaries; the lover who thrusts his love upon an indifferent inamorata, are all made a little absurd because of this lack of reciprocity.
Perhaps with intelligence to assist us in our contact with our fellows, we can confine our friendships to those who can feel friendship to us and so permit friendship to really contribute to the resolution of this final difficulty.
To make this contribution to comfort by friendships possible, the family circle, which is a small group, rather than the nation, which is a large group, deserves to become the chief object of our devotion.
Today we are told to devote ourselves to the well-being of humanity—in the name of love.
We are told to devote ourselves to the prosperity of the nation to which we belong—in the name of patriotism.
We are told to devote ourselves to the success of the institution for which we work—in the name of business.
But we are not told to what we should devote ourselves in the name of friendship.
For friendship becomes infinitely diffused when we devote ourselves to the institutions to which we are supposed to consecrate ourselves today. In schools it is diffused among hundreds and thousands of pupils; in stores among great crowds of employees and greater crowds of customers; in factories among armies of workers, armies of officials, and armies of distributors. It is dissipated into nothingness among the hundreds of contacts which working in such institutions crowds into our lives, and the conditions which make us think that we have hundreds of friends, destroy the possibilities of any friendships at all.
Friendship develops out of communion with our fellows; and time, the one thing which we cannot spare from our busy lives for so non-productive an activity as getting acquainted with one another, is necessary to the process. In the hurry and bustle; the restlessness and moving from place to place; the intensity of competition and the overwhelming group consciousness of today, we have time only to cultivate crowds. The more efficiently we complicate our lives, the more certainly do we destroy the conditions under which we can really come to know each other. More and more we live in crowded cities, sleep in crowded apartments and hotels, eat in crowded restaurants, work in crowded factories and offices, play in crowded clubs and theatres. And we overlook the fact that we can be in the midst of these crowds—and still be quite alone—tragically alone. To be alone in this sense is the true misery which life can inflict upon us. For the pains of life—the physical ills, the disappointments, the shattering of illusions, the failures cease to be quite so poignant when we can share them with our friends. Just as the joys of life are doubled and redoubled when we can share them, and live them over and over, with our friends.
For the cultivation of friends we need above all time for conversation and freedom to be ourselves—neither of which this factory-dominated civilization dares to accord us.
And in preventing us from developing these aspects of life it destroys the very grounds upon which we, as individuals, can most surely enter into communion with other human beings.
If we devote ourselves exclusively to our careers—if we specialize as civilization is pressing us to specialize today—we will find that achievement alone is not sufficient to avoid the curse of frustration. We shall probably end life with the melancholy discovery that success, fame and achievement are not merely vanity, but that they have gratified nothing much more than vanity. We become conscious of the fact that irreplaceable hours have gone, and that however much we may have achieved we have failed to extract from it that which can only come from the understanding of our friends. This is the great frustration—and consciousness of this failure becomes the final tragedy of the super-conscious individual.
If we, however, sacrifice personal achievement for the sake of family and society, again we find frustration. We end with the equally melancholy discovery that even the happiest of families and the greatest successes in society cannot compensate us for the sacrifice of the dignity of living which follows upon the suppression of the artist within us.
Civilization becomes beautiful in the degree to which those who are capable of contributing beauty are free to express themselves. To some degree all have something beautiful to contribute. Even the most ordinary of mortals can create beauty through the home while functioning as providers and parents, if given the opportunity and furnished the proper leadership. But those who have something exceptional to contribute; those whom nature has endowed with greater powers than conferred upon average men and women, must be free to express themselves fully, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of mankind.
It is here that the constraint which this factory-dominated civilization imposes upon the exceptional types of men inflicts the greatest of injuries upon not only the individual of talent but upon civilization itself.
For the individual is made to produce not what he can best produce but that which a factory civilization can best utilize. He is either prevented from expressing himself altogether, or his contribution is perverted so that it neither satisfies himself nor lessens the ugliness of civilization. The teacher is made to teach what he knows is not worth teaching; the scientist to discover what he knows is not worth discovering; the artist to paint what he knows is not beautiful; the sculptor to adorn what he knows is not worth ornamenting; the writer to write what he knows is not worth saying.
Beauty, which should be the natural consequence of efforts to capture the significance of what we see or hear or learn within whatever medium we like to use, is sacrificed to the monetary needs of our factory economy. The artistic shams which we are forced to substitute for it may continue to be called beautiful but they are nonetheless innately ugly for from them has been excluded all expression of our truest selves.
In the effort to resolve the conflict between the aspirations of our individual egos and the social needs with which we are confronted, we have our choice of three alternative procedures: (1) we can devote ourselves to the cultivation of self-expression; (2) we can devote ourselves to the cultivation of the needs of social life; or (3) we can devote ourselves to some sort of compromise which provides for both.
We reject the first if we sacrifice the development of our capacity for creating beauty in devoting ourselves wholly to the social activities of civilization.
We reject the second if we sacrifice the responsibilities, the disciplines and the possibilities of friendship in our devotion to a wholly individualized career.
We reject neither entirely if we resolve the antithesis between them by creating conditions under which it is possible to devote ourselves to both alternately. Plainly if such conditions can be created, it is the part of wisdom to devote ourselves to establishing them.
We wish to express ourselves and we wish to live. But to live we must mate, reproduce and rear our kind just as we must eat, sleep and clothe ourselves. Both the personal and the social aspects of life must, if they are to be made endurable, be infused with our genius. Certainly, if we aspire to be superior beings, that superiority should be used to ennoble every task in life and not our special talents only.
But today conditions over which we have little control make it exceedingly difficult to ennoble the ordinary activities of life.
We no longer control our lives sufficiently to enable us to infuse our personalities into every aspect of it. Neither in our factory-dominated work nor in our non-creative modern home making, do we find scope for ennobling life.
The conflict exists today because we permit the quantity-minded wielders of power to impose upon us the conventions of a civilization which sacrifices normal life to the satisfaction of their craving for acquisition.
All our work is therefore turned into channels which yield the business world quantitative returns in terms of money. Activities which should be the expression of our noblest ideals become our means for earning bread-and-butter.
From this, one way of escape is for us to become economically secure as to the essentials of comfort.
Let us attain this security and we will discover that it is possible to do what we like on terms which we set forth; to indulge in the luxury of friendship, and to work and play without sacrificing, real comfort on the altars of the conventions of civilization.
Some such survey of what I have called the barriers to comfort and some sort of an outline of policies which might enable us to surmount them, (unsatisfactory as this one no doubt is and dogmatic as it must appear compressed into so brief a compass), is essential to the conquest of material and spiritual comfort. For the family and home life here advocated can contribute to freedom, self-expression and comfort only if we avoid all those conventions which have up to the present prevented the home from becoming the means to the noblest triumph over life which man is permitted to achieve by the essential comedy and tragedy of life itself.
Confucius said: “Only two classes of men never change: the wisest of the wise and the dullest of the dull.”
The only convention to which we who aspire to the superior life can freely commit ourselves is the convention of perpetually revaluing all the customs, traditions, and ideas which we adopt.
Next Section | L’Envoi
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Throughout this discussion, the term “religion” refers more particularly to the theology of the various churches rather than to the very often beautiful “way of life” which those with a flare for mysticism refer to as religion.|
|2.||↑||In this respect the ten commandments are inferior to much of the law with its distinctions between minors and adults, masters and servants, competents and incompetents. Unfortunately the onward sweep of democracy is emphasising more and more the assumption of the equality of all persons before the law. That is why in this “democratic” country people like to say that ours is a government of laws, not men.|