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PART V

THE PHILOSOPHIC ASPECT

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CHAPTER XIX

THE CONQUEST OF COMFORT

 

   ALL men crave comfort. But few are capable ofexperiencing it.

   For men are of two kinds: those who can understand,and those who cannot. And only those are capable of experiencing comfort who arecapable of understanding it.

   What is here said concerning the quest of comfortmay mean something to those who can understand. It will mean absolutely nothing tothose who cannot.

   For

. . . . No secret can be told
To any who divined it not before;
None Uninitiate by many a presage
Will comprehend the language of the message
Although proclaimed aloud for evermore. 47

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   Life is a sequence: birth, growth, consciousness,joy, pain, reproduction, decay and death.

   We have this sequence somehow or other to live.How shall we live it, and what shall we think about it?

   There can be no conquest of comfort, even thoughwe surround ourselves with all the comforts which civilization offers us, until weanswer this question for ourselves and put into the answer whatever may be neededof the accumulated knowledge of mankind, of personal experience, and of the understandingthat makes for wisdom.

   Life, it is true, will still remain "a taletold by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," but we will beable at least to console ourselves for enduring it at all.

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   Few indeed are those of us who achieve the privilegeof answering this question for ourselves. Most of us never even ask ourselves thequestion because we accept the answer which society provides for us in conventionalcustom, conventional law, conventional religion.

   For we are born subject to the tyranny of conventions.

   We begin to absorb conventions from the momentwe take suck at our mothers' breasts. And we continue to absorb them thereafter untilwe die. We live out our allotted span surrounded, immersed and engulfed by them.It is a miracle if we escape the credulity which makes the masses of mankind believein them; it is twice a miracle if we develop the scepticism which makes it possiblefor us to detect the falsehoods in them; it is thrice a miracle if we discover howoften they become the barriers to our comfort.

   For the society into which we are born is notof any intelligent being's contriving. It is a chaos of irrational, contradictory,cowardly conventions which have acquired validity not because of inherent truth andgoodness and beauty but through the inertia of great antiquity and general consent.

   If we discover that the conventions which civilizationaccepts and which civilization generally imposes upon us are merely the compromisesof the timid and fearful, stupid and ignorant masses with the ideas launched throughoutthe ages by exceptional men, we will not hesitate to abandon them and to replaceconventions with principles of conduct which represent the deliberate applicationof wisdom to every phase of life.

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   This is an elemental fact about the good lifewhich our present morality does not recognize. Intelligence is suspected today, onthe theological theory, flattering to the inferior masses of mankind, that intelligenceis of the devil.

   To the herd-minded there is no inconsistencyin the belief that men may be intelligent and yet immoral, and good even though theybe fools.

   Now while intelligent men may live the good life,ignorant and conventional men can never do so. Ignorant men cannot be truly good.They can only be innocent.

   To live the good life, we must eat freely ofthe fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

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   To the herd-minded who accept the conventionsbecause they "know" them to proceed from truth, the universe presents nounsolvable riddle; life no inexplicable miracle; consciousness no impenetrable mystery.For them the riddles of the universe do not exist. Convention fills the infinitespaces of the cosmos for them with a god. It makes life purposeful for them witha promise of paradise. It makes consciousness free for them by endowing human kindwith an immortal soul. Why should they therefore spend time struggling to understandlife--concerning which they think they already know the truth?

   Unfortunately for ourselves and for mankind,even the quality-minded are influenced and governed by whole encyclopedias of equallyfalse facts, false hopes and false fears. This is our poignant tragedy: that so manyof us potentially capable of understanding, accept these armies of conventional falsehoodsbecause ,we dare not take the time to question them.

   We never get to ask "What is truth?"because we can not spare the time to ask "What is falsehood?"

   We have not the time--the time to read, to converse,to work, to play--which is necessary to acquire wisdom.

   We cannot--because we are too busy.

   We are too busy, in this particular civilization,keeping our factories producing--telephoning, dictating, conferring, producing andmarketing, advertising and selling, financing and profiteering--to devote time tothe acquisition of wisdom. And so we continue the dupes of the colossal delusionthat the conquest of comfort consists of nothing but the accumulation and consumptionof the creature comforts that our factories produce.

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   Not every man is capable of understanding. Menare born with different potentialities for acquiring wisdom. The idiot is born withzero potentialities. The perfect man with one hundred per cent.

   Both throughout their lives react to their environments,but their reactions to them--even when their environments are identical--are different.A piece of quartz may be subjected to all the artistic polishing of the most skillfullapidary; it will never become a diamond. The final result of the polishing--thequartz's reaction to it--is conditioned by the original stuff of which the gem iscomposed. The moron may be educated to the n th degree; he remains a moroneven though educated. So it is with every man's reaction to environment. Let hisenvironment be what it will, his reaction to it will vary with his potentialities.And since potentialities are unknowable, the ratio of the influence of potentialityupon the reaction to environment is indeterminable.

   How much of his potentialities each man realizesis determined by his environment--the effect upon him of his family, school, friends,work--by the totality of all the circumstances and conditions of his life. Thesedetermine what sort of man he will finally become, and how much understanding heacquires, much as the diamond polishing determines what sort of diamond will finallyemerge from the rough, but potentially beautiful, gem. This environmental polishingprocess is man's real education. It is real education as contrasted with the academiceducation to which the term "education" is generally confined.

   What each man manages to extract and to incorporateinto his personality from exposure to his environment determines the extent to whichhe realizes his potentialities. More than his potentialities however, nothing thathe may do and no educational process--nothing in his environment--will enable himto realize. The quartz, no matter how much it be polished, can never be anythingmore than perfectly polished quartz.

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   Reduced to a mathematical equation we may say:R = x P x E

   in which R represents man's reaction to life--theindividual's reaction to environment-his real education--expressed in percentagesof perfect reaction; P represents man's potentialities--his inherent capacity foracquiring knowledge, intelligence, wisdom--expressed in percentages of perfect potentiality;E represents the individual environment--home, school, church, work; parents, friends,associates; party, religion, nationality--the totality of his circumstances and conditions--expressedin percentages of perfect environment; while x represents the ratio of theinfluence exerted by his potentialities upon his reactions to environment--the effectwhich his capacity for learning has upon what he learens from his environment.

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   To illustrate: two men begin life with differentpotentialities: Mr. Potentially Inferior begins with 10 percent of perfect potentiality;Mr. Potentially Superior begins with 100. Environment now determines for them howmuch of their potentialities they will realize.

   Mr. Potentially Inferior, if he encounters anenvironment only one percent perfect, will be educated to only a portion of his possibilities.But if he experiences an environment of 10 percent, he will fully realize his potentialitiesand attain to a reaction to life of 10 percent of possible perfection.

   If Mr. Potentially Superior passes through lifein an environment of only one percent, he may not even develop to the degree thatPotentially Inferior does in an environment of 10 percent, in spite of the fact thathe has ten times the potentialities of Potentially Inferior. But if Potentially Superior'senvironment is 10 percent, or the same as Potentially Inferior's, Superior will bemany times wiser than Inferior because his enormously greater aptitude for wisdomenables him to extract much more from the same educational opportunities.

   If Potentially Superior's experiences are, however,only one per. cent; if they are such that he passes through life in an environmentwhich fails to develop his possibilities; if he lives in a crude environment withoutcontact with the accumulated wisdom of the ages, in spite of his high potentialitiesbe will probably be an illiterate, untravelled, ignorant man; a mere rough diamond.He will be one of mankind's "mute, inglorious Miltons."

   But if Superior's experience were to be justthe opposite; if be were to live in an environment which developed his potentialitiesand if every circumstance of his life combined to develop his capacities; if he foundin various individuals, various books and various experiences those burning flashesof insight which make life forever afterward more comprehensible, then he would farsurpass Inferior.

   For Inferior's reaction to life, no matter whathis educational opportunities, can never get beyond 10 percent of possible perfection.Superior, however, can assimilate when Inferior no longer can. He can learn fromenvironments of more than 10 percent--indeed, if he has a potentiality of 100, hewill never stop learning and will become wise to a degree that is inconceivable tothe man of such limited potentialities as Inferior.

   Inferior can never rise above the herd. Inferior'scapacity for climbing out from the overwhelming mass of falsehoods with which allmen are environed is too small to enable him to really understand.

   But Superior can. He has the necessary capacity,if be is given, or gives himself, the chance. He can begin his warfare upon the all-encirclingfalsehoods of our civilized conventions with some assurance that be will some dayattain wisdom if he is free to make the necessary effort.

   And he must make that effort.

   For Superior is potentially a man of wisdom.He must make himself wise in actuality because every potentially wise man is confrontedby the alternatives of suffering frustration, or of securing the freedom to livewisely.

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   In nothing is the difference between the inferioraverage man and the superior exceptional man more dearly revealed than in the complacencewith which the average man accepts the falsehoods of our conventions, and the energywith which the superior man tries to free himself from these conventional falsehoods--theseinnumerable falsehoods asserted as facts, accepted as facts, generally acted uponas facts but which a little investigation reveals as incompatible with the factsthey purpose to describe or explain.

   Fortunately these falsehoods, which constitutewhat may be called the barriers to wisdom, (and therefore to comfort) I usually revealthemselves in self-contradictions. The comparison of one group of conventional beliefswith another tends to reveal these contradictions. Through such comparisons conventionalfalsehoods can be made to destroy themselves. The destruction of the more importantof these barriers to wisdom is therefore an essential first step towards the attainmentof wisdom itself.

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   It is a futile waste of time for us to look tomodern "applied" science for wisdom. Modern science has been made the hopelessserving-maid of the modern factory. It is concerned with the problem of how the factorycan be made to produce and distribute more and more, not the question of how we shouldlive and what we should think about life.

   As to "pure" science--well, its so-calledlaws of nature may tell us how we live but they do not tell us how we shouldlive. They may tell us how we think, but they do not tell us what we shouldthink.

   For science seeks no further than its naturallaws. It seeks these laws as if there were such things as natural laws.

   Nature, however, knows no laws. Nature is assublimely indifferent to us and our concerns as is god himself.

   What we call natural laws are merely our owninterpretations of nature's undesigned and inexorable sequence of changing appearances.The uniformities and the regularities which we think we have found and which we assumeto be universal and immutable and which we dignify by the name of natural law--thesesequences which we apprehend and measure and record most of all need rationalization.

   We have too credulously accepted the idea ofinexpugnable natural law.

   We have assumed that without it there could beno scientific ordering of knowledge.

   Yet a metaphysic which begins with the negationof natural law furnishes us just as sound a basis for an understandable universeas does one which begins with the affirmation of natural law. And such a metaphysicmay actually aid us in arriving at a better statement of the question of the absoluteitself.

   There is no more reason why we should acceptthe prevalence of law and order than there is reason for us to accept the absenceof law and order. One hypothesis is just as reasonable as the other.

   The view of nature as a series of events occurringin an invariable order without the intervention of mutable personal agencies is ofvery recent origin. Before the age of Newton and Darwin practically all men thoughtof nature--as the savage still thinks--as mutable, local, irregular and nonsequential.And men begot, lived and died in spite of the fact that they thought of the worldas the plaything of propitiable supernatural beings. Now we have universally acceptedthe idea of law, and are blind to the fact that what we call law, is simply the ideasof a particular set of thinkers at a particular time.

   Ultimately we shall discover the natural lawitself can only be relative--and law therefore only to us.

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   Assume that the universe is chaos--that thereis no ultimate order to it whatsoever. What we apprehend as orderly-the sequenceof causes and effects to which we give the name of natural law then becomes sequentialonly to us. It is orderly only in our minds.

   The universe is apparently orderly, notnecessarily orderly.

   The sequences which we see have order, universality,immutability only relatively to our point of observation--relative to us and ourlimitations in time and space and understanding. But, they may have no sequenceat all viewed from the standpoint of eternal time or infinite space.

   We are creatures that pick out of all the chaoticfacts and incidents which we apprehend certain ones apparently related to each othercausally, and upon the basis of these identified relationships we build our magicsand religions, our sciences and philosophies. To us they have a well-nigh absolutevalidity. But no matter how valid to us, they do not preclude the possibility thatthere may be no design, no order, no uniformity, no law, no inexorability in thetotality of all events in all time and all space.

   The consequence of this assumption must be considered:why does the attainment of some sort of order have such an importance to us? Whyscience and philosophy? Why our unending effort at understanding?

   The answer is twofold: order, even if it is ofour own devising, has for us a survival value, and to the extent of its correspondencewith truth it makes real comfort possible to us. The wiser we are, the profounderour knowledge, the deeper our understanding, the greater are the probabilities ofour survival and the greater are the possibilities of our conquest of comfort. Ifwe touch a hot stove with our fingers, we discover a natural law, if we may use theterm natural law a little freely: fire invariably burns flesh. It always has burnedit; it always will. The comprehension of sequences of this sort contributes manifestlyboth to survival and comfort even though they leave untouched the ultimate realityof what takes place when flesh is exposed to fire.

   It is even possible to argue that every animatecreature, and perhaps in some way everything inanimate as well, survives and is comfortableonly if it develops for itself apparently inexorable sequences in nature, and adaptsitself to them. For the evocation of a relatively orderly scheme in nature accordingto which it then governs its own existence is not an exclusive prerogative of humanbeings. Each creature which evokes a routine that enables it to adapt itself to theminor changes in the sequences of nature survives and lives more comfortably thanit otherwise could. But the moment some major sequence develops which negates whatseemed to it an immutable state of affairs and which is beyond its range of adaptation,discomfort sets in and destruction begins.

   The whole universe is filled with things, animateand inanimate, intelligent and unintelligent, and of every gradation between theseextremes, which are ceaselessly adapting themselves to their environments--whichinvent sequences to assist them in the process of adaptation-sequences to some ofwhich mankind gives the august name of natural laws--and yet the existence of allthese orders, laws, religions, philosophies, conventions, traditions, customs--theexistence of all these patterns of being and action with which life is guided andgoverned--does not reduce by a particle the probability that the totality of allthe events in the universe is chaos.

   Mankind's patterns have validity for man onlyto the extent to which they contribute to his survival and comfort.

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   In far the greatest number of its manifestationshuman life is governed by what might well be called race-patterns. These patternsbecome life-routines, life-habits and life-instincts.

   In all the lower, the physiological aspects oflife, the race-patterns are well-nigh absolute. And we observe them instinctively.

   But in the higher, the conscious aspects, therace-patterns are subject to change by the individual. Yet even on these higher planesof being and action where wisdom can function for us, most of us tend to accept theconventional patterns, many of which are manifest barriers to the comfortable life.Most of us endure the discomforts which they inflict upon us because we are not sensitiveenough to be conscious of them, or because we believe the discomforts inescapableand so deliberately accommodate ourselves to them.

   Most of us tend to depart in no way from thepatterns which the masses of men have somehow or other accepted and to which theyhave given a false validity though conventionalization. We travel with. the streamof conventions and not against it or even at an angle to it. We hew no new paths--adoptno new ideas and ideals--create no new folkways--devise no superior patterns forour own conduct--make no intelligent effort to attain comfort--because we are notfree to do so.

   Only as we free ourselves from servitude to arbitraryand non-creative routines; from conventions which do not contribute to comfort--onlyas we give ourselves the time and leisure necessary to develop wisdom, do we beginconsciously to create patterns of our own and so take on one of the attributes whichgive dignity to the conception of deity.

   We may be interested in the qualitative aspectsof living, but if we are not free to devote ourselves to their cultivation we cannever succeed in the conquest of comfort.

   Ultimately the ideas of quality-minded men--theideas of the men who are free to devote themselves to the application of wisdom toevery aspect of life are absorbed into the race and culture patterns of all mankind.Their ideas are imposed through the agency of conventionalizations upon mankind andaccepted by all types of men. The pattern which a Havelock Ellis creates for conduct;which a Michael Angelo creates for art; which a Charles Darwin creates for philosophy,is first accepted by the alert and intelligent minority; it is then conventionalized,and so ultimately imposed upon all mankind.

   Today modern art is sweeping over America likea rash. Quantity-minded men are persuading and making the herd-minded accept modernart. The masses are accepting a new style in art, precisely as they accept a newstyle in dress, because they cannot avoid doing so. And ultimately they acquiescein the imposition, enjoy it, rejoice in it and even defend it. They do not, of course,understand the ideas which intrigue the proponents of modern art any more than theyunderstand Ellis, or Michael Angelo, or Darwin, but some trace of the ideas of thequalityminded survives in the conduct of the herd, and if the ideas are good, quality-mindedmen may inwardly rejoice at the grim irony which enables them in this round-aboutfashion to impose upon all mankind their methods of enduring life.

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   "In the beginning" man lived brieflyand flamingly. Instinct reigned undisputed. Man was the creature of his elementalneeds, and was whipped and driven by blind biologic and physiologic necessity. Onlywhen the quality-minded began to find themselves sufficiently free for the considerationof how men should live and what they should think, did the conscious patterning ofconduct for survival, for comfort, for understanding begin.

   These free men--or partly free men--who couldgive at least some time to the cultivation of wisdom, are the men who formulate whatwe may call mankind's laws of normality: norms deduced from the study of the necessitiesof human beings; norms which must be observed if men are to live comfortably; normsthe violation of which are followed by premature decay and premature death.

   It is just as natural for human beings to bediseased as to be perfectly healthy; to decay as to grow; to die prematurely as todie of old age. But it is not just as normal.

   To the extent of his ability to formulate thesenorms and thus to introduce more intelligence into existence on his little speckof the universe, man is god.

   He becomes the creator of that which did notexist before.

   He imposes an order which he has created uponthe universe.

   For the norms which he creates tend to affectand modify mankind's subsequent being and action, and thus to introduce a design,a law, an order in the universe when otherwise there would have been only chanceand chaos.

   Confucius, Socrates, Schopenhauer; Darwin, Newton,Copernicus; Phidias, Michelangelo, Rembrandt; Wagner, Beethoven; Goethe, Voltaire,Shakespeare--men like these are not godlike; they are by the supreme test of creativitythe only gods there are.

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   These norms are slowly and with great difficultybeing established by men who are free to study man as an animal, as a creature whostrives to satisfy his needs and desires and as a self-conscious being.

   Man is an animal, with animal appetitesand animal limitations. By finding out what is essential to the normal functioningof man as an animal, we can determine what we ourselves should eat and drink; whatwe should do to keep physiologically comfortable.

   Man is a necessitous creature. He needsfood, clothing and shelter; he needs companionship, marriage, parenthood and he needsknowledge.

   By finding out how man functions when he normallysatisfies his needs or desires, or how he mal-functions when he fails in doing so,we can determine how we should secure our living; what sort of social life we shouldlead; how we should educate ourselves.

   Man is a self-conscious being. He is foreverseeking to justify his existence, his struggles, his pains, his joys; forever strivingto explain his being through philosophy.

   By finding out what is man's place in nature;how he struggles for survival and what pains and joys are normal to that process,we make understanding possible and so attain the wisdom which alone can dignify existence.

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   Without understanding there can be no wisdom.

   Understanding must do for the wise man what tradition,habit, instinct, custom, law and convention do for the average man.

   The conduct of the masses of average men, theirsubjective as well as objective behavior, consists of mere trial-and-error reactionsto the universe in which they find themselves. Conventional conduct has for themsurvival value. It is a race-preservation mechanism.

   That which convention dictates furnishes a guideto life even to the least understanding average man. The wise man, if he is to survive,must meet the same pragmatic tests for which the conventions were evolved. His conductmay therefore be objectively quite like that which convention dictates. But thatmakes him only the more unlike the average man. He is like the average man only tothose incapable of distinguishing between motive and action--between conduct whichis in one case conscious and voluntary and the other unconscious and involuntary.

   Both the average man and the wise man work. Bothare objectively performing similar actions. But subjectively their behavior is different.Their motivation is not the same. One works because he has to work. He accepts. his"job" without thinking much about the matter. The other works because hehas thought the matter through and has deliberately decided that work--of the rightkind--is essential to the superior life.

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   Today mankind lives odiously, gracelessly, vulgarly,because the world belongs to quantity-minded men who cannot distinguish between theenjoyment of the comforts of life and the enjoyment of the comfortable life itself.

   Life will remain more ugly than beautiful untilthe quality-minded men who can show all of mankind how to live comfortably, are freeto be more and more directly the architects of mankind's conventions and the arbitersof its conduct.

   Quality-minded men must therefore free themselvesmore and more from servility to quantity-minded men and to the institutions dominatedby the quantity-minded. First, for their own sakes--that they and their posterityshall be comfortable; and then for mankind's sake--that their pattern of living maythe sooner be imitated by the masses of men.

   For in the conquest of comfort for themselves,they bring about the conquest of comfort for all mankind. How they live and whatthey think, in spite of the fools, the prudes and the bigots, and in spite of theexploitation of their ideas by quantity-minded men, is ultimately accepted and imitatedby the masses of herd-minded men.

   It has always been so.

   It will always be so.

   For it is thus that the ideas of the quality-mindedultimately impose themselves upon mankind.

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   It is an ugly world, my friends. Perhaps it maybe made a beautiful world, my friends.

   It is an evil world, my friends. Perhaps it maybe made a good world, my friends.

   It is a foolish world, my -friends. Perhaps itmay be made a wise world, my friends.

   Free yourselves, my friends, and it becomesyours to make it what you will.

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   For thus spake Zarathustra!

   Dead are all the Gods: Now do we desire the Supermen to live.

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