HOMER W. SMITH
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MAN
AND HIS
GODS
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FOREWORD BY ALBERT EINSTEIN

 
 

MAN AND HIS GODS

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Epilogue

 

AS a fallen angel, man would be ludicrous. As an intelligent animal, he has reason to be proud because he is the first who can ask himself, 'Whither, Why, and Whence?' and confident because he can know himself as a creature of earth who has risen by his own efforts from a low estate. If he would rise higher he must be true to earth, he must accept that he is its creature, unplanned, unprotected and unfavored, co-natural with all other living creatures and with the air and water and sunlight and black soil from which their dynamic pattern has been fabricated by impersonal and indifferent forces. In every wish, thought and action he is seeking to escape the same protoplasmic disquietude that impels the meanest flesh crawling beneath his feet. He must find his values and his ends entirely within this frame of reference.

As an intelligent creature he explores his world, and here is the first value that is uniquely his: he is more intelligent than any other creature, and from intelligence fired by curiosity comes knowledge, and from knowledge come power and the manifold satisfactions by which he surpasses all his fellow creatures. The sequence has led him to abandon the forest and the cave for purposes and plans. But the need for knowledge has burdened him with the ethic of truth: to lie willingly to himself or others, to adhere to that which is suspect, however tentatively he holds to truth, is to forfeit his opportunity and jeopardize his dreams. This is the essence of all philosophy: to cherish truth for its uniquely human value, to search for it, to test and retest it by conscious effort, to communicate it, to be guided by it, to base upon it all purposes and plans.

But he who has purposes and plans must make a choice, no other can make it for him. A proper view of man finds no place for a priori 'should' or 'ought' or any categorical imperative, but only for this: that if a man so acts, that is his action, and his alone. This is the essence of all morality: a man is responsible for the consequences of whatever choice he makes. The degree to which he recognizes this and acts accordingly is a measure of his biological maturity.

Man is an animal for whom life is more than an experience to be passively endured. Below his bare perception he feels the resonances of the affections, joy, love, wonder, fear, anger, sorrow, which color every wish and vision until he can scarcely think but his thought is reinforced by feeling. His history is unimaginable except as impelled by emotional reverberations, and that is one reason why he has become man, the creator of a world that is uniquely human and shot through and through with uniquely human values. That is why he creates beauty to express the inexpressible, to sing his joy, to ease his pain, to mitigate his loneliness: a black statue of a mighty king, a polychrome frieze of wild ducks feeding among the rushes, a marble temple, a pigment transposed to canvas, a string to give off rhythmic melodies, beauty that is personal in creation and possession, beauty that is a measure of his own disquietude. If revealing his melancholy vision that tragedy is truer to life than other moods, it also reveals that life is many moods.

To neglect the creative dynamic of the emotions is to neglect the essence of human nature. Fear, anger and exhilaration move man as they move the denizens of forest, sky and stream, but the emotion that is uniquely his, is pride: he will risk his life in combat rather than suffer loss of his self-esteem; and honor, jealousy and indignation contribute to the determination of his rights and duties, and elicit courtesy and consideration for the pride and privileges of others. He who is sensitive to shame will not be insensitive to the judgment of his fellows, careless of decorum, unappreciative of convention. He who through imagination can suffer another's pleasures and pains -- his fear, anger, pride and even his prejudices and hatreds -- will build a family, tribe and nation, and fabricate a moral code.

The remark that no individual can make a conscience for himself, that he needs a society to make it for him, is true only in part -- true, because man is a social creature and a creature of tradition; his self-judgment is not of himself alone but importantly concerned with himself as identified with his fellows; but false, in that society is but an aggregate in which the individual remains an independent organism enjoying a private life of sensory and affective experiences, hopes and despairs and exultations, and for whom public life is an additional and contingent experience. Man is individualized to a greater degree than any other creature. Apart from the simple calculation that from twenty-four chromosomes in the paternal and maternal germ cells, the total number of different combinations of chromosomes in the potential offspring of one man and one woman is nearly three hundred thousand billions -- one hundred and fifty thousand times the population of the earth -- the possibility for infinite diversification through the family and through personal experience warrants the conclusion that no two men are ever exactly alike, and most of them are very different. Consequently no one individual carries all possible potentialities or knows all the answers, and it is to man's collective advantage, both biologically and sociologically, to foster this diversity. Whence comes the ethic of the individual: the individual's integrity, dignity and potentiality issue from the most basic biological mandate and comprise the basis from which all strictures of existence relative to morals, society, economics, law and government must be derived.

To analogize between the human organism, the individual, the highest court of appeal in all human affairs, and the aggregate of individuals that comprises society is to fall into a grave biological error. No value, right or virtue can be discovered in any pattern of living that does not stem from the individuals concerned. The argument that some essential superiority is inherent in the 'state' is both biologically indefensible and dangerous because it runs counter to the indefeasible autonomy of the individual. Individual men must dictate their Bill of Rights, and not 'society.' But appended to the Bill of Rights is an unwritten Bill of Duties: sharing the benefits of collective effort in no measure abrogates man's individual responsibility. What man does, he does as an individual, what he would do, men as individuals must do. Nor can he expect others to do for him what he is not prepared to do for others.

All human history reveals that transcendental metaphysics is not only futile but dangerous. Those who have foisted, frequently by not too honest means, their unsupported speculations upon the na´ve and gullible as truth have served to retard man's self-realization more than any other misfortune that has ever befallen him. History also reveals that man does not need any brand of transcendental metaphysics -- his lasting contentments and achievements he has found wholly within the frame of reference that takes things as they are in the here and now. No pattern of living is written in the stars: each may be tried and esteemed according to the individual. No principle of justice is foreordained: justice must be realized between individuals as a reasoned compromise. No value can be capitalized; all values are fluxions in vital dynamics. No supernal power can aid him: he must find within himself the creative vision, the courage and the will for his fulfillment.

Unhappiness, whether avoidable or not, too frequently comes in large pieces. But happiness is generally as fine-grained as life itself, and so intimately intermixed with living that it can be extracted from breathing, eating, sleeping, waking, from the humblest labor, from all achievement and creation and understanding, and few men need fail to accumulate a goodly store of it, all men can accumulate a larger store. Man does not need a machine to manufacture happiness, or an oracle to tell him where to find it, it is a by-product of life needing only to be separated from a dross of want and pain. When the scales weigh down beneath the latter, his self-reliance will not fail him, he will fall back on that most elemental of animal virtues -- courage. A man can lose his god but he cannot lose himself.

His fate was not decreed in the temple of Osiris, or written on the tablets of Marduk, or settled by Olympian conclave or predestined by a righteous Yahweh -- he has always had it clutched in his own hands, he need but open his fingers to read his lifeline, he need but close them resolutely upon the task in order to turn his dreams into reality. Then he will pronounce life good and cease to worry about that which at present lies beyond his ken, nor look back at the phantasmagoria that mark the past.

It is up to him. He alone by his own efforts can enlarge the bounds of empire, to the effecting of all things possible, to remolding this sorry scheme of things nearer to the heart's desire. He alone can see himself and his world in width and depth. He alone can choose, out of his vision of the present and the past, his future course.

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