What Is Worth While? : A Study of Conduct, from the Viewpoint of the Man Awake
(1871 - 1945)
Adeline Champney was an Anarchist.
What Is Worth While?
When we were little we were taught to mind. It used to be the fashion to teach children to mind. Obedience was the sine qua non of childhood. A child with a will of its own was marked for special discipline at the hands — often, literally at the hands — of the alarmed parent. A will of its own was a dangerous possession and must be broken at all costs. So the little will was broken; the costs were too often handed down, even unto the third and fourth generation.
On the whole we learned to mind; learned it so well that most of us have minded ever since, becoming devout Christians and exemplary citizens; following the beaten path, thinking the time worn thoughts, molding our lives after the antique pattern esteemed by our ancestors. To be “good” was to do as we were told — “ours not to make reply, ours not to reason why” — ours to conform to the adult life around us, and to cause as little inconvenience as possible. This was the ideal of juvenile “goodness,” and to be “good” was the most important thing in life. If it did not so appear to our childish minds, it was made so, very much so. Not only were we inflicted with punishments and enticed with rewards, but to offset the human tendency to concealment which naturally followed such treatment, we were assured that God was watching us, and that not merely every act but indeed every thought was “under the law” and subject to the everlasting wrath of the Almighty, “who slumbers not nor sleeps.” With the sacred ten commandments, the laws of the land, personified by the brass-buttoned policeman, and the arbitrary say-so of parents and teachers and other adults too numerous to mention, our little lives were bounded on the north, south, east and west by Authority, and in the sky above lowered the Awful Presence.
This it was to be a child. I am afraid it has not altogether changed to-day. The home, entrenched in its ancient fastnesses, is slow to feel the influences of progressive tendencies. Fortunately, persons feel and respond to these tendencies before their institutions, individuals in advance of groups. Fortunately, too, we are not all “good” children, or we should all remain on our knees at the feet of Authority, murmuring with submissive lip, “Thy will, not mine, be done.”
As the child grows, he gradually becomes aware of certain principles to which all are expected to conform. If he has been “well trained,” by the time he enters upon his teens he has the habit of obedience, fixed as a trait of character. The persistent “Why?” of his normal mental activity has been silenced. He has become beautifully “teachable” and very satisfactorily tractable. The period of youth is one of the inculcation of principles, social ideals, which have come to be held inviolable, and by which the future conduct of his life is to be gauged when he shall assume direction of his own affairs. Life now grows more complex. Obedience was simple; so very simple, so very easy, that many prefer to abrogate all private judgment, to avoid all perplexities, and to remain always good and obedient children. Hence religion survives — religion, which fosters irresponsibility and automatic morality.
These social ideals — remember I am setting aside peculiarities of time and place, and dealing with averages, the great civilized human averages — these social ideals may be broadly stated as: Honesty, Respectability, Prosperity. On these hang all the essentials of conduct. Failing in these, the individual becomes, more or less according to the measure of his deviation, an undesirable.
These standards of conduct, accepted by religious and irreligious alike, are presented to the youth as things sacred in themselves, not to be questioned. One who should ask: “Why should I be honest?” would be suspected of moral degeneracy. It is true they tell us that honesty is the best policy, but that is given us rather as an assuaging circumstance than as a motive. Of course one must be honest. One must be honest for honesty’s own sake. Money-honest, that is. In a society where Science and Religion walk hand-in-hand one will hardly look for scrupulousness as to intellectual honesty; nor will one expect to find insistence on emotional and social honesty in a society which worships Respectability. For the greatest of these is Respectability, and respectable one must be though the heavens fall.
Close upon Respectability follows Prosperity. He who fails to get on in the world arouses suspicion, but he who prospers glows with justification. However, the element of opportunity being recognized as a factor in business success, and moreover the good Lord having peculiar ways of chastening his children, some measure of social forgiveness may be meted out to him of small means, but the pillars of the Church and the bulwarks of society are honest, well-thought-of, and well-to-do.
The worship of this blessed trinity is called Duty. By the unpremeditated and involuntary act of being born we are supposed to have incurred a three-fold obligation: our duty to God, our duty to man, and our duty to ourselves — named in the order of their importance. Preacher, teacher, poet and sage alike speak to us of Duty. The world’s literature is full of beautiful tributes to Duty, and stirring exhortations of Conscience — a spiritual faculty the function of which is to admonish us of Duty. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul, say the religious. The nonreligious who have dethroned God and set Right in his place will tell us that conscience is man’s innate sense of right and wrong — a newer edition, revised, of the God-explanation. Of course that settles it, settles it about as well, or ill, as the God-explanation usually settles problems. It is not essential that such an explanation be logical, that it be scientific, that it be consistent; it is not essential even that it should explain. So long as repeating it gives one that superior sanctified air, it will stand through the ages, to be fought for and lived for and died for.
As is the history of the individual, so has been the history of the human race. Human knowledge passes through three stages of development: the Supernatural, the Metaphysical, the Scientific, and the science of human conduct follows it. We find primitive man ruled by fear; worshiping power and mystery; easily coming under the authority of a priesthood which claims to interpret for him the unknown. This is the childish age of Bugaboos and Authority, which is succeeded by the Metaphysical period; the worship of entities, ideals, principles; things to be valued in and for themselves. To this age belongs the reign of Conscience, which especially characterizes our own day. And as our knowledge and understanding of the material universe passes from the realms of mystery into the region of exact knowledge, so must the conduct of life take on the scientific method, and, leaving the darkness of tradition and the fogs of metaphysics, become truly rationalized. As yet it lingers on the borderline between the Supernatural and the Metaphysical. The Scientific Era has not dawned.
In the life of each man and woman sooner or later there comes an awakening. I am inclined to think it comes to all, but very many go to sleep again. The stupor of years of acquiescence, the apathy bred of the habit of conformity, overcomes them. And there are many who count the cost and shut their eyes again. It takes a certain sturdy strength to cross the current, to steer for unknown seas.
But some there are who do not shrink when they come face to face with life, and unto these comes experience and knowledge and insight; and through these comes all the progress of the world. Awakened by some crisis, public or private; or cramped into wakefulness by the pressure of antique traditions or institutions; shocked awake, it may be, by contradictions between scientific and conventional standards; or perhaps stirred by some echo from the unanswered “Why?” of their childhood; they boldly challenge the world. “Why are you here?” they demand of every institution. “What have you to offer me?” they ask of Life itself. And to such there is no rest and no peace until they are answered. The Man Awake recognizes nothing which he may not analyze, nothing which he may not weigh in the balance. Though one by one his cherished idols fall and crumble, he must apply the tests of truth.
With the downfall of the God-idol I shall not here concern myself. It is the simplest, the easiest liberation. When one bears the torch of Reason and uses the compass of Science, all roads lead to Freedom. Many have made this journey, but many have stopped here and lain down again and slept. I concern myself with the Man Awake who sees his liberation but begun; for the God-influence does not perish with the belief in God. God is dead, but worship survives, and it is not God but worship which stultifies man’s growth. The Supernatural passes into the Metaphysical — and the Man Awake still questions. The conduct of life, no longer a matter of the relation of man to occult powers, becomes a relation of man to exalted imaginings and deified principles. While our knowledge and use of our material environment is far advanced into the scientific stage of development, our understanding of and our attitude toward our social environment is still in the Metaphysical stage. We have a science of things, but not as yet a science of men. There are many cobwebs to be swept away before the conduct of life takes on the scientific form. Any ideal which becomes an object of worship, which in and for itself compels observance; any principle, obedience to which is forced upon men, either by violence, by legal enactment, or by the coercion of public opinion, becomes a fetish. The air is full of such. This is an age of mental and emotional fetishism. Chief among these and including most of them — all, indeed, which approach universality-stands Duty. From the cradle to the grave one is admonished of Duty. From the lips of parents and teachers, from preachers and judges and kings, from friend and foe alike, comes the magic word. Come joy or come sorrow, in life or unto death, one must follow Duty; and no man knows whence it comes nor why, and few can follow it, but each man says to every other, “Do thy Duty.” Duty, not to be denied, not to be questioned, but potent to guide and to govern a world of men I Of this fetish, then, the Man Awake demands credentials. He has outgrown the theological traditions of his fathers, he has gained a new viewpoint whence everything must be judged anew. He sets about revising his standards. It may be months, it may be years, before he makes the full readjustment, but what matters it? He is free, and growing, and that is very nearly the whole of life — to be free and to grow.
When God vanishes from the skies he takes a great many things with him, some of which are not commonly recognized as pertaining to the God-idea. Not only does his departure into the limbo of past superstition remove the authority of bibles and churches and temples, and the divine authorities of priests and rulers, but it also removes all ultimate authorities whatever, and takes the sanctity from all principles of conduct. The departure of God places man face to face with the material universe, and men face to face with each other. With the abolition of the law-giver all laws disappear. The term “laws of nature” shows how our very language is so tinctured with the teleological conception that we have difficulty in choosing exact terms for our knowledge.
The so-called “laws of nature” are merely the undeviating principles in accordance with which the universe of substance in motion continues its unceasing and eternal change. Forms appear and disappear, phenomena come and go, but in all the universe is found neither beginning nor end, neither first nor last; neither good nor evil, right nor wrong, virtue nor sin, justice nor injustice. To none of these terms is there any absolute meaning whatever. All are man-made distinctions, varying with time and place, differing among races and among individuals. To the history of the human race, then, the Man Awake must go in his search for the meaning of Duty. For development proceeds ever from the simple to the complex, and the basis of sane thinking is found in the study of development. To gain an adequate comprehension of anything one must understand its development. And nothing will so aid in clearing away superstition and traditional prejudice in matters social and ethical as a survey of human history; not merely recorded history but that great story of the prehistoric man which science resurrects for us. What does this history say to us of Duty? Just this: bereft of all theological and metaphysicial sanctities all the human institutions which have demanded obedience from men are seen to rest ultimately on the power to impose themselves on individuals. Religion, government, all property privilege, the marriage institution — all originated in force, and are maintained by force. Back of every “duty” stands a club. Does one “owe” anything to compulsion? Can a “duty” be imposed on one, without one’s own consent? Brought into this world by no act of one’s own, does one inherit the obligations assumed by one’s ancestors, much less those forced upon them? The sole justification of every authority is its power to enforce obedience; and therein lies the justification of every rebellion. Whatever obedience may be exacted, whatever allegiance may be voluntarily rendered, there is no obligation whatsoever. Duty is but a metaphysical cobweb. It has no foundation in fact. “But conscience? Surely I cannot deny the admonition of conscience!” Have you studied the conscience of a savage? Have you made a comparative analysis of conscience among varying peoples and at various periods of history? Have you ever observed the conscience of a very little child? The dictates of conscience are purely and simply a matter of education. Conscience itself is neither more nor less than one’s satisfaction in himself. A clear conscience is the pleasurable sense of self-approval; guilty conscience, the disquieting sense of self-censure. This is the reality of conscience; the grounds for the satisfaction or dissatisfaction lie in our beliefs and principles, and are, largely, a product of our social heredity. They may be well or ill founded. One has only to review the many deeds that have been done “for conscience sake” to perceive how utterly unreliable it is as a “moral” guide. Of the fetish, Duty, with Conscience as its private watchman, investigation leaves not one shred. It follows the gods, the heavens and the hells, and all the spooks that infest intellectual darkness. Not so with conscience as a profound sense of self-judgment. That is an attribute of the mind which is of inestimable value. To the Man Awake it becomes a veritable court of last appeal. There is no greater honor to win than the approval of our own souls. There is no greater faith to keep than faith with ourselves.
There is an idea prevalent among the religious that if once the religious and moral restraints were removed, men would fly off at a tangent, fling open all the hitherto forbidden doors, and plunge into a carnival of crime. If they should do so, what would be to blame, their new-found freedom or their former training? Have all the ages of religion and morality produced no moral sense? The alarmists indict their own institutions! Occasionally one hears of preachers’ sons who “go wrong” — sometimes it is the preacher himself! Sometimes there are children who have been brought up in the sternest and strictest of homes, who, on coming of age, plunge into dissipation, perhaps ruining health and even life. But does any thinking person blame their coming of age? Is it not plain that their religious training has not given them moral stamina, or a rational view of life? That it has weakened their resistage by the constant suggestion of weakness and dependence, and given them only an arbitrary rule of conduct and not a vital purpose in life? Believing themselves “vile worms of the dust,” they act the part!
No. The Man Awake is not going off at a tangent. The conduct of life, now that he no longer gets it ready-made, has become of vastly greater importance to him. It is his own concern, now; he will ask himself as never before — “What is really worth while?” And the answer must be a personal one. Not that out of his inner consciousness he will dig up a set of rules and precepts unrelated to the thought and feeling of the world about him. Not every man is called to blaze a new trail. But he will make sure, when he takes the road, that it leads in his direction, and that he is not merely following in the footsteps of his grandsires. Nor is it needful that he travel alone. He may go hand-in-hand with a comrade, he may join himself to a company, he may even follow a leader; but the comrades must be of his own choosing, related in thought and purpose, and not mere accidents of the wayside; and he will see to it that he is driven by no compulsion save the impulse of his own nature.
Let it not be thought that I disparage ideals. It is not the Ideal but the deification of it that stultifies growth. The leaders of men are always idealists; all the periods of great moral and social uplift have been periods of idealism. If there be any exclusively human characteristic, essentially distinguishing the man from his fellow-animals, it is this power to frame ideal conceptions, to picture better things and to strive toward them. Many of the finest types of manhood which society has produced have been men of vision as well as of insight, ardent dreamers of dreams, with the daring to follow their dreams. These have been strong men, men of striking personality, of resolute self-determination, these idealists. When a man loses himself, when he becomes subservient to an ideal; when he no longer possesses it, but deifies it so that it takes possession of him, then he is no longer a man but a shadow; and his ideal, a spook.
Out of the past have come down to us many maxims and precepts, most of which are so permeated with theology or so befogged with metaphysics as to render them utterly worthless in a modern world. The Man Awake does not despise the Wisdom of the Ages, but there is also a Folly of the Ages, and he reserves the right to make his own selection. He accepts no maxims on say-so, even though the say-so be a repetition of twice ten thousand years. These shreds of old wisdom make an interesting study, revealing, as they do, the stuff of which human conduct has been woven, the woof of the fabric of social custom and usage. But to-day they are mostly rags, rags.
Among them there is one which seems to have an immortal life. It is found in many lands and many tongues, varying but slightly in form; and so general and unquestioned is its acceptance as an efficient guide to social conduct that even an iconoclast hesitates to lay violent hands on the Golden Rule. But we recognize no exemptions; nothing escapes the test. “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them” might be good sense in a world where all men were alike, possessed of identical needs, desires and tastes. If anyone thinks it applicable in a world of individualities, let him try it out in his daily living. If he attempts to apply it literally, he will speedily discover the arrogance of the assumption that other men are like himself, that what pleases him will be acceptable to them. If he endeavors to disregard the letter but carry out the spirit of it, he will soon be engulfed in the fathomless task of determining what others, actuated by the Golden Rule, would do unto him with a view of having him do so even unto them! And at the best it is not so practical as the familiar “Put yourself in his place.” Good suggestions, both of them, but as adequate rules of conduct, such as the Golden Rule is on every hand assumed to be — childish, utterly childish! In the negative form attributed to Confucius it becomes less fraught with danger and discord. “Do not unto others as you would not that they should do unto you.” Where others are involved, to refrain from action has this advantage: at the worst one becomes guilty of neglect, but never of aggression. But the moment one begins to “do things” unto others, he is on dangerous ground. The Golden Rule, lauded as a social panacea, makes a really pretty plaything for babies, but is more innocuous when written in Chinese!
Another idol must be shattered in the course of this inquiry, the ideal of self-sacrifice. Grim and grisly rise the phantoms of its antecedents: living animals torn asunder, human blood poured out, on the altars of the gods; self-tortures, flagellations, loathsome mortifications of the flesh in the cells and hovels of monks and saints — a gruesome crew! Life and love and treasure offered up to please and placate Deity; and the crowning sacrifice of Deity himself in the person of his son to satisfy his own wrath and save a sinning but well-beloved and eternally damned people! It is doubtless this sacrificial atonement of the ancient churches which has passed into the metaphysical concept of self-sacrifice as a laudable and beautiful thing, a holy and righteous thing, a kind of sublimated duty. Self-mutilations, mortifications of the flesh, are not all in the past. The religious frenzy of the old-time saint is rare, and we call it by its right name now. But in its more subtle form sacrifice unto sanctification is not uncommon among high-strung nervous temperaments. No one can estimate the injury to health, the distortions of mind and character, and that among the finer, more highly developed types of men and women, particularly women. No one can know the loss to society of strong sane womanhood and motherhood, from this sacrifice. Moreover, the strong give place to the weak, the efficient spend their strength in ministering to the inefficient, youth sterilizes itself in the service of age, the fit waste themselves to preserve the unfit, until, viewing the social misery of it, one could almost welcome the restraining hand of a stern but wholesome paganism.
For, mark you, for all this sacrifice the world is scarcely the kinder. Indeed, as Oscar Wilde so keenly says, “It takes a thoroughly selfish age like our own to deify self-sacrifice.” “Living for others,” we say, but deliver us from the arrogance, the insufferable despotism of many of those who insist on living for us. I have seen whole families tyrannized over, kept uncomfortable for years, even disrupted, by one member whose whole purpose in life was to “live for” that family. “Living for others,” we say, and we thrill with admiration; but when one really lives for others, what happens? A spoiled life on the one hand, and spoiled character on the other. Who does not know the unselfish, self-forgetful, overworked mother and the utterly selfish, inefficient children? Self-sacrifice is an abnormality, a demoralizing thing. It is not only an injury to self, it is an insult to its object. Who of us has not felt this? Have you never been made the object of a sacrifice? Have you felt “properly” grateful for it? In spite of your appreciation of the kindness of intent, have you not found yourself half-conscious of a sort of sneaking resentment? Have you not forced yourself to be demonstrative and thankful, when you were secretly inclined to go away and sulk? Yet you did not wish to be ungrateful. Ungrateful! “Ingratitude is the independence of the soul.” The object of a sacrifice, like the object of charity, is placed in a position of weakness, of inefficiency and dependence, and every sturdy soul resents this to the core.
On the other hand, have you not been thrilled into grateful responsiveness upon being made the object of some spontaneous act of affection and thoughtfulness of some expression of the real self of that other? It may have cost nothing, it may have been a real pleasure to the other — and that is precisely why you valued it. It was a genuine tribute to some excellence in you which attracted it. It is ever the spontaneous things that count. It does not always seem fair that the utmost endeavor of one person should count for less than the spontaneous, uncalculated action of another; but it does. We appreciate the effort, but it is spontaneity which attracts us and gives us joy. Being is more beautiful than acting; play is more beautiful than work. It is only when work is play that it is beautiful, when the worker enjoys it and puts himself into it. Nothing is beautiful which does not give joy, and all effort that does not tend toward joy is wasted.
We often seem to forget that man is an emotional creature as well as a reasoning being. But in truth our feelings are the important things in life, not our ideas. It is our feelings which impel us to action; our thoughts merely restrain. Even our judgments ultimately rest on feeling. Prof. James puts it in this way: “Our judgments concerning the worth of things, big or little, depend on the feelings the things arouse in us. Where we judge a thing to be precious in consequence of the idea we frame of it, this is only because the idea is itself associated already with a feeling. If we were radically feelingless, and if ideas were the only things which our minds could entertain, we should close all our likes and dislikes at a stroke, and be unable to point to any one situation or experience in life more valuable or significant than any other.”
In this alleged reign of reason we are apt to overlook this fact. It is frequently remarked how thin is the veneer which civilization has laid upon the primal savage. When a serious crisis arrives, the veneer cracks and the savage appears. And the whole effort of civilization seems to be, not to develop and improve the savage, but to thicken the veneer. Surely society would be more secure if the savage were not veneered at all.
The whole structure of society must rest either on conflict or on confidence, and confidence is not born of veneer. Any system of education which relies upon the imposition of ideas rather than the development of individualities must result in a hypocrisy which is none the less demoralizing for being well-intentioned; a hypocrisy which destroys confidence, understanding, comradeship and social stability. For the foundation of social stability is the cooperation of spontaneously acting individuals. Restraint is the essence of our governments, and largely the aim of our education, but restraint is not power but the denial of power. Expression is the vital thing, expression of feeling; and the function of restraint is intellectual, the preservation of balance. Reason is normally the handmaid of feeling, developed by the endeavor to fulfill our desires. To discount our emotional life and attempt to live by intellect alone is to dehumanize ourselves just as surely as to abdicate reason and live from impulse alone is to brutalize ourselves. The well-developed individual is he whose impulses and desires are so well-balanced and harmonized that he secures the greatest amount of spontaneous self-satisfaction with the least friction; and the road to this is self-discipline, that self-discipline the true function of which is the freeing of our impulses, and their coordination into efficiency and power.
The conduct of life is a matter of valuations, and since our valuations are dependent upon our feelings rather than upon our reason, there must always be a wide variation between the valuations of individuals. Hence it is impossible to be dogmatic, and to limit the activities and the affiliations of the Man Awake. Living is not a matter of conformity but of personality. There are many Men Awake, and while they may travel together for a time, they must part company somewhere, for each man must live his own life. Even the closest are separated by an impassable gulf, and “in the hour of our bitterest need, we are ever alone.” This isolation of individuals in the human race, a species in which each member is more utterly dependent upon his fellows than in any other, is one of the most remarkable of paradoxes. Indeed, self-reliance is an eminent social virtue, but self-limitation is a pitiful individual weakness. This distinction can hardly be too strongly emphasized. The finest type of human development is strongly self-centered, but the self-limited individual is deficient in essential humanity, for man is a social being, not merely a gregarious animal. He does not merely hunt in packs like the wolves, nor herd together for protection like weaker animals; but before man was possible a species of social creatures had appeared, who, living together, sharing in weal and woe, and especially through close association in play, developed a community of feeling which taught them speech and thought and made them the ancestors of the civilizations. One never understands what it is to be human, one never realizes his own individuality until he has gone back across the ages to study his origin, and followed the long, long journey upward. From that hour with the primitive human-like folk, he comes closer in touch with the heart of humanity, feels the great genetic forces which inhere in the race, thrills to the urge and the uplift of human progress. The glory of human joy and the bitterness of human misery press upon him, enter his soul and become one with him. He has thought of himself as belonging to the human race; now he suddenly feels that the human race belongs to him; he has found himself in humanity and humanity in himself. There is no need to talk to him of human brotherhood; he has come closer than brotherhood. The “greatest good of the greatest number sounds like empty words to the sound of his own heart throbs.
Can anyone come close to the origin and history of his kind, and yet feel satisfied? Is he not poor with the poverty of the poorest, and lonely with the desolation of the outcast? So long as some must be cold and hungry and wretched, are there not tears in all his joy, and thorns in all his luxury? Does he not feel with Ernest Crosby —
Bitter to eat is the bread that was made by slaves.
In the fair white loaf I can taste their sweat and tears.
My clothes strangle and oppress me; they burn into my flesh, for I have not justly earned them, and how are they clad that made them?
My tapestried walls and inlaid floors chill me and hem me in like the damp stones of a prison house, for I ask why the builders and weavers of them are not living there in my stead.
Alas! I am eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree, the tree of others’ labor!”
Can anyone find humanity and find himself and not become a revolutionist? I cannot. I declare that greater than custom and convention, greater than the laws of the land, greater than schools and philosophies, is the need of human joy. I declare that it is my business to increase it. With Traubel I say —
Now I am at last relentless,
I declare that the social order is to be superseded by another social order.
I know the quality of your folly when you go about the streets looking in the dust of noisy oratory for the complete state.
I know very well that when the complete state appears it will be because you bring it to others, not because others bring it to you.
And I know that you will bring it, not as a burden upon your back, but as something unscrolled within.
For who is society but myself and yourself and all selves? And what is human joy but my joy and your joy and the joy of each? And every joy of mine and every joy of yours and every joy that you or I can bring to any, all are so much added joy in the world. For how shall humanity rejoice while you and I are sad?
They tell us much of the social nature of the individual, but they forget to tell us of the individual nature of society. But I tell you that society is myself and yourself and every other self. Shall I serve society by spelling it with a capital? Shall I serve society by lying prostrate before it? Shall I serve society by waiting for it to push me forward? Society does nothing, it is I who do things. It is true that without society I can do nothing, but it is as true that without me — without every individual me — society can do nothing. Let us have done with the worship of society, for at the last there are but men and women, selves, separate and distinct but interdependent. And society progresses only as these progress. And society is great and good and prosperous and happy only with the greatness and goodness and prosperity and happiness of these men and women.
The most and the least which society demands of us is that we be ourselves. We speak of the race-ideals, but the race-ideals are of value to me only as I make them mine, my very own; as I follow them, love them and live them for myself. Then, only, does my living them become of value to my greater self, the social whole. The man in whose being a race-ideal becomes, as it were, focused, becomes from that moment a veritable savior, a leader and maker of history and social destiny; and he becomes this just in the measure of the independence of his thought and action. It is often remarked that great men are the product of their time, expressions of the mass of society; but the significance of this may be easily misconstrued. These men represent the whole by emerging from it; the measure of their greatness, aye, the measure of their service, is the completeness with which they rise above the mass of their fellows. The men who have spoken out the inarticulate desires of the masses, who have become the voice of a great human cry, the right arm of a great human purpose unto action, have been men whose individuality was of the sturdiest and sternest; men who first and foremost have thought their own thoughts and lived their own lives, even unto condemnation and disinheritment at the hands of the very people whose saviors they were. The will of the people is interpreted, is put into action, is brought to fruition, by those individuals of the people who come out from among the people with the fearless and invincible determination — “My will be done!”
We cannot all be saviors, but the impulses which these men personify and concentrate into action are the discontents, the yearnings, the purposes of individuals, and no mystic emanation of the mass as a mass. And as time passes there are more and more individuals and smaller and smaller inarticulate “masses.” The day of the inert mass is passing; the day of the individual is about to dawn, and you and I are either helping or hindering.
I come to you to-day with the question, “What is Worth While?” and I answer it boldly — “Myself!” My own life! And all I demand for myself I accord to you, gladly and with a comrade-word of good cheer — Freedom to live it to the full.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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