Thursday, March 29, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part II, Chapter 2

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CHAPTER II.

THE OBJECT OF HUMAN LIFE.

Another great fact, like that of selfishness which promotes a clear understanding of human action, is that of happiness. While selfishness is the motive power that drives the machinery, happiness is the object for which it strives. The happiness of the individual is sought in the pursuit, and for the purpose of gratifying the desires awakened by knowledge. In this way, individual character is made; for the character depends upon the nature of the desires, and those desires upon the knowledge of which they are the expression. That all men seek those things which give pleasure, and strive to avoid those which give pain, is so true as to be trite. It fully accords with the experience and observation of every man. I know it will be urged that men sometimes voluntarily undergo the most excruciating bodily pains or deprivations,—sacrifice themselves to an idea; but this in no way conflicts with the rule. The devotee who throws himself beneath the wheels of Juggernaut, who swings himself on iron hooks fastened in the muscles of his back or who endures torture in any other way, as also the anchorite who deprives himself of almost every bodily and social comfort or enjoyment, are all seeking to gratify those desires which, according to their knowledge, or what they regard as knowledge, will give the greatest happiness. They mortify the flesh that the soul may enjoy the delights of the blest. They seek that form of happiness which they believe to be the greatest. Then again, the love of distinction offers a present inducement, which is a great factor in sustaining them in their struggles of endurance. They find in the approbation [104] of their fellows a powerful stimulus to endurance. The man also who voluntarily submits to the amputation of a leg in order to save his life, undergoes present pain for the greater, although more remote pleasure of a continued existence.

Happiness consists both in the gratification of desire, and in the natural and healthy activity of mental and bodily powers,—in the enjoyment of the fruits of exertion, and, within certain limits, in the exertion itself. As shown in the previous chapter, the degree and kind of knowledge is the great factor in determining the nature of the desires. Desires steadily arise as knowledge increases. And by knowledge I mean the thorough understanding and appreciation of the enjoyments which are possible. Most people love music. That love is manifested in their appreciation for the best which they have learned to understand. A child is tickled with the harsh squawk of a split goose-quill blown by his older brother. The peasant goes into ecstasies over the rollicking notes of a bag-pipe in the hands of a strolling bard; while another requires the grand symphonies of a Wagner to fill the measure of his ideal of the exquisite beauties of harmony. In each case, the appreciation is an infallible mark of the degree of knowledge of music. It is the office of selfishness to bring about the gratification of this, as of all other desires which knowledge awakens and minister to the present purpose,—happiness, and finally, the making of individual character.

These principles being universal in every human being, and operating with equal force in all in proportion to their development of knowledge, it follows that if they fail of their result it is because of some interference somewhere in the freedom of their action. Given an inexhaustible field for knowledge to explore,—an infinite possibility of attainment with the means for the gratification of desire as infinite as the possible scope of those desires, and [105] with the same force propelling men forward to greater and still greater attainment, if the object is not reached, if happiness is not achieved, it must be because intelligence has awakened desires which selfishness has not been permitted to satisfy. So that the condition requisite to the attainment of happiness of every man is, freedom from all external or artificial restraint. Such restraints always have a two-fold effect: first, to prevent the gratification of desire, and second, they act as causes of irritation, thereby intensifying and increasing the misery produced by the unsatisfied want.

Who has not observed the tendency on the part of children, and even of adults, to do precisely what they are commanded not to do? In cases where, if left to themselves, they would almost never think of performing a particular act, they are sure to want to do that very thing if once forbidden to do it. This is often the marked effect of the passage of any law making the gratification of any desire a criminal offense. Pass a prohibition law, and hundreds of men in every town, those even who never drank before, will drink, and boast of it among those to whom they can do so safely, and f eel that they have been smart enough to do as they please notwithstanding the law. This fact, so generally observed and commented upon, is often an enigma until we realize that men, unconsciously and almost involuntarily, protest against the interference of others in their personal affairs. It is the natural manifestation of impatience at and resistance to restraint.

We have seen that the impulses and activities of men always tend, when free, to the attainment of happiness. This being true, if we still find misery and unsatisfied desires among men, we know to a certainty that it is owing to some restraint somewhere which prevents or perverts the gratification. People do not remain in a state of misery if they [106] can help it. They do not starve if they can get food. They do not remain exposed to the inclemency of the weather if they can get shelter. They do not endure pain without reason. If they find themselves in uncomfortable circumstances they will change if they are allowed to.

But people, and a very large proportion of the people too, are in misery. That misery is often so great as to drive them to insanity and even to suicide. Great as is the number of those whose reason becomes dethroned, or who find self-murder itself a less evil than that of endurance, the number of those who suffer on through life, secretly enduring the tortures of hell in a living death, is a thousand f old greater. As an illustration we find all domestic tragedies, and crimes of violence in domestic life, arising solely from restraints which prevent people, from changing those relations when they cease to promote the object for which they were assumed, that is, happiness; or on one side or the other endeavoring to enforce those restraints. Who shall estimate the appalling sum of insanity, suicide, murder, and violence, not to say anything of whole lives made miserable by being compelled to continue, or seeking to compel others to assume, domestic relation that are undesirable.

Go a step further, and inquire into crimes against property, and crimes of violence, even to tragedies, growing out of disputes about property, and violation of so-called property rights. What are they all but symptoms telling of restraints which prevent men from freely gratifying their desires, and of the natural resistance resulting from the enforcement of those restraints?

And yet these restraints are imposed, and as far as possible enforced, in the name of morality; and when they have produced their legitimate results, such as restraint from its very nature must produce: that is, intense and wide-spread unhappiness, equal [107] to the intensity and extent of the restraint, men wonder that morality is at such a low ebb; and the social Pharisees cry out for more restraint. A proper understanding of this subject will necessitate a complete change of the popular conception of crime, and criminals, as will appear when we come to treat of law in its relation to crime, and its punishment, in Part III of this work.

It is only necessary to say here, that there ought to be nothing more obvious than that the happiness, and therefore the development of men in their individual characters, is best promoted by leaving them in the most perfect freedom to pursue each his own happiness,—the making of his own character, in his own way, unhindered by the interference of others; and that the general, or public happiness, or character, depends upon the happiness or character of each individual comprising that public, and therefore upon the perfect liberty of every individual.

Then, while happiness is the immediate object of human life, the manner in which it is pursued shapes the final result; that is, the formation of individual character. If the activities of the man have been repressed, or if they have been forced into channels that are unnatural, then the result is misery, and the making of a character that is unnatural.

The life of any person is made up of all his sensations, pleasurable or otherwise, from the moment of his birth until the vital spark is extinguished in death. And the fullness of his life is measured by the aggregate amount and intensity of those sensations. The man who is reared in want, condemned to severest toil to obtain the commonest necessaries of existence, his perceptions dulled, with no opportunities for observation, recreation, or improvement, and working as in a treadmill, may be said to have lived but a small life,—small in amount and exceeding [108] poor in quality. In fact it is scarcely entitled to be called life. True, he has performed the function of respiration. He has taken sufficient nourishment to maintain the requisite strength to breath. But an idiot does the same. There bas been no growth in knowledge, no awakening of loftier de- sires under the quickening influence of knowledge, no realization of a happiness above the most sordid and brutal; and consequently there is no development of character that is of any value. If such an one, under the repressive influence of a society which prevents a normal development, develops abnormally, and preys upon that society, the blame is with the society and not with its victim.

Take another subject, with precisely the same natural abilities, but with favoring circumstances: from the very first his bodily wants are supplied, promoting agreeable sensations and a strong and vigorous growth of body and min His associations are more refined. He is brought into contact and mixes with men and women of culture. His love of distinction finds its natural gratification, producing a more refined and appreciative regard for others in his intercourse with them. His thirst for knowledge is stimulated. New thoughts, new sensations, new experiences constantly open before him new possibilities, and awaken new desires which he is able to gratify. In one case we have a criminal, and in the other a Sir Isaac Newton, or a Herbert Spencer. In one, the object of life has been defeated; in the other it has been attained. What is it that has caused the difference?

Everything that we know of points to the essential equality of those of whom these two are the types, at least we know of nothing on which any considerable inequality can be predicated. They have the same mental and physical constitution, are subject to the same needs, and the same laws of growth and development. They have the same motive [109] propelling them onward, and they are both helped or hindered in the same way. They have the same ultimate purpose to attain, and if they accomplish it, it must be by the same means. We may assume that there is some inherent force or quality in one which does not exist in the other; but this is purely an assumption. No one has been able to designate it. But if we find in the course of our inquiries, a cause working in society which is adequate to produce precisely the differences which are observable among men, we shall be perfectly justified in assigning those differences to that cause until another adequate cause is found.

The farmer who should find four fifths of the grain in his wheat field stunted and dwarfed as men are stunted and dwarfed, while the other one fifth was well developed and natural, would be puzzled to account for the strange appearance. It could not be the seed, for it was all good, otherwise it would not have grown. It could not reside in the soil, for it was the same for all. The same sun warmed it; the same breezes fanned it; and the same dews refreshed it. He would naturally infer that somewhere there existed a disturbing force which was working havoc among his crops. The aggregate of human life to-day is relatively about what the aggregate of such a crop of wheat would be. We shall try to find out what that disturbing element us.

Thus, life is something more than a mere breathing and dimly conscious existence. It is the active interplay of all the human faculties, the experience of all the sensations which come from satisfied desires, which have been brought into being as a result of a constantly increasing knowledge, that has itself been stimulated and developed by the promptings of an ever active and progressive selfishness. Therefore it follows, that whenever any human being is denied by another, any pleasure, any happiness or any possible attainment, he is dwarfing his life [110] by so much. And when one man, or set of men fix limitations to the activities of another, or prescribe bounds to the gratification of that other’s desires, they are certain, not only to dwarf his life, but to force him into unnatural channels to seek gratification, and to resist the restraints imposed.

The problem of human life is the development of the human animal to the highest degree of perfection of body and mind that it is capable of reaching. The condition of that development is the absolute freedom of that animal, both in mind and body, from external restraint. The power to work out such a growth lies wholly within each man for himself; and given the necessary conditions, he can no more help growing in all those graces which adorn and beautify his person and character than a plant can help growing to the best of its capabilities, when surrounded with all the conditions of its growth.

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