The Egoist: No. 4, Vol. 1, February 16th 1914.
by Dora Marsden
FOR a period of eight months or more we have been explaining that "ideas" of the static kind commonly called "absolute," i.e., those which do not with more or less speed dissolve into ascertained fact, are delusions of intelligences too feeble to be quite aware of what they speak. It appears that a proportion of our readers, mindful of past benefits no doubt, have tolerated the broaching of this subject with only a very strained patience: and that now, at long length, with a pained realisation that the theme shows no sign of flagging, they are driven to ask whether we are not buffooning. "Are we in earnest? Have we none of the standard (i.e. absolute) ideas?" We therefore propose here to make a number of forthright statements on the absolute virtues which are associated with the injunctions promulgated in the decalogue. After that, we shall make no further comment on questions as to whether we are "earnest." Before dealing with the concepts bolstered up by the commandments it will serve us to notice an assumption relating to the "Search for Truth," for supported by "opinions" and "beliefs" merely a critic will only feel justified to the extent of advancing opposing arguments: but on the strength of his assumptions he will base reproaches. A reproachful one writes: "It is silly to be contemptuous of people who are trying to get at Truth." The assumption is clear and it is very widely adopted. It is considered that the making of an earnest Search for Truth should of itself ensure immunity from scoffs and jeers: that the "Search for Truth" represents an activity the worth of which will be self-evident, and that not to be in earnest about it is the mark which separates the "frivolous minded" from the "serious" man: "Are you in earnest or are you buffooning?" means "Do you enter into the debate on Truth seriously?" Our answer of course is that we are as earnest in the inquiry into the nature of Truth as- but no more than-any one of our readers would be in debating the question "What is a Boojum: or a Snark: or the Jubjub Bird?" We are quite prepared to agree that-in the hunt for the Bird of Truth (whereon see Miss Olive Schreiner) as in the Hunt for the Snark, all methods of search are equally worthy of respect, and equally admitted of, and that the choice should be left to individual preference.
"Do all that you know, and try all that you don't" is applicable in both cases.
Or if you are a modern reformer-a rebel or a suffragist-you will go as well in the search and as far by vigorous clapping of hands, by a tract on venereal disease, or best of all by a throb and a whirl inside your head.
"You may seek it with thimbles and seek it with care,
You may seek it with forks and hope,
Threaten its life with a railway-share
Charm it with smiles and soap."
but like the Snark, if and when discovered may be put to all manner of uses! One may
"For 'Truth' is a peculiar creature and won't
Be caught in a commonplace way!"
"Serve it with greens in shadowy scenes
Or use it for striking a light."
It was our set intention to rule out from these notes on the Decalogue every ambiguity, all irony, every suggestion of the frivolous and pert which possibly might mislead. It is therefore in order to be unmistakeable or nothing that we protest the serious, profoundly important philosophic character of "The Hunting of the Snark." With uplifted hand-not that it matters-we declare that we are most lugubriously solemn in making this stipulation that we be allowed-generously and without reservation-to laugh at all Searchers after Truth. It is precisely what they are there for: to be laughed at at the start when the searchers are fresh: jeered at when they keep the performance going to such length that we become tired. They are in precisely the same position as a comic singer, who sings his songs to provoke amusement at their initial essaying: perhaps he may rely on the quality of its jokes to risk repeating it before the same audience twice: but he would know what to expect were he to repeat it half-a-dozen times. Similarly with the methods of the Searchers for Truth, which though varied in detail have a common accompaniment of noisy reiteration, apparently resulting from a species of convulsion brought on by the chanting of words. These methods though amusing at the outset, if continued swiftly become matters meet only for jeers; jeers appearing to have the salutary effect of putting a brake on the wild whirling of the word-intoxicated heads. (All the searchers, by the way, claim not to be searching for Truth but to have found it.) Bacon's observation to Pilate's scoffing question "What is Truth?" "And did not wait for an answer," is striking because it is prompt, not because it is discerning: it is really as inept as it is facetious. Probably the answer was beginning to be offered to Pilate when he cut in with the words of the Bell man, "Skip all that"; at any rate, Bacon might have reflected that the Roman governor would have had long to wait seeing that fifteen hundred years after, Bacon himself is only prepared to make a quibble concerning it. The fact of the matter is that Truth is one of a class of words which have been born under the two-fold impulse of (1) haste to make a finished statement, (2) doubt as to the grounds on which to make it. In the introduction to the "Hunting of the Snark" the process is beautifully analysed. Explaining how the "hard" words in the poem such as "snark" and "boojum" have come into existence, the author shows how they are the natural outcome of doubt and haste. "Supposing," he says "that, when Pistol uttered the words:-
"' Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die?' Justice Shallow had felt certain it was either William or Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that, rather than die, he would have gasped out 'Rilchiam'?" We can surmise that subsequently, if the memory of the circumstances under which the name "Rilchiam" had been coined were forgotten while the name still lingered there would undoubtedly have been established in history a puzzle which would have corresponded to the "ethical" puzzles of philosophy, "What is Truth?" "What is Justice?" "What is Chastity?" It would have run "Who was King Rilchiam?" All of which should explain why in refusing to take the conceptual ideas seriously we feel we understand the impatience of a Pilate or Bellman who dismissed these ancient wrangles with a "Let's skip all that."
It should now be clear to the most verbalised intelligence why we should consider it a ridiculous waste of our space and our readers' time to engage in any debate concerning "Morality" in gross, or sub-divisions of "Morality," such as Honesty, Truthfulness, Piety and so on, in particular. We consider them one and al the "Rilchiams" of language, and far from being debated seriously, their forms should be expelled from Speech: except for purposes of gammon and make-believe. However, just as from the generalised form Rilchiam, a vague associated with an individual William or Richard can be made, so from the vague generalisations called "Morality" or "Honesty" special forms of action can be considered to be related. When therefore a correspondent asks in a bewildered way whether or no we believe in "Honesty" and then goes on to ask whether we run up accounts with tradesmen and shirk payment, we get a perfect example of the workings of what Weininger would have called the "henid" mind: the confused mind which works on a basis of loose association. [Weininger's description of the "henid" mind is extremely able and well worth attention. It is diverting to note that he used the term to characterise the intelligence of women and yet at the same time one of the principal points which he endeavoured to make against them was that they were incapable of constructing a generalisation!] However, no matter how achieved it is a mental relief to see the interrogation change from "What is Honesty?" to "Do you steal the goods of your grocer?" Though we capitulate at once to the difficulties of the first, to the second we can answer at once that it is not our privilege. We are not sufficiently well-off to make the experiment workable. But richer people ate quite successful in this line, and we hasten to add that we have no scruples against robbing the grocer. We do not "respect" grocers' goods on any sort of principle: in fact we have been pointing out for months that the goods of the grocers of Dublin for instance could with great wisdom have been regarded as the strikers' own. "Snatch in as suave a manner as you can" would be our working basis; that is if you want something, but if necessity drives then "Snatch anyhow." The difference in method is such as that which exists between the methods used by bankers, financiers and the professional classes in general at the present time and that used by an army which commandeers food in war-time. It is a distinction in the amount of fuss, that is all. Do it gently if you can-and like it gentle-but anyhow "Do it." Those who can wait until their "share" is given them, will have a very wry story to tell: the tale of the "industrial problem." The poor who are too modest to "take," complain because more is not "given" them. They make the enormous mistake of thinking that "shares" are allocated on a principle: whereas in reality, each fixes his own share. The injunction in the decalogue is purposely (presumably) left unfinished, in order to allow an individual choice in the matter. "Thou shalt not steal" means nothing. Not merely does it neglect to say "Thou shalt not steal"-rent, profit or interest; it does not even specify "tradesmen's goods" nor even free rides on the London Tube, on the maneuvering of which we think we could give valuable information to penniless and foot-weary pedestrians. It just leaves it conveniently blank for those to fill in whose particular "order" happens to be uppermost at the given moment. For it is obvious that the whole of "life" is based on a system of "stealing": that is a forcible laying hold of required commodities without permission. We "take" the life of bird, beast or vegetable, and cut short their struggles to survive without as much as a "by your leave." It is only where one power or confederation of powers has become supreme that the question of "theft" arises at all. The proper answer to the questions, "Under what circumstances is 'taking' tantamount to thieving?" And "Under what circumstances is 'stealing' 'immoral'?" can be found by asking the analogous questions "When is it a 'crime' to breathe?" or "When is breathing immoral?" The answer being of course, "When someone has you securely by the throat"-"When you can't manage it, that is."
It is manifest even to the least observant of human beings that the embargo on appropriation of goods is laid only by those who are powerful enough to retain possession of them. It has no relation whatever to the producing, i.e. the growing or making, of them: and we venture to say it never will have. If the time ever arrives when "each produces his own" and the "right" of each to retain what is produced is "respected" it will be because the power of defence of each, either singly or in the requisite combinations is such as to produce " balance." As long as there exist those whose power of attack and defence is obviously lower than that of others there will be an embargo placed on the appropriation of produce even by the producers. The power of self appropriation and of self-defence will always dictate the terms in virtue of which property is held: will always decide what is "just." If men could only size up the confused phrases and bid their orators "justice them no justice" and then turn their attention to the term "just" they would find it very well directed. That state of affairs is "just" which is presented by the balance of all the forces implicated. If one person can trample another down, rob him and leave him to make shift for himself as his remnant of strength will allow him: for him to do so would be "just." A thing to be "just" is to be as it can be: other things are merciful, pitiful and so on: but they are not "just." The best instance of the accurate use of the word "just" is in the little phrase "Just so," which means "Exactly "-a concurring that things are as they are. When therefore the mob are persuaded that they must not steal in the manner prohibited by statutory law under the impression that to refrain is not merely "legal" but "just," they are acting under the hypnotism of habit and familiar association. The most efficacious way of dealing with this hypnotic spell which at present is so forceful that a policeman's job is on the whole one suited to the powers of superannuated invalids-soft, because the necessary work is performed by that mental inhibition which plays the policeman, i.e. the thing called Conscience -the most efficacious way of dealing with it is by reflecting on the reason why two terms should invariably be placed together. The commandment "Thou shalt not steal-in certain ways"-is embodied in a legal embargo as to method issued in the joint names of Law-and-Order. When a particular embargo becomes too annoying attention is usually directed on the iniquities of law, but the meaning of "law" and of the "state" which gives "law" weight only becomes intelligible when what is supported under the name of "Order" is clearly understood. "Order" has nothing to do with "tidiness" or "harmony," or any "concept." It is merely an arrangement of things to suit an individual whim. First let the individual know what he wants at any particular moment and the arrangement which fits in with that want to him is "order." A "model " housewife will consider things "in order" when the chairs and tables are in those places which please her fancy (and very probably that of no one else); a gang of assassins arranging to blow up a city by means of dynamite would consider everything "in order" when everything was en train for the successful accomplishing of the deed. One General Smut is now maintaining "order" in South Africa by well-known lamblike means: "order" is successfully maintained in England on a basis of squalor and want. "Order" then may be defined as the arrangement that fits in with the whim of a particular person or that of a rough compromise of a group of persons: that and no more. There are therefore as many forms of "order" as there are people: each individual and unique; and each one's plan of "order " may vary from day to day according to needs. There is then not one " order" as it is left to us to conjecture when we are told that " order" must be maintained, but literally innumerable orders. It is as though people were agreeable to dividing up numbers on a regular plan but with the lengths of the divisions different in each case: one taking alternate odds, another alternate evens, another every third number and so on. Bergson has worked out the theory of "order" of course in "Creative Evolution." As far as we are aware its application to "law" has still to be made. This application is pretty obvious. A statutory law is the expression of some one view of order, some arrangement agreeable to an individual whim, forced on the rest of the community under threat or execution of physical violence -which violence under the guise of armies and police is maintained by the assistance of the very people whose own plans of order will be crushed by its agency. Plainly because they are stupid but also in some degree because they are timorous and mean-spirited, what though well-meaning and industrious, the "people" who support the "state " acquiesce in the self-abnegating ordinances of the state which are precisely designed to frustrate their own schemes of "order." This is the gist of "democracy," i.e. "government by consent." It is quite clear then why there are "laws" against "stealing" of one kind and no laws against far bolder "stealing" of another. The laws against " petty thefts" are made and administered with a right good will: the major thefts of rent profit and interest-the wholesale lifting" of property are the admired achievements of our "governing classes." The "governing classes" represent a group of individuals whose "schemes of order" have a "natural" affinity for each other: as for analogy one might suggest that all whose numerical divisions happened to be multiples of others must coincide at points: he whose "plan" was " One, four, eight, twelve, sixteen," would find it coinciding at points with his whose plan was "One, eight, sixteen, twenty-four," and so on. The rough compromises arrived at among the members of this group in nowise cancel out the individual differences; the members of the " classes" are prepared to wrangle among themselves, as in the party-system. But they understand their position and smother their dissensions and close their ranks immediately against those whose divisions represent "prime numbers" to theirs-the poor-poor. That is all there is in Law-and-Order. The "morality" red-herring which is dragged into the matter is the creation of the feeble-witted poor who have just so much spirit as would lead them to despise their cowardly acquiescing if it were exposed, naked in the light of day. Their retention of it is of course encouraged by the "governors" since it serves them in the capacity of a most efficient police.
In addition to the main injunction against Unauthorised stealing, the decalogue works in the theme in two minor texts: Number ten: " Thou shalt not covet," &c., and number seven: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." The first of course is exhorting Conscience not to forget its vocation: to play up and be a policeman. Not merely "Do not allow the natural man whom you have in charge to steal what he shouldn't: don't allow him even to want to." It is on the principle of using preventive methods early, as one cannot be too careful.
In the seventh injunction one recognises in "Adultery" another of the class of "Rilchiam ": and dismisses it. Concerning what this commandment means as distinct from what it says, it is clear that it is a warning against using other people's property. It would call for no remark additional to those made anent the eighth did it not illustrate how vain is the belief in the "rights" of possession: that possession is not merely nine but ten parts of the law: that an "owner" should be as ready to defend his property with as unremitting a zeal as that with which an early Christian guarded his soul to prevent the devil snatching it away. What is called the "free love " argument is an exposition of the vanishing of the claims of "right" in face of the power of "might": a fact which leaves a " conceptualist" as nonplussed as a merchant would be if bales of goods assigned to the ownership and warehouse of Mr. Smith were to find voice and legs and say "We are only labelled Smith: we prefer to belong to Mr. Jones." If there upon they held to Mr. Jones and Mr. Jones held to them, it would be poor consolation to Smith to know that he had a "right" to them. He would find himself in the same situation as the "workers" who work and think they have a "right " to what they produce and can prove it to you by ten different lines of argument; but who are bereft of the goods none-the-less. One can only say that it is their business to find out why their ears are boxed: also why their pockets and stomachs are empty.
In the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," the ruse employed is identical with that employed in number eight. Obviously we live only because we are prepared to kill-bird, beast, fish, plant and any thing which stands between us and the opportunity to kill these; to kill is the first necessity of living; therefore the injunction cannot be, as it appears, a general prohibition of killing; it refers apparently to "killing" under special circumstances and the specification is merely left blank to allow "governors" to fill in the bill to fit their convenience. When killing is done contrary to the specialised restrictions selected by governors it becomes "crime " and is called "murder." To understand why killing at times is, and at other times is not murder, one must turn not to law, but to the theory of "order." "Order" is that arrangement of things-including people-which fits in with the whim of an individual, or an individualised group. If the "order" of those who are maintained in their position of governors demands the killing of certain people, as it does in a war, in overworking to make profits, or any of the thousand ways in which the lives of the common people are jeopardised and "taken "-then "killing is no murder." It is instead, " patriotism" or "bold statesmanship." But if the common people begin to think that the ways of the governing parties are incompatible with their ideas of "order" and they take to killing: then killing is murder: double-dyed, heinous: a hideous, heart-shuddering blasphemous affront to God and man: to the universe, to "morality," to the heavenly host and all the troops of angels, and must be avenged. So, Call out the entire army and navy and see that God and the Church are bustled up!!!!! Killing then is murder and no doubt about it.
To the fifth and fourth we need give little space. The fifth is one which most of us are fairly well able to reckon up. "To honour God "-or the "king" is one thing. We have not lived with God and the king: but with parents most of us have lived and very early in life the "command" to "honour" them becomes a dictate of supererogation. If we know people well enough, most of us are able to bestow credit where credit is due: and to withhold it on the same terms. Number four can be referred to any week-ender. We need not flog a dead horse. The meaning of the Sabbath day was that it was to be kept "holy ": used for the indoctrinating of the "holy ideas." Six days are as long a period as a "natural" man can go without being reminded of the holy ideas: the seventh day is to be set aside for the renewing of allegiance to the "sacred" names. In an article in our last issue we explained why certain names were to be kept " sacred ": because if questioned their "essence" would vanish: the name was the thing. We refer our readers again to that explanation, which will enable us to "explain" the import of the third commandment almost in a word. "Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless" and so on. That is: the name of God is not to be questioned: it is to be left-a name above all names-undesecrated by a "natural" man's inquiry." God's" identity is not to be inquired into: a prohibition which puts the first and second commandment out of reach of a danger which very closely threatens them. "Thou shalt have no other gods but Me." (Of this the second is a continuation and enlargement.) It is only the fact that inquiry into the identity of the "Me" is forbidden which prevents the identifying of the two persons of the injunction. Suppose the "Thou" and "Me" are one and the same? If they are one and the same, the whole heavenly structure dissolves in mere sound in the ears of the natural triumphant man-the egoist. Valuable indeed to the conceptualists are the uses of the "Sacred"!
Of the ten, the ninth remains: the injunction against "bearing false witness," to which we would add "lying" in general, we have purposely postponed to the last, because it has to do with a different order of values from the remaining nine. To be forbidden to "bear false witness" and to be forbidden to "steal" implies that one is in possession of the power to effect their contraries: an assumption which can by no means go without question. It is within the power of any either to steal or not to steal (within the prescribed limits): but it is not in the power of all to "bear true witness." A dog-or a member of any other sub-human species- can steal: it can also be terrorised into not stealing. But to "bear witness" either truly or falsely is a business which involves a development of the power of being "aware" to its self-conscious degree. It is a power of life as yet in its incipient stage, and for the majority of human beings it is in too confused a period for them to be able to say with certainty what their perceptions are, except in the simplest and most often repeated operations of sense such as seeing and hearing. Even these often lie within a mist too hazy for many knowingly to bear "true " witness. Many witnesses for instance in police-court proceedings could not say whether they were speaking truly or not, if they became excited, and if finally it should be proved that they have been " lying," it is not proved that they have deliberately "borne false witness ": it is quite as fair to believe that they were incapable of deciding what was true. It is not often that witnesses lie handsomely. There are comparatively few people who can lie boldly and deliberately. To do so requires too precise a perception as to what is "true." The reason why the "evidence" of so many witnesses who are half-consciously "lying" breaks down under cross-examination is that the witnesses have not perceived the facts well enough to know just how these will be effected should some of them be described contrarily to the manner in which they occurred. Apart however from either the confused or deliberate lying about simple facts, we have the great stack of lies concerning emotions which has been piled up half-consciously and half-unconsciously by more highly developed people, under the name of Culture and which are supposed to comprise " Truth." "Culture" is the outcome of Gadding Minds-minds, that is, which are dull "at home," and which have fallen in gladly with the notion that there is a "Truth" which can be come at by assiduous and ingenious manipulation of phrases. They are very willing to attempt short cuts to understanding especially if they can in that way travel with a crowd of gadders like themselves. The culture-epoch of the last two thousand years will have to pass before the Searchers for Truth begin to inquire "at home ": to understand that the only things which are "true" for them are the few things which their own individual power to perceive makes them aware of through the channels of their senses. Their present habit of Hunting for Truth with thimbles and forks, anchors and care, clappers, tracts and a wild whirling sound will help them as far towards awareness as-to use an analogy we have used before-the presentation of bound volumes of the works of Darwin will help the jelly-fish up the ascent of being. The clutter of cultural concepts-mere words-are choking the frail fine tentacles of perception: preconceived notions hang as a film over the eyeballs and until they can slip the entire burden their way in life will be mad and melancholy.
The great difference therefore between the eighth and ninth commandments could be gathered from some such summary as this: "Steal as efficiently as you can if you want to or need ": it is the unquestionable method of regal and noble appropriation. But, "If you can avoid lying, or can bear true witness, do so-from your own advantage. The power to do so is a capacity, feeble but capable of growing, and is on the one line of human growth discernible. It makes that which is merely conscious self-conscious. It needs every encouragement: practice and training. It is not that "bearing false witness" is wrong (if swearing away the character of a threatening tiger falsely would save one from danger, it would be a strange person who would refrain from swearing falsely; and the same holds good in respect of many of the "tight corners" in relation to fellow human beings, which we occasionally find we have run into in this life.) Right and wrong save for conceptualists have no meaning: but that bearing false witness, and every form of lying and half-lying tends to weaken a power which is weak enough, but which is the highest reach to which vital power has, as yet, risen. To bear true witness comprises human genius. No wonder therefore with a culture made of lies, i.e. false observations, genius looks as though it were about to flicker out, or that, though we may do many apparently despicable things for money and property, we are aware of what we are doing when we regard the man who plays the charlatan and prostitutes his powers of observation as a fool in the deepest sense of the word.
(To be Continued.)