The Egoist: No. 5, Vol. 1, March 2nd 1914.
by Dora Marsden
PERHAPS the most striking illustration of the unquestioning habit of mind common to us all is the tone in which we use the word "immoral." Actions may be all things else and be tolerated, but if they are voted "immoral" their case is closed: they are damned, though most of us would need to be hard-pressed before we were able to say why. For obviously all that is said when one says "immoral" is "not-customary." It is informing to note moreover that while not-customary conduct is to be damned, it in nowise follows that its positive opposite is to be blessed. People are not prepared to admire enthusiastically "customary conduct": they have in fact no very high opinion of it: why then the working up of fierce indignation at the prospect of its contrary? That the "faithful" have been aware of the difficulty is shown by the extensive searches they have made to find the justification of "moral" conduct both as to foundations and superstructure: what inquiry into the Fundamentals of Ethics has shown to be missing the Metaphysics of Morals has attempted to make good. Indeed to enjoy the spectacle of human beings indulging in the full tide of talk in their least graceful moments one must turn to them when they are presenting the "philosophy" of morals. On no other occasions do they twist, shift and cant with so little effect of grace. And they are still hard at it and still stick at nothing. If moral conduct does not suit men, then change the men. The latest Defender of the Sacred, Eucken, unconsciously puts their case neatly. He says:
Before all else the natural world keeps man bound down to the mere ego; it becomes clearly visible that, as compared with the strength of the mere man, something impossible is being demanded. Therefore man must become something more than mere man. The original affirmation has become intolerable, but out of the negation has arisen a new affirmation. Here are great demands and great upheavels, gigantic tides of life sweeping men along and transforming them . . . . an inner infinitude becomes increasingly manifest. If anything can show us that our life is not a matter of indifference, that in it something significant takes place, it is morality that can do it.
"Moral" conduct is, as its name implies, "customary" conduct. Its advantages are the advantages of all repetitive action which is facile and foreseeable because habituated. Moral conduct is mechanised conduct and possesses all the advantages of mechanical reliability. It fits almost perfectly on to the routineer. Its disadvantages are the same: it plays havoc when it comes into contact with the new and unexpected: meets the unobserved factor which was not taken account of in blocking out the moral plan. To fit properly, moral conduct would need to be the activity of a "living automaton"-of a combination of forces which are denials of each other. It is the conjoining of these two contradictions which enables men to construct "tragedy." The recipe for the production of a Tragedy, i.e. a play upon a simulated Terror, is as follows: A collection of living beings with an appetite for experience, adventurous therefore; a recognition of a species of conduct customary to the people to which the special collection belongs (what species of course being quite immaterial); lastly a "respect" for the second in the "intellect" of the first. These three ingredients mixed well together will account for any of the "great tragedies" known to men. Every "tragedy" has a "problem": playwrights spin their brains to shreds to concoct one: a new "problem" will win fame for any playwright: so anxious are men to enjoy the sensation of mock Terror: the so-called purgation through pity and horror. To understand the fascination of "Tragedy" it is necessary to realise that all Tragedy is melodrama, that is: actual living judged by a "concept" of living. It is worked by dint of an acceptance of the hoisting of a sky-scape, a canvas stretched across the mental heavens whereon is painted the moral scheme to which the herd below make effort to comport themselves. The "tragedy" is achieved by concentrating attention on the movements of those who being the least herdlike venture to ignore the sky-scape in order to follow their own bent for experience, thereby inviting the onslaughts of the terror-stricken herd. If the playwright can make it look feasible for the "hero" himself to participate in the herd's horror at his "sacrilege" the chances of success are heightened, the "heinous" effect of the situation upon which the "Terror" of the tragedy depends thereby having been increased.
The effect of tragedy on an appreciative audience appears to be a subconscious one. Of a certainty its effect is not what Aristotle said was the function of these representations of woes of heroes-"to purge the mind by pity and terror of these and similar emotions." The unconscious effect of tragedy is to reveal as the slang phrase has it "the greatness of man" as against the cobweb-like mesh of "thoughts" to which men lend the moulding of their actions as an affair of sport and make believe. Melodrama purges terror of its basis of terror: as the turning up of a light in a dark room at once makes an object which in the half-light looked fearsome and strange, obvious and harmless. Those most swayed by concepts relish "tragedy" most. They enjoy it because subconsciously they are ceasing to respect the reality of the concepts which are the making of it. Melodrama because it displays in so garish a light the nature of "morals" is the subtlest sapping of the framework it is built on: which accounts for the unfriendliness of advocates of the sacred for this attractive but too destructively bright exhibition of their holy ghosts-the moral concepts. The churches for instance cannot be friendly towards drama: half-tones are among the foremost of the churches' exigences. So too, it is obvious that the arch-conceptualist, Plato, must demand the rigorous suppression of tragedy in his model republic.
It is clear that the one emotion which the moralists cannot afford to permit to weaken is: Fear. (They would call it reverence, but no matter.) Whatever strengthens human fear is to them the basis of "good": because "Fear" is disintegrating, and throws its owner in submission on to the breast of any and every concept which is thrust forward and called "salvation." The moralists exploit and play upon the feeling of smallness and loneliness which is the first outcome of that sense of isolation and separateness which is called self-consciousness. It is because men are in the first place lonely and afraid, that the feebler sort move in herds and act alike: hence the growth of "customary" action: moral action. The outcry against the "immoral," i.e. the unusual, is the expression of distress of the timid in the presence of the innovation. It is the instinct which feels there is safety with the crowd and danger as well as loneliness in adventuring individually which puts the poignant note into the epithet "immoral." To be "immoral" is to be on precisely the same level as the unconventional and the unfashionable: that and no more.
Although "morals," i.e. the collective term applied to automatised action, are based on the all too-commonly observable phenomenon that the actions of herds at a given time run to one pattern, in the course of time it is a patent fact that certain influences acting on the herds tend to change the pattern. "Fashions" give the best illustration of how "morals" change. When crinolines for instance are "in," all women wear crinolines; when they are "out," to wear a crinoline would be a mild scandal, but something else is "in," and all women like sheep are approximating to that. So with "morals." They change but when they do the herd changes with them as by a common impulse. It is therefore only on account of the little extravagances of the rhetoricians-who will do many things to come by a good sounding mouthful-that we hear talk of "the changeless law of morality." Morals are fashions in conduct that are constantly changing: but change as they will they will find their faithful attendant crowd of timorous and ineffectuals. The strong and alert are never moral: when they appear upon occasion to be so, it is by mere coincidence. It is the realisation of this fact that they are catering only for the needs of the feeble which puts zest into the ambitions of great "founders," "leaders," "teachers." They can lay down precepts fit for followers with easy minds because it is only the born followers that will follow. So each new "leader" has his "precept" for the guidance of the faithful: the "pattern" according to which they must work. Each "New Dispensation" has its "law," and it would be a pity to leave the precepts of the decalogue without turning over the commandment of the newest dispensation which in a curiously odd way has worked itself haphazard in and among the pattern of the older which still verbally holds good.
The commandment "Love one another" is an advance in subtlety as compared with the injunctions it was intended to supersede. It is an attempt to establish an intra-conscious police in the shape of Conscience. It is what the Webbs for instance would call a move in the direction of "efficiency in administration," as the spy-system is more "efficient" than an ordinary police-system. More efficient because more intimate, and more effective because it is easy to control actions once feeling has been surrendered under control. The favour with which the command to "Love one another" was received is evidence of the strength of the desire for neighbourly espionage and democratic control of "each by all" of which all modern legislation is but the grotesque parody in action. (Now with democracy merely an infant, "loving one another" only mildly, we control each other in the realms of marrying, being born, housed, clothed, educated, fed and similar minor matters only. When all "Love one another" with zeal our inter-neighbourly control will begin to show something of what it can be.)
It is therefore quite clear what motives of economy would operate in the point of view of "Authority" in substituting "compulsory love" for "compulsory circumspect behaviour" such as the decalogue enjoins. If only universal "loving" could be made the fashionable habit, the supreme "moral," how easy the work of "leaders" would be. When individuals love one another how easily they work together: how they appear successful in overcoming the otherwise unmanageable ego. Then why not make love among the herd compulsory: and hey presto: the New Dispensation: the Christian era.
How grotesque a failure and how offensive, the pose of "love according to conscience" has been no one need pause to state with the history of two thousand years written before them. Of all the attitudes which men have struck in emulation of painted canvases which have been stretched across the heavens for their guidance, none has given such good cause for individualist contempt as this. As long as conceptualists in the interest of their large concepts press only thouggts into service, the strain is little felt. But "love" is not a thought. It is worthwhile, in face of revivalist efforts in the cult of love such as, for instance, in the "gospel" of Tolstoy, to consider what people seek in those aspects of love which are not "sex": in the passionate friendships and tenderness of love: the wider emotional needs which have made their appearance with the intensification of "culture." The irony of the efforts of the advocates of the new dispensation to press "love" into the service of the "moral concepts" is not immediately apparent. It is customary to regard "love" as the outcome of "culture" and therefore in some special way amenable to the service of culture. It has become too much a habit of speech with the "civilised" world, i.e. the moralised idea-ised world, to look on "love" as in some sort a means of "salvation," to expect it to analyse why it does so. If it did men would realise that the explanation is the reverse of the current one, i.e. that love is the consummation of moralisatiom. It is in fact an effort to escape from it. The heavy incrustation of habitualised actions, i.e. morals, increases in tenacity as life goes on, forming a sort of hutch which is half shelter and half tomb. The taking on of its earlier incrustations is called "growing-up": as they grow more obviously oppressive it is called "growing old." To be "morally-minded" is to have lost the instinct which revolts against this walling-up of the changing spirit: revolts that is against either growing up or growing old. As most people are morally-minded the world is left with a tiny remnant of individuals of whom if we spoke of them in terms of time-measurement we should say ranged in age from two years to five: the people of genius and charm. The age of maturity, if we may put it like that, when all that we mean is the age at which the soul has made itself familiar with its new dwelling-place and is at its best, brightest, most inquiring and "true," is from two years to five: not twenty-five or fifty-five as the moralist would like to pretend. From five onwards the browbeating process which is called moral education begins, and as we have said only spirits which are bigger and more resistant than their would-be instructors resist it and sand firm at their height of growth. The rest are slowly driven back by "culture" to the state of automatic living which was their pre-natal existence. The irony therefore of the moralists' efforts to capture "love" in the interest of their already too successful canvases lies in this: that in seeking after the "tendencies" of love and the "understanding" of friendship the morally-bound indiviuals are seeking a refuge free from the attitudes which make them grown-up. Because they cannot appear what but for fear and a brow-beating education they would be: i.e. unashamedly children, they have tried to build a refuge in "love." The tenderness of love or friendship (they are in fact the same thing) are the instinctive means which we seek for ourselves and offer to others, to enable us, in one relation at least to be unashamedly ourselves, very little removed from new born children. This is the reason why the efforts of those of the "love-cult" to "ennoble" love appear -and appear so particularly to the quite ordinary conventional person-so irredeemably damned. To introduce an attitude into a relation whose very existence is a revolt against attitudes is to snatch from the conventional what is literally his one means of salvation, and that none too certain. It is a sufficiently rare thing for one individual to meet another with enough native sympathy with him to encourage him to show "himself," with all his weakness. It is inevitable that what we feel to be ourselves should in comparison with the harsh-set incrustations of our normal "moral" attitudes, appear "weak." The fact is overlooked that as long as the "weak" thing is there, we are still alive: and that only when the genius in us has flickered out: when we have become one with the herd, do we feel strong in our moral worth.
It is natural that "love" should have attracted the attention of the most thoroughgoing types of moralists, the churchmen or such moralists as the feminine theorisers who call themselves oddly the Woman Movement. The more powerful the agent, the more admirable if pressed into their service. It is unfortunate-for them-that in all cases where "love" has been utilised to further a "system" it has turned and gnawed a yawning gap in the system. But that is part of another story. The fact remains that the chief value of the law of the New Dispensation "Love one another" has been to make evident to men that they will have to, willy nilly, dispense with all dispensations: that there exists for them no "grace" to be "dispensed" which they have not first called up from within themselves. And with the passing of the set manner of "dealing in grace" which is "dispensation," there passes the ghostly basis of mechanised action: "duty" and "morality"; and men begin unashamedly to judge the quality of life by its flavour in actual living: by their own "taste" in regard to it, forming thereby their principle as to what they accept and what they reject in it, which is living by a "principle of taste"-a principle which is no principle. It is living according to personal desire: life according to whim: life without principle: the essentially immoral life.
The Egoist: No. 5, Vol. 1, March 2nd 1914.
by Dora Marsden
ONLY let us make the draft of the people's pious resolutions, then let who will make their laws. "The time has come to rehabilitate the pious resolution which-people being what they now are-is at present held in wholly unmerited contempt. Resolutions are arrogantly despised because, forsooth, they are all "talk." As though "talk" could be despised by any save those who act in confident self-assurance: as the "people" never act in fact. People who cannot hit out straight off their own instincts, so to speak, fight their first rounds in talk, just as a person unable to use a sword might use a club. A club, though not a sword, has its uses and any whose only weapon it is might as well see to it that it is not worm-eaten. To return then to the combat by talk: the fight waged in a campaign of "resolutions." Let it be granted that "resolutions" might have a value. Provided they are apposite to facts as they actually exist, they can crystallise for consideration an actual existing relationship: and by so doing neutralise the verbiage of orators who rely for their rhythm and sonorousness as well as their innocuous effects upon enlargements concerning any or all of the things which aren't. Granted therefore, for instance, a campaign of talking: a preliminary skirmish with apposite "resolutions," one might safely risk giving a guarantee that in a measurable distance of time, the fight would be progressing on more drastic terms.
The South African deportees have arrived, and by Sunday, we are told, the "talk" will be in full swing in Hyde Park and elsewhere. There will doubtless be the pious resolution, which unfortunately Mr. Arthur Henderson and Mr. Ramsay Macdonald have made no request to us to draft out. It is a pity: we could have drawn it up in an exceedingly pleasant tone: which is no small consideration considering the amount of scolding which is now going on. Everybody is scolding. The journalistic atmosphere indeed is that of the household where the mother of a densely-populated family is engaged in the weekly wash: and the perfectly apposite resolution anent the South African labour incidents would have cleared the atmosphere and toned the temper. Of course it may yet be forthcoming. Intelligence is Puck-like and appears from unexpected quarters: who is to say beforehand that the resolution will not run as it should: something like this: That this meeting of British helots drawn together to express their opinion on the unexpected turn which industrial affairs have taken in South Africa, desire to put on record:
(1) Their admiring and grateful apreciation of the character of the South African Administration in general and of General Smuts and General Botha in particular;
(2) That in these men this meeting recognises not merely sturdy fighters but good sportsmen, who scorn to add cunning to force in suppressing a feeble enemy; that they not merely know what kind of weapons to use, but are sufficiently conscious of their skill in using them not to be afraid to exhibit them to the enemy and thereby challenge these latter to use them as ably;
(3) That it can congratulate the South African people that in their case there is no need to add to their shame in being governed, the offensive shame of being governed by fools; that in General Smuts, who affirms frankly to an astonished world that the means which keeps men free is the necessary force to defend whatever state or condition it pleases any whatsoever to give the name of "freedom," they are acquainted with a man of intelligence: and a man of courage and honest expression withal; and that the British working-classes though dispossessed of all property, and softened and weakened by being long fostered in the belief that though they have no might they still have "rights," though softened and weakened, as aforesaid, have still managed to retain by aid of their weekly attendance at football matches sufficient of the sportsman spirit of Drake, Raleigh and Robert Blake to recognise it when they see it, even in the person of a Dutchman.
(4) That these sentiments be recorded suitably and permanently in the form of Illuminated Addresses, the same to be forwarded to General Smuts and General Botha in due course.
"As for our exiled confreres-the deported nine," we shall probably wake up on Monday morning to find the report of Mr. Arthur Henderson's resolution running, "as for our exiled confreres, we offer them our sympathy in their discomfiture (temporary, let us hope) and in the rude and sudden separation from their families and country. All that can be done by British workmen to soften the harshness of their situation we feel should be done. In the meantime, this meeting offers its congratulations to them inasmuch as they have been treated by men of valour and comprehension as opponents worthy of drastic measures; it recognises that there must have been that in their previous history which has made it evident they are not to be cowed as a scolding housewife cows shivering scullery-maid: by vilification and shouting: which method is the one mainly in use among ourselves;
(6) That, finally, we hope and would like to believe that these our confreres will not by foolish disclaimers as to preparedness for armed rebellion and the like continue to give into the possession of the enemy the tale of those "sins of omission" for which they as "leaders" must consider themselves responsible, but that by their self-respect and the swift making of such arrangements as are responsible for its protection they will prove to an interested world that the compliment which their superiors have paid them has not been wholly misdirected.
With something like the foregoing as text, printed and handed round on small bills, Mr. Macdonald, Mr. Henderson and the entire official Labour Party might be allowed to slobber for hours without any pernicious effects: indeed Hyde Park during the week-end might be the scene for a very Profitable and Pleasant Sunday Afternoon: the form of diversion which the stars of the Labour Party most dearly love. If they included in the proceedings the singing of Ebenezer Elliot's fine and stirring hymn "When wilt thou save the people?" and closed with the Deity's reply "When they appreciate Mr. Smuts," no more admirable gathering could be desired.
lt is a wise editor who knows the name of his paper's creed. It appears that we are to be counted among the not-so-wise. At all events, one who is perhaps the best-known living exponent of Anarchism and hitherto an unwearying friend of THE EGOIST has informed us that we are not Anarchist. We are rather "Egoist and Archist," that "combination which has already figured largely in the world 's history." The first thing to be said anent that is, that if it is so we must manage to put up with it. If to be an Archist is to be what we are, then we prefer Archism to Anarchism which presumably would necessitate our being something different. There is nothing in a name once one has grasped the nature of the thing it stands for. It is only when there is doubt as to the latter that it becomes possible for names to play conjuring tricks. It is therefore more because the mist of vagueness hangs over the connotation both of Archism and Anarchism than because we are greatly concerned as to which label we are known by that we find it worth while to discriminate in the matter.
The issue of course turns upon the point as to whether in Anarchism, which is a negative term, one's attention fixes upon the absence of a State establishment, that is the absence of one particular view of order supported by armed force with acquiescence as to its continued supremacy held by allowing to it a favoured position as to defence, in the community among whom it is established; or the absence of every kind of order supported by armed force provided and maintained with the consent of the community; but the presence of that kind of order which obtains when each member of a community agrees to want only the kind of order which will not interfere with the kind of order likely to be wanted by individuals who compose the rest of the community. (We do our very utmost to state the second position as accuratelv as possible, but that it is difficult to do so, those who profess it know well from their apparently interminable debates on this very subject of definition among themselves.) The first is what we should call Anarchism and represents one half of that Egoistic Anarchism which THE EGOIST maintains against all comers. The second, which is that of our correspondent-as far as he can define it-has in our opinion no claims at all that are not embedded in a hundred confusions to the label of Anarchism. He should call it rather a sort of Clerico-libertarian-archism, and this without any desire maliciously to "call names." It represents a more subtle, more tyrannical power of repression than any the world as yet has known: its onlv distinction being that the Policeman, Judge, and Executioner are ever on the spot, a Trinity of Repression that is a Spy to boot, i.e. Conscience, the "Sense of Duty." Conscience, more powerful than armies, "doth make cowards of us all." Conscience takes the Ego in charge and but rarely fails to throttle the life out of him. Therefore as compared with the power of egoistic repression the Ego comes up against in an ordinary "State," that which it meets in the shape of Conscience is infinitely more oppressive and searching. The Archism which is expressed in the Armies, Courts, Gowns and Wigs, Jailors, Hangsmen and what not, is but light and superficial as compared with that of our Clerico libertarian friends.
If therefore to be Anarchistic is to hope for and strive after the abolition of "The State" as by the force of governors and submissiveness of governed together compounded, a term with (one may hope) only a temporary significance, then we are it. If on the other hand it is to stand for "liberty," "respect for the liberty of others" and vague ideas of this nature, we incline to think the term would be most appropriately treated if it were abandoned to become the plaything of cranks and discussionists. For it will be found that such persons mean, as far as their elementary muddle-headedness permits them to mean anything, to substitute for the obvious repressive agency represented by Arms and the State, the subtler and far more perniciously repressive agency of Conscience with its windy words and ideas. The sum total of the matter amounts to this: We are all Archist: we believe in Rule. The question which divides us is: "Whose Rule shall say it is?" The reply is a matter of frankness or discretion. Whichever we select by name, in actual fact it remains our own rule: our own view of which "order" should prevail modified by a knowledge of our own fears and weaknesses. If we say "Let the State, i.e. the persons who are dominant at the present time, rule," it is because alongside the State's onslaughts by all its weapons of force, it provides some degree of safety under cover of which the timorous find shelter: and in their own little run, rule themselves. For which consideration they are prepared to "respect" the purely arbitrary conventions of statutory law, "crimes" and "criminals"-terms without meaning outside the circle of the respectful ones timidities.
If in addition to fearing physical violence and consequently to accepting the State, men are submitted to the brow-beating of education, and are more than ordinarily timid, it is in response to a personal desire of their own souls that they put themselves mentally under the control of a system of words, the reaction of the weight of which system is felt in consciousness as Conscience. It is the pull of a set of "allowed" claims which are called duties, the disallowing of which claims are Sin. But the "Archism" is there all the same. The readiness to accept the weight of "Sin" and "Duty" is merely the outome of an unreadiness-a dislike for self-responsibility. And the clerico-libertarians, let them call themselves by what name they will, possess in reality this kind of temper. They will not openly confess an approval of the will to satisfy the wants of the "selfish" self. They will allow the self to "rule" but it must first change itself. It must nominally be a regenerate, dedicated-to a-system sort of self. Like Eucken's man which is to be more than a man: the libertarian's self must be a self with the universe tacked on: and the "claims" of the universe must be attended to first. Now when we say that we believe the satisfaction of individual units is the only "authority" we "respect" we -mean the wants of the ordinary person: of any unregenerate Tom, Dick, or Sue. Not what after much argument someone persuades them they want: which finally they will agree they do but will still look as though they don't, but vulgar simple satisfaction according to taste-a tub for Diogenes: a continent for Napoleon: control of a trust for a Rockefeller: all that I desire for me: if we can get them. Our wants are entirely matters of taste: and our tastes are bounded by our comprehension and awareness. We may be fools and gross beasts but nothing is gained by putting us to intellectual strain: making us attitudinising hypocrites. Our illness is that we are dull-witted and stupid without the power which feels things. Then give the penetrative power its chance to grow: wriggle and strain itself into comprehension: when it can, it will: and when it can is soon enough. The exact tale of the wriggling and straining when it has found a voice is what one means by being "true" and "honest."
So "Egoist and Archist" let it be. There is- or we imagine it so-a sarcastic ring in our correspondent's comment, "a combination which has already figured largely in the world's history." The sarcasm is unfortunately wasted. If the combination has figured largely, it is apparent at least that it is one which will "work": and that is-according to the pragmatists-mainly what matters. The appeal which would have us turn a cold eye on the evidence as to what things succeed in this world wears thin at length. The time has arrived (it is we who say it) when worldly evidence as to what motives do actually work the springs of men's actions should be impartially examined. The evidence in a "cultured" community would no doubt be distasteful, but it is almost sure to be useful. The evidence might be treated, should we say, distantly but honestly as an analyst might treat sewage. In the process one might arrive at the reason why the libertarian, humanitarian idealist cure-alls won't go down: the reason why they won't and knowledge of what will. It will become clear that by their present hopes those that have nothing are deceiving themselves: and that those who know how things are got are quite willing they should remain deceived.
"The World is a bundle of hay,
Mankind are the asses who pull."
Byron knew so much more of the nature of "temper" than the author of "Das Capital" ! It is not on account of the machine-system, nor the "surplus-value" it supposedly creates, that things are as they are, but because some men are reluctant or unable to pull. They have in fact a hundred reasons for not pulling: it is illegal, or immoral, forbidden by conscience, God and the Church: it is theft and Heaven knows what else: therefore because they can't or won't, "Stop the pulling." That is the socialist, communist and (in the main) the Anarchist solution of "Poverty." The bundle must be respected: not grabbed at without warrant, because, say the theorists, by right it is the "property of All." Whereupon the few "respectless" ones divide up the lot between themselves. The sooner the poor become "Archists" therefore the better.