Chapter XXXIV

THE INDIVIDUAL AND HIS RESPONSIBILITY


War begins in the minds of men. Peace resides in man's will for peace. Man instinctively fights for what he wants. Later he cooperates to get it. Cooperation is more an act of intelligence; contention is more instinctive. Man's intelligence, education, and culture set him thinking upon the merits of peace contrasted with war. Unintelligence and ignorance fail him in making the comparison. The idle and ignorant element is the fighting element. The mind not occupied by intelligence and knowledge wants excitement and variety. The childish mind pulls the wings from butterflies and kills cats for the sake of entertainment. Entertainment enters the vacuum of the vacant mind. These minds make possible the bull ring, cock fight, boxing match, game hunting, and war. The glory of "our football team" in American colleges is not unlike the glory of arms among militarist youth of Europe.

Responsibility of the individual resides in the fact that only the individual originates ideas. There is no such thing as mass thinking. Masses often unanimously accept the idea of an individual, but no mass creates an idea. That must come from one single brain. A man's thought, caught up and approved by a multitude, creates war; and a man's thought can bring peace.

It is a pathetic fact that a vast element in society thinks largely in terms of conflict. Who got the customer? Who won? Who was beaten? Who whipped the other? War is not altogether an insanity. Men plan it and make ready for it, and calculate upon its gains. Back of war is the intelligence of man--but intelligence not sufficiently tinctured with wisdom. Building up of character and addition of information on the respective merits of war and peace are needed. Acts of the mass fail to serve the best ends if most individuals are not up to the cultural level necessary for their best good. Beneficent acts of parliaments fail if the people are not sympathetic to the acts. Results hang upon the quality of individuals who constitute society. The world now seems in a state of crisis, and it is said that in the emergency there is no time nor place for cultural improvement of the individual. When the house is burning is not the time to say "If you please?" But the house has always been burning. There is always crisis. To solve the problem is the main thing. And the crisis is not going to be met by neglecting the building of character, but rather by building character. For it is character in the individual that must in the end solve the problem rightly.

The unhappy fact is that control of the individual's destiny is slipping from his hands. Once he was wholly dependent upon his own exertions. In time he lost something of himself in the family, in the clan, then in the town, then in the state, and finally he finds himself beholden to the national government which dictates to him and exercises controls over his life. The forces that dominate him now seem far away from his influence. An unconscious fear grips him. He is at the mercy of powers beyond his ken. Uncertainty haunts his mind. His future seemed never so problematical. New forces have been loosened that may strike him unawares. He fears he has lost control of his own fate. The result is indetermined action, unplanfulness, and indifference in vital things. He is in danger of becoming improvident and shiftless.

This is the condition that threatens modern man who at this very time is eager for enlightenment. He would like uncertainties swept away by knowledge, which has so enormously expanded and the meaning of so much of which still eludes him. Labor-saving devices did not considerably shorten his working hours. Knowledge has not materially improved his ability to think. The discovery of atomic power, perhaps the greatest scientific achievement of the ages, at this very time seems more of a threat to him than a blessing. Fear rushes in where there is no answer.

A feeling of impotence possesses the individual as he looks at the world picture. Things to be done, he thinks, are to be done by those in the high positions of power. If he is for peace, he feels alone, for the air about him is charged with electricity of war. How to win the next war is the predominant question. This individual needs to be cured of his loneliness. He needs the contact of other minds like his own. The peaceful individual should not feel alone. He should know of millions who like himself favor peace and are willing to register for peace. He should know that the impacts of these minds upon the warmaking powers always register. They are not lost.

The economic struggle for victory over competitors has produced an immoral world. People have lost the power of indignation at wrong. Injustices to individuals, to races, to communities, and to whole nations go on as accepted events, without arousing a sense of revulsion. The individual is in danger of losing his power of protest. His initiative is in a state of decay. Naziism conquered Germany, not because a vicious force overcame a virtuous people, but because the people were sufficiently nazis at heart to be ready for and to accept naziism. Naziism could not have conquered Germany if the majority of the material out of which the sixty million Germans were made had been non-nazi material; if they had had no urge to rob neighbor countries in order to fatten themselves; and if they had not harbored the notion that they were the world's superior beings. Many Germans are free from this nazi taint. Had they been the majority Hitler would have remained an unknown paranoid corporal. War takes its character from the character of the people.

Individuals are possessed of principles, but politics which governs governments is weak in these attributes. Were politics combined with principles, there would be hope for peace. Good will, honesty, clear thinking, and practical plans for peace reside in the minds of men. But as soon as a man becomes a representative of a government he easily loses the above qualities. He is acting not for himself as an individual and for his family, but for a great unmoral institution. And he easily becomes futile, inept, and even vicious. This is diplomacy.

Hope of peace lies in education of the individual. He must know the essential facts. More than 80 percent of American colleges do not require study of history. Still one can not understand war unless he knows what it has done to society. History may be "fiction agreed upon" but it has facts behind it. One is not justified in saying of history, "Let bygones be bygones." Bygones do not stay bygones; they have a way of coming up into the present. I think it was Dr. Angell of Yale who compared history to a woman's bustle an hypothetical fabrication projecting into the past; but none the less resting upon a substantial basis of fact. It must be taken seriously. Ignorance of history excuses no one, and certainly does get him into war. The whole educational system needs revision if it is to build happier and more efficient individuals, and individuals with a passion for peace. Individuals need to know the meaning of selfishness and self-interest. Disinterestedness must be made interesting, and self-interest must be made social.

The urgent teaching needed in school and college is instruction in the Way to Happiness. This happens to be the most neglected subject. Youth should frankly be taught that the object of life is happiness. One need not be ashamed of the quest for happiness. It is the great natural urge. The teaching needed can show that happiness is best attained by living the good life. This teaching can be put on a scientific basis. It can be proved to youth that to act justly toward all men yields the greatest happiness. Knowledge, honesty, fair dealing, justice, kindness, and charity toward others, in the long run produce better results in happiness than ignorance, unfairness, injustice, and trickery. Youth can be made to grasp this. Such teaching is easily understood. It is natural and reasonable. It yields better results than the prevalent indirect method of urging the good life for esoteric and mystical reasons, combined with fear. People respond to immediate rewards more effectively than to vague promises and remote threats. The current methods employed to impress upon youth the desirability of the good life have failed. Millions of delinquents do not understand why they should be good. Ask them; and their answer is mostly nonsense. They have neither been told nor taught the real reason.

Courses are needed in school and college to drive home this lesson in the Way of Happiness. It should be part of the program of the essential teaching of youth and should have its place with reading, writing, and arithmetic as the most important of all. This subject needs to be brought out in the open and taught by good teachers. The boy or man who is headed for gangsterism can be shown that getting the better of other people, making others suffer, robbing and killing are neither smart nor profitable. He can be shown that the talents he possesses can be turned to good social uses and when so employed can be made to win him a greater measure of satisfaction and happiness. Delinquents, it will commonly be found, have been indoctrinated with mystical and unnatural urges to good behavior, rather than by cogent and understandable reasons. Delinquency is not recruited from the well informed and unsuperstitious. Education in the Way of Happiness requires knowledge of history, science, the psychology of propaganda, the philosophy of happiness, and the fundamentals of sociology. It is a course that should begin at the mother's knee; it should run through the primary grades, high school, and college. None should be permitted to escape it.

This comes back to the basic thesis that perfecting of the individual in his capacity to think and to act wisely is the important matter in the perfecting of society. To understand is to desire peace. The real understanding of happiness qualifies men to find satisfaction in dealing fairly with their neighbor and with the foreigner as well.

What does man know about his fellow men in other countries? Does he realize that he is their neighbor? He has learned how to become a world warrior: can he think of himself as a world citizen? What is the American's attitude toward the millions starving in Asia? He learns from his Department of Commerce that the people of the U. S. A. spent $7,800,000,000 on alcoholic drinks in a year, and more on alcohol, cosmetics, and cigarettes than on their educational system. Does he relate this to essential needs of his fellow men? He knows something of soil erosion that is devastating his land; does he know of erosion of the social being that is depleting society? One thing seems obvious: Man must engage himself in a new type of thinking if he is to move on toward civilization. During war people fall out of the habit of doing their own thinking; they get their motivating ideas from vested authorities. This is true of the civilian as well as of the soldier. Thinking becomes mechanized. Acts of legislative bodies, treaties, edicts, rulings, and legalisms take the place of thinking on social problems. The individual needs to rediscover his individualism. Some wag has said: "It is a terrible thing to wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'My God, there is nobody in this bed!'" Man must look out lest the bed be really empty.

Responsibility develops the individual. His dignity as a person is essential to his character. Not to look to other people to do the things that effect his life and welfare, but consciously to lay his hand to these tasks is the essential. Responsibility is the key that unlocks the individual and makes possible the consciousness of his individuality. His character and his self-sufficiency are revealed by responsibility. That means a sense of his own answerability for what happens in the world of social beings of which he is a part.

Man won the primitive struggle against the beast and the elements. But he did not stop; he has gone on with his fighting impulse and carries it against his fellow men. The real battle has been won. He needs no longer to fight. His inventive genius has created a new world, but he remains pretty much the same old man. He now has it within his power to emancipate himself from primitive habits and indeed from the struggle for existence. He can quit warring. He can quit his fighting to get ahead of and away from his fellow man. He can desist from being the competitive man and become the cooperative man. He can change from national man to world man. Ages of thinking have given him ideals. He needs now to translate these ideals into institutions. Men should not be set against one another, but united with one another, and altogether they should set themselves against the forces that would harm them all.

This attitude of the individual is much influenced by the habits, experiences, and psychological reactions of youth--and even of infancy. So much is now known of child training, and the parent-child relationship that the parent who fails to get hold of this information is guilty of a social neglect as well as of an offense against his child. The training of youth has much to do with the habits of the adult. The frustrated, the jealous, and the neglected child becomes the destructive boy. The destructive and spiteful boy becomes the fighting man. The fighting man becomes the sadistic soldier. Parents should realize that in failing to encourage and develop kindness, justice, and consideration for others in their children, they are helping build the next war. The father who teaches his son to get the better of the other boy, to get things away from others because it will help him in the conflicts of life may be creating a "successful business man;" but he is at the same time building for the depreciation of the money the son will win in his successful business, for the bombing of his home, and for his death on the field of battle. Training for unfair acquisitiveness may seem called for in the present system of society; but if it is, then so much the worse for the present system of society.

Man is acquisitive by nature. His ancient impulses set him getting things, and getting things away from others. This is the competitive struggle. It represents his primitive animalistic instincts. It is called business. On the other hand, he is cooperative not only by instinct but by intelligence. This comes later. It is his final civilized manifestation. His instinctive impulses have the first chance. Consequently, before cooperation comes into action, he has carried his competitive struggle to the point where destruction and chaos are threatened. Then to save himself from ruin, he turns to a wholly different method. He adopts a plan that conserves and that gives him the help instead of the antagonism of others. This he calls cooperation. While he is making this salutary change, the cave men in business and politics often storm against him as doing something that violates the traditions of cave and jungle business. The upward movement of mankind has always been delayed by this holding back by the dead hand of the past.

The individual can assert himself no matter how humble he may be. If he is for peace and against war, he can so express himself to others. If he is more vocal, he can speak to groups. He can write. He can vote for candidates who are for peace. He can favor acts which make for peace and disfavor acts that make for war. No man or woman is so much of a zero as to be inarticulate. None is so obscure as to be without influence. The influence of the meeting of minds in mass and the registering of opinions always moves on up to the controlling and executive powers. Let no man demean himself to the point of regarding himself as without influence. Peace or war can be decided by the totality of individuals.

In the United States is an organization called the One World Congress, now spread to other countries. Its objective is to unite voluntary organizations and personalities of all lands to achieve a new level of cooperation in the concrete tasks that make for peace. It is composed of representatives of all types of organizations, except political parties. Here is the non-political individual in action expressing himself in the interest of peace.

One fact must be faced: we live in a changing world. People who fight against change are in a losing cause. Change can not be stopped. World War I was an attempt to stop change, and miscarried. Attempts to carry out its purpose in the peace that followed caused World War II. An international police force might be used to help preserve the statuesque. But change that is ripe can not be stopped by war nor by police. Public opinion must make the decision. Without public opinion war can not succeed. Unless police action is backed by public approval it fails. For this reason an international police force is unavailing in the face of this greater power. Force is not needed except for minor situations in which its use would be approved by public opinion. Public opinion has greater power to control action than all the laws, and this means than all the police. International police is advocated by power politicians and militarists who think in terms of force. Absence of crystallized public opinion gives rise to police.

Just here comes in cooperative action. In the cooperative way the people are making their decisions. Shall goods and services be produced and distributed in the interest of the people or in the interest of the producers and the distributors? The cooperatively organized people are deciding. Their decision registers in world affairs and is felt and acted upon. Cooperatively organized individuals can constitute the bulwark of peace. They may humbly think their efforts are insignificant in a warring world. Organization for peace has to begin, and it best begins with people who are uniting with one another to set the wheels of commerce moving in the direction of peace. Every member of a cooperative society is a builder of peace. Cooperation is the force now needed to restore the world to equilibrium.

The people are lost in the complexities of an uncertain society. They need to re-establish the most precious of human relations. They need to find themselves in action with their fellow men. This cooperation in action must represent not the prevalent group against group, class against class; but it must be through the enriching sense of mutual concern for equity and justice.

All men are neighbors now in this small world. The days of nationalism have been outlived. A new spirit must enter the hearts of men. Old loyalties must give place to a new loyalty--loyalty to mankind. Out of the old citizenship must arise a citizenship of the world. Men of all races and creeds must come within the circle. Each must sacrifice something of his own to the whole of mankind. Each nation must yield something of its sovereignty that a larger sovereignty of all nations may arise.

We human beings need one another. The need of the sympathy of all is coming to be a desperate need. The fate of the world depends upon this universal sympathy. It can have meaning only as we think in the spirit of world fellowship, only as we recognize none as enemy, and only as we see all our fellow men groping, like ourselves, for happiness.

Cooperation and friendship must supplant strife and animosity. Justice must come from the hearts of men, not from the powers of governments. It must prevail, not as an abstraction; but because of man's desire for justice to himself; because justice to one's self comes only through justice to one's neighbor.

Each must follow the primal law not of self-abnegation, but of self-interest, finding one's own happiness in cooperation, in truth, in kindness, in beauty, and in benevolence.


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The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.