July 23, 2013

Henry Geiger - Moonshine And Sunlight (1984)

Henry Geiger (1908?-15 February 1989) was the editor, publisher, and chief writer of MANAS Journal which published from 1948-1988. Abraham Maslow called him “the only small ‘p’ philosopher America has produced in this century.”
MANAS was an eight-page philosophical weekly written, edited, and published by Henry Geiger from 1948 until December 1988. Each issue typically contained several short essays that reflected on the human condition, examining in particular environmental and ethical concerns from a global perspective. E. F. Schumacher's influential essay on Buddhist economics was published in the journal.
Below is an excerpt from, "Moonshine And Sunlight" by Henry Geiger. Source: MANAS Journal, Volume XXXVII, No. 9. February 29, 1984.
Reading in Thoreau sometimes produces an afterglow; it may last even a week, as now. He is so richly opposite to what we are, so consistently so. A historian once remarked that for Americans, the pursuit of happiness has become the happiness of pursuit. Not for Thoreau. He pursued nothing, allowing instead himself to be overtaken. His hungers were all temperate, and for nothing that was not within reach. Yet his life was made of fulfilled engagements. No one, he said, could kill time without injuring Eternity. Leisure brought the intensest, most pleasurable hours of his life. And he found the familiar to be best. "The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale," he said, "and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore." Other men went in search of other sights, but Thoreau, while he traveled some, was most content at home.

Each day brought him a fresh lens for inspecting either the vistas or the minutiae of his surroundings. He had lenses too, for thought.
Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, "and lo! creation widens to our view." We are often reminded that if there were bestowed on us the wealth of Crœ sus , our aims must still be the same, and our means essentially the same. Moreover, if you are restricted in your range by poverty, if you cannot buy books and newspapers, for instance, you are but confined to the most significant and vital experiences; you are compelled to deal with the material which yields the most sugar and the most starch. It is life near the bone where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler. No man loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluous wealth can buy but superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.
Here we have the man's sole occupation. He was a cataloguer of the soul's necessities. Shelter, food and drink were among them, but only in ancillary degree. And here he was most opposite of all to us. He needed little. To speak now of the soul and its needs is to earn only a vacant eye, a failing ear. The soul's hungers have been deadened by drugs or degraded into insatiable appetites.

Yet poverty and trouble may alter our susceptibilities. In harsh conditions the soul's ear regains its power of reception. And so it is, perhaps, that a century after the New Englander's death, another voice began to be heard. The subject of discourse was the things that are done for their own sakes. The speaker—in this case the writer—was E. F. Schumacher, and in his guise of an economist he spoke of the use of land, noting first that this is no ordinary topic in economics, but highly philosophical, not requiring "a special inventiveness of a technical kind."
Now, anything that we do for its own sake does not lend itself to calculation. For instance, most of us try to keep ourselves reasonably clean. You cannot calculate the value of this; certainly you cannot apply an economic calculus. In fact, to wash is totally un- economic. Nobody has ever made any profit out of washing himself. There are many activities, when you come to think of it, which are totally uneconomic because they are carried on for their own sakes. So the first point I am making is that ends, as distinct from means, are not matters of economic calculation. They are not economic but if you like meta-economic. Just as we can have physics and meta-physics, so we can have economics and meta-economics. . . .

People believe today that clean air and clean water are worthy objectives, but is land to be considered as an end in itself, worth bothering about? I am afraid we are still a long way from that. Of course, it can still come; you have only to think back about 100 years when many people were quite incapable of thinking of the fifth element as an end in itself, which is of course the human being—man himself. We had theories, which are still leading a ghostly and unpleasant existence, that man was just an economic phenomenon. . . . But I am glad to say we have to some extent got away from this; in present-day economics man is generally taken not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. You know what happens when people start mixing up means and ends. . . . you find all through present-day societies all sorts of extraordinary attempts to reduce what we all recognize as final values to an economic calculus. . . . So I am saying that if one mistakes what is an end in itself, and treats it as a means, then there is a degradation of life. . . .

So now we come to our question: Can we say, do we believe, that a healthy and beautiful countryside is an end in itself? The moment we say yes to that, we do not have to discuss any more whether it is economic or uneconomic. . . . We waste our time if we think, this is a matter for scientific proof. No one can prove that it is right to love anybody, or to care for anything, or to have respect for anything. No one can prove that it is right to care for the future. If somebody says to me, "Thou shalt not exploit thy fellow man," I can always answer, "Why not?" There is no conclusion to it in logic. We see intuitively— call it what you like—that there are values that do not have to be argued, with regard to not exploiting or killing our fellow men.
But calculation still rules our lives. We still suppose we can convert the immeasurable into finite quantities and make decisions according to their weight. There are even calculators who think it feasible to put a dollar value on human life, or tell us how many deaths in nuclear war the economy can survive. The language of the calculus—although its axioms are intuitively established—takes no account of intuition, has no terms for recognition of its validity. So we go on pretending to count the incommeasurables, dividing them up into units of value which in fact have no meaning to anybody, and drawing conclusions which give mathematical sanction to the dictates of appetite, even though appetites, like intuitions, require no proofs to make them acceptable.

Yet there is a sense in which the passage of time renders our intuitions into calculable values. If we ignore our intuitions long enough, they cause finite intrusions on our lives. A final comment by Schumacher takes this into account:
We know too much about ecology today to have any excuse for the many abuses that are now going on in the management of the land, in the management of animals, in food storage, food processing, food distribution, and in needless urbanization. But as a society we have, at this point of time no firm basis of belief in any meta-economic values, and when there is no such belief economics takes over. This is quite inevitable. How could it be otherwise? Nature, it has been said, abhors a vacuum, and when the available space is not filled by some higher motivation, then it will be filled by something lower, by the small, mean, calculating attitude to life which is rationalized in the economic calculus.
Well, what shall we do? Try to moralize away the clouds of unbelief? Talk learnedly about the calculus of spirit? Tell educators to study the techniques of self-realizing discovery? It doesn't work. Moralizing has the taste of piety and the odor of sanctity, but it offends the integrity of self-reliant souls, and they are the only ones worth reaching, since copycats never make history. They make cultural lag. The virtues are not virtues when practiced at second hand.