September 7, 2013

Henry Geiger - The Glory Of Our Species (1981)


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.”
Below is an excerpt from, "The Glory Of Our Species" by Henry Geiger. Source: MANAS Journal, Volume XXXIV, No. 37. September 16, 1981.
There are epochs of history when men are confident that they know right from wrong, are sure of what they should do to fulfill the meaning of life, and thus are able to formulate clear-cut objectives. The bringing up of children is no problem in such periods. The reliability of tradition is taken for granted by the young. Epic song and agora aphorism confirm parental counsels. These times mark the beginnings of a course of great events. Men and women rise to heroic heights. Homeric classics are composed to celebrate their achievement. The ethical issues are known to all, giving moral substance and color to classic works of art. Custom embodies didactic instruction and the definition of virtue presents no difficulties.

Then, inevitably, the serpent enters the garden. Prometheans learn the moral thrill of disobedience, although having to pay the price exacted by Zeus. Fausts are born, and Machiavellis are studied in secret, then openly. Old ideals are stood on their heads, as by the Nihilists, who turn the inward truth of sacrifice into the ardor of destruction. Then, as Yeats put it, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." From what seems full disclosure, the meaning of life withdraws into mystery or parody, and what once seemed well known is proudly declared to be unknowable—the learned man's polite way of saying there is no hidden reality and that only poets and fools pursue it.

In the eighteenth century, what we now term "single-issue" politics found full justification. The condition of life, for reasons too numerous to name, assumed greater importance than its meaning; or, to look at that epoch in another way, what men called "freedom" became the abstract foundation of all meaning, taking the place of theology and metaphysical speculation. The constraints of inherited ideas of meaning—what is right and what is wrong—gave freedom its rebounding definition: it meant taking down the barriers, removing the obstacles, unseating the kings.

But freedom—real freedom—is practically undefinable. When you are actually free, you don't think about it, talk about it, or want to define it. It is a word of use only to those who are not free. For meaning, in other words, freedom depends upon its opposites. This is true of practically everything else, but the unfree have difficulty in reaching this sound conclusion.

Today, looking back on the past two hundred years, it seems fair to say that the men of the eighteenth century fought revolutions in order to obtain freedom as they were bound to define it, and then made use of their freedom to obtain what they regarded as its natural fruits. They wanted, and more or less got, what had been denied them by the old regime. Increasingly, however, in the present, we are dissatisfied with what we've got. Collateral dissatisfactions—those expressed by the disharmonies evident in nature—add strength to our subjective apprehensions. Can it be, people are asking, that we don't know much of anything about the meaning of life?