The Book of Life - Upton Sinclair - ebook

Upton Sinclair, one of America's foremost and most prolific authors, addresses the cultivation of the mind and the body in this 1922 volume. Sinclair's goal was to attempt to tell the reader how to live, how to find health, happiness and success, and how to develop fully both the mind and the body. Part One: The Book of the Mind covers such subjects as faith, reason, morality, and the subconscious. Part Two: The Book of the Body develops such subjects as errors in diet, the fasting cure, food and poisons, work and play, and diseases and their cures ...

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Upton Sinclair


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Copyright © 2016 by Upton Sinclair

Published by Ozymandias Press

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ISBN: 9781531281106



















































































THE WRITER OF THIS BOOK has been in this world some forty-two years. That may not seem long to some, but it is long enough to have made many painful mistakes, and to have learned much from them. Looking about him, he sees others making these same mistakes, suffering for lack of that same knowledge which he has so painfully acquired. This being the case, it seems a friendly act to offer his knowledge, minus the blunders and the pain.

There come to the writer literally thousands of letters every year, asking him questions, some of them of the strangest. A man is dying of cancer, and do I think it can be cured by a fast? A man is unable to make his wife happy, and can I tell him what is the matter with women? A man has invested his savings in mining stock, and can I tell him what to do about it? A man works in a sweatshop, and has only a little time for self-improvement, and will I tell him what books he ought to read? Many such questions every day make one aware of a vast mass of people, earnest, hungry for happiness, and groping as if in a fog. The things they most need to know they are not taught in the schools, nor in the newspapers they read, nor in the church they attend. Of these agencies, the first is not entirely competent, the second is not entirely honest, and the third is not entirely up to date. Nor is there anywhere a book in which the effort has been made to give to everyday human beings the everyday information they need for the successful living of their lives.

For the present book the following claims may be made. First, it is a modern book; its writer watches hour by hour the new achievements of the human mind, he reaches out for information about them, he seeks to adjust his own thoughts to them and to test them in his own living. Second, it is, or tries hard to be, a wise book; its writer is not among those too-ardent young radicals who leap to the conclusion that because many old things are stupid and tiresome, therefore everything that is old is to be spurned with contempt, and everything that proclaims itself new is to be taken at its own valuation. Third, it is an honest book; its writer will not pretend to know what he only guesses, and where it is necessary to guess, he will say so frankly. Finally, it is a kind book; it is not written for its author’s glory, nor for his enrichment, but to tell you things that may be useful to you in the brief span of your life. It will attempt to tell you how to live, how to find health and happiness and success, how to work and how to play, how to eat and how to sleep, how to love and to marry and to care for your children, how to deal with your fellow men in business and politics and social life, how to act and how to think, what religion to believe, what art to enjoy, what books to read. A large order, as the boys phrase it!

There are several ways for such a book to begin. It might begin with the child, because we all begin that way; it might begin with love, because that precedes the child; it might begin with the care of the body, explaining that sound physical health is the basis of all right living, and even of right thinking; it might begin as most philosophies do, by defining life, discussing its origin and fundamental nature.

The trouble with this last plan is that there are a lot of people who have their ideas on life made up in tabloid form; they have creeds and catechisms which they know by heart, and if you suggest to them anything different, they give you a startled look and get out of your way. And then there is another, and in our modern world a still larger class, who say, “Oh, shucks! I don’t go in for religion and that kind of thing.” You offer them something that looks like a sermon, and they turn to the baseball page.

Who will read this Book of Life? There will be, among others, the great American tired business man. He wrestles with problems and cares all day, and when he sits down to read in the evening, he says: “Make it short and snappy.” There is the wife of the tired business man, the American perfect lady. She does most of the reading for the family; but she has never got down to anything fundamental in her life, and mostly she likes to read about exciting love affairs, which she distinguishes from the unexciting kind she knows by the word “romance.” Then there is the still more tired American workingman, who has been “speeded up” all day under the bonus system or the piece-work system, and is apt to fall asleep in his chair before he finishes supper. Then there is the workingman’s wife, who has slaved all day in the kitchen, and has a chance for a few minutes’ intimacy with her husband before he falls asleep. She would like to have somebody tell her what to do for croup, but she is not sure that she has time to discuss the question whether life is worth living.

Yet, I wonder; is there a single one among all these tired people, or even among the cynical people, who has not had some moment of awe when the thought came stabbing into his mind like a knife: “What a strange thing this life is! What am I anyhow? Where do I come from, and what is going to become of me? What do I mean, what am I here for?” I have sat chatting with three hoboes by a railroad track, cooking themselves a mulligan in an old can, and heard one of them say: “By God, it’s a queer thing, ain’t it, mate?” I have sat on the deck of a ship, looking out over the midnight ocean and talking with a sailor, and heard him use almost the identical words. It is not only in the class-room and the schools that the minds of men are grappling with the fundamental problems; in fact, it was not from the schools that the new religions and the great moral impulses of humanity took their origin. It was from lonely shepherds sitting on the hillsides, and from fishermen casting their nets, and from carpenters and tailors and shoemakers at their benches.

Stop and think a bit, and you will realize it does make a difference what you believe about life, how it comes to be, where it is going, and what is your place in it. Is there a heaven with a God, who watches you day and night, and knows every thought you think, and will some day take you to eternal bliss if you obey his laws? If you really believe that, you will try to find out about his laws, and you will be comparatively little concerned about the success or failure of your business. Perhaps, on the other hand, you have knocked about in the world and lost your “faith”; you have been cheated and exploited, and have set out to “get yours,” as the phrase is; to “feather your own nest.” But some gust of passion seizes you, and you waste your substance, you wreck your life; then you wonder, “Who set that trap and baited it? Am I a creature of blind instincts, jealousies and greeds and hates beyond my own control entirely? Am I a poor, feeble insect, blown about in a storm and smashed? Or do I make the storm, and can I in any part control it?”

No matter how busy you may be, no matter how tired you may be, it will pay you to get such things straight: to know a little of what the wise men of the past have thought about them, and more especially what science with its new tools of knowledge may have discovered.

The writer of this book spent nine years of his life in colleges and universities; also he was brought up in a church. So he knows the orthodox teachings, he can say that he has given to the recognized wise men of the world every opportunity to tell him what they know. Then, being dissatisfied, he went to the unrecognized teachers, the enthusiasts and the “cranks” of a hundred schools. Finally, he thought for himself; he was even willing to try experiments upon himself. As a result, he has not found what he claims is ultimate or final truth; but he has what he might describe as a rough working draft, a practical outline, good for everyday purposes. He is going to have confidence enough in you, the reader, to give you the hardest part first; that is, to begin with the great fundamental questions. What is life, and how does it come to be? What does it mean, and what have we to do with it? Are we its masters or its slaves? What does it owe us, and what do we owe to it? Why is it so hard, and do we have to stand its hardness? And can we really know about all these matters, or will we be only guessing? Can we trust ourselves to think about them, or shall we be safer if we believe what we are told? Shall we be punished if we think wrong, and how shall we be punished? Shall we be rewarded if we think right, and will the pay be worth the trouble?

Such questions as these I am going to try to answer in the simplest language possible. I would avoid long words altogether, if I could; but some of these long words mean certain definite things, and there are no other words to serve the purpose. You do not refuse to engage in the automobile business because the carburetor and the differential are words of four syllables. Neither should you refuse to get yourself straight with the universe because it is too much trouble to go to the dictionary and learn that the word “phenomenon” means something else than a little boy who can play the piano or do long division in his head.





(ATTEMPTS TO SHOW WHAT WE know about life; to set the bounds of real truth as distinguished from phrases and self-deception.)

If I could, I would begin this book by telling you what Life is. But unfortunately I do not know what Life is. The only consolation I can find is in the fact that nobody else knows either.

We ask the churches, and they tell us that male and female created He them, and put them in the Garden of Eden, and they would have been happy had not Satan tempted them. But then you ask, who made Satan, and the explanation grows vague. You ask, if God made Satan, and knew what Satan was going to do, is it not the same as if God did it himself? So this explanation of the origin of evil gets you no further than the Hindoo picture of the world resting on the back of a tortoise, and the tortoise on the head of a snake—and nothing said as to what the snake rests on.

Let us go to the scientist. I know a certain physiologist, perhaps the greatest in the world, and his eager face rises before me, and I hear his quick, impetuous voice declaring that he knows what Life is; he has told it in several big volumes, and all I have to do is to read them. Life is a tropism, caused by the presence of certain combinations of chemicals; my friend knows this, because he has produced the thing in his test-tubes. He is an exponent of a way of thought called Monism, which finds the ultimate source of being in forms of energy manifesting themselves as matter; he shows how all living things arise from that and sink back into it.

But question this scientist more closely. What is this “matter” that you are so sure of? How do you know it? Obviously, through sensations. You never know matter itself, you only know its effects upon you, and you assume that the matter must be there to cause the sensation. In other words, “matter,” which seems so real, turns out to be merely “a permanent possibility of sensation.” And suppose there were to be sensations, caused, for example, by a sportive demonwho liked to make fun of eminent physiologists—then there might be the appearance of matter and nothing else; in other words, there might be mind, and various states of mind. So we discover that the materialist, in the philosophic sense, is making just as large an act of faith, is pronouncing just as bold a dogma as any priest of any religion.

This is an old-time topic of disputation. Before Mother Eddy there was Bishop Berkeley, and before Berkeley, there was Plato, and they and the materialists disputed until their hearers cried in despair, “What is Mind? No matter! What is Matter? Never mind!” But a century or two ago in a town of Prussia there lived a little, dried-up professor of philosophy, who sat himself down in his room and fixed his eyes on a church steeple outside the window, and for years on end devoted himself to examining the tools of thought with which the human mind is provided, and deciding just what work and how much of it they are fitted to do. So came the proof that our minds are incapable of reaching to or dealing with any ultimate reality whatever, but can comprehend only phenomena—that is to say, appearances—and their relations one with another. The Koenigsberg professor proved this once for all time, setting forth four propositions about ultimate reality, and proving them by exact and irrefutable logic, and then proving by equally exact and irrefutable logic their precise opposites and contraries. Anybody who has read and comprehended the four “antinomies” of Immanuel Kant knows that metaphysics is as dead a subject as astrology, and that all the complicated theories which the philosophers from Heraclitus to Arthur Balfour have spun like spiders out of their inner consciousness, have no more relation to reality than the intricacies of the game of chess.

The writer is sorry to make this statement, because he spent a lot of time reading these philosophers and acquainting himself with their subtle theories. He learned a whole language of long words, and even the special meanings which each philosopher or school of philosophers give to them. When he had got through, he had learned, so far as metaphysics is concerned, absolutely nothing, and had merely the job of clearing out of his mind great masses of verbal cobwebs. It was not even good intellectual training; the metaphysical method of thought is a trap. The person who thinks in absolutes and ultimates is led to believe that he has come to conclusions about reality, when as a matter of fact he has merely proved what he wants to believe; if he had wanted to believe the opposite, he could have proven that exactly as well—as his opponents will at once demonstrate.

If you multiply two feet by two feet, the result represents a plain surface, or figure of two dimensions. If you multiply two feet by two feet by two feet, you have a solid, or figure of three dimensions—such as the world in which we live and move. But now, suppose you multiply two feet by two feet by two feet by two feet, what does that represent? For ages the minds of mathematicians and philosophers have been tempted by this fascinating problem of the “fourth dimension.” They have worked out by analogy what such a world would be like. If you went into this “fourth dimension,” you could turn yourself inside out, and come back to our present world in that condition, and no one of your three-dimension friends would be able to imagine how you had managed it, or to put you back again the way you belonged. And in this, it seems to me, we have the perfect analogy of metaphysical thinking. It is the “fourth dimension” of the mind, and plays as much havoc with sound thinking as a physical “fourth dimension” would play with—say, the prison system. A man who takes up an absolute—God, immortality, the origin of being, a first cause, free will, absolute right or wrong, infinite time or space, final truth, original substance, the “thing in itself"—that man disappears into a fourth dimension, and turns himself inside out or upside down or hindside foremost, and comes back and exhibits himself in triumph; then, when he is ready, he effects another disappearance, and another change, and is back on earth an ordinary human being.

The world is full of schools of thought, theologians and metaphysicians and professors of academic philosophy, transcendentalists and theosophists and Christian Scientists, who perform such mental monkey-shines continuously before our eyes. They prove what they please, and the fact that no two of them prove the same thing makes clear to us in the end that none of them has proved anything. The Christian Scientist asserts that there is no such thing as matter, but that pain is merely a delusion of mortal mind; he continues serene in this faith until he runs into an automobile and sustains a compound fracture of the femur—whereupon he does exactly what any of the rest of us do, goes to a competent surgeon and has the bone set. On the other hand, some devoted young Socialists of my acquaintance have read Haeckel and Dietzgen, and adopted the dogma that matter is the first cause, and that all things have grown out of it and return to it; they have seen that the brain decays after death, they declare that the soul is a function of the brain—and because of such theories they deliberately reject the most powerful modes of appeal whereby men can be swayed to faith in human solidarity.

The best books I know for the sweeping out of metaphysical cobwebs are “The Philosophy of Common Sense” and “The Creed of a Layman,” by Frederic Harrison, leader of the English Positivists, a school of thought established by Auguste Comte. But even as I recommend these books, I recall the dissatisfaction with which I left them; for it appears that the Positivists have their dogmas like all the rest. Mr. Harrison is not content to say that mankind has not the mental tools for dealing with ultimate realities; he must needs prove that mankind never will and never can have these tools, I look back upon the long process of evolution and ask myself, What would an oyster think about Positivism? What would be the opinion of, let us say, a young turnip on the subject of Mr. Frederic Harrison’s thesis? It may well be that the difference between a turnip and Mr. Harrison is not so great as will be the difference between Mr. Harrison and that super-race which some day takes possession of the earth and of all the universe. It does not seem to me good science or good sense to dogmatize about what this race will know, or what will be its tools of thought. What does seem to me good science and good sense is to take the tools which we now possess and use them to their utmost capacity.

What is it that we know about life? We know a seemingly endless stream of sensations which manifest themselves in certain ways, and seem to inhere in what we call things and beings. We observe incessant change in all these phenomena, and we examine these changes and discover their ways. The ways seem to be invariable; so completely so that for practical purposes we assume them to be invariable, and base all our calculations and actions upon this assumption. Manifestly, we could not live otherwise, and the spread of scientific knowledge is the further tracing out of such “laws"—that is to say, the ways of behaving of existence—and the extending of our belief in their invariability to wider and wider fields.

Once upon a time we were told that “the wind bloweth where it listeth.” But now we are quite certain that there are causes for the blowing of the wind, and when our researches have been carried far enough, we shall be able to account for and to predict every smallest breath of air. Once we were told that dreams came from a supernatural world; but now we are beginning to analyze dreams, and to explain what they come from and what they mean. Perhaps we still find human nature a bewildering and unaccountable thing; but some day we shall know enough of man’s body and his mind, his past and his present, to be able to explain human nature and to produce it at will, precisely as today we produce certain reactions in our test-tubes, and do it so invariably that the most cautious financier will invest tens of millions of dollars in a process, and never once reflect that he is putting too much trust in the permanence of nature.

In many departments of thought great specialists are now working, experimenting and observing by the methods of science. If in the course of this book we speak of “certainty,” we mean, of course, not the “absolute” certainty of any metaphysical dogma, but the practical certainty of everyday common sense; the certainty we feel that eating food will satisfy our hunger, and that tomorrow, as today, two and two will continue to make four.



(ATTEMPTS TO SHOW WHAT WE can prove by our reason, and what we know intuitively; what is implied in the process of thinking, and without which no thought could be.)

The primary fact that we know about life is growth. Herbert Spencer has defined this growth, or evolution, in a string of long words which may be summed up to mean: the process whereby a number of things which are simple and like one another become different parts of one thing which is complex. If we observe this process in ourselves, and the symptoms of it in others, we discover that when it is proceeding successfully, it is accompanied by a sensation of satisfaction which we call happiness or pleasure; also that when it is thwarted or repressed, it is accompanied by a different sensation which we call pain. Subtle metaphysicians, both inside the churches and out, have set themselves to the task of proving that there must be some other object of life than the continuance of these sensations of pleasure which accompany successful growth. They have proven to their own satisfaction that morality will collapse and human progress come to an end unless we can find some other motive, something more permanent and more stimulating, something “higher,” as they phrase it. All I can say is that I gave reverent attention to the arguments of these moralists and theologians, and that for many years I believed their doctrines; but I believe them no longer.

I interpret the purpose of life to be the continuous unfoldment of its powers, its growth into higher forms—that is to say, forms more complex and subtly contrived, capable of more intense and enduring kinds of that satisfaction which is nature’s warrant of life. If you wish to take up this statement and argue about it, please wait until you have read the chapter “Nature and Man,” and noted my distinction between instinctive life and rational life. For men, the word “growth” does not mean any growth, all growth, blind and indiscriminate growth. It does not mean growth for the tubercle bacillus, nor growth for the anopheles mosquito, nor growth for the house-fly, the spider and the louse. Neither do we mean that the purpose of man’s own life is any pleasure, all pleasure, blind and indiscriminate pleasure; the pleasure of alcohol, the pleasure of cannibalism, the pleasure of the modern form of cannibalism which we call “making money.” We have survived in the struggle for existence by the cooperative and social use of our powers of judgment; and our judgment is that which selects among forms of growth, which gives preference to wheat and corn over weeds, and to self-control and honesty over treachery and greed.

So when we say that the purpose of life is happiness, we do not mean to turn mankind loose at a hog-trough; we mean that our duty as thinkers is to watch life, to test it, to pick and choose among the many forms it offers, and to say: This kind of growth is more permanent and full of promise, it is more fertile, more deeply satisfactory; therefore, we choose this, and sanction the kind of pleasure which it brings. Other kinds we decide are temporary and delusive; therefore we put in jail anyone who sells alcoholic drink, and we refuse to invite to our home people who are lewd, and some day we shall not permit our children to attend moving picture shows in which the modern form of cannibalism is glorified.

The reader, no doubt, has been taught a distinction between “science” and “faith.” He is saying now, “You believe that everything is to be determined by human reason? You reject all faith?” I answer, No; I am not rejecting faith; I am merely refusing to apply it to objects with which it has nothing to do. You do not take it as a matter of faith that a package of sugar weighs a pound; you put it on the scales and find out—in other words, you make it a matter of experiment. But all the creeds of all the religious sects are full of pronouncements which are no more matters of faith than the question of the weighing of sugar. Is pork a wholesome article of food or is it not? All Christians will readily acknowledge that this is a matter to be determined by the microscope and other devices of experimental science; but then some Jew rises in the meeting and puts the question: Is dancing injurious to the character? And immediately all members of the Methodist Episcopal Church vote to close the discussion.

What is faith? Faith is the instinct which underlies all being, assuring us that life is worth while and honest, a thing to be trusted; in other words, it is the certainty that successful growth always is and always will be accompanied by pleasure. The most skeptical scientist in the world, even my friend the physiologist who proves that life is nothing but a tropism, and can be produced by mixing chemicals in test-tubes—this eager friend is one of the most faithful men I know. He is burning up with the faith that knowledge is worth possessing, and also that it is possible of attainment. With what boundless scorn would he receive any suggestion to the contrary—for example, the idea that life might be a series of sensations which some sportive demon is producing for the torment of man! More than that, this friend is burning up with the certainty that knowledge can be spread, that his fellow men will receive it and apply it, and that it will make them happy when they do. Why else does he write his learned books in defense of the materialist philosophy?

And that same faith which animates the great monist animates likewise every child who toddles off to school, and every chicken which emerges from an egg, and every blade of grass which thrusts its head above the ground. Not every chicken survives, of course, and all the blades of grass wither in the fall; nevertheless, the seeds of grass are spread, and chickens make food for philosophers, and the great process of life continues to manifest its faith. In the end the life process produces man, who, as we shall presently see, takes it up, and judges it, and makes it over to suit himself.

You will note from this that I am what is called an optimist; whereas some of the great philosophers of the world have called themselves pessimists. But I notice with a smile that these are often the men who work hardest of all to spread their ideas, and thus testify to the worthwhileness of truth and the perfectibility of mankind. There has come to be a saying among settlement workers and physicians, who are familiar with poverty and its effects upon life, that there are no bad babies and good babies, there are only sick babies and well babies. In the same way, I would say there are no pessimists and optimists, there are only mentally sick people and mentally well people. Everywhere throughout life, both animal and vegetable, health means happiness, and gives abundant evidence of that fact. All healthy life is satisfactory to itself; when it develops reason, it tries to find out why, and this is yet another testimony to the fact that having power and using it is pleasant. When I was in college the professor would propound the old question: “Would you rather be a happy pig or an unhappy philosopher?” My answer always was: “I would rather be a happy philosopher.” The professor replied: “Perhaps that is not possible.” But I said: “I will prove that it is!”



(ATTEMPTS TO SHOW THAT IN the field to which reason applies we are compelled to use it, and are justified in trusting it.)

The great majority of people are brought up to believe that some particular set of dogmas are objects of faith, and that there are penalties more or less severe for the application of reason to these dogmas. What particular set it happens to be is a matter of geography; in a crowded modern city like New York, it is a matter of the particular block on which the child is born. A child born on Hester Street will be taught that his welfare depends upon his never eating meat and butter from the same dish. A child born on Tenth Avenue will be taught that it is a matter of his not eating meat on Fridays. A child born on Madison Avenue will be taught that it is a question of the precise metaphysical process by which bread is changed into human body and wine into human blood. Each of these children will be assured that his human reason is fallible, that it is extremely dangerous to apply it to this “sacred” subject, and that the proper thing to do is to accept the authority of some ancient tradition, or some institution, or some official, or some book for which a special sanction is claimed.

Has there ever been in the world any revelation, outside of or above human reason? Could there ever be such a thing? In order to test this possibility, select for yourself the most convincing way by which a special revelation could be handed down to mankind. Take any of the ancient orthodox ways, the finding of graven tablets on a mountain-top, or a voice speaking from a burning bush, or an angel appearing before a great concourse of people and handing out a written scroll. Suppose that were to happen, let us say, at the next Yale-Harvard football game; suppose the news were to be flashed to the ends of the earth that God had thus presented to mankind an entirely new religion. What would be the process by which the people of London or Calcutta would decide upon that revelation? First, they would have to consider the question whether it was an American newspaper fake—by no means an easy question. Second, they would have to consider the chances of its being an optical delusion. Then, assuming they accepted the sworn testimony of ten thousand mature and competent witnesses, they would have to consider the possibility of someone having invented a new kind of invisible aeroplane. Assuming they were convinced that it was really a supernatural being, they would next have to decide the chances of its being a visitor from Mars, or from the fourth dimension of space, or from the devil. In considering all this, they would necessarily have to examine the alleged revelation. What was the literary quality of it? What was the moral quality of it? What would be the effect upon mankind if the alleged revelation were to be universally adopted and applied?

Manifestly, all these are questions for the human reason, the human judgment; there is no other method of determining them, there would be nothing for any individual person, or for men as a whole to do, except to apply their best powers, and, as the phrase is, “make up their minds” about the matter. Reason would be the judge, and the new revelation would be the prisoner at the bar. Humanity might say, this is a real inspiration, we will submit ourselves to it and follow it, and allow no one from now on to question it. But inevitably there would be some who would say, “Tommyrot!” There would be others who would say, “This new revelation isn’t working, it is repressing progress, it is stifling the mind.” These people would stand up for their conviction, they would become martyrs, and all the world would have to discuss them. And who would decide between them and the great mass of men? Reason, the judge, would decide.

It is perfectly true that human reason is fallible. Infallibility is an absolute, a concept of the mind, and not a reality. Life has not given us infallibility, any more than it has given us omniscience, or omnipotence, or any other of those attributes which we call divine. Life has given us powers, more or less weak, more or less strong, but all capable of improvement and development. Reason is the tool whereby mankind has won supremacy over the rest of the animal kingdom, and is gradually taking control of the forces of nature. It is the best tool we have, and because it is the best, we are driven irresistibly to use it. And how strange that some of us can find no better use for it than to destroy its own self! Visit one of the Jesuit fathers and hear him seek to persuade you that reason is powerless against faith and must abdicate to faith. You answer, “Yes, father, you have persuaded me. I admit the fallibility of my mortal powers; and I begin by applying my doubts of them to the arguments by which you have just convinced me. I was convinced, but of course I cannot be sure of a conviction, attained by fallible reason. Therefore I am just where I was before—except that I am no longer in position to be certain of anything.”

You answer in good faith, and take up your hat and depart, closing the door of the good father’s study behind you. But stop a moment, why do you close the door? You close the door because your reason tells you that otherwise the cold air outside will blow in and make the good father uncomfortable. You put your hat on, because your reason has not yet been applied to the problem of the cause of baldness. You step out onto the street, and when you hear a sudden noise, you step back onto the curbstone, because your reason tells you that an automobile is coming, and that on the sidewalk you are safe from it. So you go on, using your reason in a million acts of your life whereby your life is preserved and developed. And if anybody suggested that the fallibility of your reason should cause you to delay in front of an automobile, you would apply your reason to the problem of that person and decide that he was insane. And I say that just as there is insanity in everyday judgments and relationships, so there is insanity in philosophy, metaphysics and religion; the seed and source of all this kind of insanity being the notion that it is the duty of anybody to believe anything which cannot completely justify itself as reasonable.

Nowadays, as ideas are spreading, the champions of dogma are hard put to it, and you will find their minds a muddle of two points of view. The Jewish rabbi will strive desperately to think of some hygienic objection to the presence of meat and butter on the same plate; the Catholic priest will tell you that fish is a very wholesome article of food, and that anyhow we all eat too much; the Methodist and the Baptist and the Presbyterian will tell you that if men did not rest one day in seven their health would break down. Thus they justify faith by reason, and reconcile the conflict between science and theology. Accepting this method, I experiment and learn that it improves my digestion and adds to my working power if I play tennis on Sunday. I follow this indisputably rational form of conduct—and find myself in conflict with the “faith” of the ancient State of Delaware, which obliges me to serve a term in its state’s prison for having innocently and unwittingly desecrated its day of holiness!

If you read Professor Bury’s little book, “A History of Freedom of Thought,” you will discover that there has been a long conflict over the right of men to use their minds—and the victory is not yet. The term “free thinker,” which ought to be the highest badge a man could wear, is still almost everywhere throughout America a term of vague terror. In the State of California today there is a Criminal Syndicalism Act, which provides a maximum of fourteen years in jail for any person who shall write or publish or speak any words expressive of the idea that the United States government should be overthrown in the same way that it was established—that is, by force; only a few months ago the writer of this book was on the witness stand for two days, and had the painful, almost incredible experience of being battered and knocked about by an inquisitive district attorney, who cross-examined him as to every detail of his beliefs, and read garbled extracts from his published writings, in the effort to make it appear that he held some belief which might possibly prejudice the jury against him. The defendant in this case, a returned soldier who had spent three years as a volunteer in the trenches, and had been twice wounded and once gassed, was accused, not merely of approving the Soviet form of government, but also of having printed uncomplimentary references to priests and religious institutions.

Nowadays it is the propertied class which has taken possession of the powers of government, and which presumes to censor the thinking of mankind in its own interest. But whether it be priestcraft or whether it be capitalism which seeks to bind the human mind, it comes to the same thing, and the effort must be met by the assertion that, in spite of errors and blunders, and the serious harm these may do, there is no way for men to advance save by using the best powers of thinking they possess, and proclaiming their conclusions to others. Speaking theologically for the moment, God has given us our reasoning powers, and also the impulse to use them, and it is inconceivable that He should seek to restrict their use, or should give to anyone the power to forbid their use. It is His truth which we seek, and His which we proclaim. In so doing we perform our highest act of faith, and we refuse to be troubled by the idea that for this service He will reward us by an eternity of sulphur and brimstone.

Throughout the remainder of this book it will be assumed that the reader accepts this point of view, or, at any rate, that he is willing for purposes of experiment to give it a trial and see where it leads him. We shall proceed to consider the problems of human life in the light of reason, to determine how they come to be, and how they can be solved.



(COMPARES THE WAYS OF NATURE with human morality, and tries to show how the latter came to be.)

Seventy years ago Charles Darwin published his book, “The Origin of Species,” in which he defied the theological dogma of his time by the shocking idea that life had evolved by many stages of progress from the diatom to man. This of course did not conform to the story of the Garden of Eden, and so “Darwinism” was fought as an invention of the devil, and in the interior of America there are numerous sectarian colleges where the dread term “evolution” is spoken in awed whispers. Only the other day I read in my newspaper the triumphant proclamation of some clergyman that “Darwinism” had been overthrown. This reverend gentleman had got mixed up because some biologists were disputing some detail of the method by which the evolution of species had been brought about. Do species change by the gradual elimination of the unfit, or do they change by sudden leaps, the “mutation” theory of de Vries? Are acquired powers transmitted to posterity, or is the germ plasm unaffected by its environment? Concerning such questions the scientists debate. But the fact that life has evolved in an ordered series from the lower forms to the higher, and that each individual reproduces in embryo and in infancy the history of this long process—these facts are now the basis of all modern thinking, and as generally accepted as the rotation of the earth.

You may study this process of evolution from the outside, in the multitude of forms which it has assumed and in their reactions one to another; or you may study it from the inside in your own soul, the emotions which accompany it, the impulse or craving which impels it, the élan vital, as it is called by the French philosopher Bergson. The Christians call it love, and Nietzsche, who hated Christianity, called it “the will to power,” and persuaded himself that it was the opposite of love.

You will find in the essays of Professor Huxley, one entitled “Evolution and Ethics,” in which he sets forth the complete unmorality of nature, and declares that there is no way by which what mankind knows as morality can have originated in the process of nature or can be reconciled to natural law. This statement, coming from a leading agnostic, was welcome to the theologians. But when I first read the essay, as a student of sixteen, it seemed to me narrow; I thought I saw a standpoint from which the contradiction disappeared. The difference between the morality of Christ and the morality of nature is merely the difference between a lower and a higher stage of mental development. The animal loves and seeks by instinct to preserve the life which it knows—that is to say, its own life and the life of its young. The wolf knows nothing about the feelings of a deer; but man in his savage state develops reasoning powers enough to realize that there are others like himself, the members of his own tribe, and he makes for himself taboos which forbid him to kill and eat the members of that tribe. At the present time humanity has developed its reason and imaginative sympathy to include in the “tribe” one or two hundred million people; while to those outside the tribe it still preserves the attitude of the wolf.

How came it that a mind so acute as Huxley’s went so far astray on the question of the evolution of morality? The answer is that this was the factory age in England, and the great scientist, a rebel in theological matters, was in economics a child of his time. We find him using the formulas of bourgeois biology to ridicule Henry George and his plea for the freeing of the land. “Competition is the life of trade,” ran the nineteenth century slogan; and competition was the god of nineteenth century biology. Tennyson summed it up in the phrase: “Nature red in tooth and claw with ravin;” and this was found convenient by Manchester manufacturers who wished to shut little children up for fourteen hours a day in cotton mills, and to harness women to drag cars in the coal mines, and to be told by the learned men of their colleges and the holy men of their churches that this was “the survival of the fittest,” it was nature’s way of securing the advancement of the race.

But now we are preparing for an era of cooperation, and it occurs to our men of science to go back to nature and find out what really are her ways. If you will read Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid as a Factor in Evolution,” you will find a complete refutation of the old bourgeois biology, and a view of nature which reveals in it the germs of human morality. Kropotkin points out that everywhere throughout nature it is the social and not the solitary animals which are most numerous and most successful. There are many millions of ants and bees for every hawk or eagle, and certainly in the state of nature there were thousands of deer for every lion or tiger that preyed upon them. And all these social creatures have their ways of being, which it requires no stress of the imagination to compare with the tribal customs and the moral codes of mankind. The different animals prey upon one another, but they do not prey upon their own species, except in a few rare cases. The only beast that makes a regular practice of exploiting his own kind is man.

By hundreds of interesting illustrations Kropotkin shows that mutual aid and mutual self-protection are the means whereby the higher forms of being have been evolved. Insects and birds and fish, nearly all the herbivorous mammals, and even a great many of the carnivores, help one another and protect one another. The chattering monkeys in the treetops drove out the saber-tooth tiger from the grove because there were so many of them, and when they saw him they all set up a shriek and clamor which deafened and confused him. And when by and by these monkeys developed an opposed thumb, and broke off a branch of a tree for a club, and fastened a sharp stone on the end of it for an axe, and fell upon the saber-toothed tiger and exterminated him, they did it because they had learned solidarity—even as the workers of the world are today learning solidarity in the face of the beast of capitalism.

Man has survived by the cunning of his brain, we are told, and that is true. But first among the products of that cunning brain has been the knowledge that by himself he is the most helpless and pitiful of creatures, while standing together and forming societies and developing moralities, he is master of the world. He has not yet learned that lesson entirely; he has learned it only for his own nation. Therefore he takes the highest skill of his hand and the subtlest wit of his brain, and uses them to manufacture poison gases. At the present hour he is painfully realizing that his poison formulas all become known to the tribes whom he calls his enemies, and so it is his own destruction he is engaged in contriving. In other words, man has come to a time when his mechanical skill, his mastery over the forces of nature, has developed more rapidly than his moral sense and his imaginative sympathy. His ability to destroy life has become dangerously greater than his desire to preserve it. So he confronts the fair face of nature as an insane creature, wrecking not merely everything that he himself has built up, but everything that nature has built in the ages before him. He is striving now with infinite agony to make this fact real to himself, and to mend his evil ways; and the first step in that process is to root out from his mind the devil’s doctrine which in his blindness and greed he has himself implanted, that there is any way for him to find real happiness, or to make any worth while progress on this earth, by the method of inflicting misery and torment upon his fellow men.



(ATTEMPTS TO SHOW HOW MAN has taken control of nature, and is carrying on her processes and improving upon them.)

If the argument of the preceding chapter is sound, human morality is not a fixed and eternal set of laws, but is, like everything else in the world, a product of natural evolution. We can trace the history of it, just as we trace the story of the rocks. It is not a mysterious or supernatural thing, it is simply the reaction of man to his environment, and more especially to his fellow men. The source of it is that same inner impulse, that love of life, that joy in growing, that faith which appears to be the soul of all being.

Man is a part of nature and a product of nature; in many fundamental respects his ways are still nature’s ways and his laws still nature’s laws. But there are other and even more significant ways in which man has separated himself from nature and made himself something quite different. In order to reveal this clearly, we draw a distinction between nature and man. This is a proper thing to do, provided we bear in mind that our classification is not permanent or final. We distinguish frogs from tadpoles, in spite of the fact that at one stage the creature is half tadpole and half frog. We distinguish the animal from the vegetable kingdom, despite the fact that in their lower forms they cannot be distinguished.

What, precisely, is the difference between nature and man? The difference lies in the fact that nature is apparently blind in her processes; she produces a million eggs in order to give life to one salmon, she produces countless millions of salmon to be devoured by other fish apparently no better than salmon. Poets may take up the doctrine of evolution and dress it out in theological garments, talking about the “one far off divine event towards which the whole creation moves,” but for all we can see, nature, apart from man, is just as well satisfied to move in circles, and to come back exactly where she started. Nature made a whole world of complicated creatures in the steamy, luke-warm swamps of the Mesozoic era, and then, as if deciding that the pattern of a large body and a small brain was not a success, she froze them all to death with a glacial epoch, and we have nothing but the bones to tell us about them.

No one understands anything about evolution until he has realized that the phrase “the survival of the fittest” does not mean the survival of the best from any human point of view. It merely means the survival of those capable of surviving in some particular environment. We consider our present civilization as “fit”; but if astronomical changes should cause another ice age, we should discover that our “fitness” depended upon our ability to live on lichens, or on something we could grow by artificial light in the bowels of the earth.

So much for our ancient mother, nature. But now—whether we say with the theologians that it was divine providence, or with the materialist philosophers that it was an accidental mixing of atoms—at any rate it has come about that nature has recently produced creatures who are conscious of her process, who are able to observe and criticize it, to take up her work and carry it on in their own way, for better or for worse. Whether by accident or design, there has been on parts of our planet such a combination of climate and soil as has brought into being a new product of nature, a heightened form of life which we call “intelligence.” Creation opens its eyes, and beholds the work of the creator, and decides that it is good—yet not so good as it might be! Creation takes up the work of the creator, and continues it, in many respects annulling it, in other respects revising it entirely. Whether a sonnet is a better or a higher product than a spider is a question it would be futile to discuss; but this, at least, should be clear—nature has produced an infinity of spiders, but nature never produced a sonnet, nor anything resembling it.

Man, the creature of God, takes over the functions of God. This fact may shock us, or it may inspire us; to the metaphysically minded it offers a great variety of fascinating problems. Can it be that God is in process of becoming, that there is no God until he has become, in us and through us? H. G. Wells sets forth this curious idea; and then, of course, the bishops and the clergy rise up in indignation and denounce Mr. Wells as an upstart and trespasser upon their field. They have been worshipping their God for some three or four thousand years, and know that He has been from eternity; He created the world at His will, and how shall impious man presume to rise up and criticize His product, and imagine that he can improve upon it? Man, with his cheap and silly little toys, his sonnets and scientific systems, his symphony concerts and such pale imitations of celestial harmonies!

Mr. Wells, in his character of God in the making, has created a bishop of his own, and no doubt would maintain the thesis that he is a far better bishop than any created by the God of the Anglican churches. We will leave Mr. Wells’ bishop to argue these problems with God’s bishops, and will merely remind the reader of our warning about these metaphysical matters. You can prove anything and everything, whichever and however, all or both; and discussions of the subject are merely your enunciation of the fact that you have your private truth as you want it. It may be that there is an Infinite Consciousness, which carries the whole process of creation in itself, and that all the seeming wastes and blunders of nature can be explained from some point of view at present beyond the reach of our minds. On the other hand it may be that consciousness is now dawning in the universe for the first time. It may be that it is an accident, a fleeting product like the morning mist on the mountain top. On the other hand, it may be that it is destined to grow and expand and take control of the entire universe, as a farmer takes control of a field for his own purposes. It may be that just as our individual fragments of intelligence communicate and merge into a family, a club, a nation, a world culture, so we shall some day grope our way toward the consciousness of other planets, or of other states of being subsisting on this planet unknown to us, or perhaps even toward the cosmic soul, the universal consciousness which we call God.