1. My social ideas are temperamentally mine—I have not really changed them in forty years—but they do not derive logically from my biases, as a doctrine. I would abhor a politics, pedagogy, or town-planning that was deduced from metaphysics or epistemology, or even scientifically deduced, rather than being pragmatic and not immoral. One must not manipulate real people because of an idea or a confirmed hypothesis. Indeed, I say “not immoral” rather than “moral” because positive morality, when used as a principle for action, can be more abstract and imperial than anything. There are far too many missionaries among my friends.
But instead of being abstract or moral, my corresponding defect is that I am an artist and fundamentally unpolitical. I don’t (timidly) bestir myself to oppose anything or try to change it unless I first have imagined a simpler and more artistic way to do it, neater, making use of available and cheap materials, less senseless, less wasteful. If a bad situation is not amenable to my flash of inventiveness, I find it hard to identify with it as mine; I feel there’s nothing that I can contribute. Meantime people are suffering. But a political person ploughs into the situation and makes a difference in it just by his action. Sometimes a good idea then turns up.
Artistic visions have their virtues. (Let me speak no evil of the creator spirit.) They are better than carping criticism. They give people a ray of possibility instead of the gloom of metaphysical necessity. Activism and ideology both do more harm than good. But art has the unpolitical self-sufficiency of art. I am not zealous to make my models real. And they have the timidity of being personal; I draw no strength from my fellows; I cannot lead and find it hard to follow.
One cannot rely on artists for a political message. Tolstoy makes war seem sublime and attractive. Homer makes it senseless and horrible.
- But I mustn’t overstate my diffidence. I, like anybody else, see outrages that take me by the throat, and no question of not identifying with them as mine. Cruelty and insults to the beauty of the world that keep me indignant. Lies, triviality, and vulgarity that suddenly make me sick. The powers-that-be do not know what it is to be magnanimous; often they are simply officious and spiteful. As Malatesta used to say, you try to do your thing and they intervene, and then you are to blame for the fight that happens. Worst of all, it is clear from their earth-destroying actions that these people are demented, sacrilegious, and will bring down doom on themselves and those associated with them; so sometimes I am superstitiously afraid to belong to the same tribe and walk the same ground as our political leaders.
Yet people have a right to be crazy, stupid, or arrogant. It is our speciality as human beings. Our mistake is to arm anybody with collective power. Anarchy is the only safe polity.
It is a moral disaster to suppress indignation, nausea, and scorn; it is a political (and soon moral) disaster to make them into a program.
It is a common misconception that anarchists hold that “human nature is good” and therefore men can rule themselves. But we tend rather to be pessimistic. We are phlegmatic because we do not have ideas. And men in power are especially likely to be stupid because they are out of touch with concrete finite experience and instead keep interfering with other people’s initiative, so they make them stupid too. Imagine being deified like Mao Tse-tung or Kim Il Sung, what that must do to a man’s character. Or habitually thinking the unthinkable, like our Pentagon.
- I must also mention the odd abstraction “Society,” since it has exercised such a superstitious compulsion on political scientists since the time of Bentham, Comte, Hegel, and Marx; instead of the loose matrix of face-to-face communities, private fantasies, and shifting subsocieties in which most people mostly live their lives. It is understandable that fatherly czars or divine-right monarchs would have the delusion that all the sparrows are constantly under their tutelage as one Society; and that Manchester economists would sternly rule out of existence all family, local, and non-cash transactions that cannot be summed up on the stock exchange. The usual strategy of Enlightenment philosophers, however, was to cut such big fictions down to size and to have simple, concrete abuses to reform. But it was as if, to substitute for the slogan L’Ancien Régime, it was necessary to have a concept equally grand, Society.
Comte and Bentham wanted to manufacture the big fiction of Society into a reality—Comte knew that it started as a fiction—in order to use it to tidy up “everything” or at least “the greatest good for the greatest number.” For metaphysical reasons, Hegel was satisfied that the more socialized a man, and the more selfconscious of it, the more real he was. But the pathetic case is Marx, who concentrated on Society and indeed wanted to empower Society, precisely to get rid of it and go back to simpler personal and community existence.
Certainly there are occasions when my existence as a mere member of Society is overwhelmingly important and not at all an abstraction, for example when they herd me into a big air liner, with its back-up of thousands of anonymous operatives and their schedules and instruments, not to mention hijackers. But even so, after the initial shock, I soon recover and become restive for a more attractive seat mate, or look for a couple of empties so I can stretch out and go to sleep, or I press my nose to the window and watch the clouds and the receding earth.
Usually my need for Society is satisfied by a very loose criterion: “Lucky is the man who can band together with enough of those like-minded with himself—it needs only a couple of hundred—to reassure him that he is sane, even though eight million others are quite batty.” (Empire City, lv, 19, i.)
One reason I haven’t learned anything in forty years is that the political truth is so simple that a boy can see it: Society with a big S can do very little for people, except to be tolerable so we can go on about the more important business of life.
- Most anarchist philosophers start from a lust for freedom. Sometimes this is a metaphysico-moral imperative, with missionary zeal attached, but mostly it is a deep animal cry or religious yearning, like the hymn of the prisoners in Fidelio. They have seen or suffered too much restraint—serfdom, factory slavery, deprived of liberties, colonized by an imperialist, befuddled by the church.
My own experience, however, has by and large been roomy enough. “They” have not managed to constrict it too much, though I have suffered a few of the usual baits, many of the punishments, and very many of the threats. I do not need to shake off restraint in order to be myself. My usual gripe has been not that I am imprisoned, but that I am in exile or was born on the wrong planet. My real trouble is that the world is impractical for me; by impatience and cowardice I make it even less practical than it could be.
For me, the chief principle of anarchism is not freedom but autonomy, the ability to initiate a task and do it one’s own way. Without having to take orders from authorities who do not know the actual problem and the available means. External direction may sometimes be inevitable, as in emergencies, but it is at a cost to vitality. Behavior is more graceful, forceful, and discriminating without the intervention of the state, wardens, bureaucrats, corporation executives, central planners, and university presidents. These tend to create chronic emergencies that make themselves necessary. In most cases, the use of power to do a job is inefficient in the fairly short run. Extrinsic power inhibits intrinsic function. “Soul is selfmoving,” says Aristotle.
The weakness of “my” anarchism is that the lust for freedom is a powerful motive for political change, whereas autonomy is not. Autonomous people protect themselves stubbornly but by less strenuous means, including plenty of passive resistance. They do their thing anyway.
The pathos of oppressed people, however, is that, if they break free, they don’t know what to do. Not having been autonomous, they don’t know what it’s like, and before they learn, they have new managers who are not in a hurry to abdicate. And the oppressed hope for too much from New Society, instead of being vigilant to live their lives. They had to rely on one another in the battle, but their solidarity becomes an abstraction and to deviate is called counterrevolutionary.
The possibility of my weaker position is that autonomous people might see that the present situation is disastrous for them, and that their autonomy is whittled away. They cannot help but see it. There is not enough useful work and it is hard to do it honestly or to practice a profession nobly. Arts and sciences are corrupted. Modest enterprise must be blown out of all proportion to survive. The young cannot find their vocations. Talent is stifled by credentials. Formal civil liberties are lost to bugs and Interpol. Taxes are squandered on war, school-teachers, and overhead. Etc., etc. The remedies for all this might be piecemeal and undramatic, but they must be fundamental, for many of the institutions cannot be recast and the system as a whole is impossible. A good deal could be made tolerable by wiping a good deal off the slate.
The aim of politics is to increase autonomy, to get Society out of the way and open up new space. I like the Marxist formula “the withering away of the State,” but it is the method, not the result.
- The central organization of administration, production, and distribution is sometimes unavoidable, but it mathematically guarantees stupidity. Information reported from the field must be abstracted, and it loses content at every level; by the time it reaches headquarters it may say nothing relevant. Or it may say what (it is guessed) headquarters wants to hear. To have something to report, the facts of the field are molded into standard form and are no longer plastic. Those in headquarters cannot use their wits because they are not in touch. Those in the field lose their wits because they have to speak a foreign tongue, and can’t initiate anything anyway. On the basis of the misinformation it receives, headquarters decides, and a directive is sent down that may fit nobody in particular. At each level it is enforced on those below in order to satisfy those above, rather than to do the work. When it is applied in the field, it may be quite irrelevant, or it may destroy the village in order to save it.
The criteria for the success of such operations are abstractions like Gross National Product, Standard of Living, body count, passenger-miles, PhDs awarded. These at best have no relation to the common wealth, satisfaction of life, peace, experience of travel, or knowing anything. But at worst they impede the common wealth, peace, experience of travel, etc.
Nevertheless, central organization, which mathematically guarantees stupidity, is sometimes unavoidable; and just by existing, it exerts disproportionate power. This is a puzzler. The Articles of Confederation and the acrimoniously debated Federalist Constitution gave an answer that worked pretty well, in quite simple conditions, for almost thirty years. In my opinion, we would have had a more experimental and interesting country for a longer time if we had just amended the Articles. We wouldn’t have had the Tariff of 1817.
- I suppose the most sickening aspect of modern highly organized societies is the prisons and insane asylums, vast enclaves of the indigestible, which the rest live vaguely aware of, with low-grade anxiety.
We have been getting rid of the stupid but at least human notions of punishment, revenge, “paying the debt,” and so forth. But instead, there persists and grows the God-like assumption of “correcting” and “rehabilitating” the deviant. There is no evidence that we know how; and in both prisons and asylums it comes to the same thing, trying to beat people into shape, treating the inmates like inferior animals, and finally just keeping the whole mess out of sight.
The only rational motive for confining anyone is to protect ourselves from injury that is likely to be repeated. In insane asylums, more than 90 percent are harmless and need not be confined. And in prisons, what is the point of confining those—I don’t know what percent, but it must be fairly large—who have committed onetime crimes, e.g., most manslaughters and passional or family crimes, while they pay up or atone? People ought indeed to atone for the harm they have done, to get over their guilt and be “rehabilitated,” but this is much more likely to occur by trying to accept them back into the community rather than isolating and making them desperate. Certainly the old confession on the public square was a better idea.
It is doubtful that punishing some deters others. Varying the penalties has no statistical effect on occurrence, but only measures the degree of abstract social disapproval. And it is obvious that the great majority who do not steal, bribe, forge, etc., refrain because of their life style, more subtle influences than gross legal threats; other cultures, and some of our own subcultures, have other styles and other habits; for example, the youth counterculture has increased shoplifting and forging official documents.
The chief reason that so-called “moral legislation” has no influence on deterring vices is that temptation to the vices does not occur in the same psychological context as rational calculation of legal risks—unlike business fraud or risking a parking ticket. And it is likely that much authentic criminal behavior is compulsive in the same way. (But we must remember that our theories about criminal psychology and sociology come mainly from caught criminals, a special minority.)
There are inveterate lawbreakers and “psychopathic personalities” who cannot be trusted not to commit the same or worse crimes. (I think they will exist with any social institutions whatever.) It is unrealistic to expect other people not to panic because of them, and so we feel we have to confine them instead of lynching them. But our present theory of “correction” in fact leads to 70 percent recidivism, usually for more serious felonies; to a state of war and terrorism between prisoners and guards; and to increasing prison riots. Why not say honestly, “We’re locking you up simply because we’re afraid of you. It is not necessarily a reflection on you and we’re sorry for it. Therefore, in your terms, how can we make your confinement as painless and profitable to you as we can? We will give you as many creature satisfactions as we can afford, not lock you in cells, let you live in your own style, find and pursue your own work—so long as we are safe from you. The persisting, and perhaps insoluble, problem is how you will protect yourselves from one another.”
It may be objected, of course, that many sober and hard-working citizens who aren’t criminals are never given this much consideration by society. No, they aren’t, and that is a pity.
- Writing Communitas, my brother and I used only one methodical criterion: diminish intermediary services that are not directly productive or directly enjoyed, like commuting, packaging, sewer lines, blue books. These do not pay off as experience, but they clutter it up and rigidly predetermine it—you walk where the streets go, you study to pass the examination. The social wealth and time of life that go into intermediaries cannot be used for something else. There are slums of engineering. Economists of the infrastructure do not think enough about this when they saddle underdeveloped regions with dead weight.
It is melancholy to consider the fate of John Dewey’s instrumentalism, the idea that meaning and value are imbedded in means and operations, that the end in view is in practice. Instrumentalism was attacked as anti-intellectual, as base because it omitted ideals; but indeed it was an attempt to rescue intellect from being otiose and merely genteel. It was part of the same impulse as functionalism to rescue architecture, and industrial democracy and agrarian populism to rescue democracy. These meant to dignify the everyday and work-a-day from being servile means for Sunday goals. Now, however, we take it for granted that immense means are employed and operations carried on instead of meaning and value. No end in view, no experience, nothing practical. A university is administered to ensure its smooth administration. The government makes work in order to diminish unemployment. A candidate runs for office in order to be elected. A war is fought to use new weapons. Only the last of these sounds harsh.
- At best, survivals of the past, for example “Western culture,” and the busy business of present society must also be crushing weights on anybody’s poor finite experience, unless he can somehow appropriate them as his own by education and vocation.
Most people in most ages pick up a good store of folk ways and folk songs in the same way as they learn the language, however that is. They prudently manage to screen out most of the high thought and culture that is not for them, unless they are harassed by schoolteachers; yet they also get wonder-full flashes of it: on solemn religious occasions; from works of high music, art, and architecture that have become like folk ways; from important civic occasions that give food for profound thought, like constitutional crises, struggles for social justice, lawsuits; and most jobs and crafts, whether mechanics or farming or cooking or child-rearing, involve a good deal of fundamental science and high tradition that intelligent people pick up. Ordinary life can be culturally rich, and sometimes has been. It is a dubious society when the workdays, holidays, and election days do not provide enough spirit for most people, and we try to give a liberal education abstractly by lessons in school. It cannot be done.
In critical periods, alienated young people may choose on principle not to take on the traditions at all. At the end of the Middle Ages, the moderni declared they were throwing out the past, and they deserted the Scholastic regent professors and set up their own colleges. The youth of Sturm und Drang threw out the courtly manners and morals. Today seems to be a similar time. Young people astoundingly might not know “Greensleeves” and “Annie Laurie”; they do not become thoughtful on days that commemorate events that happened thousands of years ago—like Huck Finn, they aren’t interested in people who are dead; they simply take for granted what Harvey and Newton had to puzzle out; they don’t care that Tyrannosaurus lorded it over the Cretaceous era. The curriculum of a Free University might be, typically, Sensitivity Training, Psychedelic Experience, Multi-Media, Astrology, Castro’s Cuba, History of Women, and Black Studies. These are not the major Humanities, yet it is better to study what they can appropriate as experience than what they can’t. (I am puzzled that they do not study nothing, a deeply philosophical subject. They seem to have to go to school.)
Some of us, finally, live in the high culture, its spirit reviving in us and being more or less relevant to 1972, not with an easy adjustment. Our contemporaries are as likely to be Seami and Calderon as people we can talk to. People like us have a use. It would be woeful if the great moments of spirit did not survive. And the present institutions are lifeless if their spirit is not revived. But I don’t know any method to teach what we know, namely, that Beethoven, the Reformers, the authors of The Federalist were real people and meant what they did. The great difficulty is that, in order to know them in our terms, it is first necessary to make the abnegation of learning them in their terms. And the less culture one has to begin with, the harder this is to do.
- Vocation is taking on the business of the community so it is not a drag. If I find what I am good at and good for, that my community can use and will support, securely doing this, I can find myself further; and the social work is humanized because a person is really doing it.
Having a vocation is always somewhat of a miracle, like falling in love and it works out. I can understand why Luther said that a man is justified by his vocation, for it is already a proof of God’s favor. Naturally, it is psychologically easier if the family or community has provided intimate models to a child, and if it encourages him as he follows his own bent. It is harder if a child is poor or is restricted by his status, high or low, and has to take what offers or what he must. Faraday’s career is a good example of both advantage and deprivation, and of the miracle. His father was a journeyman blacksmith. When he was adolescent, they apprenticed him to a bookbinder for seven years. Although he could hardly read, he used to take home the books of natural philosophy that came into the shop for rebinding, and copy out the diagrams. The clients talked to him—he must have been likable as well as smart. They invited him to lectures. Because of his ability to fashion apparatus, at twenty he became the laboratory assistant of Humphry Davy. So he had the right background, he had the right hardships to make him make an effort, and he had the genius of Faraday.
Our present practice is poor. Big Society has slots to fill; the young are tested for their aptitudes and schooled to fill the slots. There are no intimate models. The actual jobs are distant and unknown. Talent is co-opted; it does not develop at the youth’s choice and time. A strong talent may well balk and deny his very talent. This is abstract.
But there may be an even more lifeless future, now widely proposed. In our changing world, the young must be trained to be adaptable, to “play various roles.” This will “free” people from being “tied down.” Young people I have talked to like this idea; they want to be “just human” and not limited to a vocation or profession. They want to be “into” various activities. As, presumably, Shakespeare was heavily “into” writing plays and Niels Bohr was “into” atomic physics. It is a curious view of personality and commitment.
- To be a citizen is the common vocation. It is onerous unless one has an authentic talent for it, which I don’t have, but we have to take over society as our (hopefully finite) experience or it takes us over infinitely. Even when I can only gripe, I write letters to the editor. I gave a collection of them the explanatory title The Society I Live in Is Mine.
A child or adolescent has the right to a naïve patriotism, loyal pride in the place where he is thrown—he didn’t choose to be born here. Without a sneaking nostalgia that there is some sense, honorable history, and good intentions in these people, we are in a harsh exile indeed.
For a child, even the idiot patriotism of nationalism is better than none. My little daughter, now nine, is going to an Hawaiian public school where they inundate the kids with “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” and the Pledge of Allegiance, plus some pathetic Hawaiiana—the school is 95 percent quarter-Polynesian. But in New York she had been attending a “progressive” private school where instead of “America the Beautiful” they were likely to sing,
O ugly for polluted skies,
grain grown with pesticides
and I am just as pleased that (for a few months) she is reading about the shot heard round the world and Thomas Jefferson without mention of his being a slaveholder. I see that it makes her happier to believe the noble rather than the base. It is touching.
- “I have no idea what is the secret mission of the Navy vessels lying off my lanai in Waimanalo, but I wish they would get it over with and stop obstructing the horizon”—letter to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In fact they were practicing living in an underwater habitat built by the Oceanic Institute, nothing objectionable. But my resentment was that the Navy just sat there day after day, as if they owned the place.
I like Hegel’s idea that property is an extension of personality; it is obviously so if we consider my tools, my clothes, my room, and my view of the horizon. And I would prefer to consider big capital property in the same light rather than that it is purely made by statute, State power. Big capital is the extension of cooperative personality, past and present; it is largely our common inheritance that has been sequestered by a few.
Socialists object to any theory of natural property. They would in fact usually allow private use in clothes, tools, and so forth, but not as a natural right, rather as a right given by the collective. I think this is dispiriting; in order to assert my right and do my business, I would first have to take myself abstractly, as a member of all society. To get capital for a new venture, I would sooner appeal to a tight-fisted businessman who might have a mind than to a collective bureaucracy that is likely to have none. To be sure, all that I myself ever need is somebody with a little printing press.
The issue of property has been wrongly put. The question is not whether personality extends into the environment—of course it does—but what kind of personality a man has. If he is exclusive and squeamish and rides roughshod over people, then his property will also be like that and will be objectionable. If he imagines that huge holdings do not enclose the commons, exploit the common wealth, and deprive other people, he is a fool. If he has a monopoly and does not consult my interest, he makes me subservient, and why should I put up with it? If the Navy would explain to me how it is temporarily appropriating that stretch of water for an interesting experiment, I might feel that my property in that stretch of water is being improved. I would willingly cooperate. My horizon would no longer be obstructed. To be sure, I distrust any experiments of the Navy, but that is another story.
Nor is the issue between “private property” and “social property.” Who would want to be private? We exist mainly, though not altogether, as community animals. To be a private individual is largely pathological. For a society to act as a collective is largely pathological.
- The error of those who are mistakenly called “conservative” is not their laissez-faire economics. It is probable that competitive free enterprise is a more productive system than mercantilism, monopoly capitalism, or socialist collectivism. But as in the past, free enterprises still parcel out the commons as if it were on the market. They treat moral, cultural, and aesthetic affairs that belong to the community as if they were economic affairs, e.g., giving access to the young, conserving the environment, helping the needy. But these are necessary for society to be tolerable at all. The tolerable background for any economic activity cannot be an object of economic activity.
And they make a corresponding mistake in their economics. In most of our present production, the chief value comes from the genius of Watt, Faraday, Rutherford, etc., from the industry of our fathers who cleared the woods and laid out the roads, and from natural resources. We all happen to have inherited these gold mines. It is unreasonable for a few who control capital and thereby can make use of the inheritance not to pay everybody royalties, e.g., Theobald’s guaranteed income.
- Equalitarians object to special privilege; for instance, they don’t like it that my sheepskin promises to me “all the rights, privileges, and immunities” of a doctor of philosophy. But my ancestor Abelard and his students fought and suffered for those rights and immunities; we (maybe) need them to do our thing; I am not at all willing to renounce them—indeed, I am a stickler for them.
Again, the issue is put wrongly. It would be better if every person and his community of interest had far more rights, privileges, and immunities. Children have special rights, privileges, and immunities. Those who have worn themselves out bringing up children have special rights, privileges, and immunities—I guiltlessly say, “Young man, tote my bag.” As a writer I need liberties and immunities that do not belong to a man who will never write a line; he does not care about freedom of the press, and in fact he won’t defend it. The real issue is that many right, privileges, and immunities that once had an historical warrant, and enhanced experience and activity, have now become a racket. For example, professionals do need a peer group and are professionally responsible only to their peer group, their oath, and the nature of things; but the economic blackmail of the medical associations is a racket.
Any professional peer group is likely to develop a secret language and mystify the laity, but I find this acceptable if it helps them do their thing. What is unacceptable is for them to get the State to certify them as the only practitioners and make them exempt from competition and criticism. Compulsory mystification is like compulsory miseducation. The pretext is to protect the public from quacks; the effect is to destroy people’s inquisitiveness and natural prudence and to increase quackery, including the quackery of certified professionals.
I am suspicious of equal law for everybody, like the jus gentium of the Romans that emerged with an empire from which no one could escape. It is safer to have a bewildering tangle of unique prerogatives, and lots of borders to flee across.
- The main reason that Jefferson was a champion of freehold farming as a way of life was that it was independent of political pressures. It kept open the possibility of anarchy that he hankered for—“Let Shays’ men go. If you discourage mutiny, what check is there on government?” If a farmer doesn’t like the trend, he can withdraw from the market, eat his own crops, and prudently stay out of debt. If he has a freehold, they can’t throw him off his land. (In Jefferson’s day, he couldn’t be drafted.) Other kinds of tenure have a similar privilege, academic tenure or seniority on the job, but of course the whole enterprise can shut down.
My own admiration for farming is its competence. The wonderfully direct connection between causes and effects, whether the seeds, the soil, the weather, the breeding, the plumbing in the barn, or the engine of the tractor; and of course growing it and then eating it. Needless to say, a farmer understands most of this only empirically, practically, not scientifically. He is not altogether in control. That too is very good; there are gods.
Wordsworth had a good insight of the beauty and morality of rural life. The ecology of a country scene is so exquisitely complicated that we finally have to take it as just given. This simplifies it morally, we can relax a little. But I can’t take the traffic or housing in Manhattan as given; it is an artifact and I have to do something about it. Also, the country scene has been so worked over for millions of years that it is bound to have unity and style, heroic in scale, minute in detail. But for various well-known reasons, the man-made scene is bound to be ugly. If people change their ways, it could become at least modest.
- Professions and sciences are sacred because they devote themselves—indeed, in a priestly way—to the natures not made by us but that enable us to make sense and not live wishes, hopes, and nightmares. Being observant, accurate, humble, and austerely self-denying, scientists and professionals accumulate the reward of their Calvinist virtues. Great powers flow through them—which they can use to our disadvantage. Therefore they ought to bind themselves by oath to benefit and not harm the community, and it is better if this oath is public and explicit, like the Hippocratic oath.
When, instead, they come on like petty clerks of the powers-that-be and as petty bankers of their own economic interests, the forces of nature are unleashed without human beings to interpret and exorcize them.
We others, artists and literary men, are easygoing toward nature and mix into our service a good deal of ourselves. So we accumulate little force, but it is domesticated. We do not need to bind ourselves with an oath, except not to censor.
- Futurologists take current trends, that may or may not be good, and by extrapolating them for twenty years perform the sleight of hand of making them into norms that we must learn to conform to and prepare ourselves for. As a group they are extraordinarily slavish to the status quo—science fiction writers are often far more critical and daring. They seem to want to delete from primary experience its risky property of passing into the Next, beyond a horizon that very swiftly becomes dim and dark. Aristotle: “The past and present are necessary, the future is possible.”
Luckily, human beings have enormous resources of anxiety, common sense, boredom, virtue, and perversity, to distort or reverse almost any trend you want.
The mania of planning for the future springs, of course, from the fact that current technology, urbanization, population, and communications are intractable—or at least the managers have lost their pragmatic inventiveness—so that it seems to be less desperate to grin and codify them. As Kafka advised, “Leopards break into the temple; make it part of the ritual.”
My own prediction, however, is that there will be increasing disorder for twenty years, and that might be very well. Some things—some times—break up into fragments of just the right size and shape. People en masse learn only by being frightened anyway—10,000 dead one morning of the smog, a city wiped out by an accidental bomb. It’s not that we are stupid, but it takes a big fact, not a syllogism, to warrant a big response. If only the process of disorder is not aggravated by reactionary Law and Order, liberal Futurology, and radical Idealism.
- I am bemused, as I spell out this politics of mine, at the consistent package of conservative biases, the ideology of a peasant or a small entrepreneur who carries his office and capital under his hat. Localism, ruralism, face-to-face organization, distrust of planning, clinging to property, natural rights, historical privileges and immunities, letters to the editor that view with alarm, carrying on the family craft, piecemeal reforms, make do, and let me alone.
No. It is not a possessive peasant nor a threatened small entrepreneur, but a small child who needs the security of routine. There is no father. Mother is away all day at work. The child is self-reliant because he has to be. It is lonely, but nobody bugs him, and the sun is pouring through the window.
Where the emphasis in a philosophy of experience is on the foreground empirical facts, as in Dewey, we come out with a bias toward experiment and a politics of progressivism. Where the emphasis is on the phenomenology, the horizons and backgrounds of experience, we come out with conservation and conservatism. The difference is the old principle of acculturation from tribe to tribe: if the new item is a plough or a technique for baking pottery, it diffuses rapidly; if it is a change of taboo, child-rearing, or aesthetics, it is resisted, it diffuses slowly or not at all. In such acculturation, there is no “future shock.” (The shocks come with colonialism.)
Since as experience I want the concrete and finite, with structure and tendency, a next so I can live on a little, and a dark surrounding, politically I want only that the children have bright eyes, the river be clean, food and sex be available, and nobody be pushed around. There must not be horrors that take me by the throat, so I can experience nothing; but it is indifferent to me what the Growth Rate is, or if some people are rich and others poor, so long as they are pauvres, decently poor, and not misérables (Péguy’s distinction). I myself never found that much difference between being very poor and modestly rich.
I dolatry makes me uneasy. I don’t like my country to be a Great Power. I am squeamish about masses of people enthusiastically building a New Society.
The great conservative solutions are those that diminish tension by changing 2 percent of this and 4 percent of that. When they work, you don’t notice them. Liberals like to solve a problem by adding on a new agency and throwing money at it, a ringing statement that the problem has been solved. Radicals like to go to the root, which is a terrible way of gardening, though it is sometimes sadly necessary in dentistry.
Finally, like Luther, but unlike Hegel or Marx, I think that the way to overcome alienation is to go home and not on a tour through history and the realms of being.
Schultz, the neighbor’s big black dog,
used to shit on our scraggly lawn,
but we feed him marrow bones
and he treats our lawn like his own home.
The kids of Fulton Houses in New York
smashed windows on our pretty block for spite;
we gave them hockey sticks to play with
and they smashed more windows.
The dog is an anarchist like me,
he has a careless dignity
—that is, we never think about it,
which comes to the same thing.
The kids are political like you,
they want to win their dignity. They won’t.
But maybe their children will be friendly dogs
and wag their tails with my grand- children.
August 10, 1972