« ZurückWeiter »
to follow their advice. The self, in spite of all our attempts to analyze it away in physical terms, remains unknown, uncontrolled, and seldom the object of scientific curiosity or observation.
In the past, the great masters of religion were well aware of self-esteem; and our deepest and most practical psychology comes from them, though we do not call it psychology. For them the problem was to turn self-esteem into esteem for something else; and to that all other human problems were subsidiary. By God they meant that in which man can utterly forget himself; and they believed in God because the self can sometimes utterly forget and lose itself in something which cannot be seen or touched but which does cause self-forgetfulness. They were sure that the self could not so forget itself except in something more real than itself. "With thy calling and shouting,' says St. Augustine, 'my deafness is broken; with thy glittering and shining, my blindness is put to flight. At the scent of thee I draw in my breath and I pant for thee; I have tasted and I hunger and thirst; thou hast touched me and I am on fire for thy peace.' Augustine had, no doubt, an exorbitant self, which tormented him; and he was far more aware of his self-esteem and its workings than most men are, even to-day. He was concerned with a real, psychological fact, and his Confessions are still interesting to us because of that concern. And the Sermon on the Mount itself is also practical and psychological, concerned with the satisfaction of the self in something else, so that we are still interested in it, however little we may obey it. But still, from this supreme object of self-control, we turn to other tasks and sciences, at best only subsidiary.
We might begin by asking, if once our curiosity were aroused Why are we born with this exorbitant self? It seems to have no biological purpose; it
does not help us in the struggle for life, any more than in the arts and sciences, or in conduct, to be always esteeming, admiring, and relishing the self. The products of our egotism, open or suppressed, are useless and unvalued; the very word vanity expresses our opinion of them. But what a vast part of ourselves is just vanity — far vaster than the part that is instinct or appetite. The demands of appetites cease, for the time, with their satisfaction, but the demands of vanity never. Consider, for instance, how your whole opinion of any man is affected by the fact that he has wounded or flattered your vanity. If he does either unconsciously, the effect on your opinion of him, on your whole feeling toward him, is all the greater; for your vanity knows that unconscious homage or contempt is the most sincere.
The greatest villain in literature, Iago, acts from vanity. He did not know it; we may not know it as we read the play; but Shakespeare knew it by instinct; he saw the possibilities of his own vanity in that of Iago, saw that it was cruel as the grave, and developed it in his tragedy of vanity. Those satanic criminals who seduce and murder woman after woman are not sex-maniacs, but vanitymaniacs, and their conquests feed their vanity more than their lust. They are imprisoned in the self, enslaved to it. And the great masters of religion, intensely aware of this tyrannical self in themselves, fear to be enslaved to it and cry to God for freedom. That is why they are almost morbidly, as it seems to us, concerned with sin. Sin means to them this exorbitant self, this vanity that may draw a man into any monstrous and purposeless villainy. They will not allow the analysis of sin into other and more harmless things, or the analysis of righteousness into other things less lovely. For them there is one problem-to be free of the self and of vanity, to be aware of that which glit
ters and shines, which shouts and calls to the self to forget itself and be at peace. Sin is the blindness, deafness, captivity of the self when it is turned in upon the self; righteousness is its peace and happiness when it is aware of that superior reality they call God.
You may think them wrong in theory, but in practice they are right; they are concerned with the real human difficulty, and aiming at that which all human beings do most deeply and constantly desire. The riddle of life is this riddle of the exorbitant self, which somehow or other must be satisfied, but can be satisfied only when it forgets itself in a superior reality. I say satisfied, because suppression or self-sacrifice, as it is commonly understood, is no solution of the problem. You can almost kill the self by lack of interest; but if you do that, you will not satisfy it and, in some indirect way, its egotism will still persist and work mischief in you.
Ascetics are often the worst egotists of all, thinking about nothing but their own souls, which means their own selves, living a life of inner conquest and adventure, which is all artificial because internal. Their interest, because they refuse it to external reality, is the more intensely concentrated on themselves; their very God, to whom they incessantly pray, is but an idol made and set up within the temple of the self and has no likeness to the real God, if there be one. Or it is like a medium, or the leading articles of a newspaper, telling them what they wish to be told, and persuading them that it is true because it seems to come from outside, whereas all the time it is really only the voice of the self echoed back. By those methods we can attain to no freedom because we attain to no selfknowledge or control or satisfaction.
If one is concerned purely with psychology, freed from all biological or other assumptions, one may conjecture that
the self comes into life with all kinds of capacities or faculties itching to be exercised, and that the problem of life, for some reason a very hard one, is to find a scope for their exercise. We are born with all these faculties and capacities, but we are not born with a technique that will enable us to exercise them. And, if we never acquire it, then the self remains exorbitant, because they all, as it were, fester and seethe within it. It is as exorbitant as when we have an abscess at the root of a tooth and can think of nothing else. Any thwarting of a faculty, capacity, or appetite produces this exorbitance and tyranny of the self, but, since the satisfaction of faculties and capacities is, for most people, much harder than the satisfaction of appetites, the exorbitance of the self is more often caused by the thwarting of the former than of the latter. The problem of the satisfaction of appetities is comparatively simple, for it does not even need a technique of the mind. We can eat without learning to eat; we can make love, even, without learning to make love; but when it comes to turning the mind outward and away from itself, then it is the mind itself that has to learn, has to realize and discover its external interests by means of a technique painfully acquired.
Civilization means the acquirement of all the techniques needed for the full exercise of faculties and capacities, and, thereby, the release of the self from its own tyranny. Where men are vainest, there they are least civilized; and no amount of mechanical efficiency or complication will deliver them from the suppression of faculties and the tyranny of the self, or will give them civilization. But at present we are not aware how we are kept back in barbarism by the suppression of our faculties and the tyranny of our exorbitant selves. We shall discover that clearly and fully only when psychology becomes really psychology; when it concerns itself with the practi
cal problems which most need solving; when it no longer tries to satisfy us with dogmas and formulæ taken from other sciences.
And now I come to the practical part of this article. I, like everyone else, am aware that we are kept back in barbarism and cheated of civilization by war; but behind war there is something in the mind of man that consents to war, in spite of the fact that both conscience. and self-interest are against it; and it seems to me that a real, a practical science of psychology would concern itself with this something, just as the science of medicine concerns itself with pestilence. And a real, a practical science of psychology would not be content to talk about the herd-instinct, which is not a psychological, but a biological hypothesis, and only a hypothesis. It would not say, 'Man is a herd animal; therefore it is natural for herds of men to fight each other.' In the first place, it would remember that herds of animals do not necessarily fight other herds; in the second, that we do not know that man, in his remote animal past, was a herd animal; and, in the third place, that, as psychology, it is concerned with the mind of man as it is, not with what other sciences may conjecture about the past history of man. Now, if psychology asks itself what it is in the present mind of man, of the peoples we call civilized, that consents to war, it will at once have its attention drawn to the fact that wars occur between nations, and that men have a curious habit of thinking of nations apart from the individuals who compose them; and of believing all good of their own nation and all evil of any other which may, at the moment, be opposed to it. This is commonplace, of course; but, having stated the commonplace, I wish to discover the reason of it. And I cannot content myself with the formula that man is
a herd animal, not only because it is not proved, but also because there is no promise of a remedy in it. There is something in me, in all men, which rebels against this blind belief that all is good in my nation, and evil in some other; and what I desire is something to confirm and strengthen this rebellion. When we can explain the baser, sillier part of ourselves, then it begins to lose its power over us; but the hypothesis of the herd-instinct is not an explanation — it says, merely, that we are fools in the very nature of things, which is not helpful or altogether true. We are fools, no doubt, but we wish not to be fools; it is possible for us to perceive our folly, to discern the causes of it, and by that very discernment to detach ourselves from it, to make it no longer a part of our minds, but something from which they have suffered and begin to recover. Then it is as if we had stimulated our own mental phagocytes against bacilli that have infected the mind from outside; we no longer submit ourselves to the disease as if it were health; but, knowing it to be disease, we begin to recover from it.
The habit of believing all good of our own nation and all evil of another is a kind of national egotism, having all the symptoms and absurdities and dangers of personal egotism, or self-esteem; yet it does not seem to us to be egotism, because the object of our esteem appears to be, not ourselves, but the nation. Most of us have no conviction of sin about it, such as we have about our own egotism; nor does boasting of our country seem to us vulgar, like boasting of ourselves. Yet we do boast about it because it is our country, and we feel a warm conviction of its virtues which we do not feel about the virtues of any other country. But, when we boast and are warmed by this conviction, we separate ourselves from the idea of the country, so that our boasting and warmth may not seem to us egotistical; we persuade ourselves that
our feeling for our country is noble and disinterested, although the peculiar delight we take in admiring it could not be if it were not our country. Thus we get the best of both worlds, the pleasures of egotism without any sense of its vulgarity, the mental intoxication without the mental headaches.
But I will give an example of the process which, I hope, will convince better than any description of it. Most Englishmen and, no doubt, most Americans, would sooner die than boast of their own goods. Yet, if someone says Englishman in an English newspaper -that the English are a handsome race, unlike the Germans, who are plain, an Englishman, reading it, will say to himself, "That is true,' and will be gratified by his conviction that it is true. He will not rush into the street uttering the syllogism: 'The English are a handsome race; I am an Englishman; therefore I am handsome'; but, unconsciously and unexpressed, the syllogism will complete itself in his mind; and, though he says nothing of his good looks even to himself, he will feel handsomer. Then, if he sees a plain German, he will say to himself, or will feel without saying it, "That poor German belongs to a plain race, where as I belong to a handsome one.' Americans may be different, but I doubt it.
So, if we read the accounts of our great feats of arms in the past, we ourselves feel braver and more victorious. We teach children in our schools about these feats, and that they are characteristic of Englishmen, or Americans, or Portuguese, as the case may be; and we never warn them, because we never warn ourselves, that there is egotism in their pride and in their belief that such braveries are peculiarly characteristic of their own country. Yet every country feels the same pride and delight in its own peculiar virtues and its own preeminence; and it is not possible that every country should be superior to all others.
Further, we see the absurdity of the claims of any other country clearly enough, and the vulgarity of its boasting. Look at the comic papers of another country and their patriotic cartoons; as Americans, look at Punch, and especially at the cartoons in which it expresses its sense of the peculiar virtues, the sturdy wisdom, the bluff honesty, of John Bull, or the lofty aims and ideal beauty of Britannia; or those other, less frequent, cartoons, in which it criticizes or patronizes the behavior of Jonathan and the ideals of Columbia. Does it not seem to you incredible, as Americans, that any Englishmen should be so stupid as to be tickled by such gross flattery, or so ignorant as to be deceived by such glaring misrepresentations? Have you never itched to write something sarcastic to the editor of Punch, something that would convince even him that he was talking nonsense? Well, Englishmen have just the same feelings about the cartoons in American papers; and just the same blindness about their own. Disraeli said that everyone likes flattery, but with royalty you lay it on with a trowel; and nations are like royalty, only more so: they will swallow anything about themselves while wondering at the credulity of other nations.
What is the cause of this blindness? You and I, as individuals, have learned at least to conceal our self-esteem; we are made uneasy by gross flattery; we are like the Duke of Wellington, who, when grossly flattered by Samuel Warren, said to him: 'I am glad there is nobody here to hear you say that.'
'Why, your Grace?' asked Warren.
'Because,' answered the duke, 'they might think I was damned fool enough to believe you.'
But when our country is flattered, and by one of our countrymen, we do not feel this uneasiness; at least, such flattery is a matter of course in the newspapers and at public meetings in all coun
tries; there is such a large and constant supply of it, that there must be an equally large and constant demand. Yet no one can doubt that it is absurd and dangerous, if not in his own country, in others. Believe, if you will, that all the praises of your own country are deserved, and all the more, because of that belief, you will see that the praises of other countries are not deserved. If America is superior to all other countries in all essential virtues, then, clearly, all the other countries cannot be superior; and there must be some cause for their blind belief in their superiority. Englishmen, for instance, however bad their manners, do not proclaim, or even believe, that they are individually superior to all other men - indeed, you hold that the bad manners of Englishmen come from their belief, not in their individual superiority, but in the superiority of England; if they could be rid of that, they might be almost as well-mannered as yourselves. It is a national vanity, a national blindness, that makes fools of them.
But what is the cause of a folly so empty of either moral, or æsthetic, or even biological value, so dangerous indeed, not only to the rest of the world, but even to themselves? For the danger of this folly, its biological uselessness, has been proved to us in the most signal and fearful manner lately by the Germans. They cultivated national vanity until it became madness; and we are all aware of the results. But, if we suppose that they behaved so because they were Germans and therefore born mad or wicked, we shall learn nothing from their disaster. They were, like ourselves, human beings. There, but for the grace of God, goes England, goes America even; and whence comes this madness from which the Grace of God may not always save us? Because it exists everywhere, and is not only tolerated but encouraged, it must satisfy some need of the mind, however dangerously and perversely. Where
there is a great demand for dangerous drugs, it is not enough to talk indignantly of the drug-habit. That habit is but a symptom of some deeper evil, something wrong with the lives of the drug-takers, for which the drug is their mistaken remedy; and the right remedy must be found if the habit is to be extirpated.
National egotism, I believe, is a kind of mental drug, which we take because of some unsatisfied need of our minds; and we shall not cure ourselves of it until we discover what causes our craving for national flattery and also our dislike and contempt of other countries. Somewhere, as in the case of all drugtaking, there is suppression of some kind; and the suppression, I suggest, is of individual egotism. We are trained by the manners and conventions of what we call our civilization to suppress our egotism; good manners consist, for the most part, in the suppression of it. However much we should like to talk of ourselves, our own achievements and deserts, we do not wish to hear others talking about theirs. The open egotist is shunned as a bore by all of us; and only the man who, for some reason, is unable to suppress his egotism, remains an open egotist and a bore, persists in the I-II of childhood, and provokes the impatience caused by the persistence of all childish habits in the grown-up.
But this suppression of egotism is not necessarily the destruction of it, any more than the suppression of the sexual instinct is the destruction of that. And, in fact, our modern society is full of people whose egotism is all the more exorbitant and unconsciously troublesome to themselves, because it is suppressed. Their hunger for praise is starved, but not removed; for they dare not even praise themselves. Ask yourself, for instance, whether you have ever been praised as much as you would like to be? Are you not aware of a profound