At the bottom of every human activity, historical fact or trend of civilization, there lays some doctrine or conception of so-called “truth.” Apples had fallen from trees for ages, but without any important results in the economy of humanity. The fact that a fallen apple hit Newton, led to the discovery of the theory of gravitation; this changed our whole world conception, our sciences and our activities; it powerfully stimulated the development of all the branches of natural and technological knowledge.
Because we are human beings we are all of us interested in what we call progress—progress in law, in government, in jurisprudence, in ethics, in philosophy, in the natural sciences, in economics, in the fine arts, in the practical arts, in the production and distribution of wealth, in all the affairs affecting the welfare of mankind. At present the future of mankind is dark.
“Stop, look, and listen”—the prudent caution at railroad crossings—must be amended to read “stop, look, listen, and THINK”; not for the saving of a few lives in railroad accidents, but for the preservation of the life of humanity.
Our life problems have always been “solved” by verbalists and rhetorical metaphysicians who cleverly played with vague words and who always ignored the supremely important matter of dimensions because they were ignorant of it. There was no possible way to arrive at an agreement on the significance of words, or even the understanding of them. Let us take, for instance, such words as “good” or “bad” or “truth;” volumes upon volumes have been written about them; no one has reached any result universally acceptable; the effect has been to multiply warring schools of philosophy—sectarians and partisans. In the meantime something corresponding to each of the terms “good,” “bad,” “truth” exists as matter of fact.
Humans can be literally poisoned by false ideas and false teachings. Many people have a just horror at the thought of putting poison into tea or coffee, but seem unable to realize that, when they teach false ideas and false doctrines, they are poisoning the time-binding capacity of their fellow men and women. One has to stop and think!
Man started with no capital—on knowledge—with nothing but his physical strength and the natural stirring within of the capacity for binding time; and so he had to grope. It is not strange that he was puzzled by himself. It is not strange that he thought himself an animal; for he has animal propensities as a cube has surfaces, and his animal propensities were so obtrusive, so very evident to physical sense—he was born, grew, had legs and hair, ate, ran, slept, died—all just like animals—while his distinctive mark, his time-binding capacity, was subtle; it was spiritual; it was not a visible organ but an invisible function; it was the energy called intellect or mind, which the physical senses do not perceive; and so it is not strange—it is indeed very sad and very pathetic—but it is not to be wondered at that human beings have falsely believed themselves to be animals.
It has been proved that a man can be so hypnotized that in a certain time which has been suggested to him, he will murder or commit arson or theft; that, under hypnotic influence, the personal morale of the individual has only a small influence upon his conduct; the subject obeys the hypnotic suggestions, no matter how immoral they are. The conception of man as a mixture of animal and supernatural has for ages kept human beings under the deadly spell of the suggestion that, animal selfishness and animal greediness are their essential character, and the spell has operated to suppress their REAL HUMAN NATURE and to prevent it from expressing itself naturally and freely.
Personal greed and selfishness are brazenly owned as principles of conduct. We shrug our shoulders in acquiescence and proclaim greed and selfishness to be the very core of human nature, take it all for granted, and let it pass at that. We have gone so far in our degradation that the prophet of capitalistic principles, Adam Smith, in his famous Wealth of Nations, arrives at the laws of wealth, not from the phenomena of wealth nor from statistical statements, but from the phenomena of selfishness—a fact which shows how far-reaching in its dire influence upon all humanity is the theory that human beings are “animals.” Of course the effect is very disastrous. Human nature, this time-binding power, not only has the peculiar capacity for perpetual progress, but it has, over and above all animal propensities, certain qualities constituting it a distinctive dimension or type of life. Not only our whole collective life proves a love for higher ideals, but even our dead give us the rich heritage, material and spiritual, of all their toils. There is nothing mystical about it; to call SUCH a class a naturally selfish class is not only nonsensical but monstrous.
On the other hand, when human beings are educated to a lively realization that they are by nature time-binding creatures, then they will spontaneously live in accordance with their time-binding nature, which is the source and support of the highest ideals. What is achieved in blaming a man for being selfish and greedy if he acts under the influence of a social environment and education which teach him that he is an animal and that selfishness and greediness are of the essence of his nature?
Man, therefore, by the very intrinsic character of his being, MUST ACT FIRST, IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO LIVE (through the action of parents—or society) which is not the case with animals. The misunderstanding of this simple truth is largely accountable for the evil of our ethical and economic systems or lack of systems. As a matter of fact, if humanity were to live in complete accord with the animal conception of man, artificial production—time-binding production—would cease and ninety per cent of mankind would perish by starvation. It is just because human beings are not animals but are time-binders—not mere finders but creators of food and shelter—that they are able to live in such vast numbers.
Human beings have always had some sense of values—some perception or cognition of values. In order to express or measure values, it was necessary to introduce units of measure, or units of exchange. People began to measure values by means of agricultural and other products, such as cattle, for example. The Latin word for cattle was pecus, and the word pecunia, which came to signify money, accounts for the meaning of our familiar word pecuniary. The earliest units for measuring became unsuited to the increasing needs of growing trade, “business,” or traffic. Finally a unit called money was adopted in which the base was the value of some weight of gold. Thus we see that money came to mean simply the accepted unit for measuring, representing and expressing values of and in wealth.
We are living in a world of wealth, a world enriched by many generations of dead men’s toil; between the lust of the one to keep and the lust of others to get, there is little to choose; such contentions of lust against lust are sub-human—animalistic; such ethics is zoological ethics—the righteousness of tooth and claw; below the human dimensions of life, utterly unworthy of the creative energy—the time-binding capacity—of humanity. Against one old-fashioned, speculative argument, there is always a speculative answer. They both speak about the truth, but their methods cannot find the truth nor does their language express it. They speak of “justice,” “right” and so forth, not knowing that their conceptions of those terms are based on a wrong understanding of values.
Wealth is produced by those who work with hand or brain and by no others. The great mass of the wealth of the world has been thus produced by generations that have gone. The modern vast accumulation of wealth for private purposes, justifies itself by using the argument of the “survival of the fittest.” Very well, where there is a “survival,” there must be victims; where there are victims, there has been fighting. Is this what the users of this argument mean? Like the Kaiser, they talk peace and make war. This method of doing things is not in any way new. The world has been accustomed to it for a very long while.
Present civilization is a very complicated affair; although many of our social problems are very badly managed, sudden changes could not be made without endangering the welfare and life of all classes of society. In the meantime, changes must be made because the world cannot proceed much longer under pre-war conditions; they have been too well exposed by facts for humanity to allow itself to be blindly led again.
The present system of social life is largely built upon misconceptions or misrepresentations. For all work we need the human brain, the human time-binding power, yet we continue to call it “hand-labor” and treat it as such. Even in mechanical science, in the use of the term “horse-power,” we are incorrect in this expression. How does this “horse” look in reality? Let us analyze this “horse.” All science, all mechanical appliances have been produced by “man” and man alone. Everything we possess is the production of either dead men’s or living men’s work. The enslavement of the solar man-power is purely a human invention in theory and practice. Everything we have is evidently therefore a time-binding product. What perfect nonsense to call a purely human achievement the equivalent of so much “horse-power”! Of course it does not matter mathematically what name we give to a unit of power; we may call it a Zeus or a Zebra; but there is a very vicious implication in using the name of an animal to denote a purely human product. Everything in our civilization was produced by MAN; it seems only reasonable that this unit of power which is the direct product of Man’s work should be correctly named after him. The educational effect would be wholesome and tremendous. The human value in work would be thus emphasized again and again, and respect for human work would be taught, from the beginning in the schools. This “horse-power” unit causes us to forget the human part in it and it degrades human work to the level of a commodity. This is an example of the degrading influence of wrong conceptions and wrong language.
The habit of not thinking for one’s self is the result of thousands of years of subjection. Those in authority, in general, used their ingenuity to keep the people from thinking. The most vital reason why many humans appear to be, and are often called, “stupid,” is that they have been spoken to in a language of speculation which they instinctively dislike and distrust; thus there arose the proverb that speech was made to conceal the truth. It is no wonder that they appear “stupid,” the wonder is that they are not more “stupid.” The truth is that they will be found to be far less stupid when addressed in the natural language of ascertainable fact.
In our relation to the past there are three wide-open ways in which one may be a fool. One of the ways is the way of ignoring the past—the way of remaining blankly ignorant of the human past as the animals are blankly ignorant of their past and so of drifting through life as animals do, without reference to the experience of bygone generations. Fools of this type may be called drifting fools or Drifters. Another way to be a fool—a very alluring way—is that of falsifying the past by idealizing it—by stupidly disregarding its vices, misery, ignorance, slothfulness, and folly, and stupidly magnifying its virtues, happiness, knowledge, achievements and wisdom; it is the way of the self-complacent—the way of those who, being comfortably situated and prosperous, are opposed to change; the past, they say, was wise for it produced the present and the present is good—let us alone. Fools of this type may be called idolatrous fools, worshiping the Past; or static fools, contented with the Present; or cowardly fools, opposed to change, fearful of the Future. A third way to be a fool—which is also alluring—is the opposite of the foregoing; it is the way of those who falsify the past by stupidly and contemptuously disregarding its virtues, its happiness, its knowledge, its great achievements, and its wisdom, and by stupidly or dishonestly magnifying its vices, its misery, its ignorance, its great slothfulness, and its folly. The past, they say, was all wrong, for it produced the present and the present is thoroughly bad—let us destroy it, root and branch. Fools of this type may be called scorning fools, Scorners of the Past; or destroying fools, Destroyers of the Present; or dynamic fools, Revelers in the excitements of Change.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Manhood of Humanity. by Alfred Korzybski)


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