British Philosopher and Author
Olaf Stapledon, fully William Olaf Stapledon
British Philosopher and Author
At first it had been youth's ideal of what youth should be, a pattern woven of fanatical loyalty, irresponsible gaiety, comradeship, physical gusto, and not a little pure devilry.
I paced up and down the little room, a queer thing happened. It was as though my wandering imagination came upon a new quality, different from all that I had ever known; yet one which was also more familiar and intimate than the smell of Plaxy in the mood of love, more piercing sweet than bitches, more hunt-worthy than the trail of a fox.
Individuals of the earlier species had suffered from an almost insurmountable spiritual isolation from one another. Not even lovers, and scarcely even the geniuses with special insight into personality, ever had anything like accurate vision of one another.
On my native planet, whenever I had been dismayed by the suffering and the futility of individuals, I had taken comfort in the thought that at least the massed effect of all our blind striving must be the slow but glorious awakening of the human spirit. This hope, this certainty, had been the one sure consolation. But now I saw that there was no guarantee of any such triumph. It seemed that the universe, or the maker of the universe, must be indifferent to the fate of worlds. That there should be endless struggle and suffering and waste must of course be accepted; and gladly, for these were the very soil in which the spirit grew. But that all struggle should be finally, absolutely vain, that a whole world of sensitive spirits fail and die, must be sheer evil. In my horror it seemed to me that Hate must be the Star Maker.
The economic life of the human race had for some time been based on coal, but latterly oil had been found a far more convenient source of power; and as the oil store of the planet was much smaller than its coal store, and the expenditure of oil had of course been wholly uncontrolled and wasteful, a shortage was already being felt. Thus the national ownership of the remaining oil fields had become a main factor in politics and a fertile source of wars.
There was, indeed, a time when China had mentally less in common with India than with the West, but fear of America had drawn the two great Eastern peoples together. They agreed at least in earnest hate of that strange blend of the commercial traveller, the missionary, and the barbarian conqueror, which was the American abroad.
When the cosmos wakes, if ever she does, she will find herself not the single beloved of her maker, but merely a little bubble adrift on the boundless and bottomless ocean of being.
Broadly there are two very different spheres of our unconscious nature. The one is primitive and largely sub-human. It consists of all our bodily needs and our so-called instinctive cravings. It is all that we have in common with the beasts together with all that we share with the lowliest of our own human kind. But in addition to this there are seemingly unconscious factors in our nature which, far from being sub--human, constitute the drive of our nature toward experiences and activities of a kind more developed and more lucid than our extant ordinary conscious nature.
I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of that little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolutions, its increasing hunger for community, was but a flicker in one day of the lives of the stars.
Is it credible that our world should have two futures? I have seen them. Two entirely distinct futures lie before mankind, one dark, one bright; one the defeat of all man?s hopes, the betrayal of all his ideals, the other their hard-won triumph.
On the one side was the sluggish reptilian will for ease and sleep and death, rising sometimes to active hate and destructiveness; on the other side the still blindfold and blundering will for the lucid and coherent spirit.
The expansion of the whole cosmos was but the shrinkage of all its physical units and of the wavelengths of light.
These three activities, then, intelligence, love and creative action, which are so closely involved in one another, I cannot but feel to be intrinsically good. In their outstanding expressions they are good in an outstanding degree. Together they form the distinctively human kind of behaviour.
Without Satan, with God only, how poor a universe, how trite a music!
But the most lasting agony of this war was suffered, not by the defeated, but by the victors. For when their passion had cooled the Americans could not easily disguise from themselves that they had committed murder. They were not at heart a brutal folk, but rather a kindly. They liked to think of the world as a place of innocent pleasure-seeking, and of themselves as the main purveyors of delight. Yet they had been somehow drawn into this fantastic crime; and henceforth an all-pervading sense of collective guilt warped the American mind. They had ever been vainglorious and intolerant; but now these qualities in them became extravagant even to insanity. Both as individuals and collectively, they became increasingly frightened of criticism, increasingly prone to blame and hate, increasingly self-righteous, increasingly hostile to the critical intelligence, increasingly superstitious.
I see, indeed I know, that in some sense God is love, and God is wisdom, and God is creative action, yes and God is beauty; but what God actually is, whether the maker of all things, or the fragrance of all things, or just a dream in our own hearts, I have not the art to know. Neither have you, I believe; nor any man, nor any spirit of our humble stature.
It is better to be destroyed than to triumph in slaying the spirit. Such as it is,the spirit that we have achieved is fair; and it is indestructibly woven into the tissue of the cosmos. We die praising the universe in which at least such an achievement as ours can be.
Only in couples and in little circles of companions could they support true community, the communion of mutual insight and respect and love. But in their tribes and nations they conceived all too easily the sham community of the pack, baying in unison of fear and hate.
The fictitious deities of all races in all worlds once more crowded themselves upon me, symbols of majesty and tenderness, of ruthless power, of blind creativity, and of all-seeing wisdom. And though these images were but the fantasies of created minds, it seemed to me that one and all did indeed embody some true feature of the Star Maker?s impact upon the creatures.
This is the goal of all living, that the cosmos may be known, and admired, and that it may be crowned with further beauties. Nowhere and at no time, so far as we can tell, at least within our own galaxy, has the adventure reached further than in ourselves. And in us, what has been achieved is but a minute beginning. But it is a real beginning.
Year by year, month by month, the plight of our fragmentary and precarious civilization becomes more serious. Fascism abroad grows more bold and ruthless in its foreign ventures, more tyrannical toward its own citizens, more barbarian in its contempt for the life of the mind. Even in our own country we have reason to fear a tendency toward militarization and the curtailment of civil liberty. Moreover, while the decades pass, no resolute step is taken to alleviate the injustice of our social order. Our outworn economic system dooms millions to frustration.
Dear beautiful one, I praise the stars for the song's end. Farewell!
I spent on the Other Earth many "other years," wandering from mind to mind and country to country, but I did not gain any clear understanding of the psychology of the Other Men and the significance of their history till I encountered one of their philosophers, an aging but still vigorous man whose eccentric and unpalatable views had prevented him from attaining eminence.
It is enough to have been created, to have embodied for a moment the infinite and tumultuously creative spirit. It is infinitely more than enough to have been used, to have been the rough sketch for some perfected creation.
Radio, which formerly had been the main force making for cosmopolitanism, became suddenly in each country the main stimulus to nationalism. Morning, noon and night, every civilized people was assured that enemies, whose flavor was of course subhuman and foul, were plotting its destruction. Armament scares, spy stories, accounts of the barbarous and sadistic behavior of neighboring peoples, created in every country such uncritical suspicion and hate that war became inevitable...All thought of human brotherhood, and even of personal safety, was swept away by a savage blood-lust.