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Joyous Wisdom

Pessimistic Pantheism, rooted in the doctrine of birth and rebirth — which seems to be the essence of Hindu thought — is definitely an otherworldly philosophy. So are the man-centered creeds that sprang, in the West, from Judaism (creeds based upon the belief in transcendent Godhead cannot but be so). Western Free Thought, in all its different forms, has, as we pointed out, retained Christian ethics while doing away with Christian metaphysics. It is not other-worldly at all, but it has never preached or even conceived a love more comprehensive than that of humanity. And every one of its aspects, from Descartes to Karl Marx, is as man-centered as any philosophy can be.

On the other hand, the immemorial social and ethical wisdom of the Chinese, centered around the sacred continuity and expansion of the human family —that one, real, everlasting religion of China, more solidly established in the subconscious mind of her millions than either the popular indigenous nature cults or any of the great imported faiths — is, as far as we know, eminently man-centered. Its outlook is human —social, not cosmic. It is the rational religion of humanity, if ever there was any. But no more than a religion of humanity.

And as for that aspect of Indian religion which seems to have escaped the general pessimistic trend of Hindu thought while accepting the idea of the oneness of life, or which flourished before that general trend of pessimism had appeared; as for that outlook expressed, for instance, in those old Vedic hymns in which the conquering Aryans asked their Gods for numerous male descendants, for herds of cows, and for the strength to destroy their enemies in battle, it can surely not be accused of having an


otherworldly tint. But it has equally very little to do with universal love, as good King Asoka understood it (if we take the beautiful archaic scriptures as they are written). It is the product of a healthy, warrior-like, animal-sacrificing race, much akin, in spirit, to the Achaeans of the Homeric epics — one of the most intelligent and aesthetically-minded among the sturdy races of Antiquity, no doubt, but surely not of a race endowed with the softer virtues of the Indians of the “Buddhist period.” And it seems fair to notice that something has survived of that outlook in India at nearly all epochs, more or less.

In other words, there have been, and there still are philosophies “faithful to this earth” and centered around something narrower than mankind (around a nation, for instance, or a class, or a family). There are and there have been philosophies equally devoid of any human welfare. There are and there have been religions and philosophies with a background of otherworldly faith or speculation, of which some are centered around man and others around life in general.

But we know of no historic civilization based upon a joyous earthly wisdom, implying active love towards all living creatures; upon a religion of this world and of this life in flesh and blood, which would be neither man-centered nor pessimistic, nor lacking truly universal kindness in the Buddhistic sense of the word. We only know of a very few individuals who have put forward such a philosophy, professed such a religion — consciously or unconsciously — from time to time; a few individuals of whom the most ancient and the most illustrious seems to have been Akhnaton, King of Egypt, and Founder of the Religion of the Disk in the early fourteenth century B.C. — perhaps the one man who ever dreamed of building a world civilization upon the basis of a joyous wisdom like that to which we have just alluded.

The basis of his “Teaching of Life” was extremely simple. It was, first of all, the enthusiastic admiration of an artist for the beauty of our Parent Star. It was also the assertion that from this visible shining Father of ours — the Sun — comes all life and power on earth and that, if we need to worship anything, the best is to worship Him, or rather, His “ka” or soul: the energetic Principle at the root of all existence. And it seems to have been scientifically unshakable, for it implied that idea of the equivalence of heat and light and of all different aspects of energy, no less


than — ultimately — of energy and of that which appears to our senses as matter; the equivalence of the “Heat-and-light-within-the-Disk” (Akhnaton’s One, everlasting, impersonal God) and of the fiery Sun-disk itself. The worship of the Sun-disk meant, in reality, the worship of immanent, cosmic Energy.

No code of ethics was explicitly attached to the Religion of the Disk, as far as we know. But Akhnaton’s creed, while fully accepting the fact of God-ordained diversity, and upholding the separation of races on religious grounds,1 certainly did imply the broadest and most impartial love, not merely towards man, irrespective of race or nationality, but also towards all living creatures, irrespective of species. It looked upon them all as children and co-worshippers of the one universal “Father-and-Mother” — the Sun; and in the two surviving hymns from which can be gathered our only direct knowledge of its spirit, the marvel of birth and growth, the joy of being alive in the beautiful sunlit world, and the religious rapture of creatures all adoring the Sun, each one in its way, are emphasized, both in the case of men, of quadrupeds, of birds, of fishes, and even of plants, in the same breath.

And though, unfortunately, nothing had remained of that happy cult of light and tangible beauty, one can say with hardly any risk of making a mistake that, had it endured, it would have been perhaps the one joyous creed of worldwide scope, making it impossible not to claim for animals (and plants) a right to our full active love in everyday life. Whatever might have been Akhnaton’s personal views regarding death-views which he appears never to have preached — it is certain from his hymns that he valued the beauty of this ever-changing world, and more than all the beauty of any living organism, masterly sample of what divine heat-and-Light can produce under favorable conditions. Individual life, finite and brief as it surely is, was precious in his eyes because it is beautiful. And without any speculation about the intimate nature of life, or about its alleged “higher purpose”; without any theory about the soul of creatures and its ultimate destiny, a man filled with the young king’s love would be bound to be disturbed at the idea of any creature’s suffering — especially of its physical suffering. He would be bound to interfere in favor of the hungry street dog, of the homeless kitten, of the overloaded horse, ass, camel or buffalo he

1 “Thou hast put every man in his place, Thou hast made them different in shape, in speech and in color; As a divider, Thou hast divided the foreign people (from one another).” (From Akhnaton’s Longer Hymn to the Sun.)


meets on his way, and to do for each of them all that a sincere Christian would do for a hungry man, a homeless child, and ill-treated and overworked human slave.

The man-centered creeds, based upon the assumption of man’s special value without, apparently, any thought for other living creatures, tell us to love all men as ourselves. The existing creeds of universal love, centered around the idea of “liberation” of creatures from the prison of finite individuality, can be interpreted in both ways; they lead only a few men to actually universal charity (extended to all living beings) and remain, more often than not, for the others, an excuse for general indifference to suffering. The creed based solely upon the full consciousness of the beauty of daylight and of the sweetness of life as such, apart from any metaphysics; upon the filial worship of the subtle Essence of Life — Energy — through the resplendent Star, origin and regulator of our planetary system, that creed, we say, logically implies active sympathy — a warm sort of fellow feeling — for all that lives. If, indeed, one realizes to the full the brotherhood of all creatures in the father-and-motherhood of the life-giving Sun, and if one is happy to be alive and to see His beauty, then one cannot, it seems, but do one’s utmost to help all bodies endowed with life to live and enjoy their span of years; one cannot but contribute one’s best to give them, in every daily circumstance, whatever is necessary for them to be, and to remain, what the intimate finality of their nature intended them to be: beautiful living hymns of joy to the splendor of Him Whose radiance and movements ordain all life on earth.

It is this joyous wisdom that we profess to follow, to the extent it is compatible with the natural struggle for survival, the laws of which rule Life at all levels. It may not be possible-it may not even be essential-that all men should adhere to it out of love and reverence for the great historic figure who first preached it and lived up to it. But its spirit seems to be the only spirit worthy of a future society, better than ours; of a society in which increasing intellectual agnosticism — already apparent among the scientifically-minded people of today — would exclude hasty metaphysical assertions, but in which increasing consideration for the right of all sufferers (especially of all the exploited) would logically bring man to include all sentient creatures within the range of his active sympathy.

* * *

The cornerstone of all arguments put forward by believers in man-centered creeds (be those creeds religious, or merely


philosophical ones) seems to be that, of all living creatures, man alone is endowed with possibilities of rational thought. And when one tries to point out that those possibilities often materialize only to a very little extent — or not at all — or when one remarks that, to base our specific behaviors toward human beings in general upon their “rational” faculties implies that we should also treat different individual men and groups of men in a thoroughly different manner (for nature has not granted every person, or even every race, equal potentialities of rational thought), then the believers in man-centered creeds appeal to another argument. They grant us that all men do not think rationally; nay, that one can doubt, at times, whether some of them even think at all. But they tell us that all are useful, or, at least, that all could be useful, in a well-planned society.

We say that if the most mediocre of men is to be given priority over all beasts on account of his capacity for devising tools and for making syllogisms, then, surely in time of famine, the relief workers should feed a clever, promising child before a dullard — which they do not — and at all times, a man with a brilliant personality (and all the more a man of genius) should be, when wounded or sick, better looked after than an average man-which is not the case. They reply that any man, even far below the average, should be given preference over all the subhuman, living world because, whatever he be, he is, or can be more useful to other men than a beast — even if he has no more of an immortal soul than they have.

One may doubt, at least in the present state of society, whether all the uncreative idlers of the cafes and fashionable avenues rolled into one are as useful to mankind as a single milch cow, a single beast of burden, or a single watchdog. But our opponents retort that, in spite of all, they are “human beings.” Though in the present state of society they be useless idlers, they remain potential fathers and mothers of human babies. Their descendants, if not themselves, can still be offered, within the frame of a more rationally organized collectivity, the means of contributing to the common welfare of their fellowmen as teachers, peasants, nurses, blacksmiths or scientists. All human energy is utilizable, if not always utilized, for the common good of humanity. Not a particle of it should be allowed to go to waste. While what can one do with animal energy — apart from that which is used to feed man or to draw his carts for him? What are the “possibilities” of a puppy, of a kitten, of a tiger cub, of a young swan, of a young snake? None


which can interest the human world. And the “useful” animals themselves are being replaced, more and more, by mechanical devices.

One can indeed imagine a type of society in which animals would be of no practical use at all to man — not even as food; a society in which man’s intelligence alone would keep things going through the invention of appropriate machines and of synthetic foodstuffs, and in which every individual would have to work under compulsion. But even if such a society does one day come into existence, and if it includes the whole of the human race, still animal life would lose nothing of its value in our eyes, and the preoccupation of animals’ welfare would remain one of man’s greatest duties, at least in the case of all those beasts that depend more or less upon him for their subsistence.

* * *

With regard to animals-and plants-the believers in man-centered creeds seem to be governed by the mere consideration of gain and loss. They seem to be people for whom living things have a price in connection with some purpose for which they can be used, not a value in themselves. And the highest purpose they can dream of is the “service of humanity.” Why? Goodness knows. Probably because they themselves happen to be human beings. To admit the existence of something higher and more precious than “man” — and having more “rights” than he to health and enjoyment — would be to concede that man (i.e., themselves) can be justly used in the interest of that thing. And they do not want to reach such a conclusion-surely not. They are willing to exploit living nature; but they shrink from the possibility of being themselves exploited in their turn, even in the interest of such superior beings as, for instance, inhuman Gods, or for the greater welfare of the less exalted but more tangible master races that might appear on the international stage. The result is that the only God they can think of, if any, is a man-loving God who created no master race save mankind itself, to which he gave as a birthright domination over the whole scheme of life. To them, as we have already said, the species that can invent tools and draw one proposition out of another — the species to which they belong — is the only really lovable one; the only one, at any rate, for which one can sacrifice oneself. And the rest of the living are just “useful” or “harmful,” or harmless but of no use to man and therefore of no interest.


We cannot think of anything more disgusting, more vulgar, more mean, than this attitude.

We would not call it “a shopkeeper’s attitude,” for shopkeepers are respectable folk, often honest, and generally endowed with common sense. We would not call it a “selfish” attitude, for some selfish people at least are frankly and openly so, and have, at times the courage to go to the extreme limits of whatever their selfishness leads them to. Profit-seekers can understand other profit-seekers, though they do not necessarily love them, especially if they be their rivals. Selfish people understand other selfish people, though they might detest them. They find it natural for them to be as they are. But our votaries of man-centered faiths are the last people to understand the believers in the right of the superior or more efficient races to exploit the inferior or less efficient ones. Our philanthropists, burning with partial, fanatical love, who would willingly destroy the whole of the animal world in order to save one human idiot, are the last people to understand the ardent nationalist who would, with a smile, sacrifice mankind to his own country’s pride, or even the shameless opportunist who would no less easily betray both country and humanity for his personal benefit. Their attitude is one of untruthfulness and hypocrisy. Instead of honestly admitting that they are not bold enough to be mere self-seeking opportunists (for fear of what the devils might one day do to them in hell); nor fanatical enough to be aggressive nationalists, nor intelligent — and selfless — enough to be true racialists, and not to care what “modern” liberal-minded folk might think of them in society; instead of telling us in plain language that they are able to raise themselves from personal selfishness to a sense of human solidarity, but that they can go no further; instead of confessing that they have an altogether illogical yet undeniable fondness for human beings, but none at all or very little for other animal species, even for other mammals — as others have a vital fondness for their own countrymen but do not care a jot for the rest of mankind — instead of admitting that, we say, they try to justify their narrow love with spurious arguments. They try to make what is a matter of taste — and more often then not, of bad taste — pass off for a matter of reason. They fail. And of all their arguments, none betrays the fundamental meanness of their feelings more than that one which puts forward man’s possibilities to be “of greater use to his fellowmen” than any beast can be.


* * *

To try to justify the exploitation of animals on the ground that man is, or is supposed to be, the only creature on earth endowed with reason, is foolish. Every form of exploitation rests, as soon as it ceases to be backed by mere physical force, upon the cleverness of the exploiters. To say that to exploit men is to crush “possibilities” and is therefore “wrong,” leads nowhere. For what do the exploiters care if the possibilities of other men are thwarted? And why should they care? Because their victims would be more “useful to humanity” if allowed free development? But the exploiters do not necessarily bother their heads about the interest of humanity. They care for their own immediate advantage, and are as little impressed by the “human values” exalted in the man-centered creeds as the mere humanitarians are themselves by those which we hold sacred.

If, on the other hand, a man feels for humanity in general and for every one of his human neighbors in particular, why should he stop there? If he feels it is “wrong” not to treat other men as he would himself like to be treated, why does he not feel the same with regard to all sentient creatures? Reason and “utility” are surely not the only things that make mankind lovable, if it be at all so. Why should they become the justification of any sort of partiality towards human beings? What is there, after all, to make such a fuss about in man’s capacity for devising instruments, or imagining arguments, or bettering his surroundings and working for other men? Cannot a creature be infinitely lovable without possessing any such “possibilities” at all? We believe it can be. We know that it actually is. And anyone who has picked up a kitten or a puppy, or a young bird, and felt it live in his hand for a while, will understand what we mean, unless he himself be coarser than the coarsest of beasts. A soft, warm, fluffy ball of purring fur that stretches its velvet paws with pleasure, while its two deep greenish-blue eyes express confidence in the friend who is carrying it home; a creature that wags its trail for joy and licks one’s hand as soon as it feels one loves it; a tiny feathery body, with wings that flutter, and a frightened heart that one feels beating between one’s fingers;, and all the other creatures of the earth, wild or tame, are lovable in themselves, without it being necessary for them to be either “reasonable” or “useful.” They are lovable just because they are alive. No theory concerning God, or the nature of the soul; no opinion about the unknown, no metaphysics of any sort — no


“scientific” theories either — are necessary to prove them to be so. Any living individual is, in itself, infinitely precious, as a masterpiece of Nature — as the supreme work of art. Any beautiful form, even inanimate, is precious in itself. So much more so if it be endowed with sensitiveness; if it enjoys the daylight and can respond to kindness. In our eyes, the mere possibility of being healthy, beautiful and happy is sufficient to establish the right of every living creature to be well fed and well treated until the moment it dies a natural death. The “reason” of an animal (or of a plant) lies in the deep immanent logic that rules its physical life — and its emotions, also, in the case of an evolved beast. Its “usefulness” lies in its potentialities of physical beauty. It is a type of reason and of usefulness that the better human beings — the disinterested ones, the true artists — alone can understand.

As for ordinary syllogistic and practical reason and immediate usefulness, the least said about them the better. They are supposed to be the discriminating factors between man and beast. Let them be first taken into consideration, if at all, as the basis of desirable distinctions between human beings. The followers of man-centered creeds never think of that. They speak of human “rationality” and of the usefulness of human beings; yet they never ask whether the person whom they are about to help has actually made use of his capacity to better his surroundings or to work for others. They just help him — even if he be the most consummate imbecile, suffering the result of his own foolishness; even if he be the most useless, self-centered old bachelor, having never cared for anybody. Hospitals and asylums are open to all. And in bad times food is distributed indiscriminately to all the distressed, without any enquiry into the life history of each one. It is not even the consciousness of that possibility of the sufferers to be “useful” which prompts the humanitarian to care for his fellow beings. It is just the fact that they are beings, outwardly at least, more like himself than others — specimens of the human race. The humanitarian is a fellow who has rejected the logic of racialism, but has kept all the sentimental partiality attached to every form of group loyalty. He has done away with the “white man’s burden,” and discarded the pride of the master races as too unchristian-like or too “unscientific” for him. But he still clings — or tries to cling — to that elemental blood solidarity which is the essence of all racialism. He clings to it, after having distorted it and broadened it to such an extent that it loses all that was vital and stimulating in it, in its earlier stages, without it generously merging into the higher


solidarity of all life. Un raciste manque, that is what the humanitarian is, and nothing more, so long as he fails to transcend his man-centered ideology.

We — who are racialists, and remain so in defiance of savage persecution1 — proclaim, thanks precisely to our faith in divine order and hierarchy, the brotherhood of all living creatures on the sole ground that they are alive — products, at different degrees of evolution, of the play of that selfsame immanent Energy that created the greatest ones among us; children of the One, life-giving Sun, glad to see His light and to feel His warmth, like ourselves — and like him who once made the joy of life the center of a rational religion of worldwide scope, if not, unfortunately, of worldwide fame.

And we believe that, as long as man refuses to feel his duties towards the whole of living creation and even tries to justify his reluctance to fulfil them, he will remain nothing more than the most efficient animal on earth — an animal that might dominate others, and use them for its own ends more systematically and more ruthlessly than any species of the jungle can do, but whose emotional horizon is as narrow, and whose purpose is as selfish as that of any gregarious beast. Cleverer, we admit, than bees or ants, wild elephants or migratory birds; more cunning than the most socially-minded monkeys; but prompted to action, at the most, by the interest of its species — by love for its own kind and no more; an animal that can create gods, but in its own image — like the “Great Horse in heaven” which horses worship, if there be any truth in one of Anatole France’s most charming tales,2 an animal that lies to itself and pretends that its God made it, and it alone, in his own likeness — a thing that the malicious apes would surely assert also on behalf of their species, with a little extra intelligence and a much greater supply of perversity than that which nature granted them. Yes, man is potentially reasonable. But, up till now, he has put his reason to the service of the selfsame purpose as any gregarious animal would have pursued in his place: the welfare of his own species, and nothing more.

And it is precisely in the capacity of a few men to go beyond that ideal, instead of justifying it and exalting it in its limitations; it is in

1 This book was written in 1945–46.
2 Les Juges Intègres, in Crainquebille, etc. Edition Calmann-Lévy, 1930, pp. 198–199.


the capacity of an élite to transcend that sort of fellow feeling restricted to two-legged mammals, and to struggle for the welfare of other species as well as, and sometimes more than, their own; it is in the readiness of the truly better human beings to love creatures of a different size and of a different shape as themselves, and sometimes more than themselves, that we see the real superiority of man. That superiority has never yet asserted itself on a broad scale. But some inconspicuous people, whom one meets here and there, tend to prove it. And it shines in all its glory, from time to time, in handfuls of inspired men, founders or active followers of life-centered religions or philosophies, conscious of and consistent with the principles of eternal truth and real love.