A Conversation with Stephan Gechev:
Man Was Obviously Meant For Something Great
< Назадм творчеств
An old man now, I have lived through most of this century. I have been to foreign countries, met all kinds of people, and witnessed all sorts of events. All of the above is what has made me ponder the human race, its fate, history and future. For the most part people live in the present. Our plans, especially now, at the turn of the century, are more or less tentative and indefinite. The majority of people around the world, more so in our own country, are preoccupied solely with making it through another day.
Like many of you, I myself have wondered at times if life was an accident, if there was any meaning to it or an afterlife. These are questions that people have been asking since the dawn of history, and which no one has been able to answer well, whether through reason or emotion. For my part, though, I believe that I have been able to find a way to answer these very same questions, not so much through feeling, as through careful observation. We all know our times do not favor such abstract thinking, yet, I would like to seize this opportunity to share my thoughts with those who care – with you. Perhaps, what I have to say may be of interest or even of some use to you. Thank you for your time.
It has been established that all living things aim to survive for as long as they possibly can. To this end, they employ two main mechanisms – those of forage and procreation. The latter is in part determined by the fact that any offspring is regarded in a sense as a continuation the individual living entity. However, to forage and procreate an individual living organism has to compete with other organisms, either within its own species or with those outside it. In other words, the individual entity has to look for food, while it avoids becoming ‘food’ itself. This is the reason why all living things aim at being the fittest, in the sense of being the most cunning, having the best skills or being the strongest or most intimidating. All the energy of the organism is focused on its sheer physical survival.
I am aware of the trivial nature of this knowledge, but I deem it necessary to reiterate it in order to better emphasize this important fact: the evolution of all living things follows a continuous progression from simplicity to complexity. This is how the individual living entity develops skills that allow it, inasmuch as this is possible, to survive the ruthless competition for resources. This is how we eventually reach Man.
Firstly, man is different from all other living beings in that Man has reason. Essentially, reason is Man’s ability to foresee the near and distant future. In all likelihood, reason was the result of Man’s ability to distinguish between external and internal stimuli. Whether this feature is due to the incredible complexity of the human brain (some scientists claim it is the most complex mechanism in the universe), or to some unknown force is a question that will never be answered unequivocally. It is the same as asking what came first – the chicken or the egg.
Yet another regard in which Man differs from the rest of creation is his ability to grow his own food. Man tills the land and tends cattle, thereby creating a collective settlement. However, it is the collective settlement of many, as well as the single being that slows down entropy. Allow me to mention parenthetically here that, in laymen’s terms, the second law of thermodynamics postulates that every organized system tends to disorder. The only difference between inanimate matter and living beings is that living beings create mechanisms, which slow down the inevitable end – entropy, that is. This way a society develops means to slow down the tendency to disorder, e.g. laws and punishments for those who transgress.
As a hunter, Man felt completely free to satisfy his needs and instincts as other animals do. Man killed his enemy; copulated with the female he happened to take a liking to, he took away from those weaker than himself. However, as the individual joined the collective, as I mentioned earlier, Man created laws to protect himself and to mete out punishments to those who trespassed against the law. This is when Man began to suppress his inner urges out of fear of being punished. Here lies the foundation of what we have termed “the subconscious.” Man is the only living being on earth that has one, as partly do some domestic animals. To be free from the reigns of the subconscious, while at the same time being aware of its dictates, is one of the main objectives in the evolution of the human psyche. In other words, when Man is able to conduct his own psychoanalysis, Man will feel an incredible sense of inner peace and security.
A third aspect in which Man differs from all other species is that Man knows early on that some day he will die. Since the instinct of man wills him to do anything to put this end off (possibly indefinitely) and to find comfort from the menace of death, Man creates religions. Even the most primitive of these promise some kind of continuation of life after death. In the later stages of the social evolution, some philosophers begin to doubt this concept, again so as to be remembered by future generations. This act stems from their desire to do something great, to go down in history and, in a way, to achieve immortality. Here are two examples of just such thinking. Herostratus, who burnt the magnificent temple of Artemis in Hephesus, told his judges, “I did it to be remembered for all time.” An Italian painter, a friend of Beethoven, once wrote to him about his despair as an artist. Beethoven encouraged him to persevere and ended his reply saying, “So you will continue to paint and I myself to compose music. To what end? So as to be remembered forever? Yes, so as to be remembered forever.”
Apart from the promise of eternal life, religion contributed to social organization. Its promise of retribution in the great beyond reinforced social order and prevented people from acting on their criminal intents. These two corollaries of religion regulated human conduct. Nonetheless, the past 100-200 years have seen the dying out of religious doctrine, which leaves us with only human law, which can easily be circumvented. Hence, the large increase in crime worldwide. The same thing happened in Bulgaria as well, once the idea of realizing the communist dream died, but more on this subject later on.
As we know, the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ do not exist in nature. Defined by human or religious decree, Man creates these concepts in society for its own survival. In other words, instincts, which dictate an utterly selfish conduct towards others, are reversed in a social setting, forcing the individual to give up a portion of his self-interest and freedom on behalf of others. This moment is of paramount importance. How so? Think about this – whom do we call ‘good’, ‘selfless’ or ‘savior’? The people we call so, we do precisely because they have given up a large portion of their self-interest for the sake of others. They are the role models, at least for some. Let us remember Christ’s sacrifice for mankind and the sacrifice of thousands of his followers who went to their death with joy, all in his name. Perhaps it was this very same, unheard-of sacrifice of theirs that contributed to the rapid dissemination of Christianity. The spectators in Roman coliseums must have thought to themselves that, if those on the arena could go with joy and praise to their death at the hands of beasts, then theirs must have been a superior faith, their reward in heaven (for there must needs be one) great. Ergo, the spectators converted to the new faith.
In the same vein, let us recall all those lives given up voluntarily in the name of a greater cause, whether in our distant past of in more recent times in history. There is something truly inexplicable from the standpoint of physical survival in the act of one man’s giving up his life of his own will, to die for an idea which, he believes, will benefit others. That the revolutions of the past few hundred years – from Cromwell’s to Lenin’s – which cost the lives of idealists and were carried out in the name of a dream, all ended up in dictatorships is a different matter altogether. Their end does not in any way diminish the heroism of those who sacrificed their lives for equality, fraternity and freedom. In a side note: dictatorship and the following restoration period are both natural occurrences in society. Every ideology that is adopted by a state adapts to the requirements of secular power and the demands or immense ambitions of those in power.
So Paradise has always been a dream to people. How have they imagined paradise? In Antiquity, Paradise was here on Earth. The ancient Greek poet Heziod describes this idyll in his Works and Days:
People lived as gods, their souls joyful, free from pain and toil. They never got old, their limbs and arms remained unscathed. Evil never befell them and people celebrated at feasts and holidays; Death came to them in their sleep. All around them there were riches – the fertile land gave up its fruits and crops in abundance, so people lived in peace and joy.
A similar vision existed for the Jews, too, only theirs was populated by the first man and woman, whereas the Hellenic version of Paradise encompassed all humankind. Here on earth, at that.
All of these tales have a sad ending – the lucky ones lose Paradise for some reason and steadily move towards a dispiriting degradation. Firstly, because once they have lost their place in Paradise, people have to provide for themselves with backbreaking labor. This, in turn, breeds jealousy, spite, crime and war. “Every war is waged to obtain another’s goods” (Plato)
Later on, various religions associated this dream of Paradise with life after death. Paradise in the great beyond exists, but only for those who have deserved it. Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam all concur in this respect. Milton’s work Paradise Regained, written after Paradise Lost, aims to reaffirm the hope that there will come a time when people will live once again in another Paradise on earth. However, it took humanity 300 years of rational thought to develop a theory that offered, in scientific terms, a framework for the realization of just this Paradise on earth. The only flaw in Marxism was the fact that it failed to take into consideration Man as the driving force in the scheme of things. The theory also failed to account for the instinct for survival with all its negative manifestations. So, if in their time millions believed, based on rational thought, that it was possible to create a Paradise on earth, they did so because they were motivated by their desire to live in wealth, peace and freedom, certain of their future, without having to expend their energy in a perpetual struggle for survival. As a matter of course, just as in any other revolution, the Marxist experiment ended up in dictatorships that had nothing to do with Paradise on earth. So, does this mean that we have to give up on the eternal dream?
Let us make one thing perfectly clear. A society, in which people are certain they have a future and in which they are free to choose their life without violence or fear, is not the ultimate goal. Such a society is merely the environment that ensures Man’s continued evolution towards the stage where he can master his inner impulses and grow spiritually. It is a superior kind of social order where the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ will adopt wholly different meanings, where the instinct for survival will be displaced by the conscious awareness of the individual’s responsibility in the betterment of his lot and that of others. In its turn, this will lead to the ultimate realization of the fact that the best means to reveal the now spiritually mastered instinct is Man’s conscious awareness, along with his wholehearted joyful content to create, to freely give of himself, to impart to others the fruits of his toils, so as to gain a superior kind of immortality.
I am fully aware of how you, the listeners, may smile condescendingly at this, or even ironically for that matter. You may say “The old man’s telling stories about some paradise, telling them to us, who know not where our next meal is coming from, who have no idea if we’ll be fired or hired when tomorrow comes, whether or not we’ll be able to feed our children. He tells us, who have to steal before we are robbed, who lie before we are lied to, who abuse before we are abused!” Perhaps you will turn off the radio, but I beg of you to wait a few more minutes and let me finish. Thank you.
I would like to address now those of you who are better off than most. There are enough of your kind in our country; it is you who can begin to better the lot of others. How so? The answer is obviously simple – by giving up what you do not need. What does this imply? Look at it this way: say, one owns a vehicle, just as does the wife of one’s co-worker. Now, one has to buy a car for their own spouse, so as to remain on equal terms with their colleague. Similarly, one has to buy a TV set for their child to enjoy in his/her room, because they cannot share the one they already have. Why not take this a step further and put a TV in the bedroom as well? The question is whether all of this is necessary. Do we have to be slaves of fashion and material possessions? Would it not be better to give up what we do not need and invest the savings in say, a local business? We could establish a national fund, in which to deposit part of what we save by giving up of our own free will. Imagine that! Suppose there are 2 million people who could give up what they do not need. If the sum equals about 5 leva(1/2 $)per month, the cumulative result would be some 10 million leva or 120,000,000 leva annually. Do you have any idea of what this much money can accomplish, if administered correctly? In addition to supporting the elderly who are known to be poor, this money can be applied towards the establishment of multitude of local businesses. The latter would employ hundreds of young and jobless folks, and this, in its turn, would increase overall productivity. The profits from that, along with accrued interest on the principal and the income, would largely augment the sum total. Let us try this for the time being. I assure you that the joy of giving up some of our self-interest for the sake of society will bring us more joy and content, inner peace and freedom. Believe me, it would be well worth the effort.
This does not in any way suggest a form of sponsorship or charity, however; these are altogether different matters. The issue at hand is that of laying down a durable and well-organized establishment, with money obtained by giving up what we do not need. If such a step forward were taken, it would lead to something wonderful – the moral transformation of our instinct of survival. From a tyrant of the spirit whose imperative is “Myself and my flesh and blood is all that matters”, it will grow into the noble notion of “Others matter no less than myself.” In such a way, social entropy will be curbed, as well as our own. Otherwise, we will have to live with the idea that our society will be made up of 2-3% multimillionaires, 10% subservient classes and the remaining, resigned 85% will dwell near the poverty line. It is not perfectly clear that such a society is doomed?
It is well known now that for many years the capitalist developed countries of the world have been concerned with the possibility of a pending disaster caused by the fundamental conflict brought on by scientific and technological progress. There are machines today, but these same machines displace the human being from the workplace, thereby contributing to unemployment. However, a capitalist entrepreneur has no motivation to part with any of his profits in order to meet the demands of an all-encompassing social policy. Even the renowned global think tank The Club of Rome has attempted to solve the problem. The idea itself is anything but new. Even in our distant past there have been people who understood the danger of avarice and egotism, both to the individual and to society. These people knew the great sense of liberation one feels when one is free from the desire to own things one does not need. Let us recall Diogenes, Krates of Thebes or Leonides of Tarentum. In our own times, too, there is still a movement against the consumerist society. I recall that about 20 years ago the great violin player Yehudi Menuhin gave up his luxuries, settled in a small town and parted with his car, which he replaced with a bicycle. There might be other examples that I am not familiar with. However, judging from the events in the world today it seems such examples do not inspire many followers, even in the richest countries.
What will happen in the developed world I do not know; what I do know is the alternative before them. It is absurd to stop the advances of science and technology, therefore either those who have the reigns of economy in their hands will be forced to give up some of their profits, or some day they will face insurgencies and revolution. Revolutions, in their turn, will lead to dictatorships of bloodshed and terror that will pit one class against another – the rich against the poor – and on a global scale they may lead to war. Knowing what weapons some nations have, a global armed conflict may lead to a global disaster. We should not hope for Divine intervention, however. Man has obviously been created with a great purpose in mind, but Man is free to choose what it will be. This is why Man is endowed with both reason and intuition.
Why do we not try at this very moment here, in Bulgaria, to take one small step in the right direction towards finding a logical solution to this fateful problem, by giving up some portion of our self-interest for the benefit of society? I know this act calls for a long inner evolution of the mind, but why not try to set an example as we have done before in our history? Once we realize that our instinct for survival drives us to greed, jealousy and spite when in its purest form, we can transform it into our own salvation when we raise it to a new, all-encompassing level.
Ladies and gentlemen, this was a presentation of an idea of mine. There is nothing else that I can do, but those young, intelligent and skilled people – and there are plenty in our country – could develop this very same idea both in theory and practice. Our pathetic economic and moral crises could then become the driving force for just such a progressive movement.
Thank you for your time.
Radio station Hristo Botev, 2/19/95
Translated into English by Elitza Z