Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Writer’s Philosophy of Life

A speech by Gordon Greb at the University of California when he was an undergraduate student on the Berkeley campus, April 13, 1941:

BERKELEY––Someone once said, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” My philosophy is somewhat similar to that quotation. It is not the same today as it was yesterday, nor am I certain that it will be the same tomorrow as it is today. Therefore I hesitate in making any dogmatic statements concerning my beliefs and outlook on life, for they are still in the evolutionary stage and are not yet solidified into any one ultimate shape. In fact, I am doubtful that they will ever take an ultimate shape, for every day new experiences and new ideas are contributing to its development.

The simplest definition I could find for a philosophy of life was that put by Dr. Albert F. Wiggin who says that a philosophy of life “represents the reasons … a person … gives to himself for living at all.” Most of us have goals we are seeking and ideals we want to achieve. Yet there is never any complete severance from the conditions of life.

We must put up with the conditions under which we live, try to change them, or else leave the realm of their influence. Thus far I’ve learned two predominant philosophies have been put forward for consideration: The one extreme consists of those who would leave well enough alone and just take things as they are. In contrast to this group are the others, who would work toward changing these conditions of life regardless of the method used to achieve this end.

My philosophy of life is neither one of these two. It is somewhat of a compromise between them both. It is based upon what causes these so-called worldly conditions. If human in origin, I believe that in most cases humans can find a remedy for them. But if natural in origin, I believe that some of the conditions can be remedied but not ultimately all of them. Thus I believe that the solution to an ill depends upon the individual case under consideration.

First let us consider human problems. I believe that war is one of the greatest and most difficult which mankind has yet been asked to solve. Yet it is the most urgent. And I believe that it can be solved. It results from misunderstandings between two or more groups, and it is caused by both parties placing the whole blame upon the other. And each attempts to prove its own righteousness with its own physical strength.

If war could solve the problem, perhaps even then we could find a way to rationalize its terrible bloodshed and senseless consequences, but the very uselessness of war is the fact that it does NOT solve the problem but creates new problems as well. Only through universal education––whether it be through science or religion or whatever you like––so that it reaches each race, each group, and each individual, thereby sharing peacefully the opinions of others, will there be a chance for a solution. And by this education I believe that every member of mankind will realize that he is striving towards the same goal as his neighbor: the philosophy of them all is happiness for themselves, their families and their children.

Next let us consider a natural problem. Strange to say we again have war. Some people call war natural; they claim that is the universal law of nature, that it is the law of the “survival of the fittest.” First I would like to refute that contention. It does not fit into my philosophy of life. Men are supposed to be civilized; they are supposed to be the highest form of animal life; they are supposed to be thinking creatures. If this be true, and certainly it must be true if we are to have any hopes whatsoever for the future, it is up to man to stifle this curse today. Not tomorrow but today.

The time to solve a problem is when a problem exists. If man does not, man will become his own worst enemy. Not disease, not floods, nor earthquakes but man himself will be the cause of his own extinction. The fact that man can become extinct is a natural problem, but the fact that man himself can cause his own extinction is a human problem which can be solved.

As I have pointed out, my philosophy of life molds itself according to its environment. Today war is its environment. If it seems that I have lingered too long upon the subject of war, I do not apologize. The topic of war cannot be avoided. It is in every newspaper headline; it is discussed on every radio and public forum; it confronts you at the breakfast table, on the street corner, and in the movies.

You cannot move the sun nor can you move the moon. They are natural phenomena that are beyond human power to move. But you can remove Mars, the God of War, from the surface of this earth.

My philosophy is to keep searching, keep learning, and above all to keep American civilization, the last beacon light of democracy, free from war and living, so that it will grow into something for which future generations may well be proud.