Thursday, June 8, 2017

excerpt from richard jefferies 'story of my heart' (1883)


'....I fully recognise the practical difficulty arising from the
ingrained, hereditary, and unconscious selfishness which began
before history, and has been crossed and cultivated for twelve
thousand years since. This renders me less sanguine of united
effort through geological time ahead, unless some idea can be
formed to give a stronger impulse even than selfishness, or
unless the selfishness can be utilised. The complacency with
which the mass of people go about their daily task, absolutely
indifferent to all other considerations, is appalling in its
concentrated stolidity. They do not intend wrong, they intend
rightly: in truth, they work against the entire human race. So
wedded and so confirmed is the world in its narrow groove of
self, so stolid and so complacent under the immense weight of
misery, so callous to its own possibilities, and so grown to its
chains, that I almost despair to see it awakened. Cemeteries are
often placed on hillsides, and the white stones are visible far
off. If the whole of the dead in a hillside cemetery were called
up alive from their tombs, and walked forth down into the
valley, it would not rouse the mass of people from the dense
pyramid of stolidity which presses on them.


There would be gaping and marvelling and rushing about, and
what then? In a week or two the ploughman would settle down
to his plough, the carpenter to his bench, the smith to his anvil,
the merchant to his money, and the dead come to life would be
utterly forgotten. No matter in what manner the possibilities of
human life are put before the world, the crowd continues as
stolid as before. Therefore nothing hitherto done, or suggested,
or thought of, is of much avail; but this fact in no degree stays
me from the search. On the contrary, the less there has been
accomplished the more anxious I am; the truth it teaches is that
the mind must be lifted out of its old grooves before anything
will be certainly begun. Erase the past from the mind, stand
face to face with the real now, and work out all anew. Call the
soul to our assistance; the soul tells me that outside all the ideas
that have yet occurred there are others, whole circles of others....

The most extraordinary spectacle, as it seems to me, is the vast
expenditure of labour and time wasted in obtaining mere
subsistence. As a man, in his lifetime, works hard and saves
money, that his children may be free from the cares of penury
and may at least have sufficient to eat, drink, clothe, and roof
them, so the generations that preceded us might, had they so
chosen, have provided for our subsistence. The labour and time
of ten generations, properly directed, would sustain a hundred
generations succeeding to them, and that, too, with so little self-
denial on the part of the providers as to be scarcely felt. So men
now, in this generation, ought clearly to be laying up a store, or,
what is still more powerful, arranging and organising that the
generations which follow may enjoy comparative freedom from
useless labour. Instead of which, with transcendent improvidence, the world works only for to-day, as the world
worked twelve thousand years ago, and our children's children
will still have to toil and slave for the bare necessities of life.
This is, indeed an extraordinary spectacle.

That twelve thousand written years should have elapsed, and
the human race, able to reason and to think, and easily capable
of combination in immense armies for its own destruction,
should still live from hand to mouth, like cattle and sheep, like
the animals of the field and the birds of the woods; that there
should not even be roofs to cover the children born, unless
those children labour and expend their time to pay for them;
that there should not be clothes, unless, again, time and labour
are expended to procure them; that there should not be even
food for the children of the human race, except they labour as
their fathers did twelve thousand years ago; that even water
should scarce be accessible to them, unless paid for by labour!

In twelve thousand written years the world has not yet built
itself a House, nor filled a Granary, nor organised itself for its
own comfort. It is so marvellous I cannot express the wonder
with which it fills me. And more wonderful still, if that could
be, there are people so infatuated, or, rather, so limited of view,
that they glory in this state of things, declaring that work is the
main object of man's existence, work for subsistence, and
glorying in their wasted time. To argue with such is impossible;
to leave them is the only resource.

This our earth this day produces sufficient for our existence.
This our earth produces not only a sufficiency, but a
superabundance, and pours a cornucopia of good things down
upon us. Further, it produces sufficient for stores and granaries
to be filled to the rooftree for years ahead. I verily believe that
the earth in one year produces enough food to last for thirty.
Why, then, have we not enough? Why do people die of
starvation, or lead a miserable existence on the verge of it? Why
have millions upon millions to toil from morning to evening
just to gain a mere crust of bread? Because of the absolute lack
of Organisation by which such labour should produce its effect,
the absolute lack of distribution,the absolute lack even of the
very idea that such things are possible. Nay, even to mention
such things, to say that they are possible, is criminal with many.
Madness could hardly go farther.

That selfishness has all to do with it I entirely deny. The human
race for ages upon ages has been enslaved by ignorance and by
interested persons whose object it has been to confine the
minds of men, thereby doing more injury than if with infected
hands they purposely imposed disease on the heads of the
people. Almost worse than these, and at the present day as
injurious, are those persons incessantly declaring, teaching, and
impressing upon all that to work is man's highest condition.
This falsehood is the interested superstition of an age infatuated
with money, which having accumulated it cannot even expend
it in pageantry. It is a falsehood propagated for the doubtful
benefit of two or three out of ten thousand, It is the lie of a-
morality founded on money only, and utterly outside and
having no association whatever with the human being in itself.
Many superstitions have been got rid of in these days; time it is
that this, the last and worst, were eradicated.

At this hour, out of thirty-four millions who inhabit this
country, two-thirds, say twenty-twomillions, live within thirty
years of that abominable institution the poorhouse. That any
human being should dare to apply to another the epithet
"pauper" is, to me, the greatest, the vilest, the most
unpardonable crime that could be committed. Each human
being, by mere birth, has a birthright in this earth and all its
productions; and if they do not receive it, then it is they who
are injured, and it is not the "pauper", oh, inexpressibly wicked
word!, it is the well-to-do, who are the criminal classes. It
matters not in the least if the poor be improvident, or drunken,
or evil in any way. Food and drink, roof and clothes, are the
inalienable right of every child born into the light. If the world
does not provide it freely, not as a grudging gift but as a right,
as a son of the house sits down to breakfast, then is the world
mad. But the world is not mad, only in ignorance, an interested
ignorance, kept up by strenuous exertions, from which infernal
darkness it will, in course of time, emerge, marvelling at the pastas a man wonders at and glories in the light who has escaped from blindness.'

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