In his poem WILDERNESS, Carl Sandburg recognizes some of his animal ancestors, describing their characteristics and philosophies, which he inherited from the wilderness, such as the fox, the wolf, the hog, and the baboon, and he acknowledges, that these non-human ancestors exist within his own character and philosophy of life. They are his wilderness heritage, and he cannot escape them. Sandburg wrote:
"There is a wolf in me .... fangs for tearing gashes .... I keep the wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go."
"There is a fox in me .... I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the
feathers .... I circle and loop and double-cross."
"There is a hog in me .... a machinery for eating and grunting, for sleeping satisfied in the sun - I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go."
"There is a fish in me .... I know I came from salt-blue watergates .... I know I scurried with shoals of herring before the water went down .... before Noah .... before the first chapter of Genesis."
"There is a baboon in me .... hairy under the armpits .... here are the hawk-eyed hankering men .... here are the blonde and blue-eyed women .... here they hide curled up sleeping ready to snarl and kill .... ready to sing and give milk .... waiting - I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so."
"There is an eagle and a mocking bird in me .... and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams .... and fights among the sierra crags of what I want .... and the mockingbird warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark Hills of my wishes - And I got the eagle and the mocking bird from the wilderness."
But Sandburg also recognizes "something else" when he writes:
"Oh, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie inside my ribs, under my bony skull, under my red-valved heart - and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and a mother and a lover: it came from God knows where; it is going to God knows where - For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness."
It was Sandburg's Wilderness poem that suggested the subject for our meditation this morning. What I have read out of and/or into the poem convinced me the poem suggests a number of things that may help answer two questions I have been asking myself, for not less than fifty years. I assume you have confronted yourself with the same questions, in some form or another. The questions are:
1. Why do we continue competing with one another for "bread", and fighting and killing one another to determine who gets the most of everything?
2. What groundwork and infrastructure is needed that would allow us to work together for the mutual good of all involved, according to that "something else" Sandburg found in his human nature?
I do not expect us to find in the Wilderness Poem, any quick or easy answers to such questions, but in sharing what he found inside his ribs and under his bony head, I believe Sandburg did suggest where we might find the best answers available to us. They will be found, if anywhere, in the resources given in our human nature.
In his description we find that human nature is endowed with two ways of thinking and reacting. One is the mentality of an instinctive will to live and love. The other is the mentality of a conscious will to live and love.
The lobbyists for these two intangible parts of our human nature agree in what our primary objective is - to live! They do not, however, agree on the ways and means by which to achieve that objective. Being the keeper of the zoo of these disagreeing lobbyists of his human nature, Sandburg realized he was the one who had to choose whose advice he would allow to make the decisive decisions concerning ways and means.
Now what do you see in Sandburg's human nature that is akin to your own, and what do you find in the poem that may help answer the questions before us. Each of us is more aware than anyone else of how many of our primary concerns, feelings, and habits, are like those of the animals in Sandburg's intangible zoo. I confess I am acquainted with those animals in my own personal zoo. And I regret having to admit I too often say yes to their demands and no to the hopes and wishes of that "something else" in my human nature. As the keepers of our own wilderness zoos, nothing is more important than our conscious yeses and noes.
Because we have no way of knowing the objectives and motives of the cosmic activities that account for our existence, Albert Schweitzer, in his Philosophy of Civilization, contends we must determine our universal view by our own life view according to what we know about the objectives and contentions of our own conscious will to live and love.
In his Wilderness Poem Carl Sandburg gives us a poetic picture of what we find when we take a close and honest look inside our human nature. There we will find, expressed in many ways, the primary instinctive objectives and motives of the zoo of our non-human relatives. There we are exposed to the philosophy of the fox, and the wolf, and the hog - as well as that of our many other zoo animals. Hardly any are strangers to most of us. The primary objectives of each are to eat, and avoid being eaten, according to the ability of each.
On an even older level of our human nature we will find the ways, customs, and objectives, of plant life. They "neither sow nor reap." They leave such slave labor to whatever wind blows, and to whatever bird or bug that may stop to taste or smell. As any gardener will observe, plants are rugged individualists. They waste no time caring for even their own children, or volunteering to help a neighbor. It appears each plant is only interested in living until frost. This too came from the jungle life of the earth. As individuals and groups, are we aware of how much our plant heritage determines our thinking and acting?
If we look yet even deeper inside our human nature we find another level of life - a level on which we depend to mastermind a multitude of bodily activities, which are too many, and complex, to be managed by conscious effort. We call the director of this level of human nature the Automatic Nervous System. When we take stock of all the essentials found at this level of human nature, we begin to realize how much conscious human nature owes its existence to the intelligent activities in human nature that operate on a level below or above human consciousness. Does our habitual conduct reflect the influence of that automatic part of human life?
There is another level of activity, in our human nature, operating on it's own level of intelligence, with a degree of consciousness, if any, that defies the comprehension of the human mind. I am referring to the activities of atoms within every cell of our bodies. These activities operate on levels older than the first book of Genesis. More ancient still are the activities of the sub-atomic particles in every atom of what we are. Who, or what, directs the drama, on this very ancient level of our nature, lies hidden in the unknown.
Our human nature was conceived in the sub-atomic womb of the young life of the universe. Human nature's embryo would have perished, at its microscopic stage of development without the contributions of life at the level of atoms, cells, automatic nerves, plants, and the non-human animal life of the universe, as manifested on this earth. As a poet once observed, we are "truly children of the universe."
The members of the zoo Sandburg finds inside his ribs came from the wilderness level of our near non-human relatives. They too owe their existence to the contributions of the older life forms of our ancestral heritage. "But", Sandburg said, "I got something else", something new and different; at least a degree of something the other members in the zoo, under his bony head, did not have. Human artifacts make it clear enough what one part of that "something else" is. Farming tools that enable one person to plant and cultivate a dozen or more rows at a time, and countless other artifacts, many useful, many worthless, and some deadly dangerous - such as our modern day weapons of war, which, if used on a large scale, will turn the world into a near lifeless waste land, and end this brief episode of human life on earth. Such artifacts prove human life is given a conscious awareness - a mental ability - that no other known creatures, on earth or elsewhere, possess.
The other part of this unique "something else" of human nature, Sandburg describes as "a man-child heart, a woman-child heart; a father; and a mother; and a lover." It is the conscious sensitivity of our human nature. From ancient times its objectives have been described in the literature of poets, sages and prophets; and memorized by children in the religious schools of humanity. Listen and ponder the response of the sensitivity of that "something else" of your nature, as its' objectives are described by the wishes and wants of Micah:
"Every man shall sit under his vine, and every woman under her fig tree, and none shall make them afraid." (Micah 4:4, my translation).
Ponder also the primary objectives of that "something else" - that "man-child heart," that "woman-child heart", that "father" and 'mother" and "lover" of our human nature as described by Isaiah, The Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto.
"Nations shall beat their swords into plow points, and their spears into pruning hooks. Neither shall they study war any more. (Isaiah 2:4).
From the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
And stated as the affirmed intention of the founders of the Communist Society of Russia: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need".
I believe no one can read or hear such expressed wants, wishes, and declared objectives without that "something else" of his or her nature saying, silently at least, "let it be so." Those quotations, and millions of supportive ones in the literature of humanity, describe the primary objectives of the only kind of human society that can appease that "something else" amid the zoo of our human nature. I would add only one word, the word conscious, to Sandburg's description. It is a conscious "man-child heart, a woman-child heart; a father, and a mother, and a lover." It is the awareness and sensitivity of life that has eaten "fruit from the tree of knowledge."
Eve and Adam, being the original guilty eaters, along with their children ascended or descended to the level of human consciousness. Therefore, for better or worse, we are stuck at a level of conscious awareness and sensitivity that refuses to let us be content with life at the instinctive level of our non-human ancestors.
In his Odyssey Nikos Kanzantzakis records his translation of the Genesis story of creation. As he tells it, when God had finished his creative chores he took a bath, put on his royal robe, and set himself on his throne. He ordered all the creatures he had created to come to pledge their allegiance to the instinctive life style for which he had programmed them, and to express thanks for the beautiful jungle home he had prepared for them. All the creatures came, from the eagle to the humming bird, and from the elephant to the jungle mouse. Each in turn approached the throne, bowed low, and made a pledge as God gave them an official name.
Finally it was Adam's turn. Encouraged, if not demanded by Eve, Adam approached, standing erect. He said, "I will not bow or surrender. I don't like your world!" Except for the hand clapping of Eve, there was a fearful silence until broken by God's angry response.
"Why don't you like my world, you crack-brain crazy fool! Go and build a better world for yourself, if you think you can! And may you strike with a small hammer night and day, and never be able to say, 'I'm satisfied.'"
So it was. For more than twenty-five thousand years, humans had only small hammers with which to ''make do." Defying all odds, they kept hammering away, determined to create the human society of their wants and wishes. In the meantime they were slowly enlarging and improving the hammers for mind and hand. Today most of us have been exposed to enough knowledge to know we now have the physical and intellectual hammers needed, if used for that purpose, to create the society of our universally shared hopes and wishes for humankind.
Tragically, however, humans continue beating their farming tools - combines and tractors - into tanks and bombs, and many other deadly weapons with which to fight one another, to see who gets the most of whatever remains, if anything, when the killing and destruction stops.
Imagine how many human hours, mental and physical, and the natural resources of the earth and sky we have used up, in our hot and cold wars among ourselves, just during my lifetime. Imagine how near we might have come to creating the society of our hopes and wishes - the society which Micah and Isaiah dreamed about long, long ago - had we used those resources for the purpose of creating the poverty war-free world of our dreams.
Why do we continue plundering the earth's resources, and dedicating our mental and physical energies to make weapons for killing one another? Why do we continue competing with one another to determine who will do the work to produce the food we need and who will eat and who will not? And finally, what kinds of "thinking and acting" will be required, that will allow us to create the society of our universally shared hopes and wishes?
The primary answers, if any are to be discovered, will be found not among the stars nor beyond, but in our human nature. That is where Sandburg encourages us to look. When we look inside our own human nature, with all the conscious awareness and sensitivity we have, chances are each will find evidence of the things suggested in the poem Wilderness. You may or may not agree with Sandburg, that human life came from the wilderness, or, that we are descendants of the non-human life of the earth. Even so, surely you recognize that we do, in many ways, still think and act like our non-human relatives. It is obvious we have something of the fox, and the wolf, and the hog, and many more ancient relatives under our ribs. But we have "something else" - something they do not have. We humans have the conscious mental ability to develop new means and techniques to exploit the energies of the earth, of our non-human ancestor neighbors, and of one another. The story of human history reveals the advantages this added degree of consciousness has given us over all other life forms competing for space, and for the means to live.
If I remember correctly what I have read or heard, the cockroach and the turtle have been around for millions of years. The cockroach and turtle today, still use the same tools and weapons their ancestors used a million years ago, to compete for space and the means to live. Our human ancestors, of thirty thousand years ago, were using pointed sticks, and stones, and the jawbones of asses in their struggle for space and the means to live. Compare those with the ways and means we humans, their descendants, use today.
Assuming the survival of the species is a shared objective of its members, the cockroach and turtle, we will have to agree, have successfully survived for a very long time. And they did so using the same ways and means of their ancient ancestors.
If we, however, have no other alternative, than to continue cooperating by exploiting each other, our non-human ancestors, and the natural resources of the earth; and if we have no other alternative than to compete with one another for space and a means to live; and if we have no other alternative than to fight and kill each other, with ever improved weapons of war, for most of everything -- what are the chances the human species will survive another thousand years, or even another hundred? I confess I live with the conviction, that if we can do no better than to continue following in the steps of our fore parents, we will certainly end this brief episode of human life on earth, as we turn this alive planet into a near lifeless wasteland.
In his remarkable poem Wilderness, Carl Sandburg contends human nature is endowed with a resource that offers us an alternative, to that of continuing to operate according to the ways of thinking and acting, used by our human ancestors, from the dawn of recorded history. Sandburg admits that we came from the non-human life of the earth; that there is, in our human nature, some of the mentality and attitudes of the fox, and the wolf, and the hog, and a zoo of others. Each instinctively insisting on the liberty to take what he needs and wants, according to his ability.
If we, as honestly as Sandburg, will take an inventory of our wilderness heritage, chances are we will discover enough to say, when found guilty of an infraction or unjust act, "My non-human ancestors made me do it." An honest comparison of human thought and action with those of our non-human ancestors reveals humans, individually and collectively, are still trying to operate using only slightly modified attitudes of our instinctive wilderness ancestors. However, if we look closely we will find, in our human nature, as Sandburg did, "something else". "Something else" that aims at a quality of life that cannot be satisfied on terms of the mental, instinctive level of our ancestors represented in the zoo under our bony heads. Sandburg's "something else" is nothing new. Its' wants and wishes have been known as long as there have been human fathers and mothers. Its' objectives have been affirmed by sages, prophets and poets, as far back as there have been human societies, recorded in the sacred books of humanity, and taught to children.
Two hundred and a score years ago the founders of the United States affirmed their society would be democratic, dedicated to achieving the primary objectives of that "something else" of our human nature. They described those objectives as being certain inalienable human rights and liberties, and named two of those basic objectives in their declared intentions - equal access for all citizens to the tools by which to secure an adequate means to live - "life"; and time and means to engage in freely chosen activities to satisfy human wants and wishes that the means to live alone cannot satisfy. They described this basic liberty or right as the "pursuit of happiness." I call it play.
Sandburg says he does not know where this "something else" of human nature came from. However, if you study the lines about the eagle and the mocking bird, he assumes this too came from the wilderness. But the difference between that "something else" in human nature, and what came from our wilderness heritage, is in the degree of our conscious awareness and sensitivity.
Judging from what scientists tell us about the manifest forms of the universe, from the subatomic particles to the largest galaxy, they seem to affirm Schweitzer's conclusion that "all there is, is will to live." The nature films on public TV make it obvious that the foremost objectives of our near instinctive non-human relatives is to avoid being eaten, to find something to eat, and to make time for some play. Our instinctive "will to live" is one of the things human life has in common with all other live forms.
The unique thing about human life is the level of consciousness on which we are capable of operating. The scope of the mentality and sensitivity of human life is much larger than that of the instinctive life of our animal ancestors. The turtle and cockroach, you will recall, use the same tools and weapons today as their ancestors used five thousand years ago. The objectives and sensitivities of our nearest instinctive non-human relatives seem to be limited to the well being of their nursing young and their will to live. Evidence suggests that the fathers of many species have no caring sensitivity for any of their children.
In the recorded records of the human species, from the ancient Hebrews, Romans, Chinese, and Indians, there is ample evidence that we humans have manifested a conscious sensitivity, capable of sharing in the pain, and joy, of all human and all non-human life forms. It is a sensitivity whose objective is nothing less than the dream society of Micah and Isaac, a human world without poverty and war, and in which every human may live without fear of being the victim of either of those life-denying conditions. The same historical records painfully remind us that we continue to do business with one another on terms that make such a society impossible.
Recently I read a report indicating that, percentage wise, there are as many people living in poverty today, as during any generation for which there are reasonable records available. Has there ever been a generation more the victim of war and poverty than our own?
The power of our conscious sensitivity of human nature has, so far, been used sparingly. Our inalienable right to "life" has been overruled by our instinctive sensitivities, which we inherited from the wilderness.
THE QUESTION? Why have we continued, for not less than five thousand years, trying to create the world dictated by the wants and wishes of that "something else" - that conscious sensitivity of our human nature - using the same mental and sensitive means of our human ancestors, that history teaches us has always lead to a life of poverty for most, and for all, the tragedy of war.
Answer #1. The successful lobbyists in the zoo, under our bony heads and inside our ribs, have kept our conscious mental facilities brain-washed with the conviction that we can do business with one another on no better terms than the instinctive ones of our non-human ancestors - living by the rule of "the survival of the fittest" leaving everyone free to take as much of the means to live and play, "according to the ability of each" to demand. In some slightly modified form this has been, in actual practice, the prevailing economic ground rule of every human society of which I have any knowledge.
In our American economy the liberty of the individual, or group, to compete according to "the survival of the fittest" rule has been, and continues to be, the sacred inalienable economic right of every individual. The end results have been the same as that in all preceding societies, when the ground rule of the advice from the zoo of human nature has dictated the ways and means by which we cooperate. In every society I have studied, most of the tools an individual needs to secure the means to live are owned and/or controlled by a relative few.
Answer #2. Our road to chaos is paved with a blind irrational faith that we can continue to operate on terms that make poverty for most, and war for all, inescapable. Surely history teaches us there is no rational evidence to support such a faith. I am convinced that if we have no alternative than to continue competing with, and killing one another for bread, we will end our brief earthly life as completely as did the gingham dog and calico cat.
Answer #3. We have assumed human nature has no attributes other than those it got from the wilderness. When challenged by the great wants and wishes for a democratic society - a society where there is no war and no poverty: a society where, in deed, "every man may sit under his vine and every woman under her fig tree and none will make them afraid." - the response, more often than not will be, "Human nature being what it is" make such wants and wishes impossible!
These are the reasons we have been robbing and killing one another for 5000 years, in spite of our declared objective to do otherwise. We have, for the most part, created our societies according to the dictates of the instinctive zoo mentality of human nature, which we got from the wilderness. As a result most people of the world who have ever lived, have lived and died in poverty, and all have been victims of war.
That "something else" Sandburg discovered in our human nature, is a conscious mentality, advocating ways of thinking and acting that would make possible a more desirable society than one of war and poverty. I believe we can change the way we cooperate with one another, and in so doing reduce, if not eventually eliminate war and poverty in this world. I believe we can achieve such a world, but only if we allow that "something else" to be the deciding influence in determining the primary objectives of human society, and to dictate the terms of doing business with one another, and in all our collective activities.
Ages ago the writers of the Hebrew, Christian, Chinese and Indian bibles, and those of other cultures, described this "something else" mentality with words equal to two English words - human love. St. Paul declared it to be the most important resource of human nature. Albert Schweitzer described it as the sensitivity of the conscious human "will to love", and Sandburg described it as "a man-child heart, a woman-child heart; a father, and a mother, and a lover."
Earlier I called your attention to two of the primary objectives of this "something else" of our human nature, as described by Micah and Isaiah, more than two thousand years ago - a society free of poverty and war. These two objectives are consistent with the expressed wants and prayers of humanity. They are the primary declared intentions of the United Nations, and consistent with those named by our founding fathers in their universally known affirmation that begins: "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."
The essential terms of cooperation needed, for us to achieve the objective of our conscious mentality, were long ago summed up in the words, "Love your neighbor as you do yourself." Economically those words read; "Ask no more nor less exchange value for the work you do that helps make human society possible, than you demand for every other worker who helps make society possible." In such important matters as economics we have chosen to follow the advice of the instinctive zoo mentality of our nature, allowing the sensitivity of our conscious mentality to advise only in charitable activities to help some of the victims of the economic and political activities sponsored by the zoo mentality of our nature - such as caring for the wounded and dying on battle fields and providing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for a few of the poor.
If our primary objective is a democratic society that assures everyone the inalienable rights of humankind, the question then is not, "what can we do to change human nature to make us capable of being good citizens in such a society? The question becomes, "What is in human nature that can tell us what the objective dimensions of a democratic society should be, and what will we have to do to create such a society?
Here are some things I read into Sandburg's poem, that I believe we will have to do to be prepared to trust and use the advise of the conscious mentality of our human nature - "the father and mother and lover in us all.
1. We must expose ourselves to enough historical evidence, of the last five thousand years, to convince ourselves that we will NEVER satisfy our shared human wants and wishes - peace and plenty for all - using the ways and means of cooperation dictated by the instinctive mentality of our human nature - the survival of the fittest.
2. We must expose ourselves to enough factual evidence to convince ourselves, that we can not continue competing with one another for "bread", and fighting wars with modern weapons, to determine who gets the most of everything, because in so doing we will surely destroy the human race and possibly the rest of the world with us.
3. We must consciously and actively discover and understand the mental and sensitive energy in that "something else" of our conscious will to live and love. And we will have to cultivate the mental, ethical, and social tools to use this energy in economic and political activities, to free all people from a life of war and poverty. We can only do these things using the same thoughtfulness we used to discover and understand the energy resources of the earth. We must then use the energy we develop, through our conscious will to live and love, to harness our power to enhance human life, not degrade it.
When Sandburg discovered that "something else" among the creatures in the zoo of his instinctive nature, he realized he would have to choose whose advice he would follow - that of his instinctive mentality, or that of his "father and mother and lover". He confessed he did not know where it came from, or where it was going, but he acknowledged and accepted his own responsibility for the world when he said, "I am the keeper of the zoo. I say yes and no". Like Sandburg, we must take responsibility. We must choose to whom we will listen.
He ends the poem with the following lines, suggesting, for the time being at least, he chose to act on the advice of his instinctive nature: "I sing and kill and work: I'm a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness."
When you examine, to the degree Sandburg did, the contents of the mind and heart stuff of your intangible nature, you too will find something is there, speaking for, and defending, the ways and means of your instinctive nature, that you inherited from the wilderness. You will also discover "something else", speaking and contending for the ways and means to achieve a quality of life that is unattainable using the instinctive mentality of our human nature: "something else" making you aware that you are a child in the family of this alive planet: making you aware that without the direct and indirect help of many non-human members of that family, every human would die before shedding their diaper pants: making you aware that we humans now depend on the labor of countless other people, scattered all over the world, for everything we eat, wear and use.
The companion to this conscious awareness of human nature is a conscious sensitivity which cannot be appeased with anything less than a democratic society, in which every man may "sit under his vine and every woman under her fig tree and none shall make them afraid" - and where the non-human life of the earth is assured ample space and means to live according to their customs.
4. If we are to avoid bringing chaos on the life of this world, we must choose to work together according to terms advanced by the conscious awareness and sensitivity of our human nature. The choice is ours alone to make. I have no evidence of any other force, on earth or elsewhere, at any level of consciousness, that can make the decision for us. If it is to be made, we must make it.
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