THEOSOPHY, Vol. 33, No. 12, October, 1945
(Pages 447-452; Size: 17K)
(Number 38 of a 57-part series)
STUDIES IN KARMA
MORAL RELATIVITY IN TIME
A PHILOSOPHER, Korzybski, once made a unique biological classification. Plants, he said, were "life-binders" because they brought diverse life-forms together in single organisms. Animals were "space-binders" because of their power of movement. Men were "time-binders" through memory and the historical sense. It will be noted that this classification is logical; each higher form contains also the binding capacities of those lower. A Theosophist would merely add that beyond man as we know him, are classes of still more comprehensive "binders."
So far as Korzybski's thesis goes, man is then man -- as distinguished from animal -- only insofar as he maintains an active memory. This is largely true. Even in mundane, non-moral matters, we are thus still far from "the man of mind complete." Except for some few striking personal incidents, which rapidly become dim or distorted with time, our individual memories are poor. Our mass memory, history, is worse still. The popular memory in any live sense is seldom over a year old, except for certain outstanding events -- and those distorted. Manufacturers of history take advantage of this for the purpose of periodically substituting new versions of the past to fit contemporary prejudices and expediencies. By this means, an erratic, vacillating, frequently reversed national course is made to seem steadfast, consistent, worthy, and in time black is made to seem white.
The busy manufacture of a new past, which has been in process since 1914 and especially since 1941, has already blotted out the complete moral reversal of our relations with Germany and France since 1866-70, with the Philippines since 1904, with Japan and Russia since 1903, and with Mexico since 1912. The average citizen, confronted with the recorded events of some of those times, would now respond with staring incredulity. Future school histories will be tailored to fit the present mood, until further tides turn and still another past is presented to the malleable and credulous mind of youth.
If, then, it is memory that distinguishes man from animal, we are little better than half-animal personally, and almost entirely animal nationally.
Moral or spiritual memory, as distinguished from mundane, amoral memory is not generally recognized as a distinct factor. By moral memory is to be understood a relative observation of changing moral standards, within oneself or without. Of all forms of memory it is the most important, having a purely Buddhic origin. It is the basis of the post-mortem and pre-natal visions and in general of all the evolution that man ever accomplishes. Yet of all man's faculties, this one in present civilization is most in desuetude in the present day. The animal himself has none of it and thus has no conception of good or evil, other than a pseudo-conscience derived from a dim memory of punishment for this or that deed. For him the appetite is conscience, guide, and mentor. Behold the comfortable cat reposing on one's lap, gazing purringly into one's face with adoration over cream received in the past and more expected in the future! Surely there could be nothing more harmless than this wide-eyed, furry creature! But let this adorable being have a live mouse to torture; swell him to tiger size with your imagination, and substitute yourself for the mouse -- the picture is quite different! But not to the cat. If you were mouse-size you would taste just as good to him, without regard to past favors.
Whether the cat slays a mouse, or a canary, there is neither "good" nor "bad" in the kitty. The seeming of good and bad lies in our personal relationship, respectively, to mouse and canary. We teach the cat a valuable lesson in what to do and what not to do; but also teach it that people are utterly unreasonable, irrational, capricious, rewarding in the one case and punishing in the other for identical deeds.
It would be interesting to enter the mind of a Mahatma who might chance to interest himself in the drama of man, mouse, cat and canary -- a Mahatma, who thinks wholly in terms of moral values. Certainly he would not distinguish in the slightest between mouse, cat and canary. We would be more than a little appalled to find how many times he would also fail to find distinction between any of the four! Or how many times the distinction would be unfavorable to the man!
Nor does such a Being take the slightest account of the passage of time in estimating moral values. In balancing four years of Maidanek and Belsen against three hundred years of human extermination by murder, torture, starvation and disease on the North American Continent, do we think he would term the one hideous, because it took place in 1944-45, and the other negligible, because its nastier phases ended during the early part of this century?
Would he draw a line because the color of skin in one case was red; in the other, white? Would he regard the extermination of the Red Indian as "a necessity of progress" any more than he would so regard the extermination of the Jews? The same excuse was put forth in both cases!
Before the Mahatma's eye the Red Indian of a century gone floats, quietly pulsating in his "Golden Carapace" embellished with dreams of the "Happy Hunting Ground." Before the same eye is the "dead" Jew from Dachau of 1945, uneasily working through the doleful memories of his last days, toward the golden paradise of Jehovah. Do we think that in the Mahatma's eyes there is a distinction between murderers because the one victim died in 1845, the other in 1945; because the one spread his arms to "Great Manitou" on a hilltop, while the other intoned the praises of Adonai in a synagogue?
Would a Mahatma draw a line between Lidice and an exterminated Philippine village of 1903 because of years passed in the interim? Or because the skin was white in 1941 and brown in 1903?
Would even a Mahatma be astute enough to distinguish the moral difference between bodies hung on butcher's hooks by the Nazis of 1945, and the Indians suspended from every tree between Delhi and Lucknow in 1857? It is to be doubted.
Certain high officials of America have proclaimed that the German and Japanese people should be exterminated in toto for the crimes done by them or in their names. An addition of the moral count of the human race to date, as kept beyond the Himalayas, would leave no nation on earth alive today if such were the fitting penalty.
Anyone who knew Germany at all up to 1939 could then no more imagine the average German citizen conniving at the incalculable horrors daily unearthed during the conquest of 1945, than he could imagine the average American doing it. What had happened to Germany? When American troops forced the civilian populations of neighboring villages to file past the heaped corpses of torture victims, these Germans tried to turn their heads away, but were forced to look. Some few remained brazen and defiant; some wept; some were petrified with horror. Some committed suicide. A German burial party engaged under guard in interring the corpses begged for the guilty commander to be thrown down to them to be buried with his victims.
Interrogated privately, some Germans claimed ignorance of what had been going on; some admitted that they had known, "but what could they do?" No one has as yet worked out any answer save "You could at least have died in protest." That is no answer to be given by any man not willing to die himself under similar circumstances. Who is? Certainly the white American population for three hundred years knew of, participated in, actively approved the long torture of the Red Indian race. The reprisal atrocities of 1857 were more than approved by the population of Britain, who regretted only that still more East Indians had not suffered still worse tortures for their blasphemy in challenging the rule of the "Master Race" of that day. In the first quarter of this century, in the course of a race riot in our South, a pregnant Negro woman was disemboweled and the child stamped to death on the ground. If done by Germans and Japanese to an American mother, such a deed would undoubtedly "justify" the bloody extermination of a race! No one was ever punished for that. What could the surrounding community have done? Certainly more than the citizens of Belsen could have done against Nazi machine guns.
Newspaper filing cabinets in this country are replete with photographs of obscene horrors of lynchings and race riots which they have never dared publish, and which could not be sent through the mails. Let it not be doubted that the Axis publications have made full use of them and have presented them as typical, not merely the aberrations of a handful of soulless beings! The famous Japanese ferocity derives mostly from stark fear and horror of Americans. When we endeavor to discover in sincere earnestness "how they got that way," we will have learned something of abiding value.
Southern lynchers and Detroit rioters had little thought that they were condemning American boys to unnecessary deaths at the hands of Japanese desperation. But then, Varus, trying to conquer Germany for the glory of Rome, never dreamed that the sons of an unknown land beyond the seas must die two thousand years later in the war that he started. Nor would his own soldiers have been so eager for the conquest had they imagined themselves dying twice, not once, in the northern forests!
The problem of civilization is not the problem of "good" and "bad" nations. It is the problem of the core of subhuman brutes existing in every nation, ready at every opportunity to swell, expand, engulf, control and either contaminate or subdue decent humanity. Nor is that "decent humanity" in any nation in any too secure possession of its own soul. When the Nazis loosed the horror of Coventry on the world, no one in the Allied Nations could then have imagined our inflicting like mass killing and torture on any community under any provocation. There was some background for a relief in our own magnanimity under temptation, because after the London bombings of World War I, a cry for reprisal upon the Rhine cities was rejected on humane grounds. But such moral scruples, on our part at least, were successfully overcome by the Nazis, who induced us to annihilate Dresden with a loss of 300,000 lives, chiefly women and children. And how horrified we were at the bombing of Amsterdam at the cost of 30,000! If several millions have not perished in Japan, it is a miracle not due to lack of any effort on our part. "Military necessity," of course.
Observe the grease with which our moral skids were lubricated! First of all, we would never, never, under any circumstances, bomb other than military installations and war industries; we had wonderful bomb sights especially for the purpose of discrimination. Then -- of course it was unavoidable that some civilians would get killed by stray bombs. Later -- obviously the best method of putting production out of business is to bomb out the workers. Finally -- of course the workers live all over the city. No announcement of any change of policy; merely a series of faits accomplis as the taste for blood grew and moral hides became calloused. It is now taken for granted everywhere that ferocious assaults on non-combatant populations will be de régle in the next war, no matter who fights it.
Who sees the awful declivity down which mankind is descending? If it is legitimate to bomb the workers in a munitions factory, it is legitimate to bomb those who feed, house, clothe, and entertain them. If it is legitimate to destroy children in winning a war, then it is legitimate to destroy them to prevent a future war. This was the philosophy of the attempted actual extermination of the Poles by the Nazis. It is the philosophy of our forefathers, who, in knocking out the brains of Indian papooses against stumps, remarked, "little rattlesnakes grow up to be big ones." Aside from a handful of humanity-loving men -- of whatever type of social thinking -- almost the only remaining stronghold of restraint and brotherhood seems to lie in the front-line troops themselves.
The brotherhood of blood and death has brought even enemies together where cold civilian hatreds are tearing the human race apart. The pacifist and the soldier are closer together than any of the moral irresponsibles who indulge in hatred without the redemption of sacrifice.
The curtain has lowered on the moral outlook of 1914 and even of 1939, at least until a new generation appears. That which was once regarded as unspeakable by every nation, has now come, by alternating reprisals, to be accepted everywhere. Our very mental concentration on the iniquities of the enemy, fired and reinforced by hate, has made us over into the image of that enemy. It is all because of our lack of moral relativity, our inability to sit in watchful judgment upon our own states of mind and morals. Men as individuals often glide imperceptibly in a few short years from sobriety to dipsomania, or from probity to criminality, with no one crucial or decisive step discernible. Under the pressure of events such as of today, the course can be run with awful speed. It has thus happened to Germany; is thus happening to her enemies. Other brutes and devils are nearing the entrances to paths of power the world over; are well into them in some quarters.
A dreadful mirror was held before our eyes by Germany, in which to view the potentialities of our common human nature. The only reply we have found to the warning was to smash the mirror and destroy its holder. Is it enough?
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE CRIME OF REVENGE
Resist not evil, and render good for evil, are Buddhist precepts, and were first preached in view of the implacability of Karmic law. A man who, believing in Karma, still revenges himself and refuses to forgive every injury, thereby rendering good for evil, is a criminal and only hurts himself. As Karma is sure to punish the man who wronged him, by seeking to inflict an additional punishment on his enemy, he, who instead of leaving that punishment to the great Law adds to it his own mite, only begets thereby a cause for the future reward of his own enemy and a future punishment for himself.
H. P. Blavatsky
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE DAY OF THE ATOM
(Part 39 of a 57-part series)
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