||CHAPTER 3: ACQUISITION OF VALUES AND PURPOSE VS. ALIENATION||Page 9|
though my only experience of the destitute was in books....[they] made me feel that from then on my life was to be linked to theirs, their interests were to be mine: I had received a call, a vocation, a direction to my life."
In autobiography after autobiography, one is struck by the passion with which the great peace activists read and studied in an active search for the acquisition of values, truth, and purpose.
The activists of today become the role models for the activists of tomorrow. Thus, the life of Eugene Victor Debs was an inspiration to A.J. Muste and Dorothy Day. Jane Addams was an inspiration to Emily Greene Balch. Bertrand Russell was an inspiration to Balch and to Helen Caldicott. W.E.B. DuBois was an inspiration to Martin Luther King, Jr. Even if this book does nothing else, it should help supply role models to tomorrow's generation of activists. Not everyone has the opportunity to develop a life's purpose when growing up - and instead may simply "go to work for the company." The following description by a peace activist, recalling his life before getting involved in the movement, sounds like the classic description of the alienation of the wage worker:
I lived in a small town where there was never much comment on social concerns....I got married right away and we proceeded to have a family and that's almost totally consuming. I worked for a railroad company for a while and just let the world go by. That went on 12 years or so until the railroad went bankrupt....Otherwise I probably would have stayed there the rest of my life.
It is not only the worker who may lose a sense of purpose and become alienated. After Jane Addams graduated from college, she felt "disconnected" and "disillusioned" and she describes how she reached the lowest depths "of my nervous depression and sense of maladjustment." She later wrote perceptively about the alienation of young people with higher education who "feel a fatal want of harmony between their theory and their lives, a lack of coordination between thought and action." She described how some may become perpetual students and be "buried beneath this mental accumulation with lowered vitality and discontent." Her story is echoed repeatedly in the autobiographies of Bertrand Russell and Dorothy Day, including the title of the latter's autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Addams suggested involvement in the Settlement House movement as an answer to alienation, but she could equally have suggested involvement in the peace movement for a later generation.
Just as purpose is acquired in a social context, so, too, it may be lost and alienation may set in when a person becomes socially isolated. Having left the U.S. (and his Negro friends) to travel to Europe, DuBois noted in his diary, "I wonder what I am - I wonder what the world is - I wonder if life is worth the Sturm." Jailed and isolated for her part in a demonstration for women's suffrage, Dorothy Day recalls how "I lost all consciousness of any cause. I had no sense of being radical, making protest against a government, carrying on a nonviolent revolution. I could only feel darkness and desolation....I lost all feeling of my own identity....what was good and evil." Even Martin Luther King Jr. was deeply affected by prison and solitary confinement: "Those hours were the longest and most frustrating and bewildering of my life."
Reaffirmation of the social context may renew the sense of purpose and dispel the despair of alienation. When King was released from jail, he was restored to faith in the struggle by the greeting he received:
As I walked out the front door and noticed the host of friends and well?wishers, I regained the courage that I had temporarily lost. I knew that I did not stand alone....From that night on my commitment to the struggle for freedom was stronger than ever before.
The acquisition of values and purpose is only a beginning of consciousness development. Further development depends not only upon ideas, but must come through practice as well, which is what the rest of this book will consider. But practice for justice and peace, in a society dominated by militarism and material gain does not come easily. It takes courage and motivation, the key to which is the emotion of anger.
(end of Chapter 3)