“GET IT AND HOLD IT,” PHILOSOPHY OF MAN IN STREET
Mason City Globe Gazette (Mason City, Iowa) Jul 3, 1931
The philosophy of the man in the street is “get it and hold it,” in the belief of Benjamin de Casseres, poet and ironic philosopher, who says that after all this may be the most workable system for those to whom abstract theories are no more than the “Einstein theory to a gnat on a derby.” The article is one of a series on “what’s going on in the world today.”
By BENJAMIN DE CASSERES.
(Copyright 1931, by the Associated Press.)
NEW YORK, July 3. (AP) — Philosophy — which is, literally, the love of wisdom but which is in reality the art or science of explaining the how and why of things — has never had much of a vogue in America. Today less so than ever for the American cares very little about the how and why of things. His one question is: Will it work out?
He doesn’t philosophize on the current depression of his jobless condition or the contraction in stock values. He is not concerned, if he is a wet, how prohibition came on us. Nor will he take any steps, either personally or thru his legislative representatives, to prevent future moves of a like nature. He philosophizes thus: Here it is. Let’s dodge it if we can’t get out of it.
Philosophy In Way.
This attitude is, I suppose, a philosophy in a way — a lazy, do-nothing, good natured philosophy founded on the ineradicable and inherent optimism of the expansive soul who calls the state in which he happens to be born “God’s own country” and who believes “everything always comes out right in the end.”
That’s the philosophy, anyhow, of the man in the street. Of abstract thot he has not a glimmer. Theories of the universe, psychological problems and philosophical aphorisms and rules are no more to him than the Einstein theory to a gnat on a derby. His “wisdom” is “get it and hold it.” And I’m not sure that it isn’t the profoundest, the only and most workable system of philosophy so long as the world is peopled by practical, down-to-the-ground beings.
Boast Two Men.
In the regions of pure philosophical thot we boast of two men who have profoundly affected thot in Europe — Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James and one political philosopher whose influence has been universal, Thomas Jefferson.
Emerson and Jefferson, both advocates of extreme and aggressive individualism, and, theoretically at least, idealist — anarchists, are as dead in the country of their birth, so far as the public go, as prohibition in Hoboken. We move toward the standardization and destruction of all individual rights into pure capitalistic bolshevism, in which moloch-state becomes the absorber and keeper of all personal values.
William James, who gave us the philosophy of pragmatism — or what have you? — comes nearer to the ideal American philosopher, fits more neatly into the American character, than either Emerson or Jefferson.
Pragmatism is really a great and universal individual philosophy which makes the workableness — or “cash-down value,” as James calls it — of a thing the criterion of its truthfulness. He is, in a manner, the enemy of abstract thot. His antithesis is Remy de Gourmont, who said, “thots are to be thot, not acted.”
Does Not Exist.
Philosophy in the grand sense in American does not exist today. There is no love of thot for the pure gymnastic of cerebration. No one cares a hen’s molar about why anything happened or whether it will happen again.
All I can see ahead in America is Karl Marx, who was neither a philosopher nor a thinker, but a sensational utopist with a diabolical scheme for extinguishing the individual.
After all, what is wisdom? I think it is just to stand aside and watch the show. I, who am a philosopher, get a great kick out of it.