As we here approach the conclusion of the case for self-improvement. I am reminded of the last half hour of a FEE Seminar; I imagine my readers to be in about the same state of doubt or skepticism as the sixty intelligent, searching, seminar participants. Few if any questions remain about the free market, private property, limited government philosophy; in fact, there is much enthusiasm for this way of life—it is the practice of freedom as well as the Golden Rule in its day-to-day economic manifestations. And that’s good enough for these inquiring spirits.
However, as you conclude the 20-hour session with some thoughts on methodology, you detect an uneasiness. In spite of your best efforts, the old, old question still persists: “But, what do we do now?” Your unfamiliar thesis that advancing this way of life is not a selling or a marketing but, rather, a learning problem, is greeted with something less than all-out approval; you sense in each hesitant, half-hearted assent a skepticism that won’t down. “Do you really mean to imply, dear teacher, that my part in repairing the world’s woes is limited to improving my own understanding and expositions? That there is nothing more important for me to do than to upgrade me? No friends, no associates, or neighbors to set straight?”
In any event, your ministrations and the quizzical reactions leave the uncomfortable feeling that you are near the end of your explanatory rope. As you ponder what to do—in the dark, so to speak—it occurs to you that the use of symbolism may help to clarify your theory as to right method. Turn off the lights, reducing the lecture room to darkness. Then light a candle. Call attention to the obvious fact that every eye is on that tiny glow in the darkness. Now, challenge anyone to increase the total light by peddling or selling or marketing or distributing it. There’ll be no takers! With your point thus defined, suggest that the single light may help some other to locate and light a candle of his own. If only one other succeeds, the light in the room will be increased 100 per cent; if all find and light their own candles, each can then read a book, perhaps even write one! Now, repeat an inscription found on an old tombstone in Scotland: “There is not enough darkness in the whole world to put out the light of one wee candle.”
Assuming the use of a 60-watt incandescent candle, fitted with an electronic dimmer, increase the light from a barely perceptible level to its full brilliance, calling attention to the fact that darkness cannot be pushed or beaten back but recedes easily and naturally as the candle power increases. Of one thing you can be certain: each participant, for the rest of his conscious days, will remember the wee light becoming a brilliant light in that darkened room. And, should some of them have initial doubts about candle-power light being analogous to enlightenment, this dramatization will start them reflecting on the matter; and the more reflection, the more similarly structured will light and enlightenment seem.
The thoughtful person will discover that both are radiations which exert an energizing force, as does a magnet. Eyes that can see and minds that can perceive are energized by light whether it be of the candle-power variety or of the wisdom kind. The reason for this seems obvious: It is light that brings forth the eye. Living forms in the ocean’s depth, or subterranean animals—those committed to utter darkness—have no eyes. Powers of perception increase in the presence of light! When development of these faculties depends on light, it is in the nature of the evolutive process that the eye is attracted to that which creates it.
I may be able to see a beacon light but it cannot see me. You may perceive the wisdom of a Shakespeare, but that wisdom is unaware of and indifferent to you. The radiating force of a magnet is unseeing. And so is the radiating force of any light you or I may possess. Our lights can no more find their way into the consciousness of another than a candle’s light can be found in two places at the same time. Light cannot see; it can only be seen! Thus, another may light his own candle by the light of yours, but that is all! Isn’t it clear that unless your candle is aglow, no others can be lit from it?
Let’s assume, now, that your light does in fact shine forth. Are you fretful as to who will see it? One does well to forget this tantalizing and diverting thought. For, if a person begins to focus on and find out the effect he is having, you can count on it, his answers will be wrong. Furthermore, to the extent that he becomes merely results-minded, he will send scurrying the real seekers of truth; they’ll note that his eye isn’t cast aright and will cross him off as “not worth the candle.” The ones who count will only mutter to themselves something about “a phoney” and go on their quiet quest of those rare souls who are trying only to brighten their own lights. And how well advised they are!1
The rare souls, be it noted, those who concentrate on increasing their own candle power, and look not for praise among men, experience an inner satisfaction and let it go at that. Having acquired this power of creativity is gratification enough. Indeed, is there any greater richness than this?
Enlightenment or Regression
The idea of employing the term light to mean enlightenment and darkness to symbolize ignorance is not new; such usage may well go back to the dawn of human consciousness. Light, in this sense, is used time and again in the Bible:
Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light.
In thy light shall we see light.
I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
I am come a light into the world.
Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony expressed himself in similar vein:
As one small candle may light a thought, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many. . . .2
We must now inquire as to why this increasing-of-candle-power theory is so hard to come by, so seldom grasped. I believe the difficulty stems from a confusion of categories. Most people are thinking in terms of securing conformity, when the real goal is to achieve creativity.
Communists can and do teach the party line; millions can be taught to read and write words, or to repeat the multiplication table, or to sing songs, fix motors, stew prunes. Monkeys can be taught tricks. Duplicated things like autos, cornflakes, facial veneers, or whatever, can be sold. This sort of thing bulks large in the category of our experience, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the theory at issue. Even more: Whatever is in the category of things that can only be sold or taught won’t advance the practice of freedom one whit! Creativity is not in the same realm as imitation, repetition, conformity, selling.
Skilled musicians can play a Brahms’ Concerto, but who has the light to compose such a work? Many can act the parts in Macbeth, but where are the Shakespeares? A third grader knows the answer to 12 times 12, but where are the geniuses among us who could have conceived of zero? A child can be taught to recite “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” or eloquently to repeat the Preamble to the Constitution, but who among our contemporaries has the candle power to do this level of creative thinking?
A Continuing Requirement
Freedom is declining, despite the fact that previously conceived principles and practices can be and are being taught. The point is that freedom can never be sustained by imitation or repetition or preservation of the status quo, or by the recovery of a past accomplishment. Light is Creation’s first and most important means, and its corollary is the freedom to be enlightened, progress being measured by the growth in candle power of the individual—continuous enlightenment. Individuals and thus the species decline whenever light fails to pierce the darkness. Freedom dies on the vine whenever darkness is not giving way to light. Think of freedom not as a static condition but as a flowering process, the life-giving source of which is not mere light but a perpetually increasing enlightenment. It is difficult to conceive of any ideal value which, to confer its blessings, demands so much of its beneficiaries.
Now then, does this mean that we do not qualify as effective workers in the vineyard unless we attain the creative stature—the candle power—of a Milton, Bacon, Da Vinci, Beethoven, Goethe, Adam Smith, Bastiat, Menger? Perish the thought! I firmly believe that were every citizen to attain the level of these few, but with their creativity at a standstill, freedom would decline as it is presently declining. It is not the level that matters; what counts is a constantly rising level—the light getting brighter! The meaning of this for the individual who would help? Primarily that he light his own candle and do his best—go in pursuit of excellence in all things.
This self-improvement method is no Trappist Monk theory. Indeed, it requires of the individual that he not “hide his light under a bushel.” It is a well-known fact that the more one shares his ideas with others (as distinguished from shoving his ideas at others) the more and better are his own ideas, that is, the greater becomes his own candle power. Using your light to help those attracted by it to find and light their own candles is the effective way to advance freedom and, thus, to serve the interest of others as well as self.
Candle-lighting in this area consists of an increasing perception of authoritarian fallacies and of freedom truths. It means, also, a strengthening of the will to stand, four square, for what one in his innermost soul believes to be right. Do these things—they are the candle power!
The realist, the one who sees clearly the extent to which our liberties are suffering political erosion, will, unless he takes command of his attitudes and emotions, become despondent and ineffective. Is there a way rationally to overcome such a plight? . . .