THE PRACTICE of committees, boards, or councils presuming to represent the views of vast constituencies occurs in educational and religious associations, in trade and commercial organizations, indeed in any segment of society where there is the propensity to organize.
While there are daily examples by the thousands of this “thinking by proxy,” one that stood out, and about which many are aware, had to do with a debate between the National Council of Churches and its erstwhile National Lay Committee. Their debate brought into focus a fault that may well lie at the root of unpeaceful socialism. It had to do with the propriety of the N.C.C.’s seeming to speak for 35,800,000 Protestants on social, political, and economic questions. The N.C.C. argued affirmatively, the Lay Committee negatively.1
Leo Tolstoy made the point I wish to examine:
From the day when the first members of councils placed exterior authority higher than interior, that is to say, recognized the decisions of men united in councils as more important and more sacred than reason and conscience; on that day began lies that caused the loss of millions of human beings and which continue their unhappy work to the present day.2
Tolstoy’s is a striking statement. Is it possible that there is something of a wholly destructive nature which has its source in council, or in group, or in committee-type action? Can this sort of thing generate lies that actually cause the loss of “millions of human beings”? And, as I believe, aid and abet socialism in this bad bargain?
Any reasonable clue to the unhappy state of our affairs merits investigation. Two world wars that settled nothing, but added to the difficulties of avoiding even worse ones; men of doubtful character rising to positions of power over millions of other men; freedom to produce, to trade, to travel disappearing from the earth; everywhere the fretful talk of security as insecurity daily becomes more evident; suggested solutions to problems made of the stuff that gave rise to the problems in the first place; the tragic spectacle, even here in America, of any one of many union labor leaders being able, at will, to control a strategic part of the complex exchange machinery on which the livelihood of all depends; these and other perplexities of import combine to raise a tumultuous “why,” and to hasten the search for answers.
Strange how wide and varied the search, as though we intuitively knew the cause to lie in some elusive, hidden, unnoticed error; thousands of not too well tutored folks trying to find light in difficult and erudite tomes, other thousands groping in quiet reflection for answers.
Yes, the search is on for the errors and their answers—for the affair is serious; the stake is life itself. And the error or errors, it is agreed at least among the serious-minded, may well be found deep in the thoughts and behaviors of men, even of well-intentioned men. Anyway, everything and everyone is suspect. And, why not? When there is known to be a culprit and the culprit is not identified, what other scientifically sound procedure is there?
“… on that day began lies …” That is a thought which deserves reflection. Obviously, if everything said or written were lies, then truth or right principles would be unknown. Subtract all knowledge of right principles, and there would not be chaos among men; there would be no men at all.
If half of everything said or written were lies … ? What then?
Human life is dependent not only on the knowledge of right principles but relies, also, on actions in accord with right principles. However, the nearest that any person can get to right principles—truth—is that which his highest personal judgment dictates as right. Beyond that, one cannot go or achieve. Truth, then, as nearly as any individual can express it, is in strict conformity with this inner, personal dictate of rightness.
The accurate representation of this inner, personal dictate is intellectual integrity. It is the expressing, living, acting of such truth as any given person possesses. Inaccurate representation of what one believes to be right is untruth. It is a lie in the high level sense of the word, the type of lie Tolstoy vetoed and deplored.
Attaining knowledge of right principles is an infinite process. It is a never-ending performance, a perpetual hatching, a goal to be pursued but never attained. Intellectual integrity—the accurate reflection of highest personal judgment—on the other hand, is undeniably within the reach of all. Thus, the very best we can ever hope to do with ourselves is to project ourselves at our best. To do otherwise is to tell a lie. To tell lies is to deny such truth as is known, and to deny truth is to destroy ourselves and others.
It would seem to follow, then, that if we would find the origin of lies, we might put the spotlight on the genesis of our troublous times. This is why it seems appropriate to accept Tolstoy’s statement as a working hypothesis and to examine the idea that lies begin when men accept “decisions of men united in councils as more important and more sacred than reason and conscience.” For, certainly, today, many of the decisions which guide national and world policy spring from “men united in councils.”
In what manner, then, do the “decisions of men united in councils” tend to initiate lies? A long experience with these arrangements suggests to me that there are several ways.
Mob Action Analyzed
The first way has to do with a strange and what must be an unconscious behavior of men in association. Consider the lowest form of association, the mob. It is a loose and wholly emotional type of gathering. The mob will tar and feather, burn at the stake, string up by the neck; in short, murder! But dissect this association, pull it apart for a careful view, investigate its members. Each person, very often, is a God-fearing, home-loving, wouldn’t-kill-a-fly type of individual.
What happens then? What causes persons in a mob to behave as they do? What accounts for the distinction between these persons acting as self-responsible individuals and these very same persons acting in mob-type committee?
Perhaps it is this: These persons, when in mob association, and perhaps at the instigation of a demented leader, lose the self-disciplines which guide them in individual or self-controlled action; thus, the evil which is in each person is released, for there is some evil in each of us. In this situation, no one of the mobsters consciously assumes the personal guilt for what is thought to be a collective act but, instead, puts the onus of it on an irresponsible abstraction—the mob.
I may appear to be unfair in relating mob association to association in general. In all but one respect, yes. But in this single exception there is a striking similarity.
Individuals support proposals in association that they would never propose on their own responsibility. Persons of normal veracity, by any of the common standards of honesty, will join as a board or a committee to sponsor legal thievery, for instance—they will urge the use of the political means to exact the fruits of the labor of others to benefit themselves, their groups, their community or, to put it bluntly, their mob.