A. J. Muste talks with Studs Terkel
BROADCAST: Feb. 15, 1965 | DURATION: 00:59:26
Peace advocate and labor activist, A. J. Muste, discusses war and how human conflict can be overcome; recorded at the home of Sidney Lens shortly after Muste's 80th birthday.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel That every newspaper in the English speaking world described him as the greatest man of the century. Well, all the return's not in yet, still 35 years to go. Without in any way diminishing the heroism, the eloquence, the color of Winston Churchill. Great war leader. To call him the greatest man of the 20th century, a century that's produced Mahatma Gandhi, may be a reflection on our values. And I'm seated across the microphone from one of the most remarkable men of our time, A.J. Muste, at the home of a mutual friend. Mr. Muste may represent, he's 80 years old, his birthday was celebrated last night, this a day after the celebration, may represent a new kind of man in the world. But before we speak of Mr. Muste and his approach to nonviolent action, this most active of pacifists, some call him the 'Gandhi of America,' yet a uniquely American. Mr. Muste, this this comment I made about Winston Churchill, called the great man of the century, at a [unintelligible] isn't this a reflection on our values, perhaps?
A.J. Muste Ah yes, I think it is. And you mention Mahatma Gandhi, and I think that one of the symbols of the significance of what is happening in our time is that it is precisely in the age of Winston Churchill, let's say on the one hand, and Lenin on the other, who are exemplars of violence in an extreme sense, and I don't mean by that as individuals. That is precisely in this period that we also have Mahatma Gandhi. I think there's no question that for the future historians, the people who will stand out in our period will be, on the one hand, Mahatma Gandhi, and on the other hand the two figures who fought each other, so to speak, in the western world, and who are the exemplars of the violence into which we have moved, namely Lenin and Winston Churchill. And I think also in this connection it is significant that Churchill, who was a very great war leader and exemplified the virtues of heroism and of persistence, nevertheless having said that he would not preside at the liquidation of the British Empire, actually did have to witness the liquidation of the empire for which he had fought so nobly, and the great qualities of which he had exemplified.
Studs Terkel Isn't this interesting? The twentieth century has seen the end of an empire that Sir Winston represented. Then he is not really, if the twentieth century is one that can see the end of all man thanks to nuclear bombs, at the same time thanks to nuclear energy, the beginning of something new, then it's not a man of war but a man of peace who might be the 20th century man.
A.J. Muste Yes, I think that that is, as a matter of just a simple stark fact, what has to happen in the 20th century. Given on the one hand the technological weapons, with which we can wipe mankind out several times over, and given on the other hand the closeness in which men live, and the instrumentalities of domination which we have in the means of communication, and in the new psychology and so on. We are either in one way or another gonna destroy man, or we are going to see, I think, the development of a new man, who will have left behind the violence, the domination, because there will be so many ways, not only in a physical sense that he won't be confronted with hunger anymore and so on, and the lack of a place to live in, but so many ways in the intellectual and in the spiritual sense in which human beings can find fulfillment, that we shall move if we survive at all as human beings, we shall move into the period of a new man.
Studs Terkel Can we talk about this just a bit? The fact that obviously man, for the first time in the history of humanity, is truly at the crossroads. He can eliminate himself entirely, and for the first time there can be abundance for all, the cause of so many of the wars being war for for what material, for
Studs Terkel Now how then can man, don't we come now to nature? You yourself in a remarkable talk during your birthday, Mr. Muste, A.J. I refer to you as that since all of your disciples and your friends and admirers refer to you as that, you say that man- you're implying that human nature can be altered, aren't you, in a way?
A.J. Muste Yes, I am implying that human nature can be altered. I think that it is true that human nature has, as a matter of fact, altered. I think we are the products of an evolution, and that certainly there is a distinction between the human species and other species which are perhaps close. And that also there has been a change in the mentality of human beings, in the psyche of human beings, since let us say the earlier periods of barbarism. The Greek man was inside himself not the same man as the pre-civilized man. And there is a reason, I think, to believe that there has been in civilized man a development of the forebrain, if you want to put it in physical terms, a development of the rational, the purely observing, purely analytical aspect which has tended to push into the background the emotional aspects, the aspects of love, the aspect of human beings actually joining one another in community, rather than standing over against each other and arguing with each other. The constant "You there, I here" over against each other, rather than the recognition that in some profound sense we are one. Now this aspect of conflict, even the logic of Aristotle, always the either/or, it's black or it's white, it's this over against that, it's me over against my enemy, and the very fact that he is over there means that in some sense he is my enemy, he is not one with me, you see. It's this that has been the characteristic, I think, of man in the civilized period which has to a great extent been responsible also for the way in which our technology has developed, and that while on the one hand it has been a technology which has been productive, positive, enabled us to feed many more people, to house them better, clothe them better and all that kind of thing, has also meant that at the same time we were developing the technology of conflict with each other to the point where this has now reached absurdity. Our philosophers, many of our writers talk about the absurd. Now the absurd exists, as a matter of fact, in the development of conflict in the form of war. But this is, in my thinking, you see, related with something more basic than that, namely that human beings themselves have developed on this basis of the one over against the other, the basis of conflict rather than the recognition of unity. If you think of it in terms of war today, it is it results in the fact that we think that the Russians are over there, and that they are the people who make the trouble. Or the Chinese are over there, they make the trouble. It's always trouble, it's always conflict. To them, of course, it's we who make the trouble, and who have to be fought, who have to be warded off. Now basically the situation is that we are trapped, both of us trapped, you see. It's not a matter of therefore the one having to destroy the other, it's not a matter of either/or. It's a recognition of this fact that we are trapped together. Now we are trapped not only in our technology and in the pattern of nation over against nation, but we are trapped, I think also, to a great extent, in this psychological, this spiritual aspect of the situation where the human being is always over against another human being, rather than recognizing the fundamental oneness, the unity, the drive for love, the drive for union. And that drive, I think, if we survive at all, is going to emerge.
A.J. Muste Yes, and the technology itself can be used, I think, and the whole scientific approach can be used to bring about this unity rather than conflict and destruction if the concept of domination and of conflict is eliminated from the situation. If we come to see that all of that is unreal, that that is a perversion, and that it is actually nonviolence which is basic in the nature of man. Now today, even the productive technology, the technology, let's say, of communication, is used to a very great extent in order to maintain the old forms of domination. People live in an administered society, they can't get along without the kind of thing which to so great an extent they get over the television and the the mass media of amusement and of communication, because all of these things are being used to dominate human beings rather than to free them. But if the domination factor is removed from the situation, then the tremendous new knowledge which we get, the means of of studying human beings, can I think be used, actually, to develop a new kind of man.
Studs Terkel Several questions that your comments raise in my mind, A.J., A.J. Muste, and of course I won- when I ask about your own life, your own being, your experiences and your your whole world being, really, the example of what man can be. The question of man not really facing himself, that is violence then would be irrational in the 20th century because it's our end. Nonviolence, that you practice, is the only rational out since we have everything, it would seem-
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, that is the great question as to whether, as a matter of fact, the clock is working against us, or is not. And there, I think, that the situation is the dialectical one which we so often encounter, the both and, rather than either/or. In one sense the clock is working against us. In another sense, it is the fact that we are now confronted with the possibility of destruction that compels human beings now to think of the things that were said by the prophets, things that were said by Jesus, the things that Gandhi stands for, the thing that in a certain sense you get in all the great poets and all the great dramatists. These things are not utopian, these things are not illusions. These are the realities. It is art that is the truth, that is the reality, rather than what we think of as the reality. In other words, the concepts of unity, the concepts of the beloved community, the concept of the kingdom of God, concept of love for which all human beings long, now have to be faced as the means by which we escape destruction. They're now the practical, they're the political issues. We can't put them off anymore. Just as, in a sense, at the present time in this country, for example, you can't put off the integration issue anymore, and therefore quickly things are happening which didn't happen for a hundred years. Now in the same way I think that just as there is the possibility of quick destruction of kind which we have not imagined, there is also, you see, the possibility of a quick turn in in the other direction, simply because we can't escape these things anymore.
Studs Terkel In a sense, even though you you offer a storm warning, at the same time you're saying the- indeed we can overcome, to use the words of the spiritual integration, we can overcome is what you're saying.
A.J. Muste Yes, that's right. And I think that there are social scientists now who are beginning to deal with these problems in a new way. And that the concepts, the ancient concepts of poetry, of prophecy and so on, are now being taken up by social scientists and dealt with on that basis, because it is now recognized that these are no longer matters for poetry.
Studs Terkel That's [interesting?], you speak of ancient prophets, of Old Testament prophets and Christ and the 20th century. It seems as though this dream that is a reality is centuries old, even though it is new, what you are practicing seems to be new for us, this nonviolent act of 'love thine enemy and thus overcome him, make him part of you' is really part of an ancient tradition, but it seems the 2,000 years, the ancient habits that we're talking about as the habits of these 2,000 years have buried a real truth.
A.J. Muste Yes, yes, I think that is true. I think that always fundamentally the meaning of life for human beings has not been conflict, it has been unity, it has been love, it has been the kind of thing that you get in the human family. You can't build a family on a sword, you can't sit on swords, as Napoleon himself pointed out. There has always been this element, and that element has, to a great extent in historical time, been covered over by two factors, I think. One of them the fact of scarcity, the problem that there was not enough to go around for everybody, and therefore apparently it was only by taking it out of somebody's mouth that others could live in a superior way. And also the problem that under these circumstances we tended to develop the combative aspects and to center our values around them, instead of around the emotional, the intuitive, the artistic, the aspects of human love, which were also there but which got buried. Now the fact that these things are always there, have been, and are now, seems to me to be fundamental. I look at you and you are not, to me, somebody over there. I cannot look at another human being and want to injure, want to demean, want to insult that human being, because if I do then I demean, I insult myself. We are not separated, we are one. Therefore, to destroy the other is always something which means a certain destruction-
Studs Terkel Of
A.J. Muste -of yourself, yes. And non-violence has to be, for me, perhaps not a metaphysical absolute, let's say, but an operational absolute. Because for one thing, when one resorts to violence against another human being, one overlooks what caused him to be violent. Therefore, you cover up the real problem and you may, for example, in order to deal with violence in the community, put on more police, and the result is that pretty soon you have to put on still more police, you keep on moving to a more and more impossible situation. And the same kind of thing, I think, is true morally, psychologically. I do something to myself when I injure, psychologically or otherwise, another human being. I compromise the truth in myself. And then I move steadily, if I do that, in the direction of more and more compromise, so that in our civilization, for example, only a few years ago, the idea of bombing civilian populations was rejected. Our Christian theologians said if it comes to that, we're going to have to exclude this completely. But now we're doing it, and it is the civilized part of the world, it's our western part of the world which does these things because, again, you have done something to yourself when you start on that path. And then you come more and more to be the human being that can perform greater enormities without having a sense of guilt.
Studs Terkel So without our realizing it, gradually the dehumanization, this would become like the machine that is doing it, the dehumanization has set in without our being aware of it, yet we are righteous people.
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, exactly so. And it is the western people, and especially, I think, the American people who are caught [slaps table] in that feeling of being right and not being aware of what they are actually doing. Because, as a matter of fact, as a people we have not had the ordinary ancient concepts of conquest and so on. I was actually born in the Netherlands, in Holland, and my father came over here, as so many people did in those days, partly in order to escape conscription, and to get away from the militarism of Europe. And in my boyhood up here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and all this Lincoln country around here, we felt that we had gotten away from the effete nations and the effete habits of Europe, you see. Now, in in this comparatively short space of time, we have developed into the most powerful nation in the world, the nation which developed the atomic bombs, which dropped them, the H bombs and all the rest of it. And we still think of ourselves as these innocent people, people who don't want war, so on, and don't realize what we are to the Chinese, for example, when we are over there at their back door, and it's almost impossible for us to realize what it would mean if they actually were here at our front door with their H bombs and all the rest of it. And this self-righteousness of ours, the feeling that it's always the other people who make the trouble, and we are trying to keep the world safe from this trouble, is now, I think, one of the most dangerous elements in the world political situation.
Studs Terkel You used the word 'innocence'. You know, we speak of the 1910 period, 19th, as being the age of innocence over, yet we are still, strangely enough, innocent in the horrendous activities in which we're engaged apparently.
A.J. Muste Yes, that's true, and I think that is partly the result of our own history. We don't have the ancient history of conquest, at least in the way in which conquest took place in the old world. We we did the same kind of things, in a way, in relation to the Indians and in the Mexican War. But by and large we didn't have to develop our nation, build it on the basis of conquest. So it's partly the fact that we actually were not involved in the ancient wars and types of wars. Now it's partly also that if you drop a bomb from 20,000 feet up in the air on a population below that you can't see, so on, psychologically that's a different business from actually killing a man in front of you, or mowing down hundreds or thousands of people with machine guns, that sort of thing. You don't have to have as much psychological hate. You don't have to have as much psychological drive. It's a much more machine-like thing to wipe out the whole Earth, for example, than it is with the ancient, the old weapons, the more primitive weapons, to destroy human beings who are actually right there before you.
Studs Terkel So this makes it even, perhaps even more so, the impersonal aspect. It's just a button now or a coil of wire rather than man-to-man. Perhaps this makes it even more horrendous in that we become more like machine, less feeling I suppose as the- we, in a sense, are crying for help, aren't we? Help to feel, perhaps.
A.J. Muste Yes, that's right. And I think that you get in in this situation a division of the psyche. Under other circumstances it would actually be dissociation, double personality. And when you think of what people are doing who, in complete disregard of human beings, are building machinery and creating a situation where you push a button and you wipe out a whole people, for example, without being aware of what this means, then I think you have to say this is a certain form of mental disease. These are not people who in the ordinary sense belong in the mental hospital. They are actually very wonderful people in many ways, even personally. They're the people who walk our streets, they are the people who teach our children, they're the people who, to a large extent, determine our policies, but they are actually living in an unreal world. This is the absurd in which they are living, and not the human world
Studs Terkel Thinking about this absurd world, take the young scientist who works for RAND Corporation. He loves his wife and children, hears Mozart, he plays chess, he listens to good FM radio stations, all of this and yet he is working on something, he's quite aware of this, is he not, even though he's [unintelligible] he's working on that will destroy all mankind, possibly, and himself, and is indeed destroying people now elsewhere.
A.J. Muste He's aware of it, he's aware of it in one one sense. He's not aware of it in the sense that he actually has these human beings before him, and therefore he is not, emotionally, he is not as a human being aware of what he is doing. And it is precisely the fact that this is possible for human beings which means that we have to go over to a life, a philosophy, an actual life of nonviolence, because unless we are human beings who know what these other human beings are, who cannot regard them as things over there, which you wipe out like you wipe out a building, but as human beings who are bound with us in the bundle of life, we're going to go on and wreak this destruction, you see. We can't live on that basis anymore, and the only way in which, with the instrumentalities that we now have, we can keep from destroying each other is to love each other, and to know that we are actually one and we're not in this position of things over against each other. [pause]
Studs Terkel Well, this leads then to, we have to come now to A.J. Muste himself. Obviously this this new idea that is an old idea that seems to be centuries and centuries buried. How you got this way, this there is an excellent biography, by the way, of my guest, my guest A.J. Muste, "Peace Agitator" by Nat Hentoff, and he speaks of your boyhood. You had come from the Netherlands and you lived in Grand Rapids with your Dutch parents, Dutch Reformed Church. How did you- where did this come from, this insight of yours that has dominated, molded your life? How did this come about? Childhood?
A.J. Muste Yes. I think that, to a very large extent, it is related to the childhood development, the childhood atmosphere which, insofar as the home influence was concerned, was something which came from our mother, who was a person who disliked sham of any kind, and who always taught us to be real. And this meant that as I grew up I had to take the teaching of the gospel of the sermon on the mount, the whole concept of overcoming evil with good and not with evil, the whole concept of the cross you take suffering upon yourself instead of inflicting suffering upon other people, I had to take this seriously, and I could not accommodate myself to aspects of behaviour which contradicted that approach. Now I don't think I was aware of that in my boyhood, but as I grew up I constantly had to ask myself the question, whether I was acting in accord with the things that I was professing, that I was preaching. Now the first crisis in my life which I was aware of that was in the beginning of the first World War, when even a short time after the United Stat- after the war had broken out in Europe, I preached a sermon in a Reformed Church in New York City to the Spanish-American War Veterans Post people, in which I said the conventional things about war, namely it's a bad thing and so on, but if your country is attacked, or if freedom is at stake, then the Christian thing to do is to participate. Now Spanish-American War was not a very good illustration of that kind of thing, as I came to realize afterward. But then a very few months later I began to realize the United States was going to get involved in the war. Now then I had to ask myself: am I going to be able to reconcile the things that I've been saying about love, about the way of the cross, about love for the enemy? Am I going to be able to support the war, to participate in it, to put a Christian cover on it in view of the things that I have been preaching? And then I found I couldn't. Now it's also true that, in my own personal life, and I don't know how this comes about, but that personally I think I have always had a very strong feeling of unity with the other human being. Thinking of him as caught in a trap with myself, caught in a situation, rather than somebody who was trying to make trouble for me, or even if he hit me, still this was somehow or other a dilemma in which we were caught, rather than pitting us over against each other. You can't pit another human being over against you in that way, and somehow this has been very deep, I think, in my subconscious maybe.
Studs Terkel It seems, though, in your practicing nonviolence, the effect it has on the man who would be about to attack you is quite interesting. In the book, several times, whether you crossed the fence of the Omaha missile base, somehow you confute the military man, or the policeman, the early days of the Lawrence strike in which you participated. What happens to this person who is- he is, you're his enemy, you're his enemy, you are the agitator, the troublemaker, but suddenly you do something. What happens to this man in your own experience?
A.J. Muste Yes, I I think things do happen to him, and that it depends altogether upon the depth of your own nonviolence, the completeness of the absence of hate and of wanting to injure the other human being. If it if it is something of a sham on your own part, he will catch that. Children will catch it, incidentally. I've convinced that when an adult has trouble with a child, it's always because there is a tension in the adult himself. That's been true in my experience with my own children or grandchildren. And the minute you get the tension out of yourself, somehow or other the tension gets out of the other human being. Now when the policeman, for example, who beats you up finds, on the one hand, that you're not afraid, and on the other hand that you don't- you don't strike him back, you don't have the desire to strike him back, something happens which one of the exponents of nonviolence, Richard Gregg, has called a 'moral jiujitsu.' Now I don't like to call it that because that itself suggests still a kind of a conflict, only you have a more clever and effective way of beating him. Nevertheless it is true that if violence is met by violence, the other person knows just what to do with that. That's that's the way you behave habitually, he hits you, you hit him. If you don't hit him, if you don't even want to hit him, if you create a different situation entirely, then he is also changed, I think, you see.
Studs Terkel So you break out of this framework, there's an accepted framework, and here's A.J. Muste challenging this framework. There's an accepted framework. Somebody hit somebody, or someone whose a guardian of the law, there is a law, and he has the club, he has the billy- and he knows this man is gonna hit back. But if this man does not, this conscientious objector, this A.J. Muste, this man, this troublemaker, doesn't- the club suddenly becomes a burden to him. It it's something he did not expect, is that it? Isn't this what you're saying about the human race now, too-
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, exactly. And I- as I've been trying to say before, I think the historical situation, the technological situation, is now such that, except for destruction, we have no alternative except to face up to that fact that you can't wipe out this other human being. He's caught in the same predicament with you. And if, for example, the United States, at the present time, were simply to say, "Now we recognize this, and we're through with it, and instead of trying to stop or impede in any way the national revolutions which are taking place in these other countries, as they did here 150 years ago, we're gonna help, and in any case we're not gonna be involved in this absurdity anymore." My own conviction is that this is precisely, in the first place, what the historical situation demands now, some breakthrough, a recognition that you have got to have the same kind of a breakthrough in social relationships that we've had in the physical sciences, you see, where there are no limits anymore and they've given up the old scientific conceptions. If we were to do that, this would meet the historical situation and this would, therefore, also get a response from our so-called enemies.
Studs Terkel The question, of course, someone who ask, and this is a question inevitably arise, if we take this action, this initiative, this new action, breaking through this framework of deterrent of threats, of bomb threats, if we break through this, some say, "But what about Peking and Moscow? Won't they take advantage of this?" This is the question, obviously, that would be raised. How do you reply
Studs Terkel By the way, to try to- I think there's a poetic counterpoint here that's marvelous. We're talking about this- the dog of our host, Sydney Lens, the dog barking in the background, the dog's crying, howling. So answer the dogs.
A.J. Muste Yeah. You you have to say it's possible that this might happen, and even then you have to do it because it's more important what you are yourself. It's more important that you shouldn't wipe him out, than that he perhaps should wipe you out. In in a play, "Jacobowsky And The Colonel," there's this story of the Jew who has been in a room with a Nazi colonel, and the Nazi colonel has been torturing some of his victims. And then these other victims are put out, and the Jew and the Colonel are left alone. And the Jew looks the colonel in the eye and he says, "There is one advantage that the victim has over the executioner, namely that he is not the executioner." Now it's come to the point, you see, in human history, Camus said the same thing, where you may not be able to decide whether you're going to be the victim, but you must not be the executioner of the human race. We we must not be the Kane of history, so to speak. Now having said that, then I think it can also be said that, for example, these people are not completely irrational any more than we're completely irrational. They are not completely dev-devoid of decency any more than we are completely devoid of decency in all our negotiations with them. We assume, at any rate, there is something that you can do now, if, as a matter of fact, a new element of rationality and of decency is injected into the situation. These people who would rather eat, these people whose children want education and so on, the same as our children do, I think are not going to reject the peace which we offer them, the opportunity to live which we offer them if we initiate the breaking out of the trap.
Studs Terkel And thus it is, again, this realization that they, the Chinese, the Soviets, the others [unintelligible], they have the same human aspirations that we do, fears, dreams, same thing, and if we do this very human act that you are speaking of, that is your very life, A.J. Muste, if we do this very human act outside this framework of the barking dog we heard a moment ago-
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, that's my conviction, and I think that the, in in a certain sense, if we are going to have this feeling of innocence that we have, if we are gonna have this feeling that it is the other always who creates the disturbance in the world and we have to be the pacifiers, then we have to recognize the fundamental teaching of psychology, which is also the teaching of of the great prophets, namely that you have to remove the beam in your own eye before you undertake to remove the moat in the other fellow's eye. Now I don't think that always means literally, you know, there's a great big beam in your own eye and only a little bit of a splinter in his. But the fact is you can't see to take the beam or the splinter out of the other fellow's eye unless until you take the obstruction out of your own eye, and recognize that the pacification which you want is the great human longing for pacification-
Studs Terkel Phrase-
Studs Terkel Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, yes exactly. And and to to achieve fulfilment which is not possible in a situation where the human being places himself over against the other human being as a thing, as something which does not suffer as he suffers. You know the Shakespeare thing, you prick him and he he ble- bleeds. You know I have a son named John, and we don't always agree with each other. He was actually in the Navy, for example, during the war. I couldn't be a conscience for him anymore than he could be a conscience for me. But we have this warm living relationship with each other. And I suppose there's a Russian whose name Mustovich, you know, or Mostevski or something like that, and he would have a son named Iván. Now as long as I am outside of that relationship over there, I think of them in terms of categories: they're Russians, they're communists, or something of that sort. Well, then it seems reasonable that I should aid and abet my son John and his pals in getting ready to fight those people over there. But when I put myself inside of that relationship and see what that is, and then it's the same thing as my relationship with John, then I cannot possibly want to arm John against Iván any more than I want to arm Iván against John. And this is the truth of the human condition. We can't get away from it anymore in in this age of technology, this age of communication, this age of one world, this age when we are able to manipulate genes, when we are able to manipulate minds. We can't get away anymore from the fact that we are all in this dilemma together, that we all have these new possibilities together. It's the it's the reality of the situation now, and not merely a dream or an illusion.
Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking as you're saying this, you being Anton, Anton Jaegor Mustovich instead of A.J. Muste, and your son being Iván. There's a story you told, a very moving one and a deeply revealing one, a little story apparently taught in Russian schools that you quoted Anatol Rapoport as-
A.J. Muste Yes. The story is in a book by Dr. Anatol Rapoport, the head of the Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan, in a book entitled "Strategy And Conscience." And it is a story which is taught to Russian children about two boys named Here and There. And the first one was named Here because he was always grabbing for things right here, and wanting to possess them, wanting to take them for himself. The other boy was named There because he was always pointing to something over there, something to go to and and to experience. Here, according to the story, grew up to be a miser and wealthy and grasping and so on. There studied and then he came back to the village and became a teacher of the children in the village, and was always trying to point the children to There, rather than to the concept of grabbing Here. Now a story ends up to the effect that when Here died, nobody paid any attention. When There died, they put up a monument to him in the village, and on the monument was the inscription: 'He was beloved here because he was always there.' Now it seems to me, just as that is a very profound pedagogical truth, for example, and the people who are love today, the people to whom humanity looks up, are the There people, of course, not the Here people. So it is now a great historical truth, you see. The here which we have known, the here which we still think is reality is just not here anymore, any more than the old physical universe of the scientists are here, or the Ptolemaic universe, and the only world there will be, the only Here there will be for our children is the There of the world, which is demanded now by technology and the historical situation, but which we have to create.
Studs Terkel Well, this There, then. Now we come to how can we find the There in ourselves? The that is the non- the aspiration, the striving, the art. Isn't this part of what the triple revolution is all about, too? We know that one day, perhaps, with machines being there may not be full employment, and so man may find a new way of working.
A.J. Muste Mm.
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, exactly. And this is another illustration of how profound the change may be if, as a matter of fact, we are able to produce abundance for everybody, and therefore there isn't labor, so to speak, as there used to be. Therefore you can't make the same tie between income and labor, because income doesn't mean anything in these circumstances, or it means something only for a little handful of technicians. Then, again, either the human being is going to be a loafer, he's going to degenerate, or he is going to realize new possibilities in himself. And the idea that it is only if you grob- only if you grab for yourself that you're going to be rich, you're going to have things that you want and so on, comforts, this simply won't exist, and you'll either be a different kind of human being who, as you suggest, finds satisfaction in art, finds satisfaction in human relationships, finds satisfaction, perhaps, in building, so on, all kinds of satisfactions, perhaps satisfaction in artistic experience and creation and so on.
Studs Terkel So then, A.J. Muste, it is not an illusion, it is the reality, then, that the There, or the striving of man, is what he must do rather than the grubbing, because of the world in which we live. Whether we cannot destroy a man with a bomb, we'll be destroyed. We we we need not gather material things all our lives, you know, more and more and more, emburdened ourselves with this, that, the other things, but the 20th century now, mid 20th ce- this is the way it must be. This is the reality. The other is the illusion.
A.J. Muste Yes, exactly. You either, under these circumstances where the abundance is available, and you can't make the old tie between hard labor that you do, forced labor, and the fact that you exist and you can support your family. Under those circumstances human beings either degenerate into machines or, as some people fear, they just become lazy and completely degenerate, or obviously they've got to be a new type of human being. They've got to find new satisfactions, they've got to realize the potentialities of man. Now these potentialities, I'm sure, are there, you see. The very fact that we have created the technology which we have created is an indication of the capacities of human beings, and of the changes that can take place. And therefore, also, I think, a an evidence that now that the historical possibilities are there, the human being can become the kind of human being that he has always dreamed of being, that he has longed to be, and the longing for which has kept him, in a sense, slaving and working and toiling. Also fighting, because he thought he was fighting for values that shouldn't be taken away from him. Now that these potentialities can be realized, I profoundly believe, you see, if we can get over this crisis, if we can make the breakthrough, that we are going to realize these potentialities, and we are going to know each other as new human
Studs Terkel The question always of the individual helpless, and you had mentioned lit-literature of the absurd. These are great men writing of our time, you know, Beckett. But then with the individuals, he says, "Am I like Gogo and Didi, the two tramps? Must I wait for Godot? What else is there to be done?" And you are saying that man is responsible. There's a quote of yours here, if I may just use, in the book. By the way, "Peace Agitator" is a MacMillan press, the story of A.J. Muste. What a story. "Precisely," quoting A.J., "precisely in a day when the individual appears to be utterly helpless, to have no choice, when the aim of the system is to convince him that he is helpless as an individual, that the only way to meet regimentation is by regimentation, there is absolutely no hope save in going back to the beginning. The human being, the child of God, must assert his humanity and his sonship again. He must exercise the choice which he no longer has as something accorded him by society, which he, naked, weaponless, armorless, without shield or spear, but only with naked hands and open eyes must create again. He must understand that this naked human being is the one real thing," and we emphasize or italicize the word 'real' thing "in face of the mechanics and the mechanized institutions of our age."
A.J. Muste Yes.
A.J. Muste Yes, you know, even Life magazine, in the issue which appeared after the dropping of the bomb in Hiroshima back in '45, said that "the one hope against annihilation now was the individual conscience." And then the editorial went on to say, "The individual conscience against the atomic bomb? Yes, there is no other way." And then this becomes clearer all the time. It's what the what the dramatists to whom you refer are saying, it's the kind of thing that a great mathematician and scientist like Anatole Rapoport has just said. His book on strategy and conscience ends up by saying that the human being cannot ask himself the question of whether acting according to conscience works. Working, according to conscience, is simply it satisfies the demand of conscience. But then he adds that the cumulative effect of such actions has been known historically to change the course of history. You see, in the human world there is no creative thing, there is no creative entity except the human being himself.
Studs Terkel As we're listening to A.J. Muste talk, it's not surprising to know that among those whose lives and thoughts he's influenced are Milton Mayer and Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, and all those who are, indeed, originals themselves, but we're talking now to the original A.J. And yet within you is what you say is within men, all men, and I suppose one last question, Mr. Muste, A.J., you're 80 years old now, I suppose one of the reasons for your vitality and your sense of life, since it's life you're- is the fact that you are involved, isn't it? Isn't this what has kept you so apparently so vibrant and young, involvement.
Studs Terkel [laughs]
A.J. Muste -you know, and that my mother, for example, lived to be 83 and my father lived to be 87, and they were practically both active and so on almost up to the day that they died. But on the other hand I'm I'm sure it is the fact that I'm always There, you know, and not Here. I think my voyage from Holland to the United States early in life, making this great transition, but having it a glorious transition, has had an influence there. And also the fact that I work with young people all the time, and I don't feel I don't feel any different from them really. And the the immense- the fact you can be learning all the time, for example, and the fact that you can you can, in a way, be creating, you can refuse to go to sleep, so to speak, or you can refuse to be indifferent. Yeah, I'm sure this had something to do with it. [laughs]
Studs Terkel The man who says no, and yet that no was a yes. To quote A.J. Muste, "Peaceableness does not mean trying to disturb nothing, not glossing over realities, it is the most profound kind of disturbance we seek to achieve. Nonviolence is not apathy or cowardice or passivity, and the fact that we want peace does not mean there will not be opposition, suffering, social disorder." And perhaps the end, quoting Charles Pigue, is it? "The honest man must be the perpetual renegade, the life of the honest man perpetual infidelity to reach, perhaps, the true fidelity of man's respecting himself and thus others." And as we say goodbye now, A.J. Muste, I think it's quite clear that you are beloved Here because you've always been There. Thank you very much indeed.