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A Confession

Part 8




All these doubts, which I am now able to express more or less
systematically, I could not then have expressed.  I then only felt
that however logically inevitable were my conclusions concerning
the vanity of life, confirmed as they were by the greatest
thinkers, there was something not right about them.  Whether it was
in the reasoning itself or in the statement of the question I did
not know -- I only felt that the conclusion was rationally
convincing, but that that was insufficient.  All these conclusions
could not so convince me as to make me do what followed from my
reasoning, that is to say, kill myself.  And I should have told an
untruth had I, without killing myself, said that reason had brought
me to the point I had reached.  Reason worked, but something else
was also working which I can only call a consciousness of life.  A
force was working which compelled me to turn my attention to this
and not to that; and it was this force which extricated me from my
desperate situation and turned my mind in quite another direction. 
This force compelled me to turn my attention to the fact that I and
a few hundred similar people are not the whole of mankind, and that
I did not yet know the life of mankind.

Looking at the narrow circle of my equals, I saw only people
who had not understood the question, or who had understood it and
drowned it in life's intoxication, or had understood it and ended
their lives, or had understood it and yet from weakness were living
out their desperate life.  And I saw no others.  It seemed to me
that that narrow circle of rich, learned, and leisured people to
which I belonged formed the whole of humanity, and that those
milliards of others who have lived and are living were cattle of
some sort -- not real people.

Strange, incredibly incomprehensible as it now seems to me
that I could, while reasoning about life, overlook the whole life
of mankind that surrounded me on all sides; that I could to such a
degree blunder so absurdly as to think that my life, and Solomon's
and Schopenhauer's, is the real, normal life, and that the life of
the milliards is a circumstance undeserving of attention -- strange
as this now is to me, I see that so it was.  In the delusion of my
pride of intellect it seemed to me so indubitable that I and
Solomon and Schopenhauer had stated the question so truly and
exactly that nothing else was possible -- so indubitable did it
seem that all those milliards consisted of men who had not yet
arrived at an apprehension of all the profundity of the question --
that I sought for the meaning of my life without it once occurring
to me to ask:  "But what meaning is and has been given to their
lives by all the milliards of common folk who live and have lived
in the world?"

I long lived in this state of lunacy, which, in fact if not in
words, is particularly characteristic of us very liberal and
learned people.  But thanks either to the strange physical
affection I have for the real labouring people, which compelled me
to understand them and to see that they are not so stupid as we
suppose, or thanks to the sincerity of my conviction that I could
know nothing beyond the fact that the best I could do was to hang
myself, at any rate I instinctively felt that if I wished to live
and understand the meaning of life, I must seek this meaning not
among those who have lost it and wish to kill themselves, but among
those milliards of the past and the present who make life and who
support the burden of their own lives and of ours also.  And I
considered the enormous masses of those simple, unlearned, and poor
people who have lived and are living and I saw something quite
different.  I saw that, with rare exceptions, all those milliards
who have lived and are living do not fit into my divisions, and
that I could not class them as not understanding the question, for
they themselves state it and reply to it with extraordinary
clearness.  Nor could I consider them epicureans, for their life
consists more of privations and sufferings than of enjoyments. 
Still less could I consider them as irrationally dragging on a
meaningless existence, for every act of their life, as well as
death itself, is explained by them.  To kill themselves they
consider the greatest evil.  It appeared that all mankind had a
knowledge, unacknowledged and despised by me, of the meaning of
life.  It appeared that reasonable knowledge does not give the
meaning of life, but excludes life: while the meaning attributed to
life by milliards of people, by all humanity, rests on some
despised pseudo-knowledge.

Rational knowledge presented by the learned and wise, denies
the meaning of life, but the enormous masses of men, the whole of
mankind receive that meaning in irrational knowledge. And that
irrational knowledge is faith, that very thing which I could not
but reject.  It is God, One in Three; the creation in six days; the
devils and angels, and all the rest that I cannot accept as long as
I retain my reason.

My position was terrible.  I knew I could find nothing along
the path of reasonable knowledge except a denial of life; and there
-- in faith -- was nothing but a denial of reason, which was yet
more impossible for me than a denial of life.  From rational
knowledge it appeared that life is an evil, people know this and it
is in their power to end life; yet they lived and still live, and
I myself live, though I have long known that life is senseless and
an evil.  By faith it appears that in order to understand the
meaning of life I must renounce my reason, the very thing for which
alone a meaning is required.