A view from my side.
This is a re-post from April 2012. When originally posted the readership was not what it is today and it is buried deep the blog. Since this really gives you the essence of what drives me, I thought I’d put it up front again and invite comment. I don’t agree with everything Russell wrote, but this, I embrace. So, for your consideration:
I majored in Humanities as an undergraduate. The program centered on interdisciplinary courses focused in literature, history and philosophy. We discussed how these forces shaped and reflected the events of their time. I drank it all up, lustfully devouring everything I read, trying to make sense of it all.
Of the many philosophers I read, Bertrand Russell stood out for many reasons. He was outspoken. He was principled. He put his ideas in play, getting arrested in 1918 for his opposition to World War I as well as in 1961 for his anti-nuclear positions. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”. A true Renaissance Man, he was also married 4 times. Since I’ve only been married 3, I’m still good for one more.
Of all the works by Russell I’ve read over the years, it was the Prologue to his Autobiography that stuck with me. It has shaped me and it has defined me. It guides me and gives me direction. When all is said and done, when those I leave behind measure my life, I hope they can say I lived my life with equal passions.
So here…the Prologue to Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography:
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.