Moments that Shape Our Lives – Santayana

Every one of us at times has learned something from a person, a book, an event, a family circumstance, that changes who we are, what we believe, how we behave. Often the person is a mentor – someone who exposes a new awareness within us. Often the event is harrowing or of high achievement; an event that opens up new feelings about who we are and how we behave thereafter.

Knowledge is a frequent source that shapes our religion, philosophy, ethic, and introduces sophisticated perceptions about reality.

Mariner had an experience where knowledge from a book established his basic understanding of existence and reality and even today constitutes the foundation of his understanding of reality and the manner of human behavior.

When mariner was a young teen, his father was attending a Methodist seminary. One day his father brought home a textbook: “The Life of Reason, the Phases of Human Progress” by George Santayana. Mariner read the book with unusual interest; being a teenager, one’s mental attention more often is directed at social development and athletics. Amid those activities, mariner stayed with the book for a summer and finished it.

To avoid writing another tome, mariner will paraphrase George and express only the most significant points that have had a lasting influence on the mariner.

George was always about reason. There must be a reason for everything. He was suspicious of idealism. Assuming beliefs and myths as a permanent foundation for reality was an incomplete reality to George. George said that a rational morality has never existed in the world. One draws what morality exists from family life and is not universal in its definition.

George did believe that love was real and the most satisfying human experience. While believing love’s roots and its role in society was established in the family, he maintained love is the foundation beneath all social structures.

The pragmatic need for institutions and government outside the home justified politics but only weakly. George felt that equality among unequals is unachievable; he distrusted democracy as a fantasy of unequals. Government should be run by those who are capable but the population is not restricted in its interaction with the government. George dodges capitalism by stating that all citizens must be guaranteed equal opportunity.[1]

George said the American Dream was a fantasy; since the age of industrialism, materialism sits on the backs of citizens rather than citizens gaining a laissez-faire life.

Finally, George by definition was a metaphysical naturalist. Broadly speaking, everything that happens in reality is part of nature and automatically adjusts to interaction with other natural elements. Human behavior is a constantly adjusting phenomenon with other natural elements (reality). What does this mean in terms of ethics and morality? It means that ethics and morality are subject to the reality of the moment. A friend of the mariner once commented that under severe circumstances, cannibalism is moral.

George was an atheist. The closest he comes to godliness is his definition of reality as the cause of all events and conclusions, circumstances and behaviors. Yahweh was close but not the same.

Ancient Mariner

[1] For mariner, it is this section in the book that slowly has evolved into what he calls ‘sharing’. Another mentor is Will Rogers, who believed in equal sharing of profits. More about sharing will be in another post.

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