Letters from and to brother Selig (with December 31, 1928 letter)

December 1, 1928 (Portland): Philip to Selig

(handwritten note to Ethel: Extracts from my carbon copies of letters to my wayward brother!)

My Dear Selig,

                Your recent letter both delighted and pained me. On the one hand I was slightly non-plussed by the receipt of an acrid epistle, abounding in sententious statements, truculent remarks and a general air of extreme certitude in regards to one’s own righteousness and superiority: of rubbishy epistles shattered, and a keen battle of personal values and wits introduced instead. I am all for dynamism in one’s personal relationships, and, as you know, I don’t let family ties veil my attempt at an ultimate insight into men and events. This is a clash between absolutely different outlooks on life, between values totally antithetical; and so for the same of reason and good sense I decided to wait a few days, and now, after the period of prayer and penitence has passed, and I have achieved a state of peace and beatitude I shall proceed to favor with a few clarifying remarks concerning your and mine attitudes which will clear the atmosphere. You understand, of course, that I don’t really give a damn what you think or what you do. Your brain is your brain, and my brain is my brain. I am arguing simply for the sake of intellectual athleticism. I would never think of allowing intellectual differences to interfere in my relationships with people. I might marry a monarchist, and love her to distraction in spite of her odious ideas. A difference of that sort would only add spice to the matter . . .

Selig to Philip

My dear Philip,

I have read with considerable interest your last letter in which you have been so good as to tell me of all the inconsistencies and intellectual sins of which I am guilty. I was greatly enlightened by this “clarification of the atmosphere,” but, hard as I tried, I could not and I still cannot, after giving the matter some thought, say that I intend to . . .

But then, what’s the use of going on with this endless argument: You won’t be convinced and neither will I. And there is no reason, I suppose, for continuing the exchange of these “stagnant epistles.” Since you’ve been good enough to tell me that you don’t give a damn for what I do or think, I can only reciprocate this laudable sentiment. From now on, if you’re ever carried away by the bourgeois feeling of family ties and would like to know what I’m doing, you can drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer without offending you.

May I be pardoned if I point out to you that to sign one’s name with “thirstily yours” appended is rather cheap, smart-aleck and juvenile and smacks of collegiate enthusiasts rather than intelligent men. Drinking is nothing to boast or to be ashamed of, it’s just natural with some people and of no consequence with others.

Philip to Selig

I think it would do you good to read Kropotkin’s analysis of the history of Ethics. Especially good for your chaotic state of mind would be Edward Carpenter’s “Christian and Pagan Creeds.” His analysis of the individual versus Society issue would be especially valuable. Thornstein Vablen’s analysis of contemporary Society would also dispel some of your lamentable illusions.

Selig to Philip

But then, I can hear you snicker at this very suggestion. You know better than read the ramblings of a professor and in the New Republic at that. Well, if you do I am perfectly satisfied. But I have nothing but contempt for the kind of mentality that babbles about “your squaky jargon” and thinks of languages and literatures in terms of mass meetings and patriotic clubs

Philip to Selig

In your interesting letter I appear as a sort of villainous megalomaniac, the sort of fellow who will mistreat poor orphans and seduce his benefactor’s daughter. I am sure that you misunderstand because you fail to grasp my philosophy of life. You do not know the facts; in short, to quote Epictetus, “Men are not influenced by things in themselves but by their thoughts about things.” In brief, your opinion of me and my ideas is not formed by reality, but by your thoughts about that reality. In this case, at least, you are an extreme introvert. Whence, however, come your thoughts. What is the basic foundation of your thoughts? What determines your opinions?

Philip to Selig

You have no philosophy of life. You have no values. Your soul is in a state of chaos, which seeks refuge in the supremacy of Art over life. Why don’t you read Gorky’s essay in the Dial for December. There you will find a word or two in regards to the connection between Art, culture, and the proletariat of the World. You haven’t even got the courage of such men as Mencken who realize the rottenness of it all, but who decide that Nothing is to be done about it. That it is best to forget it all in drinking and feeding and fornicating. Human nature is such and such, and you can’t change it. Such an attitude savors of integrity and self-respect. You, however, while believing in the Capitalistic system, do not see that such beliefs do not conform with any reasonable view of morals. Such beliefs are totally a-moralistic. It is pure evolutionism; struggle for existence, the devil take the hindmost, etc

*The different typewriters make it possible to distinguish between Philip’s and Selig’s letter

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