From the journal of Martin Way
August 16, 1935
I have come to the conclusion that mere words cannot explain the human condition. Too much of the study of philosophy is grounded in a lineage of semantics. You have to learn German and French to read the original thoughts of people that learned from people who wrote in Greek. You have to learn dead languages to figure out what a human life means. I think that by studying living people and how they navigate this present world, you would find out more in a single day than all of the reading of musty tomes in some back room of the Penn State Library.
Every cell in my body cries out with a separate life. How can I even claim I have integrity as single being when I am the consensus of all these voices? I have desires, but what is that but a conglomeration of needs expressed by my biological functions fed through a filter of my cultural indoctrination. How can I know what is right or wrong given the complexity of the world and each organism and object? How can anyone know enough to solve the maze of meaning? If there is a meaning to life, any one life, why are only a few able or have the desire to look beyond just the mere act of going through a life living it.
How can some lives be so lived in the darkness of poverty and ignorance through no fault or choice? If there is meaning why is it only for those who have the privilege of intelligence, affluence, and ability to navigate academia who decide what being human is? I have been in the halls of that temple and I know that most of the men who inhabit them know nothing of what it is to survive in the world outside those walls. They either never had the opportunity to be poor or have forgotten it or romanticized it into a time of passion and freedom. I have chosen poverty in order to be free of the ideas of privilege that overwhelm and inundate the consciousness of the society of the learned. They have isolated themselves from life in a fortress of the past and put clean walls of logic and reason against the chaos and noise and constant motion of the world. You learn a lot about who you are if you go through a day of trying to find a few bites of food or bits of coal to stay warm. The other students, mostly from affluent or middleclass families, look at the poverty of student life as a necessary trial. We were housed and fed comfortably there. Some had money from parents, most had pocket change for weekend socializing, and some just enough to get through their classes and buy books. But in comparison to that poverty, what I have begun here in a town of which I am not familiar. I know no one here. I grew up 50 miles to the east, and stopped here on a whim as I hitch-hiked home. My parents think I am at the university getting ready to begin my junior year. This will be hard for them to understand. They have worked so hard to give me this opportunity, but I worked hard to get scholarships also, and maybe I can save them the money for my brother. He will be an engineer and take care of them. I am not suited to a substantial life that is the framework of sustenance for others. I cannot see myself locked into a career, going to meetings, making big plans for making money. Maybe someday I will find a profession that inspires me to work long hours on projects of import, but for now I sit here in the failing light in a little one room shack on the edge of a town that doesn’t know me and unfamiliar to me. What will I find here? How will I explain this to those who love me and those who count on me? I need time to reason it out so I can tell them in a way that makes sense to me and them. I want to be honest and clear, that is my first challenge. I have to figure out what I am doing before I can explain it.
August 17, 1935
The newspaper is full of the death of Will Rogers. Everyone says he was the kind of man who spoke from the heart of experience. How did he gain such notoriety with such a soft voice? I only know about him from newsreels and radio. He is a man that many revere as honest and fair. Why? What is it about him that inspired such feelings? How many people actually knew him, spent time around him, and were a part of his everyday life? That is the only way to know someone, if that is possible. Why do people think they know famous people? Why do they grieve their passing? Radio and movies, newspapers and magazines all build famous people into images that are easily framed. I cannot even get a handle on who I am or my friends and family are. Why do people miss people who they have never met? I cannot think of a single famous person that I would mourn. I have heard many educated people talk so negatively about the cult of personality while they worship some intellectual whose works they have studied but never made any personal contact with. There are ideas out in the world. There are people who discover them and put them into words. The ideas have value beyond the person. The person has a life separate from the ideas. He has a body and lives in a place. You cannot know him at least until you spend some time in his life with him. Those ideas may be discussed, but there will be real context with them. Not just words on a page.