The Last Faith Analysis – Books: The Sea Wolf (Jack London) and The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham)

What unites these two, seemingly very different, stories?

Here we are looking at Freedom of Choice in its extreme, hypertrophied form. The heroes of these novels, the captain of a seal-hunting schooner Wolf Larsen and artist Charles Strickland have one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for personal Freedom of Choice.

It is the kind of passion that denies not only the laws and traditions of society but overcomes the main law of nature, the Law of Gene Preservation. One hero never has children of his own and the other abandons his children.

Captain Larsen, whose face gives the impression of a “terrible, overwhelming mental or spiritual force,” believes that only power can rule the world. From early childhood, he forces his way through life ignoring anyone and anything, placing no limits on his Freedom of Choice, to the point of murder, in order to achieve the social position, which he has no doubt he fully deserves.

In contrast, the quiet, unremarkable and mediocre stockbroker Strickland, who has never displayed a rebellious nature, suddenly, at 40 years of age, to the shock of his family, colleagues and friends, abandons his job and his family and decides to become an artist. He leaves first for Paris where he learns the rudiments of being a painter.

Freeing the demon of Freedom of Choice that had lain dormant and repressed for so long, Strickland turns into the same kind of person as Captain Larsen, with no moral limitations. He gets together with the wife of his friend and benefactor, Dirk Stroeve, and exploits her as a free nude model, eventually abandoning her when she has served his purpose.

Like Captain Larsen who goes without sleep and rest in pursuit of seals across the seas and oceans, Strickland knows no rest, furiously painting one picture after the other as if fulfilling some order from “the very top” and instantly losing interest as soon as he has completed each picture. Both Larsen and Strickland pay no attention to the world around them, following a path known only to God and themselves. However, very soon Strickland begins to feel hemmed in and stifled by the limitations of classical painting at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, gives everything up once again and leaves for the island of Tahiti, where nothing prevents him from realising the force within, that tearing at flesh and soul, is bursting to get out.

What kind of people are they, Larsen and Strickland? What drives them in life? Can we judge them harshly? Are there many of their kind among us and why are they needed in life?

What was the driving force for Columbus, who discovered America? Did he feel claustrophobic in just three continents?

What motivated Einstein who discovered the Theory of Relativity? In Einstein’s case, we know that he felt restricted by the limitations of Newtonian mechanics when attempting to explain Michelson-Morley’s experiment.

What motivated the Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, who also felt the limitations of the moral teachings that existed before them offering people a different perspective on themselves, their place in the world and human relationships?

What motivates people, who dissatisfied with the existing level of Freedom of Choice in society, dream of a revolution that would expand it?

What motivates people who spend their entire life following the stars and producing music, books and paintings?

Fame and wealth? Unlikely, since only one in thousands manages to achieve it. The rest tragically end their lives childless and in poverty, like our heroes Larsen and Strickland.

The image of the struggling artist, musician and academic is well-rooted in world literature and cinema. Nonetheless, one generation after another produces individuals who consciously sacrifice their life to this passion, the passion of expanding Freedom of Choice!

Those who are able to expand their personal Freedom of Choice, at least within the field of their craft, expand it as a consequence, for all humanity. In this way, they nudge human society forwards to a new level of civilisation. These are the people who change the world, moving it forward along the Arrow of Time.

Today, perhaps the clearest example of a representative of these sky-storming individuals is Elon Musk.  Perhaps he felt stifled in our contemporary cars and on our contemporary roads and so prepared a revolutionary solution to the problems associated with them.  Now he feels stifled on the planet Earth itself and is eager to get to Mars.

And how do things lie between fans of Freedom of Choice and the first commandment of The Last Faith, i.e. the Law of Gene Preservation? Mostly, not good. Obsessed with their one and only passion, these individuals often “forget” about family and children. The “Genius” drama series about Albert Einstein is just another reminder of this. But who can judge these individuals, except their own family?

Nevertheless, representatives of this breed are attractive, outstanding individuals. Other people seek their friendship or at least, their attention, but let’s face it, who would want to marry their own daughter or sister to a man like Larsen or Strickland?

So what can be said of the rest of us, 99 percent of the population? We can safely say that we are doing business, building cities, constructing factories, cultivating fields, teaching in schools and universities, playing in orchestras, although we didn’t compose the music, and printing books, although we did not write them; we feed and treat everyone, including the “other 1 percent”. The workings of all social institutions rest on our shoulders. In short, the world needs us too.

When one of my friends was asked why history needed the other 99 percent of humanity if all civilisation was created by less than 1 percent, he replied: “in order to give birth to that 1 percent!”


Karmak Bagisbayev, professor of mathematics, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”

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