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Human Nature and Reason ix
Such, with variations and adaptations, will be the "criticism" to which books of this character are subjected.
It is not necessary, of course, to read a book to dismiss it in this manner; it suffices that it is supposed to have an idealistic tendency. And yet one has only to vary the formula a little to see how this sort of criticism stands self-condemned. Let us make a variation and see the result:
Man is a blood-thirsty and unthinking creature. His civilization is but skin-deep, and beneath this thin varnish lie impulses of animalism reaching back to an ancestry which stretches over æons of time. This savage is only held in check by perceptions, understandings, and second thoughts so frail and dubious that at any moment he is likely to get the better of them and destroy the moral labour of toiling generations. Don't let us therefore bother to strengthen those things. It is only by virtue of understanding, of clearly realizing certain truths of human co-operation that we can make our civilization secure; therefore, do not let us trouble to understand those truths. It is not practical. The practical thing is to have plenty of "force"-and to place its employment in the hands of men who don't realize in the least how it should be used. Men are at bottom illogical, unseeing, incapable of weighing the result of their acts; in that case don't worry with sobering and rationalizing influences; the practical thing is to place unrestrictedly at their disposal force of immeasurable destructiveness. Civilization will then be secure.
These conclusions of the "practical" man, who is so sure that he is talking sense and is so sure that he is not erecting theories or laying down dogmas, could be extended indefinitely. And I am disposed to think that the next real step in civilization will be the discovery of the "practical" man that he is drawing from certain undoubted facts such as the complexity of society, the frailty of human wisdom and reason, the uncertainty and mysteriousness of our impulses, conclusions which are the exact contrary of the true ones.
Such a result would be in keeping with the process of most human advancement; to be able to reason correctly concerning those facts of existence visible to all is of more worth than to possess an intimate knowledge of phenomena only available to specialists. The civilization of Greece or Rome had some claims to consideration in comparison with (say) that of Prussia. Yet that intimate knowledge of the properties of matter which gives the Prussian such efficiency in its control was terra incognita to the ancient civilizations. But the slight knowledge of physics possessed by the ancients did not exclude a deep understanding of certain essential facts in human society (their legacy to us in law and civics is evidence of that) which sufficed to construct a civilization now, after twenty centuries, still feeding the roots of our own. So far as the earlier civilization was built on a knowledge of the more complex facts of physics it was a knowledge not
Need of Social Engineering
used mainly for material ends at all. The real importance of astronomy for long lay not in its services to navigation or civil engineering, which in its beginnings were perhaps small, but in its effect on the moral conceptions, in its creation in the minds of men of a sense of ordered law in the world. Its real service was to enable them to think clearly about the universe and men's relations to it and to one another. For Americans, perhaps above all others, is it important to grasp the real meaning of the facts hinted at here. For it is perhaps roughly and broadly true to say that while we have successfully established general laws in the field of mechanics, which have given us to a marvellous degree the material conquest of nature, while the laws of the physical world are being revealed to us in increasing measure, there is no corresponding development of understanding in the field of human relationship, in our conception of human right and obligation, the laws of the social world, the nature of the social organism, the mechanism of human society. In all that we are hardly more advanced than the Greeks or the Romans, or, for that matter, the Egyptians and the Chaldeans. We have covered the earth with a marvellous mechanism which will carry our thought and understanding to the utmost corners; with the invisible waves of wireless telegraphy, with post-offices, railroads, hôtels de luxe, and cinematograph shows, but we cannot cover it with a system of law. We can analyse
all human food and we know most of the mysteries of its growth and composition, but we cannot so distribute it as to give every child a cup of milk. We can blow a town to pieces with a handful of dust, but we cannot destroy the monstrous pile of misery which every great city connotes. Wherever, leaving material things, our management touches human relations, the things of the mind, it fails.
Our advance during the last century in the material conquest of nature has been blinding in its rapidity, but can any man say that in the understanding of the laws of human relationship we are much beyond the Romans from whom we still take our jurisprudence, or the Greeks from whom we still take our philosophy? In the mechanical reproduction of the written word, for instance, in the mechanism of our modern newspaper, we have material instruments that would have seemed to Socrates and to Aristotle achievements of the gods themselves. But what of the mind revealed in these documents, the mere material substance of which implies such mechanical marvels; what of the ideas which find expression in them? It would be rather cruel to push the comparison. But let the reader make for himself, with some detachment, the comparison of the present-day newspaper discussions in Paris, Berlin, London, or New York, with the general discussions of the Greek capital two thousand years ago. Would it be very unjust to say that the under
Of What Avail Is Material Advance? xiii
standing of the essentials of human intercourse revealed by the men capable of these modern mechanical wonders (which would have seemed miraculous to the ancient world) is not very much better than that of the desert tribesmen who gave us our proverbs and our psalms, and whose mechanical conquest of nature was hardly more advanced than that of the men to whom the manufacture of a stone axe represented the highest achievement of human engineering?
Now, all our advance on the material side threatens to be of no avail in the really vital and fundamental things that touch mankind, because our understanding of the nature of human associations has not kept pace with our understanding of matter and its control. Of what avail is our immense increase in wealth production if we do not know how to distribute it in the order of our most vital needs-if the total net result of our discovery and achievements is to give still more to those who have already too much and to render the underworld still more dependent, their lives still more precarious? What should we say, asks Shaw, of the starving man who, on being given a dollar, forthwith spends it all on a bottle of scent for his handkerchief? Yet that is what the modern world does, and it is, we are told, incapable of doing anything else, so intellectually bankrupt are we to assume it. So immense is the failure on this side that responsible students of the comparative condition of men seriously question