A memorandum by Charles W. Eliot, from 1869 to 1909 President of Harvard University, containing notes for a lecture on what equipment a student should take from college for success in after life, was recently found.
1. An available body. Not necessarily the muscle of an athlete. Good circulation, digestion, power to sleep, and alert, steady nerves.
2. Power of sustained mental labor.
3. The habit of independent thinking on books, prevailing customs, current events. University training, the opposite of military or industrial.
4. The habit of quiet, unobtrusive, self-regulated conduct, not accepted from others or influenced by the vulgar breath.
5. Reticent, reserved, not many acquaintances, but a few intimate friends. Belonging to no societies perhaps. Carrying in his face the character so plainly to be seen there by the most casual observer, that nobody ever makes to him a dishonorable proposal.39
This is an excellent concise statement of the values to which men of superior qualities attach importance. But it is most interesting as a revelation of what Eliot himself considered the “durable satisfactions of life.”
This was a matter much on the mind of Charles W. Eliot. To it he devoted many of his writings and public addresses. His preoccupation with this problem furnishes a significant point of contrast with the devotion of men like John D. Rockefeller to money making.
Some idea of Eliot’s writings can be gleaned from the following list: The Happy Life (1896); Five American Contributions to Civilization, and other Essays and Addresses (1897); Educational Reform, Essays and Addresses 1869-1897 (1898); More Money for the Public Schools (1903); Four American Leaders—Franklin, Washington, Channing, and Emerson (1906); “University Administration” (1908); and with F. H. Storer, a Compendious Manual of Qualitative Chemical Analysis (Boston, 1869; many times reissued and revised).
Rockefeller’s writings were, with one exception, confined to business documents, of which the infamous “letter to Mrs. F. N. Backus,” a widow whose lubricating oil company valued at $200,000 he “took over” for $79,000, furnishes an interesting example, (November 13, 1878). Most of his writings consisted of contracts such as that dictated by him for freight rebates between The South Improvement Company, (a Rockefeller masquerade), and the Pennsylvania Railroad (January 18, 1872) ; and corporation charters such as the “Act of Incorporation of the Standard Oil Company” (January 10, 1870). The volume of Random Reminiscences (1909) was Rockefeller’s one contribution to literature. It does him no injustice to place a higher value on his other writings.
At twenty-four, an age when Rockefeller was already successfully launched in th produce business, Eliot was an assistant professor of chemistry at Harvard University, and at a miserable salary compared to the earnings of the quantity-minded monster with whom I am comparing him.
By the time he was thirty-five, Eliot had studied chemistry and foreign educational methods in Europe, served as professor of analytical chemistry in the newly established Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and been elected President of Harvard University. During the same period of his life, Rockefeller had laid the foundations for the first American trust. The methods of the feudal barons of old having been rendered obsolete by the changes which industrialism and democracy imposed upon quantity minded men, Rockefeller showed the captains of industry how to prey with even more efficiency upon an entire nation.
At thirty-five Eliot began that career of educational reform and university administration which so largely occupied the next forty years of his life. With Johns Hopkins, Harvard under Eliot led in the work of making graduate schools efficient educational instruments. The Harvard elective system was thoroughly established by him. The raising of entrance requirements, which led to a corresponding raising of the standards of the secondary schools, and the introduction of an element of choice in these requirements, which allowed a limited election of studies to secondary pupils, became national influences as a result of his advocacy of these measures. He urged the abandonment of brief disconnected “in formation” courses and the correlation of the subjects taught; the equal rank in college requirements of subjects in which equal time, consecutiveness and concentration were demanded, and a more thorough study of English composition. He worked to unify the entire educational system, minimize prescription, eliminate monotony, and introduce freedom and enthusiasm and to insure special training for special work. He was the first to suggest co-operation by colleges in holding common entrance examinations throughout the country, and it was largely through his efforts that standards for entrance were established which made this possible. He contended that secondary schools maintained by public funds should shape their courses for the benefit of students whose education goes no further than such high schools, and not be mere training schools for the universities—a contention which shows that he clearly recognized the different capacities for the acquisition of education in various types of human beings. His success as administrator and man of affairs and as educational reformer made him one of the great figures of his time. What he said on any topic was a subject of deep interest among thoughtful people throughout the country, while his annal reports as President of Harvard were accepted as contributions to the literature of education rather than routine reports to a Board of Trustees.
During the corresponding period of his life, Rockefeller made himself a billionaire. The Standard Oil Company was made to bestride American finance like a Colossus of Rhodes. Frenzied finance under his ægis produced a crop of millionaires, and an even larger crop of bankruptcies and suicides. He was indicted for conspiracy but not convicted. One of his companies was fined twenty-nine million dollars, which of course, the government never collected. The original oil trust he had formed was finally dissolved for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Law, but its parts were promptly re-organized by Rockefeller so that their activities made him even wealthier than he was before.
While Eliot was busy with his life work, he was public spirited enough to take an active interest in civil service reform and private spirited enough to be a successful husband and father and to produce a son who became one of the country’s ablest landscape architects.
Rockefeller’s public side-line was to debauch legislators, and his private contribution to posterity a son notable for the fact that he became the greatest Baptist layman of the world. Only after the years produced some realization in him that there were other things in the world besides money-making did he begin that series of contributions to philanthropy which in quantity outshone the philanthropies of all contemporaneous captains of industry, much as the robber barons of the Middle Ages felt that a worthy end to a lifetime of rapacity required a series of imposing contributions to the Church which should if possible outshine those of their hated rivals.
I have compared Charles W. Eliot to John D. Rockefeller in order to make plainer by contrast what I mean by the qualityminded man and what I mean by the quantity-minded man. It is not possible, however, to make a similar comparison between Eliot and John Doe—between the quality-minded man and the herdminded man—for John is unfortunately a mere effort to personalize an abstraction. But a memorable coincidence makes such a comparison quite superfluous.
Charles W. Eliot died on August 22, 1926.
On August 23, 1926, Rudolph Valentino, the movie actor, the great “lover” of the screen, the idol of the masses, died. The death of Valentino was a first page sensation in the daily newspapers. The death of Eliot won obscure paragraphs hidden in the body of the paper.
The reports about the illness of the movie actor were as full and complete as those of a President of the United States. They were telegraphed to every newspaper in the United States. The entire nation knew that Valentino was fatally ill. But few, except those personally interested, knew that Eliot was also ill. There was no “human interest” in the illness of this great educator; no appeal to the masses in the end of his career, and there was therefore no newspaper forewarning of his death.
While the crowds streamed in an endless hysterical procession past the hier of Valentino; while the mobs broke the decorum of the “funeral church” in which he lay in state by shattering the great plate glass windows, and policemen worked strenuously to maintain order; while special trains brought hysterical Hollywood actresses clear from the Pacific Coast to New York, and the newspapers published pages about their antics at the funeral, Eliot was buried without benefit of the masses and with practically no publicity from the newspapers upon which John Doe relies for so much of his intellectual fodder.
It is, in view of this, unnecessary to point out that the world in which John Doe and his herd-minded fellows exist is a totally different planet from that in which Charles W. Eliot and quality-minded men generally have their being.
Why does the quality-minded man feel that the life he would live constitutes the really superior life? There is no answer to be found to this question in the infinite variety of ways in which he earns his living. He may be a creative artist or writer; he may be a professional man; he may be a mechanic; he may be a farmer. It is not what he does so much as how and why he does it that makes it clear that his is the really superior life. He extracts beauty, truth, and goodness from the common stuff of life, no matter what his vocation, much as a miner extracts gold from crude ore, and thus he enables himself and those about him to understand more and to see more, to feel more, and know more than they would otherwise apprehend.
In biographical notes the achievements of the quality-minded man are usually summarized, if he is an author, by a list of his writings, with the years in which they appeared following each contribution in parenthesis, and similar lists of paintings, if an artist, buildings, if an architect, discoveries and researches, if a scientist. It is possible to summarize the life of the quantity-minded man in the same way. Such a summary of a Rockefeller might read: worth one hundred dollars (16); 12,000 dollars (21); 1 1/2 million dollars (23); 12 million dollars (31); 122 million dollars (44); over one billion dollars (57). Change dollars to countries, duchies, nations, and the summary would describe the life of a quantity-minded conqueror of the past, or to converts or churches or monasteries, and it would describe the life of any of the quantity-minded fathers of the church.
The quantity-minded man lives a life inferior to that of the quality-minded man—the life of a John D. Rockefeller is an inferior life to that of a Charles W. Eliot—because he values too much the mere possession of things that seem to him tangible: land, money, buildings, soldiers, policemen, laws, facts. These things because they seem so real, interest and fascinate men of ordinary minds. They are important to him, and their acquisition motivates his activities. Naturally he is objective, rather than subjective; to use William James’s expression, tough-minded rather than tender-minded, and in the language of the man on the street, “hard-boiled” and not “sissified.” The desire to win—to win more territory, more converts, more subjects, more money—dominates the thought of the quantity-minded man. This desire to win, this pre-occupation with the means of winning, precludes objective consideration of his own activities. It leaves him no time for the development of an intellectual attitude. Money is his final measure of his business achievement. Every moment of his time must be made to pay, and to produce a tangible return as promptly as possible. He has no time to waste upon investigation; upon weighing evidence; upon considered decisions, much less upon effort at understanding and creating superior values.
In their reaction to the things which this civilization produces; the things which are the object of its economic activities; the things which are made to be bought and sold, and the services which are rendered for money by one individual or group to other individuals or groups, is to be found a very significant difference between the quantity-minded and the quality-minded.
The quantity-minded react to how many; how large; how expensive.
The quality-minded react to how fine; how unique; how beautiful.
The one is interested in magnitudes; the other in forms.
The quantity-minded man likes to think, and endlessly proclaim, that he is a practical man. The quality-minded man is, as a matter of fact, generally an even greater respecter of facts than the so-called practical man. In many respects, what he calls the intellectual’s theoretical notions are actually much more practical, much better adapted to achieve the ends that the intellectual has in view than are the methods which seem so practical to him. The essential difference between the quality-minded man and the acquisitive, power-seeking man lies in the considered thought the intellectual puts into his activities, and the great value he attaches to ideas—ethical ideas, intellectual ideas, esthetic ideas. Tangible things acquire their value to him only as they promote in some way the ideas which interest him and which he values.
To illustrate. Consider the tubes of oil-paint which an artist uses in painting. To the artist, the tubes of paint have a value that is related to the purpose for which he uses them. If the tubes he has can be used in his painting, they are useful; if not, they are useless. To him the tubes of paints are mere vehicles for the expression of his ideas in color. They acquire value for him, at any given time, by virtue of their qualities as colors. Because it helps him to paint well, he probably knows something about the pigments, the oils, and the driers of which they are composed. From his standpoint all knowledge is practical in the extreme which may help him to express his ideas in his painting.
But to the quantity-minded business man, these tubes of paint are something altogether different. They are a measurable number of items of merchandise, having certain money values, and useful to the extent to which they enable him directly and indirectly to get what he wants out of life—usually money. To him the artist’s fascination in the work of using them to express his ideas seems a sort of mental aberration. He can to some extent make allowance for it, on the assumption that the artist is foolish enough to believe that he will be lucky enough to find some equally foolish buyer who will make him famous and pay him a lot of money for his pictures. But he cannot understand why it is that, while the artist is often interested in the fame and the money, he is often more interested in the idea he is trying to express that money and fame lose their savor for him if they are procured at the sacrifice of freedom to express himself. It is easy to understand why the business man more or less despises a man who devotes his time to the pursuit of apparently intangible values such as this instead of devoting himself to enriching himself from his activities, and why the quality-minded man is doubly despised when the business man succeeds in using for his own enrichment ideas of the artist’s which he happens to grasp and is able to exploit.
The great masses of average men and women, on the other hand, hate and despise the intellectual individual because they cannot understand the ideas in which he is interested; cannot grasp the abstractions which seem so important to him; doubt whether the values to which he devotes himself have any reality at all. Mr. Everett Dean Martin tells of an occasion when it was announced to a crowd in a New York theatre that only twelve men in the world could understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. The crowd hissed.
The masses are confirmed in this hatred of the sensitive and the learned man because the “practical” men who rule and lead them and who are intent upon accumulating things which they can see and feel and taste and which they too would like to possess, confirm them in their belief in the value of things as they are.
All leadership of the masses requires the practice of demagogy. The leaders of the masses tend to subscribe to cant and buncumbe in public, even when they are intelligent enough to scorn it in private. Even when they do not need to flatter the masses in this way in order to attain power or wealth—when they are born to these things and inherit them—they still employ it in order to retain the positions which they already have. The Tzar of Russia, born to autocratic power, was of necessity a demagogue; he had to placate the stupid muzhiks in his dominions with the pomp and piety of Orthodox Greek Catholicism. A fortuitous concordance of accidents—the ambitions of Stephen Douglas, the fears of the Southern Democrats, the split in the Democratic party, the impotence of the Whigs—made possible the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. But he had to turn demagogue in order to keep the tired populace fighting for an idea—for an abstraction—the preservation of the Union.
Is it any wonder that the masses fear the intellectual? Even if they could be made to grasp the ideas in which the intellectual is interested, they cannot become interested in them, because their leaders, whether a Tzar or a Lincoln, insulate them against novel ideas.
But this process of insulating the masses against exceptional men is true not only of their political leaders—it is true of their leaders in the pulpit and in the press. Let me quote from a very popular writer for the masses, Albert Payson Terhune. In an article which was entitled, “A Roughneck’s Religion,” published in a magazine which has a circulation of 2,200,000, he said:
Not from the Roughneck has come the horde of sneers at religion, either now or in the past. The Roughneck has ever been sound, to the core. He has left doubts and atheism and higher criticism and the like to the Intelligentsia (“the Highbrow Bunch,” as he would call them); and to the Parlor Intellectuals who go smugly on, thinking 44-caliber thoughts with 22-caliber brains, and seeking to lead the Roughneck unleadables.
I like the Roughneck. Perhaps I like and understand him because I am one of him; and because, off and on, for a half-century, I have associated much with him. It is he who is the backbone of religion—not of dogma nor of quibble, but of the terribly simple and irresistible religion which made him stand in silent prayer at a prize fight.
So it was, nearly two thousand years ago, when Christ walked the earth. The Bible tells us: THE COMMON PEOPLE HEARD HIM, GLADLY, and that the Scribes and Pharisees did not. Even in that day, you see, the Roughneck and the Intelligentsia were arrayed in opposite religions camps.40
“There is no expedient,” says Sir Joshua Reynolds, “to which men will not resort to avoid the necessity of thinking.” Relatively few men enjoy thinking. This is the quality-minded man’s greatest departure from the mass. He is “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” He is never satisfied with things as they are, but constantly striving to live life as he thinks it should be lived; to devote his time to occupations to which it is worthwhile devoting life; to produce during it the things that will really increase the sum total of beauty and understanding. Is it any wonder that the masses ridicule him; sometimes persecute him, and when incited to it by their leaders, actually crucify the man who really under takes to make them think?
Henry Adams said about some of the ideas of the scientists of the nineties that they “were occult, supersensual, irrational; they were a revelation of mysterious energy like that of the Cross; they were what, in terms of mediæval science, were called immediate modes of the divine substance.” This can be said equally truly of all ideas, the understanding and creation of which the quality minded man imposes upon himself and for which he is so often penalized under the present state of affairs.
It is simply impossible to measure the power of ideas. By comparison with them, all the other powers with which man plays are infantile. Ideas make economic power seem insubstantial. Political power seems even less substantial than economic. Physical power, whether mechanical as in a dynamo or animal as in an athlete, seems the least substantial of all. All these forms of power last hardly a few generations. But ideas have endured, some of them, throughout the centuries of recorded history. Some which go back to prehistoric periods are still with us, sometimes in their original form, and sometimes in reincarnations. There are such hardy and enduring ideas as those of personal immortality, and of the existence of a god. Though false as the devil (who symbolizes another enduring idea) they will probably in one form or another endure forever. There are such ideas as those of the Buddha—the idea of Nirvana; there is the Christian idea of the vicarious atonement; and there are the ideas of Confucius about the supreme value of wisdom. These ideas have not only the power to endure, but the power to spread from person to person, nation to nation, continent to continent by channels as mysterious, when viewed from a distant perspective, as that in which electricity and magnetism travel. So it is with ideas which are embodied in philosophy, in art, in music, in science; in comparison the powers which the quantity-minded man is able to seize and for which the average man hopes, are mère ephemeral toys.
The child thinks that the toys for which it longs and which it manages to acquire are far more desirable than the strange, and to it incomprehensible things, which adults prize.
Knowing the superiority of ideas—their greater “dynamic” and “kinetic” power, and the superiority both as occupation and entertainment of the understanding and creation of ideas—the quality-minded man can look, if he is free, at the activities of the rest of mankind, its preoccupation with money, political office, with automobiles, and similarly apparently substantial things, much as an adult looks at a child’s preoccupation with its toys.
We come now to the question of the effect upon the quality-minded type of man of the domination of human activities by the factory and by the needs of a factory civilization.
The factory has changed but little the fundamental relationship of the quality-minded man, the quantity-minded man, and the average man to one another. With one hand it has increased the opportunities of the three types of individuals into which we have resolved mankind to make life itself more dignified and the individual life richer and more comfortable, and with the other it has decreased them. In our industrial democracies the intellectual is generally politically and economically freer than he was under the agricultural feudalism which preceded it.
The intellectual of the aristocratic class, it is true, enjoyed a considerable degree of freedom, suffering only the handicaps which his kings and his priests imposed upon him. The intellectual of non-aristocratic lineage, however, was dependent for the opportunity to live an expressive life upon the patronage of nobles and churchmen. Industrial society such as we now know has replaced the former variety of dispensers of patronage with a new variety. There has been an exchange of patronage by aristocrats to patronage by capitalists and politicians. If the exchange has made it possible for quality-minded men to enjoy a greater measure of personal freedom, it has been secured by the sacrifice of the patronage of the much more discriminating aristocratic class.
Unfortunately, the factory tends to an increasing extent to destroy the value of this greater freedom by forcing the modern intellectual to engage in the production of trivia. In this way it is actually hindering the quality-minded man from occupying himself with the work of contributing to the beauty of civilization and to the understanding of life.
Our factory economy restricts the freedom of the quality-minded man by forcing him to devote himself to the satisfaction of the tangible desires of the masses. It exerts a pressure upon him through his economic needs; he finds that he must serve the factory directly, or compromise on some sort of service for it, in order to live.
The service is sometimes direct and sometimes indirect. If he engages in some sort of work for a factory, then of course he is yielding to this pressure by serving it directly. If he tries to devote himself to work which apparently has no relationship to the factory—as for instance, to teaching—he finds that the whole institution of education is oriented toward the needs of the factory. He finds that he is yielding to the same pressure and serving the factory indirectly. The business men who form the boards of trustees of modern schools and colleges are as effective curbs upon the teachers of today, as the aristocrats and the churchmen were in the period before the Darwinian era.
The factory concerns itself with multiplying our tangible wants and these are made so engrossing that no one is given time, even if he has the inclination, to supply the world with desirable ideas. Ideas must still be smuggled into the world precisely as they had to be smuggled in during the past. Until the man who is interested in ideas and who produces new ideas is really free to do so—free economically, socially, and politically—neither he himself, nor the world at large will really be able to live in mental and physical comfort.
It is true that what the really superior man produces; what he extracts out of his life, however circumscribed; what he expresses in his work and in his moral, political, economic and social philosophy, is ultimately accepted by mankind. But ultimately is generally a very long time. The bones of the pioneers are often bleached very white before their ideas are generally understood and before they are accepted by mankind as a whole. There is a lag—a tragic lag both for the quality-minded man and for mankind as a whole—between the time of the conception of new ideas and the time of their acceptance.
The lag between the time when the earth was first conceived as a globe by the Pythagorean philosophers and the time when the fact was accepted by Ferdinand and Isabella was a period of hundreds of years. The idea that the globe is round has not yet been accepted by the entire unthinking masses of Christendom, while the numbers in Africa and Asia who have not heard of it is staggering.
The quality-minded man sometimes consoles himself with the thought that the ideas which his contemporaries reject will be gratefully accepted by a distant posterity. But the consolation is hardly very great. He turns to this consolation not because he is indifferent to recognition of his work by his contemporaries, but because that is about all that he can find in order to justify his working at all.
What is very badly needed is to shorten the lag between the conception of new ideas and their acceptance by mankind. Today it is the needs of the factory that prevent further shortening of this lag, just as the church prevented any shortening of it in the immediate past. It may be impossible to eliminate the lag entirely. But even in our time it could be shortened if quality-minded men in considerable numbers were to make themselves independent of the factory. The factory’s demands upon them mean either an abandonment of intellectual life or an interference with the spread of the ideas which come out of such a life. They must free themselves from the factory and the businessman, partly for mankind’s sake and partly for their own.
Only by freeing themselves can they dictate to the quantity minded masters of the masses the terms upon which they will furnish the intellectual and artistic effort the world must have if society is to function well.
Only by freeing themselves can they insist that their ideas, and not the dead and decaying flotsam and jetsam of old ideas, of superstitions, of outworn values, of trivia of small minds—shall rule mankind.
Only by freeing themselves can they attain a position in which they can shorten the lag between the time that new ideas are produced by them and the time the new ideas are accepted by the world.
Factories operate profitably only when directed by men who are content to devote themselves to substantially the same task year after year; when directed by men who can for a whole lifetime devote themselves to the problem of making the same product, of hiring and firing those whom they employ to make and sell it, and of financing and earning profits from the marketing of one product. The men who are willing to devote their lives to this sort of work, to administering the factories, to creating markets for their products and to training in school and college those who can administer, and sell and advertise, are robots—sublimated robots it is true, but just as truly robots as the laborers who tend and feed the machines in their factories. Quality-minded men simply cannot do that sort of work. They are neither tough enough to stand the strain of the administrative and executive work in factories, nor thoughtless enough to be unconscious of the boredom of spending their lives at work of that sort.
Quality-minded men have something to say, something to express, something to contribute upon other aspects of life than that of production and distribution. But it is impossible for them to say it, even though it means life more abundantly for all, if they are harnessed in a treadmill in which production and distribution absorb the best that is in them.
In ages when quality-minded men are largely free to express themselves, the world enjoys a period of high civilization. In ages when they are prevented from doing so, we have a period of darkness.
A dark age is merely one in which the educational influence of intelligent men has in some manner been destroyed. It is the educational influence of the intellectual minority of quality minded men that makes for light. A dark age is one in which the normal functioning of this minority has in some manner been prevented.
The educational influence of quality-minded men is great when they are free to say what they think, and almost nil when they are constrained by church, government, or business to say what they do not really believe.
Quality-minded men are a sort of leavening in the lump of mankind. They produce ideas, create beauty, promote understanding. Willy nilly, mankind ultimately accepts what they prescribe. It accepts their ideas slowly, reluctantly, inappreciatively. There are long periods of time when mankind because of an obsession with such a thing as religion, or such a thing as feudalism, or such a thing as industrialism, abandons the whole cargo of things truly civilized; when it sinks into a dark age because it has forced its intellectuals into the cloisters, into the armies, or into the factories.
Between the Spartans and the Macedonians, the civilization created by the Greek intellectuals was destroyed.
Between the Goths and the Christians, the civilization which the intellectuals built in Rome was destroyed. Solon and Alexander, Alaric and Constantine were practical men. They knew what they wanted and proceeded to get it even though that involved driving the intellectuals into slavery, into war, or into the church.
The Renaissance was merely a re-emergence of the intellectuals —a period when the Catholic Church was forced by the humanists to permit them to function. Just as the age of science was merely a period which began when the Darwins, Huxleys, Tyndalls and Haeckels were able to force the entire Christian world once again to permit the intellectuals to function.
There is little, if any, spontaneous progress in the ideas, the work, the life of the masses of average men. They are clay shaped from age to age by very small minorities of men.
And nothing much from within themselves makes for progress and culture in acquisitive, power seeking, quantity-minded individuals. Their very toughness enables them to maintain their leadership whether society be savage, barbarian, or civilized. And their preoccupation with accumulation prevents them from devoting time to the objective thinking which produces spontaneous changes and improvements.
Both the quantity-minded leaders and the herd-minded masses of average men suffer from inertia; sometimes the inertia of mass, and sometimes that of motion. In the Middle Ages it was a static inertia—today it is a dynamic inertia.
But quality-minded men are forever spontaneously progress ing: that is the thing that makes them different from their fellows.
Let anything happen which prevents them from functioning; let them cease to put forth ideas, and society ossifies at first and then collapses into darkness. The body lives on but its brain ceases to function. Darkness comes on for all; for the quality-minded, for the quantity-minded, and for the herd-minded masses.
I believe that the factory menaces the very existence of this leaven in the lump of mankind.
The factory, as it spreads, leaves quality-minded men no escape from the horror of doing one thing over and over again in exactly the same way once they have been forced to turn to it for a livelihood. The business men who operate factories do not have to escape from it because they are insensitive to its horrors. Henry Ford says:
When you come right down to it most jobs are repetitive. A businessman has a routine that he follows with great exactness; the work of a bank president is nearly all routine; the work of under officers and clerks in a bank is purely routine. Indeed, for most purposes and most people, it is necessary to establish something in the way of a routine and to make motions purely repetitive—otherwise the individual will not get enough done to be able to live off his own exertions.41
It is only for repetitive workers—for the semi-skilled laborer, the “productive” salesman and the efficient business executive that there is real demand and real opportunity in our factory dominated civilization.
If the factory is permitted to continue forcing quality-minded individuals into its repetitive regime; if it continues to deprive them of the opportunity to earn their living in ways which enable them to express the best that is within them; if it ever succeeds in destroying completely their life as intellectuals—a task to which schools, colleges, and universities are to an increasing extent devoting themselves: making potential quality-minded men into quantity-minded salesmen, short story writers, advertising men, commercial artists—then we shall have a new dark age. We shall suffer a repetition of the disaster which the Catholic Church inflicted upon mankind when it forced every intelligent person into the cloisters by offering him the alternative of conformity or of excommunication and extinction.
There is no doubt that mankind has already made its choice. We are not at a cross-road. We are not confronted by two roads, one leading to a factory-dominated world and a socialistic civilization, and the other to an art-dominated world and an individualistic civilization. We have long since passed the cross-road. We are far along the road that leads to the goal of perfect industrialization.
It may be true, as Glenn Frank says, that it is too late to retrace our steps—that the real task before us is to adapt ourselves to what lies before us—to find silver linings in the clouds of encircling darkness. If it is too late for mankind to avoid what seems to me the abyss, then let those who prefer to drift with the tide no longer deceive themselves about what the present civilization in its ultimate perfection will become. Imaginative individuals are already describing it. The robots in R.U.R. are allegorical figures, it is true, but they are prophetic too.
Those who do not care to drift with that repetitive tide must free themselves from those who not only are willing to drift with it but insist that all shall do so. It may be too late to check the descent of mankind to the Avernus. But it is not too late for intellectuals to prevent their own plunge individually into it.
“Men of superior minds,” says Confucius, “busy themselves first in getting at the root of things, and when they have succeeded in this, the right course is open to them.” 42
This is good gospel for quality-minded men. Let them place the problem of charting a right course for society in a secondary position, since society is doomed to go where the factory will lead it. Let them think first of the problem of how they should live their own lives.
The individual quality-minded man may not be able to prevent society from plunging into the indignity of a mechanized dark age.
But he may be able to save himself.
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