Immagini della pagina

It helps and improves the body by giving him a better and more constant supply of more suitable food, and better protection from inclemency of the weather, and in many other ways. Baths and gymnasia are built, and medical science prolongs life. Yet make the items as many as you can, and what a long list of disadvantages to man physically you must set over against these. Many of these evils will doubtless disappear as society becomes better organized, but some will always remain to plague us. We pamper or abuse our stomachs, and dyspepsia results. We live in hot-houses, and a host of diseases are fostered by them. Indeed it would be hard to count up the diseases for which social life is directly or indirectly responsible. Social life becomes more and more complicated, and our nervous systems cannot bear the strain. Medical science saves alive thousands who would otherwise die, and these grow up to bear children as weak as themselves. We are looking now at the physical side alone; and from this standpoint the survival of the invalid is a sore evil. Now society will and must become healthier; we shall not always abuse our bodies as sinfully as we now do. Still, viewed from the standpoint of the body alone, the best, as it seems to me, which we can claim, is that social life does no more harm than good.

What has social life done for man intellectually? Much. It gives him schools and colleges. But are our systems of education an unmixed good? How many of our schools and colleges are places where men are stuffed with facts until they have no time nor inclination to think? They may turn out learned men ; do they produce thinkers? And how about the spread of knowledge? Is it not a spread of informa

tion? And most of what goes forth from the press is not worthy of even that name, or is information which a man had better be without. We are proud of being a nation of readers. And reading is good, if a man thinks about what he reads; otherwise it is like undigested food in the stomach, an injury and a curse. A dyspeptic gourmand is helped by "cutting down his rations." In our mental disease we need the same course of treatment. Let us read fewer books and papers and think more about what we do read.

Society may foster original thinking; it is none the less opposed to it.

"Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

This is the motto of all great parties in Church and State. Still social life has undoubtedly fostered thought. We think vastly more and better than primitive man; still we have much to learn. Society puts the experience of centuries at the service of every individual. Poor and unsatisfactory as are our modes of education, they are a great blessing intellectually and will become more helpful. And, after all, the friction of mind against mind in social life-provided social intercourse is this, and not the commingling of two vacua-is a continual education of inestimable advantage. And all these advantages would without language have been absolutely impossible. Intellectually our debt to society is inestimable.

And how does social life aid man morally? I cannot help believing that primitive society was the first school of the human conscience. It was a rude school, but it taught man some grand lessons.

The primitive clan would seem to have existed as a rude army for the defence of its members and for offensive operations against enemies. Individual responsibility on the part of its members was slight for offences against individuals of other clans, or against the gods. For any such offence of one of its members the whole clan was held, or held itself, largely responsible. If one man sinned, the clan suffered. It could not therefore afford to pardon wilful disobedience to regulations made by it or its leaders. Its very existence depended on this strict discipline. And much the same stern discipline has to be maintained in our modern armies or they become utterly worthless.


Furthermore, man, as a social being, is very ready to accept the estimate of his actions placed upon them by his fellows. It is not easy to resist public opinion The tie of class or professional feeling is a tremendous power for good and evil. It must have been almost irresistible in that primitive army, which summarily outlawed or killed the obstinately disobedient. But all obedience was lauded and rewarded. It had to be so. And if the tribe was worthy to survive, because its regulations were better than those of its rivals, or perhaps as nearly just and right as were well possible, it was altogether best and right it should be The voice of the people was, in a very rude, stammering way, the voice of God. And those who survived became more and more obedient, and found themselves, when disobedient, feeling debased, and mean, and unworthy, as their fellows considered them. And all this feeling tended to develop a conscience in the individual answering to the estimates and regulations of the community.


And remember that the primitive religion is a tribal religion. The gods felt toward a man just as his neighbors did. A public opinion of this sort is irresistible, and a man's conscience and estimate of himself and his actions must confrom to it. But you may say a man may grant that this opinion is in a sense irresistible, and find himself very miserable and unhappy under its condemnation. But he would not feel remorse; this is a very different feeling. Possibly it may be. I am not so sure. But what I am interested in maintaining is that the condemnation of one's fellowmen puts more vividly before one's eyes, and emphasizes, the condemnation of one's own self. It may often be a necessary step in self-conviction. And what is most important, even in our own case, the condemnation of our fellows often brings with it selfcondemnation.

Try the experiment, as you will some day, of following a course of action which you feel fairly confident is right, but which all your neighbors think is foolish and wrong. See if you do not feel twinges within you which you must examine very closely to distinguish from twinges of conscience. If you do not, I see but one explanation-you are conscious that God is with you, and content with this majority. But in the case of primitive man God was always on the side of one's tribe.

Now this does not explain the origin of man's conception of right; it presupposes such a conception in some dim form. I do not now know why right is right or beauty beautiful. I only know they are so. Where or when either of these perceptions dawned I do not know. But, given some such dim perception, I be

lieve that primitive human society gave it its iron grip on every fibre of man's nature.

Before the animal could safely be allowed to govern itself intelligently it had to serve a long apprenticeship to reflex action and instinct. And man's moral nature had to undergo a similar apprenticeship to tribal regulation and tribal conscience. Only slowly was instinct modified and replaced by intelligent action. And how this old tribal conscience persists. Often for good, although there it were better replaced by an individual conscience working for right. But how slowly you and I learn that there is a higher responsibility than to party or class. How often my vote and action are controlled, not by my own conscience, but by the opinion of my fellows, or the feeling that, if my party suffers defeat, God's work will suffer at the hands of my opponents. And what is all this but the survival in a very degenerate form of the old tribal conscience of primitive man? And he knew, and could know, nothing better: I can and do.

But society slowly works for unselfishness. The love learned in the family manifests itself in ever-widening circles; it must do so if it is the genuine article. It works for neighbors and friends, then for the poor and helpless of the community. Then it spreads to other communities and nations. For genuine love recognizes no bounds of time or place. Slowly we learn that we are our brother's keepers, and that the brotherhood cannot stop short of the human race. Goodness and kindness radiate from one, perhaps un known, member of the community to his fellows, and thence all over the world. And the world is the better for his one action.

« IndietroContinua »