Knowledge Is Growth by Arthur Brisbane

Story type: Essay

Consider to-day the CHEERFUL side of conditions on earth.

Every human being has his troubles and worries. The luckiest of us all yearns for what cannot be had, and sees much to regret.


The progress of humanity has been like that of an individual climbing the paths of a steep mountain. At every turn there are fresh dangers and difficulties to be overcome, fresh complications for which the traveler is prepared only by his courage and determination.

But every step takes the traveler higher up, out of the dark valley, toward the light at the top, and every danger overcome makes it easier to deal with the dangers to follow.

In its long fight the human race has encountered many enemies.

At one time in Europe one single epidemic destroyed half of all the population. But we have struggled on; through science we have almost conquered disease, and the plagues of the past are unknown among us.

In olden times brutal superstition, disguised as religion, dwarfed men’s minds, punishing, with atrocious cruelty, the crime of independent thought and apparently making impossible any mental growth in the face of bigotry and monstrous persecutions.

But to-day bigotry begins to give place to true religion; the burning alive and protracted torture which disgraced all the religions of Europe until recently have ceased, probably forever.

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Mankind in its travels has progressed as far as the stage of independent thought. If a creature still lives that would take the life of another because that other thinks differently from himself he dares not confess his criminal thought.

A few centuries ago the great majority of all human beings were slaves or serfs. The noblest of human brains, those of the Greek philosophers, wrote and lived in the midst of slavery. Even as great a man as Aristotle could not conceive a society based on a non-slave-holding system.

But except in some African jungle, here and there among savage and semi-savage races, no man is a slave now. And where slavery does exist it exists in stagnant pools of humanity, and it exists side by side with the other monsters, cruel superstition and widespread disease, that progressive humanity has left behind. —-

Every century of which the history has been preserved shows us its horrid side of life, its cruelties, its sufferings without number. But each succeeding century shows also some one point gained, some one hideous feature of life eliminated.

The enemy of the world to-day, the monster in the path of progress, is organized greed, the insane desire of a few men to take from others, and for themselves, what they do not need.

The trust, seeking through capital to reintroduce slavery under another form, and to establish the tyranny of money in place of the tyranny of swords and bullets, represents the present problem.

This problem, like all the others, will be solved in its turn. It will be found that the great danger did good as well as harm, and that, on its overthrow, only good was left behind it.

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The diseases that once destroyed men forced them to live a decent life of cleanliness. Those diseases frightened human beings out of filth into respect for themselves as the rulers of the world.

We owe the cleanness and decent temperate living of to-day, as well as our knowledge of medical science, to the diseases that formerly destroyed the people.

The hideous travesties called religion which relied for their power on superstition, fire and sword appeared to block all spiritual development among men. These religions have passed away; only the vital, true religious principle is left–the command laid upon men to feel toward each other as brothers, to worship the ONE and benevolent power that rules the world.

A few years or centuries from now the trust problem will be solved, and that particular monster will lie dead on its ledge of rock back in the pages of history. And men will know that to the great danger and brutality of to-day they owe much of their progress and happiness.

When the trust goes commercial greed will go with it. It will have killed the hideous theory of competition, with its swindling of the public, its cutting of wages, its general mean, petty, treacherous tradesmen’s warfare. —-

Every human being should read history intelligently, if only for the encouraging effect on the mind.

In every direction, and in spite of foolish croakers, the human race has improved.

Good men and women deplore the drunkenness of to-day, and they do right. But for their own satisfaction and encouragement they should know that in comparison with former times the drunkenness of to-day amounts to nothing.

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Where one man drinks too much in these days, a thousand men and a thousand women were frightfully drunk a few years ago.

Drunkenness, which formerly attacked the most useful of human beings–doctors, statesmen, poets, the best mechanics–is confined now to a feeble fragment of humanity made weak by disease, hereditary influence, discouragement or imperfect organization.

More important than this encouraging development is the changed attitude of the public mind toward the drinking habit. Twenty-five centuries ago a Greek philosopher, to make heaven attractive, described the table at which heroes sat in a never-ending, blissful state of drunkenness.

To-day even the meanest man is ashamed to have it known that he is drunk, and the most hopeless drunkard would ask no greater favor than that some one should make it impossible for him ever to drink again.

There is a criminal conspiracy, called the Beef Trust, which thrives on the needs and privations of the whole people. It is a blot on humanity. Do what you can to destroy this evil. But do not be made bitter by it. Your age is a happier one than others.

In France, not so long ago, human beings were punished for eating the bodies of men that had died of the plague, and strict laws were issued to stop that kind of cannibalism. The Beef Trust age is an improvement on that age, is it not? High prices are bad, but not as bad as hideous, widespread starvation. —-

Human selfishness and heartlessness are criticised to-day, and the criticism is just. Yet, MORALLY, the human race has improved more than in any other way.

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We see to-day callous, heartless men spending millions upon their personal pleasures, paving insufficiently the laborers whose work enriches them, and robbing the public whose patience makes the great fortunes possible.

But the worst plutocrat of to-day is an angel compared with the mildly vicious men of olden times.

Your selfish man to-day only asks for a yacht and some race horses, mild forms of dissipation. A thousand years ago the vicious man demanded and exercised the power of life and death over those who surrounded him, and his mildest fit of irritation cost the life of some helpless human being.

Men are ill-paid to-day, but their condition is Paradise compared to the slavery of their predecessors. —-

You should daily criticise yourself and others, and do what you can in your little sphere as preacher, politician, editor or private individual to help along humanity’s progress.

But remember always for your encouragement that the world is improving steadily. It never stands still; it never goes backward. And there are no limits to our future improvement, thanks to our inborn love of what is right and to the steady influence of EDUCATION.

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