Story type: Essay
The philosophers, political economists, lawmakers, editors, sociologists, and all the other would-be deep thinkers of this earth, are really engaged in a pretty small business.
We are like a swarm of human beings cast away on some desert island. This earth is our island, a little island in space, and it is a desert island and a badly arranged island in more ways than one. Many of us lack good dwellings, some of us lack food, all of us are worried about the future. The island is infested with mosquitoes and with diseases that we have not learned to conquer. There are many criminals on it that prey upon the honest people–criminals at the top and criminals at the bottom of society.
And all of those who think and sympathize with their fellow creatures are busy with the problem of putting things right on this little desert island that carries us along in the wake of the sun.
Most of us imagine that the most important work for men is the organization of life on this little planet. That is a very small and mean idea of man’s real destiny.
When a man builds a house, the planning of sanitary arrangements must first be attended to. After that begin the real life and the real interests. That real life and those real interests are not confined to the front yard or the back yard of the man that owns the house. —-
So it will be some day with us who are now engaged in the detailed organization of the little home which we call the earth.
We are fixing up our moral plumbing–fighting poverty, injustice, and, above all, ignorance. We are fighting the meanness that comes of competition and the greater meanness that is based upon the dread of poverty in the future. Some of us are piling up millions that we can never use, while others suffer for lack of that which could be abundantly supplied.
All these little earthly questions that seem so big will be settled in time.
But a few years in the sight of Time–a few hundred centuries, perhaps, as we count them–and our earthly habitation will have been made fit to live in. We shall have eliminated the unfit–not by killing them off, but by educating them. We shall have solved the question of poverty by solving the question of production, and especially of distribution. We shall have developed a citizenship capable of earnest work, of sobriety and of moral decency, without the spur of want, imprisonment or the scaffold as necessary adjuncts.
In time the human race will have solved its little problems here–the problems that seem so vast to-day.
When that time comes we shall be like the man who has put his house in order, and our thoughts will not be confined to this little piece of ground. Then we shall appreciate the cosmic wisdom which has divided our day into darkness and light–the light for the enjoyment of the material beauties of our earthly home; THE NIGHT FOR THE STUDY AND ENJOYMENT OF THE VAST, MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE SPREAD OUT AROUND US.
Everybody knows that the aged require less sleep than the young. In the future, this will make old age what it ought to be, a blessing, because it will give to the old more hours of the night for contemplation of the Infinite and all its wonders.
Those of us who now think themselves very abstract when they speculate on the North Pole, or when they discuss the possibility of reclaiming the Desert of Sahara, will have their minds many millions of miles away from this earth a great deal of the time.
We shall communicate, perhaps, with our sister-planet, Venus–the planet most like ours in physical arrangement. We shall be intensely interested in that world, where it is always night on one side of the planet, and always day on the other.
We shall realize with deepest envy the fact that the constant, terrific currents of air whirling around Venus, in consequence of the extreme heat and the extreme cold on opposite sides of the planet, have developed a race as far superior to us as the trout in the swift-flowing brook is superior to the heavy-eyed catfish in the bottom of the pond. —-
We shall humbly beg for information from the superior inhabitants of other worlds, and perhaps wait with impatience for release from duty here which shall take us to a higher planetary existence. If we look backward at all, we shall consider our present selves simply as refined cannibals, who lived upon the labor and the suffering of our fellows instead of feeding upon their bodies. —-
It may seem ridiculous to predict that the time will come when the intelligent man’s interests will be nearly all outside of the earth on which he lives.
But to the savage of the Congo, squatted beside a decaying hippopotamus, gorging himself with the meat, with not a thought beyond that carcass or beyond the edge of the river, it would seem preposterous to speak of men whose interests range out over the entire world.
We look upon a man as very small to-day unless all knowledge interests him, unless his mind roams daily all over the civilized globe, sharing in the interests of all nations, in the literature, the discoveries and the activities of all nations.
To-day we, with our minds on little, material problems, our thoughts centred on this one little planet, as we lead our selfish lives, are like that Congo savage hacking away at the dead hippopotamus.
When night comes, we shut our eyes like the chickens, waiting for the light that means money-making or pleasure of the senses; or we go to theatres or to balls, or elsewhere, to shut out as far as possible all knowledge of that marvellous, unlimited creation to which we belong, and which it is our greatest privilege feebly to study. —-
The geography class of the future will be a class in astronomy. The real problems of the future will be the problems outside of this earth, and the real interests of the future will be interests connected with the universe at large.
We shall make of this earth a beautiful garden, inhabited by safe, happy human beings. We shall take pride in it, and enjoy it by day. Our intellectual lives will begin with the going down of the sun and the gradual appearance of those mighty neighbors in space that alone will interest the thinking man of future days.
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