Story type: Essay
Nothing is more common than to hear men–especially great and moral men–deplore the results of civilization, of mechanical, industrial and scientific progress. We quote a typical lament by a noble and sincere man, the Reverend Charles Wagner, author of an admirable book called “The Simple Life.” The author says:
“If it had been prophesied to the ancients that one day humanity would have all of the machinery now in use to sustain and protect natural existence, they would have concluded therefrom, first, an increase of independence, and in the second place, a great decrease in the competition for worldly possessions, They would have thought that the simplification of life would have been the result of such perfected means of action, that there would follow the realization of a higher standard of morality. Nothing of this sort has come to pass–not happiness, nor social peace, nor energy for good has increased.”
Naturally, from a superficial point of view, it is discouraging to see poverty, ostentation of wealth, injustice and the love of money increasing, instead of declining, with the great developments in human power.
Suppose it had been said two hundred years ago that some day one single man, with a loom, would be able to make cloth enough to clothe scores in one day; that a few children working in a stocking factory would be able to produce more stockings than a million women could knit.
It would, of course, have been prophesied that when these great inventions came everybody would be well clothed, every woman and child would have warm stockings–and so on.
But we find, as society’s powers increase, as machinery improves, and the means of producing and distributing wealth develop, that the struggle for existence and the display of avarice are accentuated.
The pessimistic man, observing these conditions, is filled with despair for the future of humanity. He predicts worse and worse times ahead, while he longs for the peaceable old days before the steam engine had appeared among us. —-
Now, in order to map out a parable, we must ask you to do a good deal of supposing.
Suppose, in place of the human race, one single human baby. Suppose that its mother had never seen another baby, and had no idea of the laws governing a baby’s development.
And suppose, as the helpless baby lay on its back in the cradle, waving its arms, kicking its legs, gasping and blinking, that the following prophecy had been made to the mother:
“Some day that baby of yours will be five feet high. Some day it will be able to walk and run, and throw stones, and carry weights, and fight, and do all kinds of things.”
Of course, the mother, hearing this, would have been very much rejoiced, saying to herself:
“My baby now is feeble and helpless, and I must watch it all the time to see that it does not roll out of the cradle, or that the cat does not bite it. When my baby gets to be five feet high and able to fight and run and jump, of course it will be free from danger, it will live happily, and I shall be free from anxiety.”
Now, suppose that fourteen years have passed. The mother has seen the baby grow to be five feet high and fourteen years old, and the prophecy is fulfilled.
Is the mother happy? She is weeping bitterly. The baby has certainly improved in its powers most wonderfully. It can run and jump and fight. As a result of its abilities, it comes back one day with a black eye, the next day with a broken nose, the next day with a sore toe. It is always in trouble. It has even developed vicious traits of its own. It tells lies, it steals, it is even disrespectful to its mother.
You supposed, don’t forget, that this mother never saw another baby, and knew nothing about the development of human beings along certain lines. Would she not be horrified at her child’s condition? Would she not think it getting worse and worse, and that it must end horribly and tragically? Would she not sigh for the old days of the cradle, and wish that her baby might go back to its babyhood and live comfortably once more, on its back, with its hands and feet in the air and a vacant look in its eyes?
The human race has gone ahead, as that supposititious baby goes ahead in fourteen years. We have obtained many new forces, many new accomplishments. We have learned to use steam and electricity, as the child learns to use its legs and its hands. But, like the child of fourteen, we have not developed morally or mentally in proportion to our physical development.
But just as surely as the child passes on from childhood, with its follies, its quarrels, and its accidents, to mature, self-respecting manhood, just so surely will the human race go through its babyhood, through its boyhood, and on into years of wisdom, justice, self-control and real accomplishment. —-
At present we are in a childish condition as a race, just about able to walk and run around a little. We do not see our future clearly, and many of us look back regretfully to the simple days of industrial babyhood.
But those days can never be brought back, even if we wanted to bring them back. The thing for us to do is to remember that great progress and a great future are ahead of us, and do all we can to prepare for the future and hurry it along. We should refrain especially from feelings of pessimism. We should study and work to control ourselves as well as we can, and look ahead into the future.
Remember this very true saying and apply it in your attitude toward the world:
“It is not enough to believe in God; one must believe in man, in humanity and its future.”
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