Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/June 1886/Editor's Table
WHATEVER we may fail to see nowadays when we take up a newspaper, there is one thing certain to meet our eyes on the first page, with a continuation probably on other pages. We refer, of course, to the perpetually recurring accounts of strikes and other labor troubles. If we do not see our way out of these difficulties, it is not for want of having our attention repeatedly and powerfully directed to them; nor is it because our interests are not seriously concerned in the matter. Yet we are not aware that recent discussion has thrown any important light either upon the cause of the troubles or upon the method of their cure. In this there is room for the application of scientific principles. All the facts that have any bearing on the case require to be carefully gathered. We should ask not only what are the open pretensions of the parties to the struggle, but what are their secret thoughts and purposes. We fear that there is a great deal of working in the dark, simply from lack of information as to "bottom facts." Platforms and manifestoes never tell the whole truth. They may formulate a temporary modus vivendi; but they never state ultimate intentions. Consequently, as long as we confine our attention to these, we are liable to continual misunderstandings. For example, some are disposed to think that the legal establishment of boards of arbitration would meet the present difficulties. The idea appears to us, on the other hand, absurd. Those who adopt it do so, no doubt, on the strength of the declarations made on either side of a desire for a reasonable settlement of disputes. We reject the idea, because we suspect that no definite sense can be attached to the word "reasonable" or the word "equitable," as used in the public statements either of labor unions or of the great employers of labor. Each side has its own secret tendency, and until we get at that we are all in the dark. Meanwhile it seems certain that neither capitalist nor workman would consent to have a course dictated to him by any form of official authority. There is no getting over the homely maxim that everybody knows his own business best; and we can hardly understand how any rational man can bring himself to believe that any large business could be run, against the judgment of its head, upon lines laid down by outsiders. Still more difficult is it to understand how, if the workmen were dissatisfied with the decision of an official board, they could be forced to respect that decision.
The proposition simply affords another example of the readiness with which in these days government or legislative interference is invoked for the settlement of difficulties. What common sense or the instinct of justice between man and man can not, or apparently can not, effect, that the Legislature, in its infinite justice and wisdom, is asked to undertake. Such efforts tend only to obscure the real elements of the situation. We may be mistaken, but it seems to us that the position taken to-day by the laboring classes (to use the common expression) involves the principle that free competition for wealth between man and man in society should not be allowed. Every intelligent man, whatever his status in society, would allow that were all the wealth in the world to be redistributed equally to-day, a year would not elapse, under the régime of free competition, before there would again be marked inequalities of fortune, while, in ten years, there would be millionaires at one end of the scale and beggars at the other. This, we believe, is what many object to, though they do not always avow it to themselves. The cry seems to go up from the multitude, "Save us from the strong man, or we shall take the law into our own hands and make an end of his wealth, if not of him!" The common idea of the capitalist is that he is a man who absorbs into his own personality and possessions all the richest juices of the laboring man's organization. The working-man toils, and the capitalist reaps all the best fruits of his toil, leaving to the former a mere subsistence, and a more or less precarious one at that. A fact, however, that is generally lost sight of is that, but for the capitalist, labor would not be so productive as it is. The share taken by the capitalist is not deducted from a total product which would equally have existed had he never appeared upon the scene with his experience, his talent for direction, his enterprise, his pecuniary resources, but from a product in large part probably due to his personal usefulness. What an army under a skillful general, and with a well-supplied commissariat, can accomplish, is something very different from what it can accomplish without any superior leadership. This obvious truth should certainly be taken into account in striking the balance between the capitalist and those whose labor he employs.
If, then, the secret aspiration of the laboring class, or at least of a large portion of it, is, to be protected against the competition of men of subtiler brains and stronger resolution, the question may be asked, What is the secret thought of the capitalist class, the men who have these superior resources, or whose fathers had them, and who consequently rule in the industrial world? If it is true that labor would not be so productive as it is, that wealth would not be created in the same quantity, but for the organizing power of the captains of industry, it is also true that all wealth is a social product, requiring a concurrence of efforts to produce it, and a social medium to give it its value. What would the wealth of the Indies have been to Robinson Crusoe on his desert isle? His man Friday was a greater fortune to him than would have been the riches of the Rothschilds. These considerations suffice to show that, in whatever light the holders of great wealth may regard themselves, they should regard themselves not as mere irresponsible giants of finance, at liberty to toss about millions as it may please their vanity or their ambition, but as bound to lives of social usefulness. The secret thought, we fear, of too many very rich men is, that they are absolutely irresponsible to society, and quite at liberty to dismiss from their minds every other aim than that of adding to their already great possessions. Their secret prayer would be, to be delivered from all bondage to public opinion, so that they might pursue an unchecked career in gratifying their selfish ambition. Cripple or debauch public opinion, and the watering of stocks, the making of corners, and all the rest of the diabolical jugglery of the modern financial world can be carried on without apprehension, as without a qualm. But public opinion, we trust, is not going to be permanently crippled or debauched. True, there is an altogether inordinate social admiration of great wealth, as Mr. Spencer has forcibly pointed out; but the feeling, on the whole, is growing, that great wealth means proportionate social responsibility. It is not to be concluded from this that the chief business of the capitalist is to endow hospitals, libraries, or universities. By no means; it is well that every one in the community should contribute to these things according to his ability, and realize for himself the blessedness of giving to worthy objects. The capitalist could not render a much worse service to the community than to take entirely off other people's shoulders burdens that it is best every one should bear in some degree. No, but the capitalist should certainly employ his great advantages and resources in bringing the conditions of a really human life within the reach of ever-increasing numbers of human beings. It does not do to regard our fellow-men as mere ciphers, as pawns on the chess-board of life, to be used or sacrificed according to the exigencies of the game. Mr. Gladstone was greatly laughed at some years ago by the cynical school so largely represented in English journalism, particularly in weekly journalism, because he had used the argument that, after all, the voters whom he proposed to enfranchise were "our own flesh and blood." For all that, the truth he hinted at is a good one to remember. Certainly it is a bad one to forget; and terrible trouble may come of carrying forgetfulness of it too far. Our object in this brief article has been mainly to express the opinion that much good would come of greater frankness on both sides in the now pending labor contests. If both sides would really talk business, which they can only do by expressing their real thoughts and purposes, there would be more hope of a permanent reconciliation. We believe that, when it came to the rub, thousands of the working class would shrink from pronouncing against the régime of free competition; while the holders of wealth would certainly be slow to formulate the doctrine of social irresponsibility.
A little manual of social proprieties, published under the name of "Dont!" has obtained a wide circulation; and, as its negative precepts are inspired by much good sense and good taste, we have no doubt the tiny book will prove of real value. But, while good social habits are well worth forming, good intellectual ones are at least of equal importance; and it occurs to us that there is ample room for a manual that, in a series of brief and pithy sentences, would place people on their guard against the most obvious intellectual errors and vices. Possibly the objection might be raised that, while everybody wants to be cured of his or her social solecisms (if the expression may be permitted), none so little desire to be cured of intellectual faults as those who are most subject to them. Who, it might be asked, applies the moral denunciations of the pulpit to himself? Who would apply to himself the cautions of your proposed manual? Granted, we reply, that it is easier to bring home to the individual conscience the sin of eating with a knife than the sin of reasoning falsely or acting unjustly, we should still be glad to see a telling compilation of the most needed "Dont's" for the use of all and singular who make any profession of an independent use of their intellects. Some of the maxims would be commonplace; but then the object would not be to lay down novel truths so much as to enforce old ones. Let us throw out a few at random, by way of a start:
Don't think that what you don't know is not worth knowing.
Don't conclude that, because you can't understand a thing, nobody can understand it.
Don't despise systems of thought that other men have elaborated because you can not place yourself at once at their point of view.
Don't interpret things too much according to your own likes and dislikes. The world was not made to please anybody in particular, or to confirm anybody's theories.
Don't imagine that, because a thing is plain to you, it ought to be equally so to everybody else. Don't insist on making things out simpler than they really are; on the other hand—
Don't affect far-fetched and over-elaborate explanations.
Don't be overwise. Why should you make a fool of yourself?
Don't imagine that anything is gained by juggling with words or by evading difficulties.
Don't refuse to change the point of view of a question, if requested by an opponent to do so. A true conclusion can not be invalidated by any legitimate process of argument.
Don't be inordinately surprised when a man who knows quite as much as you do on a given subject, and perhaps a little more, does not agree with you in your conclusions thereon. Try the effect of being surprised that you don't agree with him.
Don't keep on hand too many cut-and-dried theories. A foot-rule is a convenient thing for a carpenter to carry about with him; but a man who is always "sizing up" other people's opinions by a private rule of his own is apt to be a bore.
Don't be in a hurry to attribute bad motives or dishonest tactics to an opponent. Try to get an outside view of your own motives and tactics.
Don't refuse to hold your judgment in suspense when the evidence is not sufficient to warrant a conclusion.
Don't imagine that, because you have got a few new phrases at your tongue's end, yon have all the stock-in-trade of a philosopher, still less that you are a philosopher.
Don't try to express your meaning till you have made it clear to yourself.
Don't argue for the sake of arguing; always have some practical and useful object in view, or else hold your peace.
Don't grudge imparting what you know, and do it with simplicity.
Don't prosecute any study out of idle curiosity or vanity. If you have time for intellectual work, be a serious and honest worker.
Don't be too eager to "get credit" for what you do.
Don't undervalue the work of others.
Here we have a score or so of maxims of the prohibitive kind, and the number might be indefinitely increased. There is no doubt the intellectual progress of the world might be hastened, and the good order and harmony of society greatly improved, if these precepts and others like unto them were more carefully observed. Whether we get another "Don't" manual or not, sensible people should think of these things, and try to bring their intellectual habits at least up to a level with their social ones.