Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/275

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261
THE STUDY OF SOCIOLOGY.

I point out this union of seemingly-inconsistent traits, not because of the direct bearing it has on the argument, but for the sake of its indirect bearing. For I have here to dwell awhile on the misleading effects of certain mental tendencies which similarly appear very unlikely to coexist, and which yet do habitually coexist. I refer to the belief which, even while I write, I find repeated in the leading journal, that "the deeper a student of history goes, the more does he find man the same in all time;" and to the quite opposite belief embodied in current politics, that human nature may be readily altered. These two beliefs, which ought to cancel one another but do not, originate two classes of errors in sociological speculation; and nothing like correct conclusions in Sociology can be drawn until they have been rejected, and replaced by a belief which reconciles them—the belief that human nature is indefinitely modifiable, but that no modification of it can be brought about rapidly. We will glance at the errors to which each of these beliefs leads.

While it was held that the stars are fixed and that the hills are ever-lasting, there was a certain congruity in the notion that man continues unchanged from age to age; but now when we know that all stars are in motion, and that there are no such things as everlasting hills—now that we find all things throughout the Universe to be in a ceaseless flux, it is time for this crude conception of human nature to disappear out of our social conceptions; or rather—it is time that its disappearance should be followed by that of the many narrow notions respecting the past and the future of society, which have grown out of it, and which linger notwithstanding the loss of their root. For, avowedly by some and tacitly by others, it continues to be thought that the human heart is as "desperately wicked" as it ever was, and that the state of society hereafter will be very much like the state of society now. If, when the evidence has been piled mass upon mass, there comes a reluctant admission that aboriginal man, of troglodyte or kindred habits, differed somewhat from man as he was during feudal times, and that the customs and sentiments and beliefs he had in feudal times imply a character appreciably unlike that which he has now—if, joined with this, there is a recognition of the truth that along with these changes in man there have gone still more conspicuous changes in society; there is, nevertheless, an ignoring of the implication that hereafter man and society will continue to change, until they have diverged as widely from their existing types as their existing types have diverged from those of the earliest recorded ages. It is true that among the more cultured, the probability, or even the certainty, that such transformations will go on, may be granted; but the granting is but nominal, the admission does not become a factor in the conclusions drawn. The first discussion on a political or social topic reveals the tacit assumption that in times to come society will have a structure substantially like its existing structure. If, for instance, the question