Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/November 1888/Altruism Economically Considered
|ALTRUISM ECONOMICALLY CONSIDERED.|
THE primary motive of human action has always been the care of self, this being for man Nature's first and greatest law. In his unthinking zeal he has often followed this to a degree unnecessary, and consequently harmful to others. In his savage state, and especially in his primeval condition, where he was subject, like all the lower forms of life, to the law of the survival of the fittest, he could not consider others' interests because they were so antagonistic to his own. Often one of two must starve, and each would let it be the other one; he did not even become conscious that he was so acting for a very long period of time. It was the progress from a being not human to the being called man when sufficient intelligence had accumulated to make him conscious that he could live and let live. That point was also marked by and synchronous with the acquirement of such weapons and such skill as enabled man to procure food enough to make the starvation of some unnecessary. Then the war for the survival of the fittest, as known to biology, ceased among men. Ever since, so far as there has been a struggle affecting the survival of the fittest, and that struggle continues to the present day in certain ways, it has been of a different sort, and one which must not be confounded with the biologic law of the survival of the fittest. Major Powell has admirably shown how the strictly biologic struggle has ceased in man, but he has not yet shown, as may be, the character of that struggle, largely intellectual, which still works out certain survivals of the fittest.
Having passed from the point where, if he survive, it must be at the expense of others, man began to recognize and to consider the desires of his fellows, and among others he counted not only his fellows, but mythical and supernatural beings. Thus appeared the greatest natural basis of religion. It is not strange, therefore, that religion should have existed from very early times, and that it should have taught its votaries especially to regard the needs of others. Its mission was to teach a race whose ancestors had been absorbed for untold ages in caring only for self, to adapt itself to a new environment by learning to care for the wants of others. In caring for others, the more powerful soon received superior recognition, so it came to pass that supernatural demands took precedence of the rest. When that point had become clear, men were easily tempted to profess to represent the gods in order that they might share the precedence. In this natural way became established the order of duty which was taught by every religion prior to Christianity, viz.:
1. To the gods and their representatives. 2. To self. 3. To others.
Early Christianity must be credited with changing the order of duty to the following: 1. To its one supernatural being. 2. To all others equally with self.
Even under this improved system many people are led to make great personal sacrifices in the belief that thereby they are living the noblest life possible to man; when, in reality, as it is the object of this paper to show, their sacrifices are either useless, or, what is worse, grossly injurious both to themselves and to the supposed beneficiaries.
During all the untold years in which it was a physical necessity to regard self even to the injury of others, our ancestors acquired a predisposition thereto which heredity has brought down the stream of time. As being no longer a necessity, its practice long since became one of the recognized evils of the world. We apply to it the opprobrious epithet of selfishness. There is a better term, and one which does not imply a moral quality, for there may be devotion to one's own interests which should not be so characterized. Egoism is such devotion to one's own interests; it may be proper and it may be improper. The term does not imply either propriety or impropriety. Let the word self-interest stand for justifiable egoism, and the word selfishness represent unjustifiable egoism.
Egoism, then, was once a necessity, and, while it was a condition to existence, it was justifiable, whatever its effects on others may have been. When things changed so as not to render egoism a necessity, man was still as prone to practice it as before. He was acting under the acquired impulses of ages. It was an extremely difficult thing for him to repress his egoism; it was perhaps even more difficult for him to understand that he ought to do so. And yet the change of circumstances had produced a change in its moral quality. From the practice of self-interest he had passed to the practice of selfishness, and he had so passed unconsciously, for the change was in environment and not in him. The same act that had been a virtue was now a vice. Of course, centuries were needed for this idea to develop and to be disseminated, but at length it came. Although the terms were not in use, the differentiation had taken place. The terms came when needed to express existing ideas.
Long after egoism had differentiated into self-interest and selfishness, came the idea of doing something for others. Man's powers were then so limited that this was not much. Even when he became capable he was slow to discover it and slower to act upon it. Heredity bound him. To loosen him was the mission of religion. Whatever its votaries may claim as to its history and purpose, the one great and overwhelming power that religion has had upon the world is this—it has developed doing for others. It has turned man's attention away from himself to those not himself. A most excellent term to use for this is altruism—a term first employed only about fifty years ago by Auguste Comte to signify devotion to others or to humanity. Percy Smith, in his "Glossary of Terms and Phrases," defines it as "the doing to another as one would be done by; opposed to egoism."
Such terms as benevolence and charity have been generally used to cover the idea of altruism, but in the mind of every one benevolence and charity involve the moral quality of goodness. It is of the greatest importance to have a word like altruism which does not imply any moral quality, and which covers all we do for others regardless of the consequences, just as egoism covers all we do for self regardless of consequences or of moral quality.
That mankind has thus far regarded all altruism as good is undeniably shown by the fact that neither the English nor any other language has words to distinguish proper from improper altruism. This distinction has not been well developed. It was early seen that the motives were of importance. If we do something for others, it should be with a good motive. The act was declared to be of no subjective value unless the motive was lofty, thus: "Do not your alms before men to be seen of them, otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." Calling attention thus to motives was doubtless a great advance upon the preceding times. This improved form of altruism was, however, indiscriminate. Nothing was said or implied, in the above precept, as to the character of the persons to whom alms were to be given. Nothing was hinted or thought of the ultimate effect upon the recipient of giving alms, much less of taking steps to prevent any from needing alms. Elsewhere the intimation was that all who were poor should receive, as indicated by the direction "Go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow me, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." "He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord." "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Here the extreme of altruism was proposed, but utterly without discrimination as to the objective effect.
Just as all people assume the moral character of benevolence and charity, so there is a disposition to assume that all altruism is good—in other words, to use it as a synonym. Some writers of much prominence have not properly treated the subject of altruism, and religious writers especially fail to measure its true character—that is, we see forms of altruism held up as the summum bonum; its teachings are said to be almost or quite divine. A professor in Johns Hopkins University has recently, in "The Congregationalist" spoken of altruism as the opposite of selfishness, which latter term he also confounds with egoism (and spells it "egotism"). This is very unfortunate. We shall never work out social problems with such confusion of ideas. Seeing men in such positions treat altruism as always a good thing, and seeing them urge its practice without consideration or without limitation, have prompted this attempt to distinguish between justifiable altruism and unjustifiable altruism as carefully as moralists distinguish between justifiable egoism (self-love or self-interest) and unjustifiable egoism (selfishness). And right here the moral philosophers must be alluded to. They have been so zealous to destroy selfishness that they have urged the doing of good to others without sufficiently distinguishing between seeming good and the evil effects thereof. They have too much determined the quality of acts by an examination of the motives under which the acts were performed, and too little by an examination of the effects produced. They ought long since to have studied the character of altruism.
For eighteen hundred years the world has had an altruism which failed to discriminate as to the object, and, as will appear later, altruism has often been carried to injurious excess, and yet we have had about as good general results as could be expected under the circumstances. The early step from justifiable egoism to that which discriminated was a long one. From the mind resting on self to considering the immediate wants of others was a great advance. From altruism performed with selfish motives to disinterested benevolence was another grand advance. The order of human progress doubtless required a long discipline in indiscriminate altruism before men should learn to differentiate it by observing its results. Again, not only man's mental progress but that of life on the earth has been by pendulum-beats from extreme to extreme, by action and reaction, until finally the golden mean of Horace has been reached. The shield was neither silver, as protested by him who viewed it from the east, nor yet gold, as viewed by him in the west; but, had not each held and proclaimed his opinion, the truth would not have been reached by either. Progress limps and goes by indirections; but the various steps indicated have been taken and well taken.
To Christianity, then, by far the greatest exponent of this indiscriminate altruism, is due the great credit of having taught it, and measurably brought the world from selfishness to disinterested benevolence. It matters not that the race might have traversed this path under some other banner, and that many tribes have found it independently. "Honor to whom honor" permits this willing recognition. Although it overlooked this newer feature, it had enough to do for man of a more primary character.
The most intense manifestation of the altruistic spirit is in non-resistance to evil and in utter disregard of self. How beautiful seem to us those precepts pointing thereto!
"Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. If any man sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body what ye shall put on. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and come and follow me, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven."
And yet however grandly its maxims may ring in our ears, whatever praises we may bestow upon its advocates, and whatever satisfaction we may express with the past, the day for this indiscriminate altruism has gone by, and we are confronted with present duty. To-day, the only man who sells all that he has and gives to the poor is the unfortunate one whom we shut up in the insane asylum. To-day, the only one who takes no thought for the morrow is the tramp or the beggar. (The professional beggar has even sense enough to keep a bank account.) Those extremes of altruism, non-resistance and self-abnegation, have been discarded. And why? Let us now recognize the virtue in them, and understand also just why they are impracticable.
The virtue of those precepts lies in their power to draw men away from self. Read them slowly—not a selfish motive to be found in them. They remove one the farthest possible from thought of self. At the time when the degradation of women was greatest, when chattel slavery was so universal that even Saint Paul returned a runaway to his master, when political freedom was unknown, when drunkenness and debauchery far exceeded the present, the best thing for mankind was to hold up this extreme of altruism as an ideal and even to declare it divine, which it nearly was in comparison with the evils combated. So long as no one could point out its defects, its force would be and was very great for good. Through the self-inflicted injuries which the early Christians caused in practicing these principles was the tide of human selfishness checked. But the evil of these precepts consisted in their subjective influence being excessive (therefore injurious), and in their utter disregard of ultimate and objective results. He who curbs his own selfish and grasping spirit by taking no thought for the morrow, lays himself liable to want (which is perhaps the lesser of the two subjective evils), but the objective effect is more far-reaching and only evil. It acts as an incentive to others to idleness, improvidence, and ultimate beggary. He who being smitten on one cheek turns the other, cultivates patience and self-control, but he leaves his assailant all the more ready to smite the next man he gets mad with. Again, the subjective effect has good in it; the objective effect has far-reaching evil in it. If I imitate the lilies of the field, which neither toil to make themselves a shelter nor spin themselves clothes, I may be admired for my assurance and freedom from anxiety, but I shall also be cut down by the first frost of adversity, and be ruthlessly swept out of sight by the first snow of winter. Objectively, I shall have set a bad example to weaker minds than mine. They will say, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die." And the world will have paid dearly for my little exhibition of self-culture.
He who, being sued at law for a coat by a grasping neighbor, peaceably folds in a cloak also, may cultivate some useful feelings in his own breast while inflicting an unwise deprivation upon himself, but the victorious plaintiff has become a meaner man, and will bring new suits at the earliest opportunity; if not upon this, upon some other man whom he thinks he can browbeat, and there are plenty of lawyers who will help him do so. He who sells all he has and gives to the poor, may, if he is very badly eaten up with greed for money, discipline himself in the right direction, but in selling all he deprives himself of the means of self-support in sickness and endangers the care of his family. But all this subjective wrong might be perpetrated to curb a grasping spirit through the loss of property. That, however, which he had no right to do he has done. He has pauperized the poor. The evil inflicted upon scores, and perhaps hundreds, is in their lessening of self-respect, the cultivation of indolence, the enfeebling of their already weak determinations, the putting further away of that day when the poor shall be properly paid for their work, and the fostering of that reckless spirit, "The world owes me a living, and I am going to have it." If the next rich man does not sell out and distribute soon enough, they will thirst for his riches—perhaps for his blood. If some of his wealth is ill-gotten, as is the case with many rich men, they will consider it all so. In such soil the seeds of communism grow. The advocates of anarchy and the haters of government are found always among the poor.
Now note this most remarkable fact—that every single precept pointing to non-resistance and self-abnegation, while subjectively attractive, ignores the objective and ultimate effect; that is, they all seem to be of benefit to the doer, but make not an iota of discrimination as to the effect upon others; while, in fact, as history has shown, and as we are now beginning to know, both are injured; but the greatest harm is done to the supposed beneficiaries.
Self-abnegation is thus as far from virtue as selfishness. The golden mean lies between, where our egoism benefits us but does not sting another, and where our altruism benefits others in its ultimate effects without sapping their or our own welfare. Selfishness is short-sighted gratification of base impulses. Self-abnegation is short-sighted gratification of benevolent impulses. Both are impulsive, both are short-sighted, and both inflict evil upon others.
A more moderate and acceptable form of altruism goes under the names of charity and benevolence. They are also valuable in curbing the spirit of egoism, and have made many people, both givers and recipients, happy for the time being. "To do good and to distribute forget not, for with such offerings the Lord is well pleased." Again, no discrimination is made as to the objects of charity and of benevolence, nor as to the remote and real effects of such action. It seems to have been thus far assumed that no discrimination need be made. The exhortations to charity and benevolence never specify the objects minutely, while, in fact, this should be the all-important feature. In seeming prohibition to any suggestion of discrimination we are told that benevolence should be universal, because the Creator "maketh his sun to rise upon the evil and upon the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and upon the unjust." Now, in the case of sunshine and rain it would be physically impossible to discriminate. It should also be remembered that the same Creator for the same reason sendeth the lightning and the earthquake to destroy both the just and the unjust. But, what is more to the present purpose, he starves to death those who in summer fail to lay by a supply of food for the winter; he smites with disease those who are too lazy to cultivate cleanliness; and he visits the iniquities of fathers upon thoughtless children to the third and fourth generation. Here is a lesson in discrimination of cause and effect not to be overshadowed by a few platitudes about rain.
But we must turn to consider the economic effects of altruism by means of which we are to distinguish justifiable altruism from unjustifiable altruism. So much of description has been necessitated by the newness of the subject, and even now it is to be feared that those who have never discriminated as to doing good to others, except as regards the purity of motive in the doer, will feel more concerned about the integrity of the precepts that have been dissected than about the analysis of truth. Be that as it may—and it would be a matter of regret to offend the ancient prejudices of any—it is to be hoped that the economic remarks to follow will but substantiate and illustrate the principles already laid down.
Now that we have reached the study of social, political, and economic science, we are called upon to analyze the subject, to define our terms carefully, to be sure that we build our sciences on facts, and to state our conclusions clearly. And our conclusions are most hopeful. They are, that in doing real and not seeming good to ourselves we also benefit the race; that in doing good to others it is not necessary or wise that we inflict sore deprivation or indignity upon ourselves; that thrift and wisdom consist in taking a reasonable thought for the morrow; and that in nothing so much should we take anxious thought for the morrow as when appealed to for alms or to assist the needy.
Better that they suffer hunger to-day and be made self-respecting and self-supporting to-morrow, than that they be fed to-day and then be forgotten to-morrow. We best help others by securing them full justice, and by refraining from injuring them either through malice or through giving them that for which they return no equivalent.
I. Relief of the Poor.—This class does not include the sick, the dependent children, nor the insane, but simply those who are more or less of the time idle, who receive but small wages when they work, and who ask, or do not ask but seem to need, financial assistance.
So many have been willing to lend to the Lord (i. e., give to the poor), believing that it was a safe and dividend-paying investment, that for eighteen hundred years this has been the usual mode of relief.
Everybody knows that this has not diminished the number. It was very unfortunately said, eighteen hundred years ago, "The poor we have always with us," because the saying of it has helped to make it true. Assuming that we are to have the poor always with us, we shall do little to lessen their number. Had it been said upon the same authority, "Under the beneficent sway of wisdom the poor shall cease to exist among you," as it was said, "The wolf and the lamb shall lie down together," by this time we should have been far nearer the realization.
Early Athens—pagan Athens, if you choose—could boast of having no citizen in want, "nor," says the Grecian historian, "did any disgrace the nation by begging." This should have been our motto. With all the resources of this nation, its realization would have been easy had the proper course been pursued. In such a country as ours it is not necessary, but it is a shame and disgrace, to have the poor always with us—that is, poverty which needs relief. In the presence of millionaires, men owning but a single cottage are poor by comparison. We ought always to have such poor among us, but these are self-respecting and happy men. They must never be confounded with those who through defective character sometimes require food, coal, or shelter to be provided for them. The latter are intended when allusion is made to the poor.
Now, if anything of social and economic value has been demonstrated in this century it is that giving food, coal, and money to the poor from public funds or even by private charities pauperizes and degrades them. Henry George says that "the poor are growing poorer." If so, to nothing is it more attributable than to the multiplication of charities. "A city of charities and a city of paupers" is the designation of one of our Eastern municipalities.
How charity becomes the cause of pauperism may easily be understood. The problem has been well worked out, especially in England. Henry Fawcett, Professor of Political Economy in the University of Cambridge, in "Pauperism: its Causes and Remedies," published in 1871, says: "Those get the largest share of charity—not who suffer most, but—who can excite the greatest sympathy. Hence securing charity becomes an art; begging, a profession. Hypocrisy and lies are the principal tools. Those who acquire skill in it frequently obtain greater incomes than those who labor."
A case in Washington, D. C, illustrates this: In August, 1885, a boy of about fourteen years was found regularly begging on Pennsylvania Avenue. His mother, healthy and reasonably intelligent, lived in a neat house on a pretty street within three blocks of the Capitol. There was no sign of poverty or of distress about the house, inside or out. The boy had, during the sessions of Congress, sold papers at the Capitol, reaping a rich harvest. He limped about with a crutch. People gave him five, ten, or twenty-five cents for a paper, and asked no change. When Congress adjourned, he could still have supported himself well by selling papers on Pennsylvania Avenue; but people there did not pay over five cents for papers, as a rule. Still, they did give to beggars, especially to those with crutches. It easily appeared that the boy could make more money by begging than by selling papers, and so he begged. Even after he had been taken into police court twice, he returned to the street to beg. It was only with great difficulty that the writer succeeded in stopping this imposition upon the public—the sweet, confiding public, which is ever seeking to give to strangers, because "some have thereby entertained angels unawares"—yes, a public which is too lazy to investigate the effects of its alms-giving, and which deserves to be imposed upon.
Now, let no one express horror at the character disclosed in this child, or rather in his mother, who was the real actor. She was no better and no worse than the average citizen. She simply exercised business sagacity in getting money apart from moral considerations. So do Wall-Street brokers; so do many men who endow colleges, build churches, and send missionaries to "the heathen."
The solution of this economic problem is of the simplest. Make begging unprofitable, and we never need lecture beggars about their loss of self-respect. When the getting of something for nothing becomes impossible, and never till then, will men cease to endeavor to get something for nothing. When you and every one of you completely discontinue giving alms, except to those whose circumstances are perfectly understood, self-respect and other moral qualities will develop in those people without even a word being said to them upon that point. In giving to them, you degrade society far more than they degrade it by asking. This kind of altruism is a curse in the world. Fawcett said of it, "England was brought nearer the brink of ruin by the old poor-law than she ever was by a hostile army." Meanwhile we should be self-respecting enough to admit that tramps and beggars are not very different from many "respectable" people, after all.
Those who are interested to examine the economic results of giving to the poor, in England, Scotland, and Ireland, will find plenty of books on the subject. The "Encyclopædia Britannica" contains a good article under the heading "poor-law." See also other encyclopædias.
The Scotch are proverbially thrifty and economical, and yet they have been degraded by the poor-law of 1845. In some parts of Scotland there is ten times the poverty there is in Ireland! That law gives more relief than England's, and the money is regarded as a nice gift. Those who had savings in banks transferred them to others. Careful investigation, and even the labor test, did not quell the applications in any such manner as did the Irish workhouse. Matters came to such a pass that the fishermen of Wick could not get their nets mended, their former assistants saying that they could get a living easier from the parish.
In Ireland there is very little out-door relief, the proportion of Scotland being almost reversed—five in-door to one out-door pauper. In spite of Ireland's unjust land system and high rents, the whole number of her paupers does not amount to one half those of London alone. The Irish will submit to every privation rather than let friends go to the workhouse, which is the legal mode of relief, and is not a charity.
In London many people get relief who could do without it, and consider it no disgrace. Industry, economy, temperance, and self-restraint would enable most of them to take care of themselves if they would. Hence the workhouse is a necessary restraint, being uncomfortable or even disgraceful. They therefore shun it. If they may eat without work in some other way, they will; if not, many of them will work. Why are these people in such condition? It is a duty we owe to society to ascertain what are their thoughts, what the motives that have led them to such lives. If the result is that the vices and injustices and prodigality of the rich have in part induced such results, let it be exposed boldly and fearlessly. If injustice in the wage system and in land tenure is the cause in part, let this also be proclaimed.
You will, however, be more interested in some figures from our own experience. The Hon. Seth Low, ex-Mayor of Brooklyn N. Y., presented a paper in 1881 at the eighth National Conference of Charities and Corrections in Boston which Robert Treat Paine calls the corner-stone of relief reform. In it Mr. Low sums up his opinion of the world's experience in giving alms (technically called out-door relief). Of the supposed beneficiaries he says:
1. That it saps their habits of industry.
2. That it discourages habits of frugality.
3. That it encourages improvident and wretched marriages.
4. That it produces discontent.
His own conclusion as to what he had himself seen was that "out-door relief in the United States as elsewhere tends inevitably and surely to increase pauperism." Here are some of his statistics:
In Brooklyn, during 1877, 46,350 people were relieved at a cost of $141,207. In 1878 no money was given. This immense number of people which had received aid were left to take care of themselves, or to go to almshouse or to hospital. What effect on these institutions did refusing to give to 46,350 people have? In 1877 and 1878 these institutions contained 1,371 people; in 1879, 1,389 people; in 1880, 1,199, and in 1881 only 1,171. What became of the people that had received the $141,207, in a single year? Mr. Seth Low says: "Instead of Brooklyn needing, as the result of the abolition of out-door relief, an almshouse of mammoth proportions, we find at the end of three years an almost imperceptible increase of sick paupers, but a steady diminution of well paupers; and this, too, in the face of a population in the county growing at the rate of 18,000 per annum." At about the same time similar action was taken in Philadelphia, with like results. Cleveland's out-door relief account for six years was as follows:
|1875 to 4,590 families $95,000.||1878 to 1,568 families $32,300.|
|1876 to 3,094"85,000.||1879 to 1,550"22,600.|
|1877 to 2,386"70,000.||1880 to 1,200"17,000.|
In March, 1877, was begun a system of requiring an equivalent for the relief furnished. Work at one dollar per day was provided every man who being able-bodied applied for assistance. The officials were thoroughly convinced that pauperism had been fostered and increased by the old system.
Cincinnati pursued the same course, with good results, except that it issued during ten winter weeks coal by the bushel; but even that was improvident and demoralizing. People who know that a city issued coal last winter will count on getting it this winter, and will take no other thought on the subject.
Now we know, by experiment, that the wise thing to do is to visit all such people in July and August, and induce them to lay by a few cents a week for winter's coal, promising it to them at lower prices. If, thus reminded to provide for winter, they are less sensible than the squirrel, they must in all fairness to themselves be allowed to suffer discomfiture in winter and be taught by bitter experience. He who gives to the poor under such circumstances may be very benevolent at heart, but his influence is worse than that of a miser who refrains from giving.
What, then, must we do? Fortunately, our altruistic feelings may be gratified in a manner not harmful to the beneficiaries. Robert Treat Paine, of Boston, who has had large experience in treating the poor, prescribes the following: "Whenever any family has fallen so low as to need relief, send to them at least one friend—a patient, true, sympathizing, firm friend—to do for them all that a friend can do to discover and remove the causes of their dependence, and to help them up into independent self-support and self-respect." To which it may be added, if that friendly visitor is permitted to give alms, his and their minds are diverted from the great object—the permanent cure of poverty. It should always be regretted when circumstances seem to demand attention to immediate needs. Put off every possible want till the person can himself supply it in a manly and independent way. Better a morsel with self-respect than plenty with an enfeebled determination to fight the battle of life.
II. Orphan Asylums.—Much that has been said of giving alms applies to the treatment of delinquent and dependent children. Moved by the altruistic spirit, and feeling an approving conscience as the result of trying to do good to others, the Christian world has taken up the care of orphan asylums. Children are gathered from the slums of cities, and sometimes from pretty good homes, in to these herding-places. Then they are told, as I heard from a reverend doctor, how grateful they should be to Christianity for thus caring for them; but the fact again is that, prompted by kind motives, people thus try to do these children good without looking to the results of their acts to see the consequences.
What, then, are some of these consequences?
1. That moral corruption, brought in a little by each child, leavens the whole lump.
2. That they are often placed under incompetent teachers to learn book-lessons, when in fact their capacities call for manual training instead. (Who ever knew a scholar reared in an orphan asylum?)
3. They are fed in the cheapest sort of a way, and clothed in a uniform that causes them to be pointed out always in public as objects of charity and degradation.
4. They are kept in herds and not in families, and hence subject to rules and training necessitated by this abnormal life. Often they are so unfit to live in families that kind-hearted people can not adopt them.
5. Every delinquent mother and every drunken father now knows that he and she can indulge their vices and get rid of their children. Thousands of widowed mothers, learning that they can marry again if not encumbered with children, are putting their little ones in asylums. The asylum thus offers a premium to child-desertion. Rich people even are living in luxury, while their nephews, nieces, and grandchildren are being corrupted in orphan asylums! The niece of a President of the United States was, not long ago, in an asylum, while her uncle, aunt, and three cousins, occupied the White House! Such people often give as their excuse that the child was too vicious, or rude, or even homely, to be received into their families. "No one seemed to want him."
Better the humble home of a poor farmer in the West, far better for such children as are unavoidably orphaned, than these unnatural corrals. But this kind of orphans constitutes not over one fifth of all. The other four fifths represent indulgence, by the asylum founders and managers, toward parents and relatives who wish to shirk responsibilities imposed by Nature upon them. With every such indulgence issues moral miasma upon society, which festers and reproduces its kind. And all this time people with good motives and benevolent spirits thank God that they are not as other men are, and proceed to build additional asylums! Better and far better live and die among the Zuñi Indians of New Mexico, having never heard of Christian charity, than to die and leave your orphan child alone in a large city of the United States! In the latter case he goes to an asylum, to be swallowed up in the masses. In the former case, although he has lost his own father and mother, he has found many fathers and many mothers, all of whom will feel a personal interest in him and responsibility for him, and who will share with him if need be the last pot of corn, and will weep over his grave as if it contained their own flesh and blood. We should need no orphan asylums if we possessed the virtues of the Zuñi.
How to set forth the economic effects of such institutions, and to point out to society the way to make its members rear the children to whom they have given birth, and to show the disastrous effects of ill-considered altruism, is a task which comes within the province of this section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
III. Foundling Asylums.—Here, again, sentimentalism has contributed money to build asylums, and even more unwisely than in the case of the orphans. An orphan can not be committed without something being known of its parents, or their circumstances, and without formal papers of transfer. This routine exposes many frauds, and leads managers to reject thousands of applicants for admission. Managers like to boast of the cases they have. rejected. With foundlings, nothing of the sort occurs. The girl whose yieldings to temptation have made her a mother, be she in high life or in low, the intemperate who prefer to use their means for drink to rearing their own offspring, the society people who have boasted that there will be no children in their families—one and all—have but to leave their offspring as naked as little Moses was when deposited at the Nile, either in a vacant lot or upon some handy door-step. Under cover of darkness all is secret. Either a policeman, or the irate citizen whose door-step has been invaded, quickly and safely transfers the waif to an asylum. The reminders of sin and folly, as well as the burdens of the parents, have thus been put far away. Were society organized to encourage this very business, it were impossible to arrange it more satisfactorily. But eternal shame should rest upon the weak-minded, benevolent people who by their ill-advised altruism cultivate such degradation in society! One tenth of the money spent in detecting and punishing these parents for their unnatural crimes would teach society the needed lesson. More pains than we take to catch a murderer should be spent upon detecting these criminals. Every foundling asylum in America should be instantly disorganized.
IV. Insane Asylums.—Upon this kind of altruistic effort, also a boast of the age, there are not sufficient data to warrant so severe denunciation. It is proper, however, to call attention to some suspicious circumstances:
1. The collecting and imprisoning of great masses of such people is unnatural, and the best authorities advocate breaking up the system by substituting homes and separate buildings.
2. To the non-medical observer it is surprising that, while rapid progress is being made in treating many forms of disease such as are caused by minute germs, so little knowledge is being obtained concerning the nature, causes, and cure of insanity. With many physicians, supported by the state in a liberal manner, why are they not bringing forth fruit in this direction? It is said to be because incapable men get places through intrigues, and because so much time is spent in routine work.
3. The number of the insane is on the increase. Some of the immediate causes are understood. Is it not certainly of the utmost importance that facts bearing on these points be circulated, and that great effort be made to check insanity by rooting out of society the immediate and ultimate causes?
The altruistic work suggested by these questions can have no unjustifiable effects. That which has been performed is more questionable, as implied by the changes proposed, and upon further examination may prove more unjustifiable. In any event it is plain that doing good to those now insane may not be of half the importance that it is to find means of preventing insanity in the future.
V. Benevolence in Higher Education.—It used to be a practice to give not only tuition, but even board and clothes, to young men studying theology. It was considered that they were preparing to lead lives devoted to altruistic work, and that it was therefore desirable, in the case of young men apparently without means, to pay their expenses in theological schools, but it worked so badly that the plan is undergoing change. In the best schools where funds are provided, they are now loaned, and a written obligation to repay is executed. In other words, the managers of schools of divinity found out that to give to the poor theological student was to lend to the devil—a very different creditor from the one they had in mind! It was found that this money got used at times for tobacco, for pleasure-trips, etc., while board-bills were unpaid, and that after it was spent the beneficiaries sometimes abandoned the life-work they had contemplated. But even the loan system is not working satisfactorily. The written obligation is often lightly esteemed, and held to be not binding. The writer's latest information is that but thirty per cent is paid back. Only when the notes are looked after, as a successful banker looks after his paper, will the system become truly beneficent. It will then have ceased to be a charity. Again let it be said, do not give something for nothing, but, if you really must do so, then put it into a lottery.
VI. Gifts to Workingmen.—There is reserved for the last a notice of the most contemptible form of altruism now known to civilization. It has come to be the fashion for people who have acquired money without giving an equivalent in labor and who wish to indulge in benevolence, to build mission-chapels in outskirts of cities, and to furnish them with cheap appliances in order to "save the souls" of the dear working-classes. Another form this takes is in furnishing workingmen libraries and reading-rooms, and even in building improved tenement-houses. In a score of ways the rich are "doing something for the poor." Now, all these things have the same surface appearance of charity as throwing a dime to a beggar. But the fact is, that these people have by class legislation or dishonesty got possession of wealth created by the poor, and in order to quiet their little consciences, or occasionally in order to enable them to keep up the fraud, they dispense these charities.
Now, let it be reported to all such that the workingmen need none of their charities. They cry out for justice, for fair wages for a day's work, for reasonable rents, for a chance to buy house-lots which speculators have not pushed beyond honest men's reach—in short, for such a reorganization of legislation and custom as will enable them to labor and to administer upon the entire fruits of their labor, to build and furnish their own chapels if they choose, to establish their own libraries and reading-rooms, to build their own tenement-houses, and to scorn charity as they now have good reason to scorn such dispensers of charity.
The basing of all so-called charitable and benevolent work upon such principles as have been indicated, or rather the substitution of right-seeking and right-doing (which is but the simple practice of justice), will require earnest study and a great change in our spirit and methods. Those who in preceding years have here listened to outlines of work adapted for this section as presented by Professor Elliott and Major Alvord should notice that the bounds will be much enlarged if we seek to solve the problems which shall enable us to make our altruism economically beneficial. This certainly should be the case. That we should pretend to be doing. good to all men, and yet be deceiving both ourselves and them, while really doing harm to both, needs only to be demonstrated to secure our condemnation. And giving alms to show even to ourselves our good motives, or in order to indulge our benevolent impulses, is certainly the most deceitful form of selfishness, since it appears in the form of altruism—is evil and only evil.
- Vice-President's address before the Economic Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, delivered at the Cleveland meeting, August, 1888.
- I made the investigation of it in person, and prosecuted it in the police court before Judge W. B. Snell.
- There has been in government employ in Washington, the past eight years, a young man who received such aid for two years previously. He now owns real estate in Washington, but he never preaches.