III

THE WORLD TO-DAY

A. OUR NATURE AND OUR NURTURE

B. DECLINE AND FALL?

C. THE ONE HOPE

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A. OUR NATURE AND OUR NURTURE

HAVING said what, in my view, is the true world-aim, the only sane ideal for human society, I shall now say something about the difficulties which stand in the way of attaining that ideal. Though we must have the courage to be idealists, we must also face the actual at its worst. The root of all our trouble is this. The truly civilized world that we desire has to be created by the barbarian world that exists. The half-savage beings of the present world have stumbled upon tremendous powers which can be used either for good or ill. And since on the whole the will of a half-savage race is inevitably low-grade will, though in the main not positively evil will, there is a very serious danger that those tremendous powers will be used on the whole blindly and destructively.

The present world is composed of individuals most of whom are doomed by innate constitution and also by circumstance to be of mediocre calibre. The great majority of us are by nature rather stupid, rather unimaginative, rather callous toward one another, little able to control; our more trivial impulses even for the sake of ends which) we ourselves recognize as supreme. A few, no doubt, are of much higher type than others, but as a species we are still on the whole blind and weak. The difference between ourselves and the apes is far less than the difference between us and the ideally developed human type which we can already vaguely conceive, but cannot attain.

Nevertheless, poor as our inborn nature is, it is capable of very much finer achievement than is possible in the circumstances of the present world. If society could be drastically reorganized according to the best principles as yet known to us, even without any eugenic alteration of the present innate constitution of man, our grandchildren might grow up to be as mentally superior to ourselves as we are to the most abject savages. Our intellectual and moral unsoundness is due far less to nature than to nurture. Even to-day those few who are psychologically fortunate in early life may display in maturity such' a generous and well-grown mentality as we are tempted to call god-like. But these are a minute minority. Most men have no chance of developing properly such capacity as they possess. The circumstances of most lives are hostile to the proper growth of body and mind. Physically, whole populations are stunted or actually diseased. Mentally, there is scarcely an individual among us who is not in some respect distorted. The laws of physical health are, indeed, becoming known to some extent. We are even beginning to apply this knowledge, and to take pride in developing our bodies as fully as possible in strength and beauty. But of the laws of mental health we know as yet little, and what we know we seldom apply. Though physically we are no longer pock-marked, deformed and prematurely senile, mentally the great majority of us have secret festering sores. Some grow permanently distorted. Most are cramped into rigidity of mind even before their bodies reach full maturity.

In childhood we are marred by parents and other adults who have neither talent nor experience to fit them for their work. They do as well by us as they have it in them to do; but the upshot is that we are one and all deformed. Not merely our feet, as in old China, or our heads, as in certain parts of Africa, but our very minds they patiently, stupidly, lovingly, or with unconscious hate, bind and distort.

Little by little, year by year, in the nursery and at school, we are clipped and trimmed into the herd-approved pattern. All the 'correct' sentiments are cultivated in us. We are trained to respond with the orthodox emotion to all the well-worn out-of-date phrases, to 'King and Country', 'the British Empire', 'the English gentleman' to 'the done thing', the 'not done' and so on. The coarser-grained among us easily adapt themselves to their coarse-grained environment, and soon become at home in a world of misshapen minds. The more sensitive among us, and the more vital, are tortured into a bitter madness of their own.

Since those who thwart and shame us most inwardly are those whom on other accounts we trust and love, our minds are torn between conscious love and a hate which is all the more harmful through being, in most cases, unconscious. Through such conflicts we develop deep strains and stresses, which, though we may be unaware of them, torment and confuse us for ever after. We grow up with the need to love; but at the same time, since we are wounded and abased, we contract a need to hate, and an unacknowledged delight in cruelty. We come to take a devilish self-righteous joy in torturing whatever we can contrive to condemn. And since those whom we condemn most zestfully are those of whom we are secretly jealous for their power or their excellence, these we most delight to hurt.

We are primed with all the accepted moral principles, such as the gospel of love and gentleness, universal brotherhood, contempt for riches and material power. But we soon discover that in actual life these principles are not practised. Through the overwhelming force of suggestion and example, and even deliberate exhortation, most of us come to accept the conviction that the important things in life are patriotism and personal success. From biased history books and newspapers we learn that our own nation is the greatest in the world, always right, always wronged, always victorious in war, specially gifted to lead the world. Though we are made to pay lip-service to peace and internationalism, we are more effectively encouraged to admire military prowess and all the trappings of war.

Even those whose upbringing is more generous are almost inevitably corrupted when they go out into the world. No sooner do they enter the great dog-fight of economic competition than they have to subordinate all finer impulses to the need to earn a livelihood at the expense of others. If they did not, they would fall into penury and futility. No wonder that they tend to value only material wealth, for self and nation.

The great majority of us spend our days in toil that has as its first aim the benefit of our employers, and not the enrichment of the world. Our short leisure hours we spend in snatching simple amusement with as little effort as possible. How could it be otherwise? By the end of the working day we are tired, our powers are blunted. Moreover, we have never been helped to discover the most zestful uses of leisure. We derive our ideal of life from the American cinema, and from the commercial newspapers. And the aim of these is not to show us the truth about life and about the world, but to trade upon our primitive emotions. Consequently our knowledge of the world we live in is, in most cases, fragmentary and grossly distorted. Consequently, also, very few of us have any conception either of what the awakened personality can be, or of what the world of man might become.

Such are the beings on whom the making of the new world depends. Surely it is well not to found our courage on optimism, for optimism is untenable. There is scarcely more than a bare chance, a forlorn hope, that such beings may waken to their great task. Only if, like the early Christians, they can somehow be set on fire with a new vision; only if they can be goaded by a new sense of what existence is, and what man's part in it is, and what the human world might be, will they ever wrench themselves to a higher level of being. There is only the bare chance. But it is the bare chance of something so splendid that we must risk everything for it.

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B. DECLINE AND FALL?

Meanwhile, what is happening? The dog-fight becomes more desperate, more insane. We cannot trust one another as individuals, still less as nations. We are all obsessed by the terrified desire to be independent, self-sufficing. Because we dare not co-operate with one another, we are all becoming poorer, and can buy only a few of the things we need for the fullness of life. And because we cannot buy, machinery lies idle, workers are unemployed, unpaid, poverty-stricken. Com, coffee, rubber, and a thousand other commodities needed all over the world, are destroyed because they cannot be sold at a paying price. Little by little the Western peoples, dismayed by the unexpected downfall of their prosperity, begin here and there to realize that the only way to save themselves is by world-organization. But they cannot trust one another. Each regards the rest as fundamentally its enemies. None dare surrender one shred of sovereign power. The jealousy of nations and the jealousy of the possessing class thwarts every effort at reshaping.

As the years pass, it becomes clear that throughout Europe and America there is a grave mental deterioration which, if it is not checked, will end our era. It began when the old religion, which had long since lost its power over men's hearts, failed to cope with science and industrialism. For centuries the European peoples have pursued a false ideal, and now their mistake is ruining; them. Because their religious creed failed them, and because they had not the strength to live up to the ethical ideal of their religion, they had to find other gods. Two new gods were at hand, the national state and the machine. Industrialism produced in Europe and America huge town populations of cramped, over-specialized beings, incapable of any depth or breadth of experience. It produced also a plutocracy obsessed by the two ideals of wealth and nationalism. Steadily, decade by decade, especially in America, men have been turned into machines and automatic patriots. The whole life of the West has become a vast thoughtless grinding out of wealth and weapons, a vast aimless automatism which is galvanized into an appearance of life by the outworn virtues of patriotism.

To-day, when the whole world-system is breaking down, the mental deterioration is hastened by false economies. Every one is to live somewhat less healthily than before the War. Conditions are to be worse. Food will be worse. Though there is widespread unemployment, the hours of those who still have work must be longer, so that the machines may be more profitable. Education must be cheaper, and therefore, in the long run, less efficient, less humane, more vocational, less prolonged. Children must be forced more strictly into the approved pattern. They must be mechanically stamped with the information and ideas and sentiments needed for the fulfilling of their automatic function in society. No longer will governments even pretend to give effect to the view that the children of the race should all, if possible, be turned into fully developed human beings and intelligent citizens. They have to become cogs in the machine.

Unfortunately the machine itself is falling to pieces, and the loose cogs and wheels tend to behave in a more and more ungoverned way. This is most evident in the United States. There, where mechanism has become most developed, a vast counter machine of lawless organization, based on private machine-guns, has arisen to be the great dominant machine's mechanical parasite. The racketeers and gangsters of Chicago display very clearly how the world is faring.

Meanwhile the East is assiduously learning the vices of the industrial and nationalistic peoples. It practises them with a frankness and brutality hitherto rare in the modern world. Who knows what horrors Japan will perpetrate? Strange unhappy people, martyred on a cross made up of the ancient and the modern! Theirs was a past of elegance and chivalry. They have a present in which Western industrialism and nationalism combine with Eastern fanaticism to make the overcrowded Japanese islands the chief danger-spot of the world. The people of Japan are probably not more blind and heartless than the rest of us. But they are more resolute, because not yet so far advanced in disillusion. And so they are more dangerous. They are said to tell their children that Japan has a sacred mission to punish the nations of the West; that Japan is destined to be lord of the world. Pernicious folly! But is it much worse than our own superstition that Britons are born to rule the' backward races' ?

But Japan is not merely the Japanese army, still less a clique of ambitious generals. Japan is a swarm of unhappy and deluded human animals, much like any other nation, like that other island-swarm, the British. Like us, the Japanese need food and space. Like us, they have been brought up on lies and false sentiments. And if there is any hope that we ourselves may be cured of the twofold madness of industrialism and nationalism, there is as good a hope for them. We are not made of different stuff from the countrymen of the Lady Murasaki. We are farther advanced in the disease, that is all. In us the fever is already giving way to lassitude and despond, and making room (let us hope) for a new health, a new resolution. And because we are nearer to convalescence, we have somehow to help the Japanese in their delirium. Not an easy task! But how do we prepare ourselves for it? We repress India. We see Russian bogies everywhere. We gleefully revive our war-hatred of Germany. To the insanely conquering Japan, we protest deprecatingly, with a smile. And in that smile there is some suggestion of a wink.

Clearly the plight of the modem world is very serious. Owing to mechanical power, unwise human actions can do more harm than in earlier periods, and wisdom is at least as rare as formerly. The machinations of governments, the bombast of rival patriots, the intrigues of trading organizations, the planned emotionalism of the commercial press, may at any time produce such a world-war that whole populations will be destroyed and civilization will vanish. Even if by some miracle this does not happen within the next few years, economic disorganization bids fair to produce the same result, though less dramatically. The economic problem has become so complicated, and so involved with class jealousy and national jealousy, that no one knows how to cope with it. In face of modern world conditions human nature seems to be proving itself insufficient, both intellectually and morally. Most of our problems simply defeat our intelligence; and even when the solution is visible, it involves such a deep change of heart that we cannot will it.

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C. THE ONE HOPE

At the beginning of this chapter we set out to take the worst possible view of the modern world. Let us now consider the right way of dealing with this extremely unpromising state of affairs.

First let us remind ourselves that the important distinction between men to-day is not between nations and social classes but between those who do, and those who do not, see something of the world-aim, and give their allegiance whole-heartedly to it. Not very many even pay it lip-service; extremely few accept it without qualification as the supreme practical goal of all political and social action.

They are scattered in every land and every social class. They pursue many callings. A few are in high places, struggling against the mob and its demagogues to bring order into the machine-ridden, class-ridden, nation-ridden world. Far more are doing humbler but no less vital work in their own professions and trades. A few are thrashing out by the clash of their differing minds the new form that is to be given to the world.

All are at a terrible disadvantage in comparison with the mob and its demagogues, for the mob desires, and the demagogues provide, simple familiar ideals and policies; but these few, who are the salt of the earth, the n1ain hope of the future, see that the old simple ideals and policies are no longer appropriate to this modern and immensely complex and explosive world. Because they see this, they are desperately engaged on working out a new ideal, a new world-plan, a five- or a fifty-year plan, or a five-century plan, for the making of the new world. But they are not only thinking. They are beginning to act. And indeed they must take charge effectively as soon as possible, before the mob and its demagogues and its comfortable do-nothing politicians ruin everything.

But how are they to take charge? They have no force. They have no glib popular appeal. No party, no class will back them up. On every side they have enemies. The patriots will revile them, and presently may begin shooting them, or worse. The daily press will rouse popular fury against them. The politicians, the military, the wealthy, the industrial magnates, the churches, will be against them. And when the struggle begins to grow serious, there will be no mercy. Unless they become extraordinarily persuasive the great conservative mass of British labour, and its counterpart in other countries, will follow the hue and cry against them. And so, also, though for different reasons, may the great class-conscious 'left-wing' masses. For the men whom I have in mind, though they will probably demand an economic policy very like Communism, will also be far from accepting the whole ideology of Moscow. They would as soon bow to Rome, Fascist or Papist.

Then what hope is there? There is hope in the sheer brutal pressure of circumstances. Sooner or later the peoples will surely be forced to see the one clear way before them. World conditions in our day are such that no policy but that of cosmopolitanism in service of the world-aim can in fact succeed. And though men are blind, there are limits to their blindness. They may cling long and desperately to policies and aims which their changing world has already rendered futile, and to customs which their own natures are already outgrowing; but in time they will be thrust by grim facts into the single way of survival and advancement.

The danger is that widespread mental deterioration, consequent on decades of mistaken aims and policies, may blind the peoples fatally. Then the brutal pressure of circumstances will fail to enlighten them, and will destroy them.

This is a very real danger, some would say a probability. But there is at least a shred of hope. Ideas have sometimes had tremendous power to influence the course of events. Doubtless ideas themselves are produced by the pressure of circumstances, economic, biological, psychological; but it is sometimes, through the ideas which circumstances generate in men s minds that circumstances produce their most striking effect. We may agree that Christianity was an effect of the social conditions of the Mediterranean peoples; but we must also insist that it was an effect of those conditions acting on men's minds to produce a new and potent idea. It is possible that, in our day also, circumstances are beginning to act on men's minds so as to produce a new and potent idea capable of raising us, as the early Christians ere raised, to a more awakened mentality.

The world is not divided sharply into the few who can and the many who cannot already see and accept the inevitable world-aim. Between them in all countries there is a great population of those who do not as yet, but might, give their allegiance to the world-aim sincerely and effectively. They are of all nations and all social classes. They are also of all ages; but the great majority of them are young, even very young. In fact they are mostly those who, though they have not yet fully opened their eyes to the facts of the world, have also not yet been blinded by false traditions. These, surely, are a potential strength for the remaking of the world.

Unfortunately they are also the world's most pressing danger. They are generous, innocent, eager; but these very qualities are apt to lead them astray. They long to feel that they serve in a great cause. They see that the world is crumbling, and they are impatient to rebuild it. And so they are ready to accept any plausible leader, any pinchbeck ideals and policies. They become Fascists, Nazis, imitation Bolsheviks, and the like. Under the influence of their leaders they learn to be satisfied with patriotism, race-hatred, ruthlessness, flags, badges, uniforms, and innumerable catch-words. Already in two countries they have come out bodily on the wrong side. They have made it impossible for those who are pledged to the world-aim to live in those countries.

This is the real tragedy of the modern world, that so much superb young life is being deluded and debased. If these generous young people could be won over in their millions and disciplined for the world-aim, how soon would the new world be made! If, before they become irrevocably set in blindness and brutality, they could be made to see that they have been gulled, and that they have betrayed the one true cause, which now most urgently needs their service!

How are they to be won? Those who have the true cause at heart must somehow win them. And chiefly the task is for those of the young themselves who have not been gulled, who already see and accept the world-aim. It is for the more awakened young to laugh their deluded fellows out of their folly, and shame them out of their brutality, and show them something more desirable than their barbarian ideals.

And it is for all of us together, young and old alike, to think out as clearly and precisely as possible what we can do to contribute to the founding of the new world. A desperate stand must be made before it is too late. We shall all be faced with a prolonged occasion for heroism; and most of us are persons who have no natural gift for heroism. We shall need also superhuman tact and insight. We have to show that, though we can when necessary be as uncompromising and ruthless as our opponents, our general method is that of understanding and sympathy. We have to show that we understand our opponents better than they understand themselves, that we know better than they do what they really want, and how to get it.

Chapter 4

Chapter 2

Waking World Contents