Human Nature and Conduct
Part 3:The Place of Intelligence:
IX. The Present and Future
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Over and over again, one point has recurred for criticism; the subordination of activity to a result outside itself. Whether that goal be thought of as pleasure, as virtue, as perfection, as final enjoyment of salvation, is secondary to the fact that the moralists who have asserted fixed ends have in all their differences from one another agreed in the basic idea that present activity is but a means. We have insisted that happiness, reasonableness, virtue, perfecting, are on the contrary parts of the present significance of present action. Memory of the past, observation of the present, foresight of the future are indispensable. But they are indispensable to a present liberation, an enriching growth of action. Happiness is fundamental in morals only because happiness is not something to be sought, for, but is something now attained, even in the midst of pain and trouble, whenever recognition of our ties with nature and with fellow-men releases and informs our action. Reasonableness is a necessity because it is the perception of the continuities that take action out of its immediateness and isolation into connection with the past and future.
Perhaps the criticism and insistence have been too incessant. They may have provoked the reader to reaction. He may readily concede that orthodox theo-
(266) -ries have been one-sided in sacrificing the present to future good, making of the present but an onerous obligation or a sacrifice endured for future gain. But why, he may protest, go to an opposite extreme and make the future but a means to the significance of the present? Why should the power of foresight and effort to shape the future, to regulate what is to happen, be slighted? Is not the effect of such a doctrine to weaken putting forth of endeavor in order to make the future better than the present? Control of the future may be limited in extent, but it is correspondingly precious; we should jealously cherish whatever encourages and sustains effort to that end. To make little of this possibility, in effect, it will be argued, is to decrease the care and endeavor upon which progress depends.
Control of the future is indeed precious in exact proportion to its difficulty, its moderate degree of attainability. Anything that actually tends to make that control less than it now is would be a movement backward into sloth and triviality. But there is a difference between future improvement as a result and as a direct aim. To make it an aim is to throw away the surest means of attaining it, namely attention to the full use of present resources in the present situation. Forecast of future conditions, scientific study of past and present in order that the forecast may be intelligent, are indeed necessities. Concentration of intellectual concern upon the future, solicitude for scope and precision of estimate characteristic of any well conducted affair, naturally give the impression that their
(267) animating purpose is control of the future. But thought about future happenings is the only way we can judge the present; it is the only way to appraise its significance. Without such projection, there can be no projects, no plans for administering present energies, overcoming present obstacles. Deliberately to subordinate the present to the future is to subject the comparatively secure to the precarious, exchange resources for liabilities, surrender what is under control to whit is, relatively, incapable of control.
The amount of control which will come into existence in the future is not within control. But such an amount as turns out to be practicable accrues only in consequence of the best possible management of present means and obstacles. Dominating intellectual pre-occupation with; the future is the way by which efficiency in dealing with the present is attained. It is a way, not a goal. And, upon the very most hopeful outlook, study and planning are more important in the meaning, the enrichment of content, which they add to present activity than is the increase of external control they effect. Nor is this doctrine passivistic in tendency. What. sense is there in increased external control except to increase the intrinsic significance of living? The future that is foreseen is a future that is sometime to be a present. Is the value of that present also to be postponed to a future date, and so on indefinitely? Or, if the good we are struggling to attain in the future is one to be actually realized when that future becomes present. why should not the good of this
(268) present be equally precious? And is there, again, any intelligent way of modifying the future except to attend to the full possibilities of the present? Scamping the present in behalf of the future leads only to rendering the future less manageable. It increases the probability of molestation by future events.
Remarks cast in this form probably seem too much like a logical manipulation of the concepts of present and future to be convincing. Building a house is a typical instance of an intelligent activity. It is an activity directed by a plan, a design. The plan is itself based upon a foresight of future uses. This foresight is in turn dependent upon an organized survey of past experiences and of present conditions, a recollection of former experiences of living in houses and an acquaintance with present materials, prices, resources, etc. Now if a legitimate case of subordination of present to regulation of the future may anywhere be found, it is in such a case as this. For a man usually builds a house for the sake of the comfort and security, the " control," thereby afforded to future living rather than just for the fun — or the trouble— of building. If in such a case inspection shows that, after all, intellectual concern with the past and future is for the sake of directing present activity aid giving it meaning, the conclusion may be accepted for other cases.
Note that the present activity is the only one really under control. The man may die before the house is built, or his financial conditions may change, or be may need to remove to another place. If he attempts to
(269) provide for all contingencies, he will never do anything; if he allows his attention to be much distracted by them, he won't do well his present planning and execution. The more he considers the future uses to which the house will probably be put the better he will do his present job which is the activity of building. Control of future living, such as it may turn out to be, is wholly dependent upon taking his present activity, seriously and devotedly, as an end, not a means. And a man has his hands full in doing well what now needs to be done. Until men have formed the habit of using intelligence fully as a guide to present action they will never find out how much control of future contingencies is possible. As things are, men so habitually scamp present action in behalf of future " ends " that the facts for estimating the extent of the possibility of reduction of future contingencies have not been disclosed. What a man is doing limits both his direct control and his responsibility. We must not confuse the act of building with the house when built. The latter is a means, not a fulfilment. But it is such only because it enters into a new activity which is present not future. Life is continuous. The act of building in time gives way to the acts connected with a domicile. But everywhere the gooey the fulfilment, the meaning of activity, resides in a present made possible by judging existing conditions in their connections.
If we seek for an illustration on a larger scale, education furnishes us with a poignant example. As traditionally conducted, it strikingly exhibits a subordina-
(270) -tion of the living present to a remote and precarious future. To prepare, to get ready, is its key-note. The actual outcome is lack of adequate preparation, of intelligent adaptation. The professed exaltation of the future turns out in practice a blind following of tradition, a rule of thumb muddling along from day to day; or, as in some of the projects called industrial education, a determined effort on the part of one class of the community to secure its future at the expense of another class. If education were conducted as a process of fullest utilization of present resources, liberating and guiding capacities that are now urgent, it goes without saying that the lives of the young would be much richer in meaning than they are now. It also follows that intelligence would be kept busy in studying all indications of power, all obstacles and perversions, all products of the past that throw light upon present capacity, and in forecasting the future career of impulse and habit now active— not for the sake of subordinating the latter but in order to treat them intelligently. As a consequence whatever fortification and expansion of the future that is possible will be achieved— as it is now dismally unattained.
A more complicated instance is found in the dominant quality of our industrial activity. It may be dogmatically declared that the roots of its evils are found in the separation of production from consumption — that is, actual consummation, fulfilment. A normal case of their relationship is found in the taking of food. Food is consumed and vigor is produced. The
(271) difference between the two is one of directions or dimensions distinguished by intellect. In reality there is simply conversion of energy from one form to another wherein it is more available— of greater significance. The activity of the artist, the sportsman, the scientific inquirer exemplifies the same balance. Activity should be productive. This is to say it should have a bearing on the future, should effect control of it. But so far as a productive action is intrinsically creative, it has its own intrinsic value. Reference to future products and future enjoyments is but a way of enhancing perception of an immanent meaning. A skilled artisan who enjoys his work is aware that what he is making is made for future use. Externally his action is one technically labeled " production." It seems to illustrate the subjection of present activity to remote ends. But actually, morally, psychologically, the sense of the utility of the article produced is a factor in the present significance of action due to the present utilization of abilities, giving play to taste and skill, accomplishing something now. The moment production is severed from immediate satisfaction, it becomes " labor," drudgery, a task reluctantly performed.
Yet the whole tendency of modern economic life has been to assume that consumption will take care of itself provided only production is grossly and intensely attended to. Making things is frantically accelerated; and every mechanical device used to swell the senseless bulk. As a result most workers find no replenishment, no renewal and growth of mind, no fulfilment in work.
(272) They labor to get mere means of later satisfaction. This when procured is isolated in turn from production and is reduced to a barren physical affair or a sensuous compensation for normal goods denied. Meantime the fatuity of severing production from consumption, from present enriching of life, is made evident by economic crises, by periods of unemployment alternating with periods of exercise, work or " over-production." Production apart from fulfilment becomes purely a matter of quantity; for distinction, quality, is a matter of present meaning. Esthetic elements being excluded, the mechanical reign. Production lacks criteria; one thing is better than another if it can be made faster or in greater mass. Leisure is not the nourishment of mind in work, nor a recreation; it is a feverish hurry for diversion, excitement, display, otherwise there is no leisure except a sodden torpor. Fatigue due for some to monotony and for others to overstrain in maintaining the pace is inevitable. Socially, the separation of production and consumption, means and ends, is the root of the most profound division of classes. Those who fix the " ends " for production are in control, those who engage in isolated productive activity are the subject-class. But if the latter are oppressed the former are clot, truly free: Their consumptions are accidental ostentation and extravagance, not a normal consummation or fulfilment of activity. The remainder of their lives is spent in enslavement to keeping the machinery going at an increasingly rapid rate.
Meantime class struggle grows between those whose
( 273) productive labor is enforced by necessity and those who are privileged consumers. And the exaggeration of production due to its isolation from ignored consumption so hypnotizes attention that even would-be reformers, like Marxian socialists, assert that the entire social problem focuses at the point of production. Since this separation of means from ends signifies an. erection of means into ends, it is no wonder that a "materialistic conception of history" emerges. It is not an invention of Marx; it is a record of fact so far as the separation in question obtains. For practicable idealism is found only in a fulfilment, a consumption which is a replenishing, growth, renewal of mind and body. Harmony of social interests is found in the wide-spread sharing of activities significant in themselves, that is to say, at the point of consumption. But the forcing of production apart from consumption leads to the monstrous belief that class-struggle civil war is a means of social progress, instead of a register of the barriers to its attainment. Yet here too the Marxian reads aright the character of most current economic activity.
The history of economic activity thus exemplifies the moral consequences of the separation of present activity and future "ends" from each other. It also embodies the difficulty of tire problem — the tax placed by it upon thought and good will. For the professed idealist and the hard-headed materialist or "practical" man, have conspired together to sustain this situation.
(274) The " idealist " sets up as the ideal not fullness of meaning of the present but a remote goal. Hence the present is evacuated of meaning. It is reduced to being a mere external instrument, an evil necessity due to the distance between us and significant valid satisfaction. Appreciation, joy, peace in present activity are suspect. They are regarded as diversions, temptations, unworthy relaxations. Then since human nature must have present realization, a sentimental, romantic enjoyment of the ideal becomes a substitute for intelligent and rewarding activity. The utopia cannot be realized in fact but it may be appropriated in fantasy and serve as an anodyne to blunt the sense of a misery which after all endures. Some private key to a present, entering upon remote and superior bliss is sought, just as the evangelical enjoys a complacent and superior sense of a salvation unobtained by fellow mortals. Thus the normal demand for realization, for satisfaction in the present, is abnormally met.
Meantime the practical man wants 'something definite, tangible and presumably obtainable for which to work. He is looking after " a good thing" as the average man is looking after a " good time," that natural caricature of an intrinsically significant activity. Yet his activity is impractical. He is looking for satisfaction somewhere else than where it can be found. In his utopian search for a future good he neglects the only place where good can be found. He empties present activity of meaning by making it a mere instrumentality. When the future arrives it is only after all another
(275) despised present. By habit as well as by definition it is still a means to something which has yet to come. Again human nature must have its claims satisfied, and sensuality is the inevitable recourse. Usually a compromise is worked out, by which a man for his working hours accepts the philosophy of activity for some future result, while at odd leisure times he enters by conventionally recognized channels upon an enjoyment of " spiritual " blessings and " ideal " refinements. The problem of serving God and Mammon is thus solved. The situation exemplifies the concrete meaning of the separation of means from ends which is the intellectual reflex of the divorce of theory and practice, intelligence and habit, foresight and present impulse. Moralists have spent time and energy in showing what happens when appetite, impulse, is indulged without reference to consequences and reason. But they have mostly ignored the counterpart evils of an intelligence that conceives ideals and goods which do not enter into present impulse and habit. The life of reason has been specialized, romanticized, or made a heavy burden. This situation embodies the import of the problem of actualizing the place of intelligence in conduct.
Our whole account of the place of intelligence in conduct is exposed however to the charge of being itself romantic, a compensatory idealization. The history of mind is a record of intellect which registers, with more or less inaccuracy, what has happened after it has happened. The crisis in which the intervention of foreseeing and directing mind is needed passes unnoted,
(276) with attention directed toward incidentals and irrelevancies. The work of intellect is post mortem. The rise of social science, it will be pointed out, has increased the amount of registering that occurs. Social post mortems occur much more frequently than they used to. But one of the things which the unbiased mind will register is the impotency of discussion, analysis and reporting in modifying the course of events. The latter goes its way unheeding. The reply that this condition of matters shows not the impotency of intelligence but that what passes for science is not science is too easy a retort to be satisfactory. We must have recourse to some concrete facts or surrender our doctrine just at the moment when we have formulated it.
Technical affairs give evidence that the work of inquiry, reporting an analysis is not always ineffectual. The development of a chain of " nation-wide " tobacco shops, of a well managed national telephone system, of the extension of the service of an electric-light plant testify to the fact that study, reflection and the formation of plans do in some instances determine a course of events. The effect is seen in both engineering management and in national commercial expansion. Such potency however, it must be admitted, is limited to just those matters that arc called technical in contrast with the larger affairs of humanity. But if we seek, as we should, for a definition of " technical," we can hardly find any save one that goes in a circle: Affairs are technical in which observation, analysis and intellectual organization are determining factors. Is the conclusion
(277) to be drawn a conviction that our wider social interests are so different from those in which intelligence is a directing factor that in the former science must always remain a belated visitor coming upon the scene after matters are settled? \o, the logical conclusion is that as vet we have no technique in important economic, political and international affairs. Complexity of conditions render the difficulties in the way of the development of a technique enormous. It is imaginable they will never be overcome. But our choice is between the development of a technique by which intelligence will become an intervening partner and a continuation of s regime of accident, waste and distress.
Notes<! -x- >
- Acknowledgment is due "The Social Interpretation of History " by Maurice William.