Mind Self and Society

Section 37 Further Consideration of Religious and Economic Attitudes

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I want to speak again of the organizing nature of these larger and more abstract social relationships which I have been discussing, those of religion and economics. Each of them becomes universal in its working character, not universal because of any philosophical abstraction involved in them. The primitive man who trades or the modern man on the stock exchange is not interested in the form of economic society that is implied in the exchanges he makes; nor is it at all necessary to assume that the individual who in his immediate assistance of another in trouble identifies himself with this other, presents to himself a form of society in which the interest of one is the interest of all. And yet, as I indicated, these two processes are in their nature universal; they can be applied to anyone.

One who can assist any individual whom he finds suffering may extend that universality far beyond man, and put it into the form of allowing no suffering to any sensuous being. The attitude is one which we take toward any other form that actually does, or conceivably may, appeal to us when in distress, or any being to which we can convey immediate satisfaction by our own acts. It finds its expression in a certain attitude of tenderness. It may be generalized in individuals far beyond one's family. Love may show itself toward any young form which excites the parental attitude, even when it is not a human form. Small articles call out a sort of tender attitude. Such facts show how very wide the actual universality of this attitude is; it takes in practically everything, every possible being with whom one can

(290) have a personal relation. It is not always dominant, of course, since sometimes the hostile reactions are more powerful in their expression than any other; but to the extent that it is present it makes possible a universal form of society. The Christian saints represented that sort of society to which every individual could conceivably belong. The ideal received an expression in the religious conception of a world where all are to have absolutely identical interests.

The other process is that of exchange in which one passes over, so to speak, that which he does not need for something which he does need. Relative wants on a basis of communication and common interests make exchange possible. This is a process which does not extend below man, as the other attitude does. One cannot exchange with the ox or the ass, but he may have a kindly feeling for them.

What I want to refer to especially is the organizing power that these two types of attitudes may have, and have had, in the human community. As I have stated, they are primarily attitudes which one may enter into with any actual or ideal human being with whom he can possibly communicate, and in one case at least, with other beings with whom he cannot communicate. We are in social relationships with domestic animals, and our responses assume the identification of the animal with ourselves as much as ourselves with the animal, an assumption which has no ultimate justification. Our own fundamental attitude is a social relationship based on the self; so we treat the acts of domestic animals as if they had selves. We take their attitude, and our conduct in dealing with them implies that they take our attitude; we act as if the dog knew what we wanted. I need not add that our conduct which implies selves in domestic animals has no rational justification.

Such attitudes, then, are attitudes that may lead to a social organization which goes beyond the actual structure in which individuals find themselves involved. It is for this reason that it is possible for these attitudes themselves to work toward, or at least to assist in, the creation of the structure of these larger

(291) communities. If we look first of all at the economic attitude where the exchange of one's own surplus with somebody else's surplus puts one in the attitude of production, producing such surpluses for the purpose of exchange (and makes one in particular look toward the ways of exchange, of establishing markets, of setting up means for transportation, of elaborating the media of exchange, of building up banking systems), we recognize that all this may flow from the mere process of exchange providing the value of it is recognized so as to lead sufficiently to the production of the surpluses which are the basis of the original process. Two children can exchange their toys with each other, the one exchanging an old toy with a friend who is willing to part with his; here there is an exchange of surpluses which does not lead to production. But in the case of human beings who can look ahead and see the advantages of exchange, exchange leads to production.

A notable illustration of that is the development of the woolen industry in England. At first the exchange simply took place in England itself, where the wool was spun under feudal conditions; and then came the carrying of this from one locality to another, and the springing-up of an overseas trade. The changes that took place inside of England's communities as a result of this industry are commonly known, as is the very large part that it played in the development of foreign trade, bringing about the gradual change from the agricultural to the industrial life of the community itself. And then as the woolen cloth passed over the nation's boundaries a network of economic organization grew up which has underlain the whole later development of England.

When such an immediate attitude of exchange becomes a principle of social conduct, it carries with it a process of social development in the way of production, of transportation, and of all the media involved in the economic process, that sets up something of the very universal society that this attitude carries with it as a possibility. It is a process, of course, of bringing the man who has the goods to exchange into direct relationship

(292) with the person who is willing to exchange for them what he needs. And the process of production and transportation, and of taking the goods received in return, relates the individuals more closely to the others involved in the economic process. It is a slow process of the integration of a society which binds people more and more closely together. It does not bring them spatially and geographically together but unites them in terms of communication. We are familiar with the abstraction in the textbook illustration of three or four men located on the desert island who carry on the process of trading with each other. They are highly abstract figures, but they exist as abstractions in the economic community and as such represent an interrelationship of communication in which the individual in his own process of production is identifying himself with the individual who has something to exchange with him. He has to put himself in the place of the other or he could not produce that which the other wants. If he starts off on that process he is, of course, identifying himself with any possible customer, any possible producer; and if his mechanism is of this very abstract sort, then the web of commerce can go anywhere and the form of society may take in anybody who is willing to enter in this process of communication. Such an attitude in society does tend to build up the structure of a universal social organism.

As taught in economics, money is nothing but a token, a symbol for a certain amount of wealth. It is a symbol for something that is wanted by individuals who are in the attitude of willingness to exchange; and the forms of exchange are then the methods of conversation, and the media of exchange become gestures which enable us to carry out at vast distances this process of passing over something one does not want, to get something he does, by means of bringing himself into the attitude of the other person. The media of these tokens of wealth are, then, in this process of exchange just such gestures or symbols as language is in other fields.

The other universal attitude discussed was neighborliness, which passes over into the principle of religious relationship, the

(293) attitude which made religion as such possible. The immediate effect of the attitude may be nothing but sharing one's food with a person who is hungry, giving water to the thirsty, helping the person who is down and out. It may be nothing but surrendering to the impulse to give something to the man who touches you on the street. It may accomplish nothing more than that, just as exchange between two children may not go beyond the process of exchange. But, in fact, the attitude once assumed has proved to have enormous power of social reorganization. It is that attitude which has expressed itself in the universal religions, and which expresses itself in a large part of the social organization of modern society.

Christianity paved the way for the social progress-political, economic, scientific-of the modern world, the social progress which is so dominantly characteristic of that world. For the Christian notion of a rational or abstract universal human society or social order, though originating as a primarily religious and ethical doctrine, gradually lost its purely religious and ethical associations, and expanded to include all the other main aspects of concrete human social life as well; and so became the larger, more complex notion of that many-sided, rationally universal human society to which all the social reconstructions constituting modern social progress involve intellectual reference by the Individuals carrying them out.

There is a striking contrast between the ancient-and especially the ancient Greek-world and the modern world relative to the notion of progress. That notion or conception was utterly foreign to, and almost completely absent from, the thought and civilization of the ancient world; whereas it is one of the most characteristic and dominant ideas in the thought and civilization of the modern world. For the world-view of modern culture is essentially a dynamic one -- a world-view which allows for, and indeed emphasizes, the reality of genuine creative change and evolution in things; whereas the world-view of ancient culture was essentially a static one -- a world-view which did not admit the occurrence or actuality of any genuinely creative change or

(294) evolution in the universe at all: a world-view according to which nothing of which the final cause was not already given (and eternally given) in reality could come into existence; i.e., nothing could come into being except as or by the individual realization of a fixed universal type that was already there and always had been there. According to modern thought, there are no fixed or determined ends or goals toward which social progress necessarily moves; and such progress is hence genuinely creative and would not otherwise be progress (indeed, creativeness is essential to the modern idea of progress). But ancient thought, on the contrary, did not recognize the reality or existence or possibility of progress at all, in the modern sense of the term; and the only progress of any sort which it recognized as possible or real was progress toward eternally fixed ends or goals -- progress (which modern thought would not consider to be genuine progress at all) toward the realization of given, predetermined types.

The notion of progress was meaningless for Greek society or civilization, by virtue of the distinctive organization of the Greek state, which was wholly impotent to deal effectively with the social conflicts-or conflicts of social interests-that arose within it. But progress is dominantly characteristic of modern society or civilization, by virtue of the distinctive organization of the modern state which is sufficiently flexible to be able to cope, to some extent at least, with the social conflicts among individuals that arise within it; because it lends itself-in a way in which the organization of the Greek state did not-to that more or less abstract intellectual extension of its boundaries, by the minds of the individuals implicated in it, which we have mentioned: an extension whereby these minds are able to envisage a larger social organization or organized social whole environing them, one in which the conflicts of social interests within it are in some degree harmonized or canceled out, and by reference to which, accordingly, these minds are able to bring about the reconstructions within it that are needed to resolve or settle those conflicts.


The economic and religious principles are often put in opposition to each other. There is, on the one hand, the assumption of an economic process which we call "materialistic" in character; and, on the other hand, the identification of people in common interests which we speak of in idealistic terms. Of course, some justification can be found for this view, but it overlooks the importance of the fact that these attitudes have to be continually corrected. It is assumed that the economic process is always a self-centered one in which the individual is simply advancing his own interest over against the other, that one is taking the attitude of the other only to get the better of him. While it has been insisted that free trade, the opportunity to exchange, is something that leads to a recognition of common interests, it has always been assumed that this is the by-product of the economic process, and not involved in the attitude itself, although we do find economic idealism in such a man as James Bryce. On the other hand, religions have been as much sources of warfare in the past as economic competition has been under the present conditions. One of the striking effects of every war is to emphasize the national character of the religion of the people. During the war we had the God of the Germans and the God of the Allies; deity was divided in allegiance. The extent to which the religious life adjusts itself to conflict is frequently illustrated in history; illustrations of the idealistic phases of economic life are not entirely lacking. There is no question but that the economic process is one which has continually brought people into closer relationship with each other and has tended to identify individuals with each other. The outstanding illustration of this is the international character of labor, and the development within the local community of a labor organization as such. There is both the identification of the laborer with his fellow-laborers in the group, and the identification of the laborers in one community with those in another community. In socialism the labor movement has become a religion. The economic process is one which brings groups inevitably closer together through the process of communication which involves participa-

(296) -tion. It has been the most universal socializing factor in our whole modern society, more universally recognizable than religion.

The religion gathered about the cult of a community becomes very concrete, identifies itself with the immediate history and life of the community, and is more conservative than almost any other institution in the community. The cult has a mysterious value which attaches to it that we cannot fully rationalize, and therefore we preserve it in the form which it always has had, and in its social setting. It tends to fix the character of the religious expression, so that while the religious attitude is one which leads to identification with any other, the cult in which it institutionalizes itself is apt to be specialized almost to the last degree. It is quite possible to understand anybody who comes to you with something of value which you want to get; if he can express himself in commercial terms, you can understand him. If he comes to you, however, with his particular religious cult, the chances are very great that you cannot comprehend him. The missionary movement, which has been so characteristic of different religions, is a movement in which the universal character of the religion has in turn challenged the fixed conservative character of the cult, as such, and has had enormous effects on the character of the religion itself. But even here religion has undertaken to transfer itself as a cult with all its character, its creed and its dogma, so that it has not lent itself so directly as a means of universal communication as has the economic process.

The two attitudes, of course, are attitudes which are quite different from each other. The one attitude identifies the individual with the other only when both are engaged in a trading operation. Exchange is the life-blood of the economic process, and that process abstracts everything from the other individual except what is involved in trading. The religious attitude, on the contrary, takes you into the immediate inner attitude of the other individual; you are identifying yourself with him in so far as you are assisting him, helping him, saving his soul, aiding

(297) him in this world or the world to come-your attitude is that of salvation of the individual. That attitude is far more profound in the identification of the individual with others. The economic process is more superficial and therefore is one which perhaps can travel more rapidly and make possible an easier communication. The two processes, however, are always universal in their character, and so far as they get expression they tend to build up in some sense a common community which is as universal as the attitudes themselves. The processes taken simply by themselves, as where one child trades a toy for another child's toy or where one animal helps another, may immediately stop with the exercise of the act; but where one has a group made up of selves as such, individuals that identify themselves with the others, that arouse the attitude of the other as a means of getting their own selves, the processes then go far beyond a mere seizing of something which one can get that the other does not want, or beyond the bare impulse to help the other. In carrying out these activities the individual has set up a process of integration which brings the individuals closer together, creating the mechanism by which a deeper communication with participation is possible.

It is important to recognize this development going on in history; the two processes taken by themselves tend to bring about the larger community even when the persons have not any ideals for its realization. One cannot take the attitude of identifying himself with the other without in some sense tending to set up such communities. It is the particular function of history to enable us to look back and see how far such social reconstruction has taken place-reconstruction that people at the time did not recognize, but which we can recognize because of our advantage of greater distance. And the function of the leader, the individual who is able to grasp such movements and so carry along the community, is to give direction and impetus, with a consciousness of that which is taking place.

It seems to me that such a view of the self as I have presented in detail renders intelligible the accumulation of social growth.

(298) If we can recognize that an individual does achieve himself, his own consciousness, in the identification of himself with the other, then we can say that the economic process must be one in which the individual does identify himself with the possible customers with whom he exchanges things, that he must be continually building up means of communication with these individuals to make this process successful, and that, while the process in itself may be firmly self-centered, it must inevitably lead him to take more and more concretely the attitude of the other. If you are going to carry on the economic process successfully, you have to come into closer and closer relationship with the other individual, identify yourself not simply in the particular matter of exchange, but find out what he wants and why he wants it, what will be the conditions of payment, the particular character of the goods desired, and so on. You have to identify yourself with him more and more. We are rather scornful of the attitude of salesmanship which modern business emphasizes-salesmanship which seems always to carry with it hypocrisy, to advocate putting one's self in the attitude of the other so as to trick him into buying something he does not want. Even if we do not regard this as justifiable, we can at least recognize that even here there is the assumption that the individual has to take the attitude of the other, that the recognition of the interest of the other is essential to a successful trade. The goal of this is seen when we carry the economic process beyond the profit motive over into public-service concerns. The manager of a railroad or public utility has to put himself in the place of the community that he serves, and we can readily see that such public utilities could pass entirely out of the field of gain and become successful economic undertakings simply as a means of communication. The socialist makes out of this possibility a theory for all business.


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