No 👣 tracking social sharing

Sociology in Slumberland

I READ with sustained interest, as many probably did, the challenging article by Prof. Edward Maslin Hulme in the April, 1944 issue of The Truth Seeker, and was particularly attracted by the underlying importance of this paragraph:
"The second basic thing with which scholarship should be concerned is the prevention of war. The general causes of war are economic rivalries, national jealousies, religious hatreds, the pressure of overpopulation, the influence of a military class, and the selfishness of profiteers. And every one of these causes can be met and overcome."


I paused rather hopefully here, and looked expectantly to his next paragraph, and throughout the balance of the article, for some clue to the solution of the problem, but not a line-was forthcoming, not even the shadow of a hint, to tell us how "these causes [of war] can be met and overcome", Which confirms a longheld opinion of mine, tentatively accepted throughout the years but now approaching a settled conviction, that sociology has nothing to offer but jasmine-scented platitudes.


When an historian as well drilled in the scanning of history and as distinguished as the one who graces the pages of this paper talks on human relations, he is accorded a most respectful hearing, When he tells us, in dulcet tones, that "religious hatreds" and ''the selfishness of profiteers" are social evils, we quietly assent. When he tells us that these among others are causes of war that can be "met and overcome", we naturally expect him to tell us the means. And when he doesn't, we are left to wonder what has suddenly sent matters askew or disrupted the orderly process of his thinking. Can it be that he has momentarily entered a dream-world of his own as fantastic as that of the theologian?


If the things enumerated by Prof. Hulme are "the general causes of war'', as I think most of them are (though he makes no mention at all of man's disposition to enjoy a good gory fight or a vicious fist-fest, as may be seen at bull-rings, cock-pits, and prize-fight stadiums), then it is incumbent on us at once to eliminate them if we can. But how? That is precisely the question that Prof. Hulme leaves hanging in the air.


The cure for wars is not so simple, I think, as Prof. Hulme believes. Man is a cantankerous animal still, and will bomb and bayonet and poison gas, if necessary, those who seriously get in his way. And he will cast aside his last ounce of culture to do it. His fury when aroused is deadlier than that of any jungle beast, and his means of venting that fury are made more terrible by his technological knowledge. Private dueling has gone out of fashion (or largely so), but mass slaughter with machine-guns, flame-throwers and block-busters has superseded the sword and pistol on the hell of honor. What has an historian to offer in way of proof that man is any less a fighting animal today than he was in the days Of Hannibal or the Siege of Troy?


This country of ours, in a little more than three times my own span of life, has fought seven major wars, one of them civil, engaged in numerous Indian wars, and sent punitive expeditions and occupational forces to Mexico, Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, and Cuba. We are (or think of ourselves as being) the most peace-loving nation in the world, yet is there anything to indicate that we would not again take up arms against those whom we consider guilty of overt or provocative acts? If there is a cure for war, it is time that the machinery of the "humanists" were put to work.


"The pressure of over-population" is often a cause of war, but what does Prof. Hulme offer in a remedial way? Tell a people to reduce their birth rate, and they will laugh in your face. Tell them to sterilize their morons and they will think you are one yourself. We can't move the people of Puerto Rico to wider areas, nor can we shove a continent under their feet. Wherever there are congested populations, there will be more mouths than food and a dependency on other nations for basic supplies. If the congested nation is big and strong enough (as in the case of Japan), it will launch out to get what it vitally needs, by hook or crook. The niceties of trade will be sustained only as long as they fill a reciprocal want; given a military clique and a beating of drums, and a nation will find "honorable" means to pounce upon and seize adjoining territory. You then have another war, or several wars on your hands and more yapping for a League of Nations. The cure? I don't know, not being a sociologist. But one thing is certain. We will get another League of Nations or a revised League and another slough of treaties, just to keep up appearances and continue our delusion that, by some miracle of fate, human nature will some day behave differently.


And even now, while the High Court of the League of Nations is draped in mourning for a global war it couldn't prevent, we are treated to the bland assertion that this war will be the last. The Atlantic Charter will see to this.


Meanwhile, the distribution of land on the face of the globe has not followed an intelligent pattern for the provision of human sustenance; there are large areas that have never sustained or never will sustain populous groups. Some nations have grabbed off the high-spots; those which have been short-changed by Providence must, by the laws of necessity, do a little looking around. They not only look, some of them, but decide to take a slice. Then follows a nice little brawl known as war. There is a cure for it, of course, because Prof. Hulme says there is, but what he thinks the cure is, he doesn't say. It is the sociological approach to a grave and pressing problem.


"The influence of a military class" is named by Prof. Hulme as one of the causes of war, but isn't it true that our own "military class" is using its ''influence" right now to ward off the blows of those who seek our destruction? Where would we be today without this "military class" and its protective activities? How could "culture" alone hope to meet and "overcome" the Nipponese and Nazi armies?


Distressing as the race for national armaments is, it is nevertheless based on what each nation feels is its needs for self-preservation. I can no more imagine a large and prosperous country existing for long without an armed force to protect it than I can visualize a city without a police force or a village without a town constable. Even Switzerland, tiny as she is, believes in having one of the best trained armies in the world; she trusts no one and keeps her powder dry. Military cliques may, at times, beat up the world, but matches sometimes set fire to buildings and are bad implements in the hands of incendiaries. Yet will anyone propose doing away with matches? I am, as you see, no "pacifist". What is one to do in the face of stern reality? We are not living in a make-believe-world, but in one of cold, hard facts, which, though sometimes annoying to our finer sensibilities is indisputably real.


Does anyone believe that you can reform a "profiteer" by talking to him nicely in academic terms? Maybe it can be done, but unless I have been dozing for the past fifty years, our sociological experts have been slumping in their chairs. What have they accomplished and-- what is still more important--what can they accomplish in eliminating selfishness"?


But even supposing that our industrial profiteers could be induced to give up their private practice of hijacking the public, might we not have to face even greater lootings than before? They could still go into politics, and treat us to more scandals like Teapot Dome or to the bureaucratic holdups and unbridled squanderings of another New Deal. Is there any less political corruption today than in the days of Boss Tweed? If you think so, ask the people of Jersey City.


"National jealousies", it is true, may sometimes lead to war, but I do not consider them evils in themselves. Being a firm believer in the benefits of competition (in sports, in classroom, and in the fields of industry), I see no reason to condemn "national jealousies". They are incentives for greater expansion and national improvement. A physician, distinguished as a writer, once wrote me that he was "envious" of me for something I had written, though I had secretly aspired to write as well as he, but I do not think that this kind of "envy", could have brought us to blows. There is nothing materially wrong in one nation's being, jealous of another.


As, for "economic rivalries", something may be said here. If there were no "economic rivalries", Smith Brothers would not try to turn out a better coughdrop, or Cadillac a better car than somebody else. Rivalries within industries, as rivalries between nations) are spurs to ambition and ingenuity; they are not necessarily a cause of war. We have been turning out cheese since the Republic was founded and have never had a war with the Swiss people or the Dutch.


No study in human behavior falls more naturally within the province of the historian than the hatreds engendered by religion. They are found everywhere. From Herodotus down to Gibbon and Lea and the far-reaching Buckle himself, and thence on to modern chroniclers like Lecky, Bury, and McCabe, there is an unbroken procession of recorded events which places religion in the pillory of shame. Even Buckle alone, among the truly great historians, gives us enough of a horrifying picture of what religion did to even so small and as sturdy a people as the Scotch, to damn it forever in the eyes of civilization. Religious hatred is, as Prof. Hulme reminds us, one of the causes of war; we see it manifested today in the intrigues and instigations of Vatican circles. There can be no doubt, as McCabe shows in his "Papacy in Politics Today", that a part of the world conflagration we see around us was ignited by papal machinations.


Wars over religion are less popular today than they were during the days of the Crusades, not because religionists are any less addicted to war, but because there are other things more important to fight about. Christian clergymen still bless our cannons and our battle-flags and our boys under arms. And since we have their assurance that there are no atheists in foxholes or even in the skies, one must assume that those who are doing the fighting are at least religious. Many of them doubtless are, but they are not fighting over religion. Catholics are bayoneting Catholics with as little concern as they would stick a pig, back home on the farm, and the chaplain (on our side or the enemy's) will tell them they are doing a good job. This holocaust, in its larger aspects at least, is not a religious war, though some element of the Jewish question has entered part of it. We have "heathens" on our side as well as against us, and nearly every religion is represented on the battlefield, with their followers either fighting side by side or blowing one another to bits.


The animosities of religion are less intense in wartime than in times of peace. In war, under the iron rule of military discipline, men of different faiths are welded together for a common cause; in peace, they have more time to think about their religious differences. It is then that the ancient animosities have more time to reassert themselves.


When will these ancient animosities disappear! You can draw your own conclusions. My own impression is: when the cow jumps over the moon. If this sounds a little too hopeless, I will be more encouraging religion will cease to breed hatreds when it ceases to exist. You can figure out for yourselves when mankind will cease to be superstitious. At the rate of human progression, it may be some time around the end of the world.


Hatreds are inherent in the very nature of religion itself. How, then, does Prof. Hulme expect to obliterate these hatreds? Let him try to convince a Brahman that an "untouchable" is as good as a Hindu, and he will get a look bordering on scorn. Let him assure a Mohammedan that "a dog of a Christian"' is as worthy as a follower of the Prophet, and he will learn how a Mohammedan can hate, Let him tell an Irish Catholic that a denier of Christ is as good as a follower of the Pope--and anything may happen.


It is much the same in all parts of the world. Wherever we turn we are confronted by religious animosities.


The Falashas, or the Jews of Abyssinia, says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "do not mix with the Abyssinians, and never marry women of alien religions. They are even forbidden to enter the houses of Christians, and from such pollution have to be purified before entering their own houses".


The hatreds caused by differences in religion are worldwide; those we see manifested in our own country are, like those everywhere else, deep-rooted in the sub-soil of religious habits. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews still carry on their age-long feuds and vendettas of hate, and the flames of fanaticism are constantly fanned by a difference in creed. To this day, in some of our States, an atheist cannot testify in a court of justice, either an his own behalf or on behalf of others; judicially considered, he has no more rights than a dog in the pound. What does Prof. Hulme propose here? Scholarship can no more penetrate the thick skull of bigotry than it can teach a drug addict to give up his dope. It is a waste of words to talk the niceties of civilization and the language of culture to those who do not know the meaning of "decency". And it is bordering on inane repetition to talk about the elimination of war, so long as men are what they are and ready to fight for what they want.If we are not misled by our newspapers, the biggest and bloodiest war in history is going on right now; and I venture to predict that those that follow will be bigger and bloodier than ever. And I will add right here that it will be a sad, sad day when decent men are unwilling to fight, and fight to the last ditch, for the principles they hold right and the things they cherish most. If I ever resume the reading of fiction, I will turn to the sociologists.

Friends and Colleagues