Moving the Mountain, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Chapter 10

IT was this new growth of humanity which made continuing social progress so rapid and so sure.

These young minds had no rubbish in them. They had a vivid sense of the world as a whole, quite beyond their family “relations.” They were marvelously reasonable, free from prejudice, able to see and willing to do. And this spreading tide of hope and courage flowed back into the older minds, as well as forward into the new

I found that peopled ideas of youth and age had altered materially. Nellie said it was due to the change in women — but then she laid most things to that. She reminded me that women used to be considered only as females, and were “old” when no longer available in that capacity; but that as soon as they recognized themselves as human beings they put “Grandma” into the background, and “Mother” too; and simply went on working and growing and enjoying life up into the lively eighties — even nineties, sometimes.

“Brains do not cease to function at fifty,” she said. “Just because a woman is no longer an object to ‘fall in love’ with, it does not follow that life has no charms for her. Women today have all that they ever had before, all that was good in it; and more, a thousand times more. When the lives of half the world widen like that it widens the other half too.”

This quite evidently had happened.

The average mental standard was higher, the outlook broader. I found many very ordinary people, of course; some whose only attitude toward this wonderful new world was to enjoy its advantages; and even some who grumbled. These were either old persons with bad digestions or new immigrants from very backward countries.

I traveled about, visiting different places, consulting all manner of authorities, making notes, registering objections. It was all interesting, and grew more so as it seemed less strange. My sense of theatrical unreality gave way to a growing appreciation of the universal beauty about me.

Art, I found, held a very different position from what it used to hold. It had joined hands with life again, was common, familiar, used in all things. There were pictures, many and beautiful, but the great word Art was no longer so closely confined to its pictorial form. It was not narrow, expensive, requiring a special education, but part of the atmosphere in which all children grew, all people lived.

For instance the theatre, which I remember as a two-dollar affair, and mainly vulgar and narrow, was now the daily companion and teacher. The historic instinct with which nearly every child is born was cultivated without check. The little ones played through all their first years of instruction, played the old stone age (most natural to them!) the new stone age, the first stages of industry. Older children learned history that way; and as they reached years of appreciation, special dramas were written for them, in which psychology and sociology were learned without hearing their names.

Those happy, busy, eager young things played gaily through wide ranges of human experience; and when these emotions touched them in later years, they were not strange and awful, but easy to understand.

In every smallest village there was a playhouse, not only in the child-gardens, but for the older people. They each had their dramatic company, as some used to have their bands; had their musical companies too, and better ones.

Out of this universal use of the drama rose freely those of special talent who made it the major business of their lives; and the higher average everywhere gave to these greater ones the atmosphere of real appreciation which a growing art must have.

I asked Nellie how the people managed who lived in the real country — remote and alone.

“We don’t live that way any more,” she said. “Only some stubborn old people, like Uncle Jake and Aunt Dorcas. You see the women decided that they must live in groups to have proper industrial and educational advantages; and they do.”

“Where do the men live?” I asked grimly.

“With the women, of course — Where should they? I don’t mean that a person cannot go and live in a hut on a mountain, if he likes; we do that in summer, very largely. It is a rest to be alone part of the time. But living, real human living, requires a larger group than one family. You can see the results.”

I could and I did; though I would not always admit it to Nellie; and this beautiful commonness of good music, good architecture, good sculpture, good painting, gpod drama, good dancing, good literature, impressed me increasingly. Instead of those perpendicular peaks of isolated genius we used to have, surrounded by the ignorantly indifferent many, and the excessively admiring few, those geniuses now sloped gently down to the average on long graduated lines of decreasing ability. It gave to the commonest people a possible road of upward development, and to the most developed a path of connection with the com monest people. The geniuses seemed to like it too. They were not so conceited, not so disagreeable, not so lonesome.

People seemed to have a very good time, even while at work; indeed very many found their work more fun than anything else. . The abundant leisure gave a sort of margin to life which was wholly new, to the majoriety at least. It was that spare time, and the direct efforts of the government in wholesale educational lines, which had accomplished so much in the first ten years.

Owen reminded me of the educational vitality even of the years I knew; of the university extension movement, the lectures in the public schools, the push of the popular magazines; the summer schools, the hundreds of thousands of club women, whose main effort seemed to be to improve their minds.

“And the Press,” I said — “our splendid Press.”

“That was one of our worst obstacles, I’m sorry to say,” he answered.

I looked at him. “Oh, go ahead, go ahead! You’ll tell me the public schools were an obstacle next.”

“They would have been — if we hadn’t changed them,” he agreed. “But they were in our hands at least, and we got them re-arranged very promptly. That absurd old despotism which kept the grade of teachers down so low, was very promptly changed. We have about five times as many teachers now, fifty times as good and far better paid, not only in cash, but in public appreciation. Our teachers are ‘leading citizens’ now — we have elected one President from the School Principalship of a state.”

This was news, and not unpleasant.

“Have you elected any Editors?”

“No — but we may soon. They are a new set of men now I can tell you; and women, of course. You remember in our day journalism was frankly treated as a trade; whereas it is visibly one of the most important professions.”

“And did you so reform those Editors, so that they became as self-sacrificing as country doctors?”

“Oh, no. But we changed the business conditions. It was the advertising that corrupted the papers — mostly; and the advertisers were only screaming for bread and butter — especially butter. When Socialism reorganized business there was no need to scream.

“But I find plenty of advertising in the papers and magazines.”

“Certainly — it is a great convenience. Have you studied it?”

I had to own that I had not particularly — I never did like advertising.

“You’ll find it worth reading. In the first place it’s all true.”

“How do you secure that?”

“We have made lying to the public ay crime — don’t you remember? Each community has its Board of Standards; there is a constant effort to improve standards you x see, in all products; and expert judgment may always be had, for nothing. If any salesman advertises falsely he loses his job, if he’s an official; and is posted, if he’s selling as a private individual. When the public is told officially that Mr. Jones is a liar it hurts his trade.”

“You have a Government Press?”

“Exactly. The Press is preeminently a public function — it is not and never was a private business — not legitimately.”

“But you do have private papers and magazines?”

“Yes indeed, lots of them. Ever so many personal ‘organs’ large and small. But they don’t carry advertising. If enough people will buy a man’s paper to pay him, he’s quite free to publish.”

“How do you prevent his carrying advertising?”

“It’s against the law — like any other misdemeanor. Post Office won’t take it — he can’t distribute. No, if you want to find out about the latest breakfast food — ( and there are a score you never heard of) — or the last improvement in fountain pens or air-ships — you find it all, clear, short, and reliable, in the hotel paper of every town. There’s no such bulk of advertising matter now, you see; not so many people struggling to sell the same thing.”

“Is all business socialized?”

“Yes — and no. All the main business is; the big assured steady things that our life depends on. But there is a free margin for individual initiative — and always will be. We are not so foolish as to cut off that supply. We have more inventors and idealists than ever; and plenty of chance for trial. You see the two hours a day which pays board, so to speak, leaves plenty of time to do other work; and if the new thing the man does is sufficiently valuable to enough people, he is free to do that alone. Like the little one-man papers I spoke of. If a man can find five thousand people who will pay a dollar a year to read what he says he’s quite as likely to make his living that way.” “Have you no competition at all?” “Plenty of it. All our young folks are? racing and chasing to break the record; to do more work, better work, new work.”

“But not under the spur of necessity.”

“Why, yes they are. The most compelling necessity we know. They have to do it; it is in them and must come out.”

“But they are all sure of a living, aren’t they?”

“Yes, of course. Oh, I see! What you meant by necessity was hunger and cold. Bless you, John, poverty was no spur. It was a deadly anaesthetic.”

I looked my disagreement, and he went on: “You remember the hideous poverty and helplessness of the old days — did that ‘spur’ the population to do anything? Don’t you see, John, that if poverty had been the splendid stimulus it used to be thought, there wouldn’t have been any poverty? Some few exceptional persons triumphed in spite of it, but we shall never know the amount of world loss in the many who did not.

“It was funny,” he continued meditatively, “how we went on believing that in some mysterious way poverty ‘strengthened character,’ ‘developed initiative,’ ‘stimulated industry,’ and did all manner of fine things; and never turned our eyes on the millions of people who lived and died in poverty with weakened characters, no initiative, a slow, enforced and hated industry. My word, John, what fools we were!”

I was considering this Government Press he described. “How did you dispose of the newspapers you had?”

“Just as we disposed of the saloons; drove them out of business by underselling them with better goods. The laws against lying helped too.”

“I don’t see how you can stop people’s lying”

“We can’t stop their lying in private, except by better social standards; but we can stop public lying, and we have. If a paper published a false statement anyone could bring a complaint; and the district attorney was obliged to prosecute. If a paper pleaded ignorance or misinformation it was let off with a fine and a reprimand the first time, a heavy fine the second time, and confiscation the third time; as being proved by their own admission incompetent to tell the truth! If it was shown to be an intentional falsehood they were put out of business at once.”

“That’s all very pretty,” I said, “and sounds easy as you tell it; but what made people so hot about lying? They didn’t used to mind it. The more you tell me of these things the more puzzled I am as to what altered the minds of the people. They certainly had to alter considerably from the kind I remember, to even want all these changes, much more to enforce them.”

Owen wasn’t much of a psychologist, and said so. He insisted that people had wanted better things, only they did not know it.

“Well — what made them know it?” I insisted. “Now here’s one thing, small in a way, but showing a very long step in altertion; people dress comfortably and beautifully; almost all of them. What made them do it?”

“They have more money,” Owen began, “more leisure and better education.”

But I waved this aside.

“That has nothing to do with it. The people with money and education were precisely the ones who wore the most out — rageous clothes. And as to leisure — they spent their leisure in getting up foolish costumes, apparently.”

“Women are more intelligent, you see,” he began again; but I dismissed this also.

“The intelligence of a Lord Chancellor didn’t prevent his wearing a wig! How did people break loose from the force of fashion, I want to know?”

He could not make this clear, and said he wouldn’t try.

“You show me all these material changes,” I went on; “and I can see that there was no real obstacle to them; but the obstacle that lasted so long was in the people’s minds. What moved that? Then you show me this marvellous new education, as resulting in new kinds of people, better people, wiser, freer, stronger, braver; and I can see that at work. But how did you come to accept this new education? You needn’t lay it all to the women, as Nellie does. I knew one or two of the most advanced of them in 1910, and they had no such world-view as this. They wore foolish clothes and had no ideas beyond ‘Votes for Women’ — some of them.”

“No sir! I admit that there was potential wealth enough in the earth to support all this ease and beauty; and potential energy in the people to produce the wealth. I admit that it was possible for people to leave off being stupid and become wise — evidently they have done so. But I don’t see what made them.”

“You go and see Dr. Borderson,” said Owen.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17