Baltimore Evening Sun (14 June 1913): 6.
A DAILY THOUGHT. Non ego ventosæ plebis suffragia venor.–Q. F. Flaccus. ——— The Rev. Charles Fiske, D. D., in the course of an article on “The Debt of the Educated Man”:
Some years since Senator Lodge expressed the opinion that the chief defect of our modern educated life was its tendency to arouse unduly the critical spirit. * * * There are plenty of intellectual mugwumps in the world, and they are always barren of lasting achievement. They sit complacently on judgment stools, passing cynical criticisms on evils which they make no effort to correct.
To which, perhaps, the most apt of answers was made by Immanuel Kant fully 150 years ago, to wit:
So viel ist gewiss: wer einmal Kritik gekostet hat, den ekelt auf immer alles dogmatische Gewäsche.
Which may be put into English as follows:
So much is sure: Whoever has once tasted Criticism, is disgusted forever after with all dogmatic twaddle.
That is to say, once education and experience have aroused the critical spirit in a man, he straightway loses all belief in brummagem schemes for making the world a one-horse paradise overnight. The chief impression left on a healthy mind by a sound education, indeed, is an impression of what may be called the infinite complexity of the social reaction. An ignorant man believes in short cuts, ready answers, sovereign specifics. He believes, for example, that Peruna will cure Bright’s disease, that such terms as “good” and “bad” have definite and unchangeable meanings, that a simple act of the Legislature is sufficient to stamp out such things as prostitution, avarice, cleverness, drunkenness and the law of natural selection. The educated man is simply a man who knows better. The fact that he knows better is the one practicable test of his education. It may not be a sufficient and infallible test, but nevertheless it is the only test that actually works.
There is no need, I take it, of supporting this proposition with a host of examples, for a large number of them will immediately occur to every reflective man. All proposals for the reduction of enormously complex phenomena to simple equations come from the dreamers of the race, i. e., from those persons whose pressing sense of what ought to be is uncontaminated by any appreciable sense of what is. Viewed romantirally, such persons are prophets. Their thinking is not grounded ipon reason, but upon intuition—and it is always pleasant to argue that intuition is superior to reason. But viewed realistically, the thing they offer is not prophecy at all, but merely ignorance. It is the business of the persons who possess superior knowledge—that is to say, of those who are better educated—to combat this ignorance with criticism, and to pull off its successive husks, one by one, until finally the inner kernel of truth is revealed. Sometimes that kernel is microscopic, but it is very seldom, of course, that it has no existence at all, for even error is unimaginable save as it is an exaggerated and distorted statement of truth.
The operation of this process is seen most plainly, perhaps, in the field of medicine, for it is probable that men have done more thinking in that field, first and last, than in any other, not even excepting religion. Everyone of us is ill at times, and everyone of us wants to get well. The result of this universal yearning has always been an effort to dispose of ancient difficulties, to find short cuts, to reduce the complex and baffling to a beautiful simplicity. Such has been the origin of all the quack healing cults since the day of Hammurabi. For example, Christian Science. Mrs.Eddy was able to devise her puerile magic, and to believe in it after she had devised it, not because she was educated, for she wasn’t, but precisely because she was incredibly ignorant. Difficulties and objections that would have halted an educated person at the very start did not bother her in the slightest. She was ignorant of the most elementary facts of anatomy and physiology, and so she went blundering on. The result was a healing scheme of unparalleled simplicity—but also one of unparalleled imbecility.
But didn’t it convince many persons who were educated? It did not. It convinced only those who thought they were educated, who passed as educated. It convinced, in the first place, a crowd of women with no more genuine education, whatever their pretensions, than so many chorus girls or Slavonic immigrants. And it convinced, in the second place, a crowd of male boobies so powerful in intellect that they were willing to take the simple word of a vapid old woman, on an extremely recondite and technical question, against the sober and unanimous judgment or men who had devoted their whole lives to studying it. Many of these persons, male and female, were highly estimable. Most of them belonged to Sunday-schools. All of them, so far as I know to the contrary, paid their taxes, beat their children daily and sent money to the heathen. But in the whole lot there was not one who showed the slightest development of that critical faculty which is the chief fruit, sign and essence of true education. They were refined, peacable and honest—but they were infinitely credulous and ignorant.
The same phenomenon is frequently witnessed in the domain of morals. Speaking generally, the most ignorant man is always the most immovably moral man. That is to say, the most ignorant man is always the most sure that his right is the right, and that all other rights are bogus, and that no change in moral values will ever be possible in future, and that the world would be perfect if all dissenters were clapped into jail. Such is the fine, blatant, bumptious morality of vice crusaders, prohibitionists, Sunday snouters and all other such gladiators of Puritanism. The thought that their easy solution of all the problems of the world may he wrong—that civilization may be a vastly more complex affair than they assume it to be—this thought never crosses their minds. They are so sure that they are right.that they are ecstatically eager to shed the blood of every man who raises any question about it.
Is it the duty of educated men, who should and do know better, to join in this preposterious bellowing? Or is it their duty to stand forever against it, to expose its weaknesses, one by one, to oppose it with all their might? I leave the answer to every man who esteems the true above the merely sonorous, to every man who feels any responsibility of gratitude for his opportunities to acquire knowledge, to every man who believes that deceit, cant, fustian, hypocrisy and stupidity are evil and shameful things, however virtuous their wrappings.
Boil your drinking water! Swat the fly! Watch Bob come back!