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Anticipations

It will be obvious that the interest of this speculation, at any rate, centres upon this great intermediate mass of people who are neither passively wealthy, the sleeping partners of change, nor helplessly thrust out of the process. Indeed, from our point of view—an inquiry into coming things—these non-effective masses would have but the slightest interest were it not for their enormous possibilities of reaction upon the really living portion of the social organism. This really living portion seems at first sight to be as deliquescent in its nature, to be drifting down to as chaotic a structure as either the non-functional owners that float above it or the unemployed who sink below. What were once the definite subdivisions of the middle class modify and lose their boundaries. The retail tradesman of the towns, for example—once a fairly homogeneous class throughout Europe—expands here into vast store companies, and dwindles there to be an agent or collector, seeks employment or topples outright into the abyss. But under a certain scrutiny one can detect here what we do not detect in our other two elements, and that is that, going on side by side with the processes of dissolution and frequently masked by these, there are other processes by which men, often of the most diverse parentage and antecedent traditions, are being segregated into a multitude of specific new groups which may presently develop very distinctive characters and ideals.

There are, for example, the unorganized myriads that one can cover by the phrase "mechanics and engineers," if one uses it in its widest possible sense. At present it would be almost impossible to describe such a thing as a typical engineer, to predicate any universally applicable characteristic of the engineer and mechanic. The black-faced, oily man one figures emerging from the engine-room serves well enough, until one recalls the sanitary engineer with his additions of crockery and plumbing, the electrical engineer with his little tests and wires, the mining engineer, the railway maker, the motor builder, and the irrigation expert. Even if we take some specific branch of all this huge mass of new employment the coming of mechanism has brought with it, we still find an undigested miscellany. Consider the rude levy that is engaged in supplying and repairing the world's new need of bicycles! Wheelwrights, watchmakers, blacksmiths, music-dealers, drapers, sewing-machine repairers, smart errand boys, ironmongers, individuals from all the older aspects of engineering, have been caught up by the new development, are all now, with a more or less inadequate knowledge and training, working in the new service. But is it likely that this will remain a rude levy? From all these varied people the world requires certain things, and a failure to obtain them involves, sooner or later, in this competitive creation, an individual replacement and a push towards the abyss. The very lowest of them must understand the machine they contribute to make and repair, and not only is it a fairly complex machine in itself, but it is found in several types and patterns, and so far it has altered, and promises still to alter, steadily, by improvements in this part and that. No limited stock-in-trade of knowledge, such as suffices for a joiner or an ostler, will serve. They must keep on mastering new points, new aspects, they must be intelligent and adaptable, they must get a grasp of that permanent something that lies behind the changing immediate practice. In other words, they will have to be educated rather than trained after the fashion of the old craftsman. Just now this body of irregulars is threatened by the coming of the motors. The motors promise new difficulties, new rewards, and new competition. It is an ill look-out for the cycle mechanic who is not prepared to tackle the new problems that will arise. For all this next century this particular body of mechanics will be picking up new recruits and eliminating the incompetent and the rule-of-thumb sage. Can it fail, as the years pass, to develop certain general characters, to become so far homogeneous as to be generally conscious of the need of a scientific education, at any rate in mechanical and chemical matters, and to possess, down to its very lowest ranks and orders, a common fund of intellectual training?

But the makers and repairers of cycles, and that larger multitude that will presently be concerned with motors, are, after all, only a small and specialized section of the general body of mechanics and engineers. Every year, with the advance of invention, new branches of activity, that change in their nature and methods all too rapidly for the establishment of rote and routine workers of the old type, call together fresh levies of amateurish workers and learners who must surely presently develop into, or give place to, bodies of qualified and capable men. And the point I would particularly insist upon here is, that throughout all its ranks and ramifications, from the organizing heads of great undertakings down to the assistant in the local repair shop, this new, great, and expanding body of mechanics and engineers will tend to become an educated and adaptable class in a sense that the craftsmen of former times were not educated and adaptable. Just how high the scientific and practical education may rise in the central levels of this body is a matter for subsequent speculation, just how much initiative will be found in the lowest ranks depends upon many very complex considerations. But that here we have at least the possibility, the primary creative conditions of a new, numerous, intelligent, educated, and capable social element is, I think, a proposition with which the reader will agree.

What are the chief obstacles in the way of the emergence, from out the present chaos, of this social element equipped, organized, educated, conscious of itself and of distinctive aims, in the next hundred years? In the first place there is the spirit of trade unionism, the conservative contagion of the old craftsmanship. Trade Unions arose under the tradition of the old order, when in every business, employer and employed stood in marked antagonism, stood as a special instance of the universal relationship of gentle or intelligent, who supplied no labour, and simple, who supplied nothing else. The interest of the employer was to get as much labour as possible out of his hirelings; the complementary object in life of the hireling, whose sole function was drudgery, who had no other prospect until death, was to give as little to his employer as possible. In order to keep the necessary labourer submissive, it was a matter of public policy to keep him uneducated and as near the condition of a beast of burden as possible, and in order to keep his life tolerable against that natural increase which all the moral institutions of his state promoted, the labourer—stimulated if his efforts slackened by the touch of absolute misery—was forced to devise elaborate rules for restricting the hours of toil, making its performance needlessly complex, and shirking with extreme ingenuity and conscientiousness. In the older trades, of which the building trade is foremost, these two traditions, reinforced by unimaginative building regulations, have practically arrested any advance whatever.[26] There can be no doubt that this influence has spread into what are practically new branches of work. Even where new conveniences have called for new types of workmen and have opened the way for the elevation of a group of labourers to the higher level of versatile educated men,[27] the old traditions have to a very large extent prevailed. The average sanitary plumber of to-day in England insists upon his position as a mere labourer as though it were some precious thing, he guards himself from improvement as a virtuous woman guards her honour, he works for specifically limited hours and by the hour with specific limitations in the practice of his trade, on the fairly sound assumption that but for that restriction any fool might do plumbing as well as he; whatever he learns he learns from some other plumber during his apprenticeship years—after which he devotes himself to doing the minimum of work in the maximum of time until his brief excursion into this mysterious universe is over. So far from invention spurring him onward, every improvement in sanitary work in England, at least, is limited by the problem whether "the men" will understand it. A person ingenious enough to exceed this sacred limit might as well hang himself as trouble about the improvement of plumbing.

If England stood alone, I do not see why each of the new mechanical and engineering industries, so soon as it develops sufficiently to have gathered together a body of workers capable of supporting a Trade Union secretary, should not begin to stagnate in the same manner. Only England does not stand alone, and the building trade is so far not typical, inasmuch as it possesses a national monopoly that the most elaborate system of protection cannot secure any other group of trades. One must have one's house built where one has to live, the importation of workmen in small bodies is difficult and dear, and if one cannot have the house one wishes, one must needs have the least offensive substitute; but bicycle and motor, iron-work and furniture, engines, rails, and ships one can import. The community, therefore, that does least to educate its mechanics and engineers out of the base and servile tradition of the old idea of industry will in the coming years of progress simply get a disproportionate share of the rejected element, the trade will go elsewhere, and the community will be left in possession of an exceptionally large contingent for the abyss.

At present, however, I am dealing not with the specific community, but with the generalized civilized community of a.d. 2000—we disregard the fate of states and empires for a time—and, for that emergent community, wherever it may be, it seems reasonable to anticipate, replacing and enormously larger and more important than the classes of common workmen and mechanics of to-day, a large fairly homogeneous body—big men and little men, indeed, but with no dividing lines—of more or less expert mechanics and engineers, with a certain common minimum of education and intelligence, and probably a common-class consciousness—a new body, a new force, in the world's history.

For this body to exist implies the existence of much more than the primary and initiating nucleus of engineers and skilled mechanics. If it is an educated class, its existence implies a class of educators, and just as far as it does get educated the schoolmasters will be skilled and educated men. The shabby-genteel middle-class schoolmaster of the England of to-day, in—or a little way out of—orders, with his smattering of Greek, his Latin that leads nowhere, his fatuous mathematics, his gross ignorance of pedagogics, and his incomparable snobbishness, certainly does not represent the schoolmaster of this coming class. Moreover, the new element will necessarily embody its collective, necessarily distinctive, and unprecedented thoughts in a literature of its own, its development means the development of a new sort of writer and of new elements in the press. And since, if it does emerge, a revolution in the common schools of the community will be a necessary part of the process, then its emergence will involve a revolutionary change in the condition of classes that might otherwise remain as they are now—the older craftsman, for example.

The process of attraction will not end even there; the development of more and more scientific engineering and of really adaptable operatives will render possible agricultural contrivances that are now only dreams, and the diffusion of this new class over the country side—assuming the reasoning in my second chapter to be sound—will bring the lever of the improved schools under the agriculturist. The practically autonomous farm of the old epoch will probably be replaced by a great variety of types of cultivation, each with its labour-saving equipment. In this, as in most things, the future spells variation. The practical abolition of impossible distances over the world will tend to make every district specialize in the production for which it is best fitted, and to develop that production with an elaborate precision and economy. The chief opposing force to this tendency will be found in those countries where the tenure of the land is in small holdings. A population of small agriculturists that has really got itself well established is probably as hopelessly immovable a thing as the forces of progressive change will have to encounter. The Arcadian healthiness and simplicity of the small holder, and the usefulness of little hands about him, naturally results in his keeping the population on his plot up to the limit of bare subsistence. He avoids over-education, and his beasts live with him and his children in a natural kindly manner. He will have no idlers, and even grand-mamma goes weeding. His nett produce is less than the production of the larger methods, but his gross is greater, and usually it is mortgaged more or less. Along the selvage of many of the new roads we have foretold, his hens will peck and his children beg, far into the coming decades. This simple, virtuous, open-air life is to be found ripening in the north of France and Belgium, it culminated in Ireland in the famine years, it has held its own in China—with a use of female infanticide—for immemorable ages, and a number of excellent persons are endeavouring to establish it in England at the present time. At the Cape of Good Hope, under British rule, Kaffirs are being settled upon little inalienable holdings that must inevitably develop in the same direction, and over the Southern States the nigger squats and multiplies. It is fairly certain that these stagnant ponds of population, which will grow until public intelligence rises to the pitch of draining them, will on a greater scale parallel in the twentieth century the soon-to-be-dispersed urban slums of the nineteenth. But I do not see how they can obstruct, more than locally, the reorganization of agriculture and horticulture upon the ampler and more economical lines mechanism permits, or prevent the development of a type of agriculturist as adaptable, alert, intelligent, unprejudiced, and modest as the coming engineer.

Another great section of the community, the military element, will also fall within the attraction of this possible synthesis, and will inevitably undergo profound modification. Of the probable development of warfare a later chapter shall treat, and here it will suffice to point out that at present science stands proffering the soldier vague, vast possibilities of mechanism, and, so far, he has accepted practically nothing but rifles which he cannot sight and guns that he does not learn to move about. It is quite possible the sailor would be in the like case, but for the exceptional conditions that begot ironclads in the American Civil War. Science offers the soldier transport that he does not use, maps he does not use, entrenching devices, road-making devices, balloons and flying scouts, portable foods, security from disease, a thousand ways of organizing the horrible uncertainties of war. But the soldier of to-day—I do not mean the British soldier only—still insists on regarding these revolutionary appliances as mere accessories, and untrustworthy ones at that, to the time-honoured practice of his art. He guards his technical innocence like a plumber.

Every European army is organized on the lines of the once fundamental distinction of the horse and foot epoch, in deference to the contrast of gentle and simple. There is the officer, with all the traditions of old nobility, and the men still, by a hundred implications, mere sources of mechanical force, and fundamentally base. The British Army, for example, still cherishes the tradition that its privates are absolutely illiterate, and such small instruction as is given them in the art of war is imparted by bawling and enforced by abuse upon public drill grounds. Almost all discussion of military matters still turns upon the now quite stupid assumption that there are two primary military arms and no more, horse and foot. "Cyclists are infantry," the War Office manual of 1900 gallantly declares in the face of this changing universe. After fifty years of railways, there still does not exist, in a world which is said to be over devoted to military affairs, a skilled and organized body of men, specially prepared to seize, repair, reconstruct, work, and fight such an important element in the new social machinery as a railway system. Such a business, in the next European war, will be hastily entrusted to some haphazard incapables drafted from one or other of the two prehistoric arms.... I do not see how this condition of affairs can be anything but transitory. There may be several wars between European powers, prepared and organized to accept the old conventions, bloody, vast, distressful encounters that may still leave the art of war essentially unmodified, but sooner or later—it may be in the improvised struggle that follows the collapse of some one of these huge, witless, fighting forces—the new sort of soldier will emerge, a sober, considerate, engineering man—no more of a gentleman than the man subordinated to him or any other self-respecting person....

Certain interesting side questions I may glance at here, only for the present, at least, to set them aside unanswered, the reaction, for example, of this probable development of a great mass of educated and intelligent efficients upon the status and quality of the medical profession, and the influence of its novel needs in either modifying the existing legal body or calling into being a parallel body of more expert and versatile guides and assistants in business operations. But from the mention of this latter section one comes to another possible centre of aggregation in the social welter. Opposed in many of their most essential conditions to the capable men who are of primary importance in the social body, is the great and growing variety of non-productive but active men who are engaged in more or less necessary operations of organization, promotion, advertisement, and trade. There are the business managers, public and private, the political organizers, brokers, commission agents, the varying grades of financier down to the mere greedy camp followers of finance, the gamblers pure and simple, and the great body of their dependent clerks, typewriters, and assistants. All this multitude will have this much in common, that it will be dealing, not with the primary inexorable logic of natural laws, but with the shifting, uncertain prejudices and emotions of the general mass of people. It will be wary and cunning rather than deliberate and intelligent, smart rather than prompt, considering always the appearance and effect before the reality and possibilities of things. It will probably tend to form a culture about the political and financial operator as its ideal and central type, opposed to, and conflicting with, the forces of attraction that will tend to group the new social masses about the scientific engineer.[28]...

Here, then (in the vision of the present writer), are the main social elements of the coming time: (i.) the element of irresponsible property; (ii.) the helpless superseded poor, that broad base of mere toilers now no longer essential; (iii.) a great inchoate mass of more or less capable people engaged more or less consciously in applying the growing body of scientific knowledge to the general needs, a great mass that will inevitably tend to organize itself in a system of interdependent educated classes with a common consciousness and aim, but which may or may not succeed in doing so; and (iv.) a possibly equally great number of non-productive persons living in and by the social confusion.

All these elements will be mingled confusedly together, passing into one another by insensible gradations, scattered over the great urban regions and intervening areas our previous anticipations have sketched out. Moreover, they are developing, as it were unconsciously, under the stimulus of mechanical developments, and with the bandages of old tradition hampering their movements. The laws they obey, the governments they live under, are for the most part laws made and governments planned before the coming of steam. The areas of administration are still areas marked out by conditions of locomotion as obsolete as the quadrupedal method of the pre-arboreal ancestor. In Great Britain, for example, the political constitution, the balance of estates and the balance of parties, preserves the compromise of long-vanished antagonisms. The House of Lords is a collection of obsolete territorial dignitaries fitfully reinforced by the bishops and a miscellany (in no sense representative) of opulent moderns; the House of Commons is the seat of a party conflict, a faction fight of initiated persons, that has long ceased to bear any real relation to current social processes. The members of the lower chamber are selected by obscure party machines operating upon constituencies almost all of which have long since become too vast and heterogeneous to possess any collective intelligence or purpose at all. In theory the House of Commons guards the interests of classes that are, in fact, rapidly disintegrating into a number of quite antagonistic and conflicting elements. The new mass of capable men, of which the engineers are typical, these capable men who must necessarily be the active principle of the new mechanically equipped social body, finds no representation save by accident in either assembly. The man who has concerned himself with the public health, with army organization, with educational improvement, or with the vital matters of transport and communication, if he enter the official councils of the kingdom at all, must enter ostensibly as the guardian of the interests of the free and independent electors of a specific district that has long ceased to have any sort of specific interests at all.[29]...

And the same obsolescence that is so conspicuous in the general institutions of the official kingdom of England, and that even English people can remark in the official empire of China, is to be traced in a greater or lesser degree in the nominal organization and public tradition throughout the whole world. The United States, for example, the social mass which has perhaps advanced furthest along the new lines, struggles in the iron bonds of a constitution that is based primarily on a conception of a number of comparatively small, internally homogeneous, agricultural states, a bunch of pre-Johannesburg Transvaals, communicating little, and each constituting a separate autonomous democracy of free farmers—slaveholding or slaveless. Every country in the world, indeed, that is organized at all, has been organized with a view to stability within territorial limits; no country has been organized with any foresight of development and inevitable change, or with the slightest reference to the practical revolution in topography that the new means of transit involve. And since this is so, and since humanity is most assuredly embarked upon a series of changes of which we know as yet only the opening phases, a large part of the history of the coming years will certainly record more or less conscious endeavours to adapt these obsolete and obsolescent contrivances for the management of public affairs to the new and continually expanding and changing requirements of the social body, to correct or overcome the traditions that were once wisdom and which are now obstruction, and to burst the straining boundaries that were sufficient for the ancient states. There are here no signs of a millennium. Internal reconstruction, while men are still limited, egotistical, passionate, ignorant, and ignorantly led, means seditions and revolutions, and the rectification of frontiers means wars. But before we go on to these conflicts and wars certain general social reactions must be considered.

FOOTNOTES:

[20] Even the characteristic conditions of writing books, that least mechanical of pursuits, have been profoundly affected by the typewriter.

[21] To these two primary classes the more complicated societies have added others. There is the priest, almost always in the social order of the pre-railway period, an integral part, a functional organ of the social body, and there are the lawyer and the physician. And in the towns—constituting, indeed, the towns—there appear, as an outgrowth of the toiling class, a little emancipated from the gentleman's direct control, the craftsman, the merchant, and the trading sailor, essentially accessory classes, producers of, and dealers in, the accessories of life, and mitigating and clouding only very slightly that broad duality.

[22] Slight, that is, in comparison with nineteenth-century changes.

[23] It included, one remembers, Schopenhauer, but, as he remarked upon occasion, not Hegel.

[24] A very important factor in this mitigation, a factor over which the humanely minded cannot too greatly rejoice, will be the philanthropic amusements of the irresponsible wealthy. There is a growing class of energetic people—organizers, secretaries, preachers—who cater to the philanthropic instinct, and who are, for all practical purposes, employing a large and increasing section of suitable helpless people, in supplying to their customers, by means of religious acquiescence and light moral reforms, that sense of well-doing which is one of the least objectionable of the functionless pleasures of life. The attempts to reinstate these failures by means of subsidized industries will, in the end, of course, merely serve to throw out of employment other just subsisting strugglers; it will probably make little or no difference in the nett result of the process.

[25] I reserve any consideration of the special case of the "priest."

[26] I find it incredible that there will not be a sweeping revolution in the methods of building during the next century. The erection of a house-wall, come to think of it, is an astonishingly tedious and complex business; the final result exceedingly unsatisfactory. It has been my lot recently to follow in detail the process of building a private dwelling-house, and the solemn succession of deliberate, respectable, perfectly satisfied men, who have contributed each so many days of his life to this accumulation of weak compromises, has enormously intensified my constitutional amazement at my fellow-creatures. The chief ingredient in this particular house-wall is the common brick, burnt earth, and but one step from the handfuls of clay of the ancestral mud hut, small in size and permeable to damp. Slowly, day by day, the walls grew tediously up, to a melody of tinkling trowels. These bricks are joined by mortar, which is mixed in small quantities, and must vary very greatly in its quality and properties throughout the house. In order to prevent the obvious evils of a wall of porous and irregular baked clay and lime mud, a damp course of tarred felt, which cannot possibly last more than a few years, was inserted about a foot from the ground. Then the wall, being quite insufficient to stand the heavy drift of weather to which it is exposed, was dabbled over with two coatings of plaster on the outside, the outermost being given a primitive picturesqueness by means of a sham surface of rough-cast pebbles and white-wash, while within, to conceal the rough discomfort of the surface, successive coatings of plaster, and finally, paper, were added, with a wood-skirting at the foot thrice painted. Everything in this was hand work, the laying of the bricks, the dabbing of the plaster, the smoothing of the paper; it is a house built of hands—and some I saw were bleeding hands—just as in the days of the pyramids, when the only engines were living men. The whole confection is now undergoing incalculable chemical reactions between its several parts. Lime, mortar, and microscopical organisms are producing undesigned chromatic effects in the paper and plaster; the plaster, having methods of expansion and contraction of its own, crinkles and cracks; the skirting, having absorbed moisture and now drying again, opens its joints; the rough-cast coquettes with the frost and opens chinks and crannies for the humbler creation. I fail to see the necessity of (and, accordingly, I resent bitterly) all these coral-reef methods. Better walls than this, and better and less life-wasting ways of making them, are surely possible. In the wall in question, concrete would have been cheaper and better than bricks if only "the men" had understood it. But I can dream at last of much more revolutionary affairs, of a thing running to and fro along a temporary rail, that will squeeze out wall as one squeezes paint from a tube, and form its surface with a pat or two as it sets. Moreover, I do not see at all why the walls of small dwelling-houses should be so solid as they are. There still hangs about us the monumental traditions of the pyramids. It ought to be possible to build sound, portable, and habitable houses of felted wire-netting and weather-proofed paper upon a light framework. This sort of thing is, no doubt, abominably ugly at present, but that is because architects and designers, being for the most part inordinately cultured and quite uneducated, are unable to cope with its fundamentally novel problems. A few energetic men might at any time set out to alter all this. And with the inevitable revolutions that must come about in domestic fittings, and which I hope to discuss more fully in the next paper, it is open to question whether many ground landlords may not find they have work for the house-breakers rather than wealth unlimited falling into their hands when the building leases their solicitors so ingeniously draw up do at last expire.

[27] The new aspects of building, for example, that have been brought about by the entrance of water and gas into the house, and the application of water to sanitation.

[28] The future of the servant class and the future of the artist are two interesting questions that will be most conveniently mentioned at a later stage, when we come to discuss the domestic life in greater detail than is possible before we have formed any clear notion of the sort of people who will lead that life.

[29] Even the physical conditions under which the House of Commons meets and plays at government, are ridiculously obsolete. Every disputable point is settled by a division, a bell rings, there is shouting and running, the members come blundering into the chamber and sort themselves with much loutish shuffling and shoving into the division lobbies. They are counted, as illiterate farmers count sheep; amidst much fuss and confusion they return to their places, and the tellers vociferate the result. The waste of time over these antics is enormous, and they are often repeated many times in an evening. For the lack of time, the House of Commons is unable to perform the most urgent and necessary legislative duties—it has this year hung up a cryingly necessary Education Bill, a delay that will in the end cost Great Britain millions—but not a soul in it has had the necessary common sense to point out that an electrician and an expert locksmith could in a few weeks, and for a few hundred pounds, devise and construct a member's desk and key, committee-room tapes and voting-desks, and a general recording apparatus, that would enable every member within the precincts to vote, and that would count, record, and report the votes within the space of a couple of minutes.



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