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| Chapter 9
"THIS is the most fascinating study," Ellador announced one day. "At home we are so smoothly happy, so naturally growing, that it's almost unconscious. Here, if you have not happiness, you have a call on all your sympathy, all your energy, all your pride — you have such a magnificent Opportunity.
"I've gone deeper into my diagnosis, dear," she continued, "and have even some prescriptions. Be patient while I generalize a little more. You see this 'case' has so many diseases at once that one has to discriminate a bit.
"Here is the young new-made country, struggling out of the old ones to escape their worst diseases, breaking loose from monarchy, from aristocracy, and feudalism with its hereditary grip on land and money, on body and soul, and most of all, from that mind-crushing process of Enforced Belief which had kept the whole world back so long.
"Note —" she interpolated. "It is easy to see that as man progresses in social relation he needs more and more a free strong agile mind, with sympathetic perception and understanding and the full power of self-chosen action. The Enforced Belief in any religion claiming to be Final Truth cripples the mind along precisely those lines, tending to promote a foolish sense of superiority to other believers or disbelievers; running to extremes of persecution; preventing sympathy, perception, and understanding, and reducing action to mere obedience.
"There," she said cheerfully. "If America had done nothing but that — establish the freedom of thought and belief — she would have done world-service of the highest order."
"The Greeks allowed it, didn't they? And the Romans?" I offered.
"If they did it was 'a lost art' afterward," she replied. "Anyhow you did it later, and you have gone on doing it — splendidly.
"Then, in establishing the beginning of a democracy you performed another great service. This has not progressed as successfully, first because of its only partial application, second because you did not know it needed to be earnestly studied and taught — you thought you had it once and for all just by letting men vote, and third because it has been preyed upon by both parasites and diseases. In the matter of religion you threw off an evil restriction and let the mind grow free — a natural process. In the matter of government you established a social process, one requiring the utmost knowledge and skill. So it is no wonder the result has been so poor.
"Prescription as to government:
"A. Enfranchisement of all adult citizens. You have started on this.
"B. Special training — and practice — in the simpler methods and principles of democratic government as far as known, for all children, with higher courses and facilities for experiment and research for special students. You are beginning to do this already.
"C. Careful analysis and reports on the diseases of democracy, with applied remedies, and as careful study of the parasites affecting it — with sharp and thorough treatment. Even this you are beginning.
"A little severe on the parasites, aren't your" I asked.
"It is time you were severe on them, Van. I'm no Buddhist — I'm a forester. When I see trees attacked by vermin, I exterminate the vermin if I can. My business is to raise wood, fruit, nuts — not insects."
"Except of course when the mulberry tree is sacrificed to the silk worms," I suggested, but she merely smiled at me.
"You need to transfer to your democracy the devotion you used to have for your kings," she went on. "To kill a common man was murder — to kill a king was regicide. You have got to see that for one man to rob another man is bad enough; for a man to rob the public is worse; but to rob the public through the government is a kind of high treason which — if you still punished by torture — would be deserving of the most excruciating kind. As it is you have allowed the practice to become so common that it is scarcely condemned at all — you do not even call it robbery; you call it 'graft' — or 'pork' — or a 'plum tree' — or some such polite term."
Of course I knew all this — but I never had felt it as anything particularly dreadful.
"Don't you see," she went on. "The government is the social motor system. By means of it society learns, as a baby learns, to check some actions and to make others. If your government is sick, you are paralyzed, weakened, confused, unable to act. "In practical instance your city governments are frequently corrupt from the policemen up. Therefore when, with infinite labor, the public feeling has been aroused to want something done, you find that the machinery to do it with won't work. What you do not seem to realize at all is that the specific evil you seek to attack is not nearly so serious as the generic evil which makes your whole governmental system so — so —"
"Groggy," I suggested with a wry smile.
"Yes — that's about it. As weak and slow and wavering as a drunken man."
"Remedy," I demanded, "remedy?"
"Why that comes under 'C in those I just gave," she said. "It needs full study and careful experiment to decide on the remedies. But here is what might be done at once: A report be made which should begin with a brief survey of the worst cases of governmental corruption in other countries, past and present. Not only in general, but with specific instances, people called by name with their crimes clearly shown. What such and such a person cost his country. How such decisive battles were lost because of such crippling disorders in the government. Parallel made between conspicuous traitors already recognized and this kind. Report now brought to our own country with both summary and instances. Our waterways described, what has been done, legitimately, to improve them, and what has been done, illegitimately, to hinder, pervert, and prevent right government action. History of our River and Harbor Bills given, and brought down to date, with this last huge 'steal' now accomplished — and not even rebuked! Names should be given — and names called! The congressmen and senators concerned, and the beneficiaries in the localities thus nefariously fattened.
"This kind of thing could be put simply and briefly so that the children could understand. They should be taught, early and steadily, how to judge the men who corrupt the very vitals of their country. Also how to judge the lazy shirks who do not even vote, much less study how to help the country."
"It needs — it needs a new kind of public opinion, doesn't it?" I ventured.
"Of course it does, but new public opinion has to be made. It takes no great genius to recognize a thief and a traitor, once he is shown up; but yours are not shown up."
"Why, Ellador — I'm sure there's a lot about this in the papers."
She looked at me — just looked at me — and her expression was like that of an over-ripe volcano, firmly suppressed.
"For Heaven's sake! Let it out, Ellador. Say it quick and say it all — what's the matter with the papers!"
She laughed. Fortunately she could laugh, and I laughed with her.
"I couldn't say it all — under ten volumes," she admitted, "but I'll say some of it. This is a special department — I must begin again."
"This whole matter of societies, parasites and diseases is intensely interesting. We in Herland, being normal, have not realized our society much, any more than a healthy child realizes her body."
I noticed that Ellador and her sisters always said "she" and "her" as unconsciously as we say "he" and "his." Their reason, of course, is that all the people are shes. Our reason is not so justifiable.
"But the rest of the world seems to be painfully conscious of its social body — without being able to help it much. Now you know there are diseases and diseases, some much preferable to others. In their degree of danger they vary much, and in what they are dangerous to. One might better have a very sick leg than an even partly sick heart or brain. Rheumatism for instance is painful and crippling, but when it reaches the heart it becomes fatal. Some creatures cannot have certain diseases for lack of material; one does not look for insanity in an angleworm, or neurasthenia in a clam.
"Society, as it has developed new functions, has developed new diseases. The daily press is one of the very newest social functions — one of the very highest — one of the most measureless importance. That is why the rheumatism of the press is worse than rheumatism of the farm, or the market."
"Rheumatism of the press?'
"Yes — that's a poor figure perhaps. I mean any serious disease is worse there than in some lower or less important function. Look at the whole thing again, Van. Society, in the stage of democracy, needs to be universally informed, mutually sympathetic, quick and strong to act . For this purpose it must introduce machinery to develop intelligence, to supply information, to arouse and impart feeling, to promote prompt action. The schools are supposed to train the intelligence, but your press is the great machine through which the democracy is informed, aroused, and urged to act. It is the social sensorium. Through it you see and hear and feel — collectively. Through it you are incited to act — collectively. It is later and by that much higher than the school and the church. It is the necessary instrument of democracy."
"Admitted, all admitted. But isn't that our general belief, dear, though perhaps not so clearly put?"
"Yes, you seem to think a great deal of your press — so much so that you cannot see, much less cure, its diseases."
"Well — you are the doctor. Pitch in. I suppose you know there are many and fierce critics of 'our senational press' and 'our venal press.'"
"Oh yes, I have read some of the criticisms. They don't touch it."
"Go on, and touch it yourself, Sister — I'm listening."
She was too serious to be annoyed at my light manner.
"It's like this," she said slowly. "This great new function came into being in a time when people were struggling with what seemed more important issues, — were, perhaps. In Europe it has become, very largely, a tool of the old governments. Here, fearing that, it has been allowed to become the tool of individuals, and now of your plutocratic powers. You see you changed your form of government but failed to change your ideas and feelings to go with it. You allow it to go on over your heads as if it were a monarchy and none of your business. And you jealously refuse to give it certain necessary tools, as if it were a monarchy and would misuse them. What you have got to learn is to keep your government the conscious determined action of the majority of the people, and see that it has full power. A democracy is self-government, the united self of the people. Is that self-control the best that self-controls the least?"
"Do you want a government-owned press?" I inquired. "We see that in Europe — and do not like it."
"You mean a monarchy-controlled press, do you not? No, I do not mean anything like that. You should have a press with democratic control, surely, and that means all the people, or at least the majority of them. What you have now is a press controlled by starkly mercenary motives of individuals, and the more powerful purposes of your big 'interests.'
"What are you going to do — that's what I want to know. Lots of people criticize our press, but no one seems able to suggest the better method. Some propose endowment; we must have freedom of expression."
"You mustn't expect too much of me, Van. I can see the diseases easier than the cures, of course. It seems to me that you could combine perfect freedom of opinion, comment, idea, with the most authoritative presentation of the facts."
"Do you think a government-run paper could be trusted to give the facts correctly?"
"If it did not there would be heavier charges against it than could be survived over election. What you have not recognized yet is the social crime of misrepresenting the facts. Your papers lie as they please."
"We have our libel laws —"
"I didn't say libel — I said lie. They lie, on whichever side they belong, and there is no penalty for it."
I laughed, as an American would. "Penalty for lying! Who's going to throw the first stone?"
"Exactly. That's the awful part of it, Van. Your people are so used to public lying that you don't mind. You are paralyzed, benumbed, calloused, to certain evils you should be keenly alive to. There are plenty of much less dangerous things you make far more noise about. You see the press is suffering from a marked confusion of function. It makes all its proud claims for freedom and protection as an "expression of public opinion," as "a medium of information," and then makes its main business the cheapest kind of catering to prejudices, and to a market — the market of the widest lowest popular taste for literary amusement. Why does 'the palladium of your liberties' have to carry those mind-weakening, soul-degenerating 'comics'? They are neither information nor opinion — only bait."
"The people would not buy the papers if they were not amusing."
"What people would not? Wouldn't you?"
"Oh, I would, of course; I want to know the news; I mean the lower classes."
"And these 'lower classes,' so low that they take no interest in the news of the day and have to be given stuff suited to imbeciles, imbeciles with slightly criminal tastes — are they a large and permanent part of your democracy?"
"You mean that we ought to put out decent papers and see that the people are educated up to them?"
I was trying to see why not, but she went on:
"If your papers were what they ought to be, they could be used in the schools, should be so used. Every boy and girl in the high school should take the Current Events course. Each day they should be required to read the brief clear summary of real news which would not be a long task, and required to state what seemed to them most important, and why.
"This array of 'crimes and casualties' you print is not news — it is as monotonous as the alphabet. All that needs is a mere list, a bulletin from the sick chamber of society, interesting only to the specialist. But the children should be taught to see the world move — every day; to be interested, to feel responsible. People educated like that wouldn't need to be baited with foul stuff to read the papers."
For the life of me I couldn't see anything the matter with this. If we can trust our government with the meteorological reports why not with the social ones?
"The best brains, the best backing, the whole country watching," she continued, — "papers that gave the news — and people who could read them. Then your comment and opinion could be as free as it pleased — on the side. Anybody could publish all of that she wanted to. But why should private opinion be saddled on the public facts, Van?"
"All right; diagnosis accepted with reservations; remedy proposed too suspiciously simple. But go ahead — what else ails us? With every adult enfranchised, the newspapers reliable, our natural resources properly protected, developed and improved — would that do for a starter?"
"Not while half the people do not earn enough to be healthy."
I groaned. "All right. Let's get down to it. Bring on your socialism. Do you want it by evolution, or revolution, or both?"
She was not deceived by my mock pathos. "What is your prejudice against socialism, Van? Why do you always speak as if it were — slightly ridiculous?"
I considered for a moment, thoughtfully.
"I suppose it is on account of my college education, and the kind of people I've lived with most," I answered.
"And what is your own sincere view of it?"
That had to be considered too.
"Why — I suppose the theory is right enough," I began, but she stopped me to ask:
"What is the theory — as you see it?"
Then I was obliged to exhibit my limitations, for all I could produce was What I had heard other people say about it, what I could remember of various articles and reviews, mostly adverse, a fruitless excursion into the dogmatic mazes of Marx, and a moat unfavorable impression of certain socialist papers and pamphlets I had seen.
"That's about what I find everywhere," she was good enough to say. "That is your idea of it; now, very honestly, what is your feeling about it — say it right out, please."
So without waiting to be careful and to see if my feelings bore any relation to my facts, I produced a jumble of popular emotions, to the effect that Socialism was a lazy man's paradise; that it was an effort of the underdog to get on top, that it was an unfair "evening down" of the rewards of superior ability with those of the inferior; that it was a class movement full of hatred and injustice, that nobody would be willing "to do the dirty work," and that "such a world wouldn't be worth living in, anyhow."
Ellador laughed merrily, both at this nondescript mass of current misconception, and at my guilty yet belligerent air, as who should say: "It may be discreditable, but that's the way I feel."
She sobered soon enough, and looked far past me — through me. "It's not you, Van dear," she said. "It's America talking. And America ought to be ashamed of itself. To have so little vision! To be so gullible! To believe so easily what the least study would disprove! To be so afraid of the very principles on which this nation rests!"
"This nation rests on the principle of individual liberty — not on government ownership," I protested.
"What individual liberty has the working man?" she countered. "What choice of profession has his ill-born, ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-taught child? The thing you call 'free competition' is long past — and you never saw it go. You see ideas stay fixed in peoples' minds long after the facts have changed. Your industrial world is in a state of what Ghent called 'feudalism' — and he was right. It is like Europe under the robber barons, and your struggling trade unions are like the efforts of the escaping serfs in that period. It only takes a little history and economics to see the facts. The perplexing part of the problem, to me, is the dullness of the popular mind. You Americans are an intelligent people, and a somewhat educated people, but you can't seem to see things."
"Are we any blinder than other people, my lady? Do they recognize these glaring facts any better than we do?"
Ellador sat still a moment, running over her fresh clear view of the world, past and present.
"No," she said. "No other people is any better — in all ways — except New Zealanders perhaps. Yet ever so many countries are wiser in some particulars, and you — with all your advantages — haven't sense enough to see it. Oh I know you'll say the others don't see it either, but you ought to. You are free — and you are able to act when you do see. No, Van — there's no excuse for you. You had supreme advantages, you made a brave start, you established a splendid beginning, and then you sat back and bragged about your ancestors and your resources — and your prospects — and let the vermin crawl all over you."
Her eyes were grave, her tone solemn, her words most offensive.
"Look here, Ellador, why will you use that term. It's very disagreeable."
"What else can you call these people who hang like clusters of leeches on the public treasury, who hop like fleas to escape the law, who spin webby masses of special legislation in which to breed more freely, who creep and crawl on every public work that is undertaken, and fatten undisturbed on all private business? What do you call your 'sidewalk speculators' in theater-tickets, for instance — but vermin? Just to steal a ticket and go to see the play would be a clean manly thing to do compared to this. They are small ones, openly disgusting, yet you do nothing but grumble a little.
"To turn from little to big I want to know what you call your sleeping-car extortionists? What is the size limit of vermin, anyhow? I suppose if a flea was a yard long he would be a beast of prey wouldn't he?
"You certainly are — drastic, my dear girl. But what have you got against the sleeping cars? I've always thought our service was pretty good."
She shook her head slowly, regarding me with that motherly patient expression.
"The resignation of the American public to its devourers is like that of — of a sick kitten. You remember that poor little lean thing we picked up, and had to drop, quick, and brush ourselves? Why Van Jennings — don't you even know you are being robbed, to the bone, by that sleeping-car company? Look here, please "
Then she produced one of those neat little sheets of figures I had so learned to respect. Most damaging things, Ellador's figures.
"Twelve double berths to a car, beside the 'stateroom,' or rooms which I won't count; twenty-four passengers, who have already bought a ticket on which they are entitled to transportation with accommodations in the day-coach. Usual price $5.00 for twenty-four hours. For this $5.00 the passenger receives by day a whole seat instead of a half one — unless there is a day crowd and then extra seats are cheerfully sold to other victims — I have seen sleeping-cars crowded to standing! By night he has a place to lie down — three by three by six, with a curtain for privacy."
"Well, but he is being carried on his journey all the time," I urged.
"So he is in the day-coach or chair-car. This money is not for transportation — that's paid for. It is for special accommodation. I am speaking of the kind of accommodation, and what is extorted for it. The night arrangements are what you know. Look at the price." "Two dollars and a half isn't so much," I urged, but she pursued relentlessly. "Wouldn't you think it was much, here, in this hotel, for a space of that size?"
I looked about me at the comfortable room in the first-class hotel where we were then lodged, and thought of the preceding night, when we had had our two berths on the car. Here was a room twelve by fourteen by ten. There were two windows. There was a closet and a bathroom. There was every modern convenience in furniture. There was a wide, comfortable bed. My room adjoined it, equally large and comfortable."
"This is $2.00 for twenty-four hours," she remarked. "That was $5.00."
"Sleeping cars are expensive to build," I remarked feebly. "More expensive than hotels?" she asked. "The hotel must pay ground rent, and taxes."
"The sleeping cars are not always full," I urged.
"Neither are the hotels — are they?"
"But the car has to be moved — — "
"Yes, and the railroad company pays the sleeping car for being moved," she triumphed.
I wanted to say something about service; tried to, but she made merry over it.
"They have one conductor for their string of sleepers, and as to porters — we mostly pay them, you know."
I did know, of course.
"This is how I have figured it," said Ellador. "Of course I don't know the exact facts about their business, and they 'won't fell, but look at it this way: Suppose they average twenty passengers per car — staterooms and all — at $ 5.00 a day; that's $100.00 a day income, $36,500.00 a year per car. Now they pay the porter about $30.00 a month, I understand, or less, leaving the public to do the rest. Each car's fraction of the conductor's wages wouldn't be more than $20.00, I should think; there's $50.00 a month, $600 a year for service. Then there is laundry work and cleanings-forty sheets — pillowcases — towels — flat-work rates of course; and renovating at the end of the journey. I don't believe it comes to over — say $800.00 a year. Then there is insurance, depreciation, repairs "
"Look here, Ellador, where did you get up these technicalities? Talking with business men, I suppose — as usual?"
"Yes, of course," she agreed. "And I'm very proud of them. Well — I'll allow $1,600.00 a year for that. That is $3,000.00 for their running expenses. And remember they are paid something for running — I don't know how much. That leaves $33,500.00. I will magnanimously leave off that $3,500.00 — for times when they carried fewer passengers — call it a clear income of $30,000.00 a year. Now that is 10 per cent of $300,000.00. You don't honestly suppose that one sleeping car costs three hundred thousand dollars — do you, Van?"
I did not. I knew better. Anybody knows better.
"If it costs $100,000 to build and fit a sleeping car," she went on calmly, "then they could charge about $1.75 for their berths, and still 'make money,' as you call it. If ten per cent. is a legitimate 'profit,' I call the extra twenty per cent. a grinding extortion. What do you call it?"
"Up to date I never called it anything. I never noticed it."
She nodded. "Exactly. You people keep quiet and pay three times what is necessary for the right to live. You are bled — sucked — night and day, in every direction. Now then, if these blood-suckers are beasts of prey — fight them, conquer them. If they are vermin — Oh, I know you don't like the word — but Van, what is your estimate of people who are willing to endure — vermin?"