Public Opinion







Each of us lives and works on a small part of the earth’s surface,
moves in a small circle, and of these acquaintances knows only a few
intimately. Of any public event that has wide effects we see at best
only a phase and an aspect. This is as true of the eminent insiders
who draft treaties, make laws, and issue orders, as it is of those who
have treaties framed for them, laws promulgated to them, orders given
at them. Inevitably our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach
of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe.
They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have
reported and what we can imagine.

Yet even the eyewitness does not bring back a naéve picture of the
scene. [Footnote: _E. g. cf._ Edmond Locard, _L’Enquête Criminelle
et les Méthodes Scientifiques._ A great deal of interesting material has
been gathered in late years on the credibility of the witness, which
shows, as an able reviewer of Dr. Locard’s book says in _The
Times_ (London) Literary Supplement (August 18, 1921), that
credibility varies as to classes of witnesses and classes of events,
and also as to type of perception. Thus, perceptions of touch, odor,
and taste have low evidential value. Our hearing is defective and
arbitrary when it judges the source and direction of sound, and in
listening to the talk of other people “words which are not heard will
be supplied by the witness in all good faith. He will have a theory of
the purport of the conversation, and will arrange the sounds he heard
to fit it.” Even visual perceptions are liable to great error, as in
identification, recognition, judgment of distance, estimates of
numbers, for example, the size of a crowd. In the untrained observer,
the sense of time is highly variable. All these original weaknesses
are complicated by tricks of memory, and the incessant creative
quality of the imagination. _Cf_. also Sherrington, _The Integrative
Action of the Nervous System_, pp. 318-327.

The late Professor Hugo Münsterberg wrote a popular book on this
subject called _On the Witness Stand_.] For experience seems to
show that he himself brings something to the scene which later he
takes away from it, that oftener than not what he imagines to be the
account of an event is really a transfiguration of it. Few facts in
consciousness seem to be merely given. Most facts in consciousness
seem to be partly made. A report is the joint product of the knower
and known, in which the role of the observer is always selective and
usually creative. The facts we see depend on where we are placed, and
the habits of our eyes.

An unfamiliar scene is like the baby’s world, “one great, blooming,
buzzing confusion.” [Footnote: Wm. James, _Principles of
Psychology_, Vol. I, p. 488.] This is the way, says Mr. John Dewey,
[Footnote: John Dewey, _How We Think_, pg 121.] that any new
thing strikes an adult, so far as the thing is really new and strange.
“Foreign languages that we do not understand always seem jibberings,
babblings, in which it is impossible to fix a definite, clear-cut,
individualized group of sounds. The countryman in the crowded street,
the landlubber at sea, the ignoramus in sport at a contest between
experts in a complicated game, are further instances. Put an
inexperienced man in a factory, and at first the work seems to him a
meaningless medley. All strangers of another race proverbially look
alike to the visiting stranger. Only gross differences of size or
color are perceived by an outsider in a flock of sheep, each of which
is perfectly individualized to the shepherd. A diffusive blur and an
indiscriminately shifting suction characterize what we do not
understand. The problem of the acquisition of meaning by things, or
(stated in another way) of forming habits of simple apprehension, is
thus the problem of introducing (1) _definiteness_ and _distinction_
and (2) _consistency_ or _stability_ of meaning into what is
otherwise vague and wavering.”

But the kind of definiteness and consistency introduced depends upon
who introduces them. In a later passage [Footnote: _op. cit._, p.
133.] Dewey gives an example of how differently an experienced layman
and a chemist might define the word metal. “Smoothness, hardness,
glossiness, and brilliancy, heavy weight for its size … the
serviceable properties of capacity for being hammered and pulled
without breaking, of being softened by heat and hardened by cold, of
retaining the shape and form given, of resistance to pressure and
decay, would probably be included” in the layman’s definition. But the
chemist would likely as not ignore these esthetic and utilitarian
qualities, and define a metal as “any chemical element that enters
into combination with oxygen so as to form a base.”

For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define
first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the
outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us,
and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form
stereotyped for us by our culture. Of the great men who assembled at
Paris to settle the affairs of mankind, how many were there who were
able to see much of the Europe about them, rather than their
commitments about Europe? Could anyone have penetrated the mind of M.
Clemenceau, would he have found there images of the Europe of 1919, or
a great sediment of stereotyped ideas accumulated and hardened in a
long and pugnacious existence? Did he see the Germans of 1919, or the
German type as he had learned to see it since 1871? He saw the type,
and among the reports that came to him from Germany, he took to heart
those reports, and, it seems, those only, which fitted the type that
was in his mind. If a junker blustered, that was an authentic German;
if a labor leader confessed the guilt of the empire, he was not an
authentic German.

At a Congress of Psychology in Göttingen an interesting experiment was
made with a crowd of presumably trained observers. [Footnote: A. von
Gennep, _La formation des légendes_, pp. 158-159. Cited F. van
Langenhove, _The Growth of a Legend_, pp. 120-122.]

“Not far from the hall in which the Congress was sitting there was a
public fete with a masked ball. Suddenly the door of the hall was
thrown open and a clown rushed in madly pursued by a negro, revolver
in hand. They stopped in the middle of the room fighting; the clown
fell, the negro leapt upon him, fired, and then both rushed out of the
hall. The whole incident hardly lasted twenty seconds.

“The President asked those present to write immediately a report since
there was sure to be a judicial inquiry. Forty reports were sent in.
Only one had less than 20% of mistakes in regard to the principal
facts; fourteen had 20% to 40% of mistakes; twelve from 40% to 50%;
thirteen more than 50%. Moreover in twenty-four accounts 10% of the
details were pure inventions and this proportion was exceeded in ten
accounts and diminished in six. Briefly a quarter of the accounts were

“It goes without saying that the whole scene had been arranged and
even photographed in advance. The ten false reports may then be
relegated to the category of tales and legends; twenty-four accounts
are half legendary, and six have a value approximating to exact

Thus out of forty trained observers writing a responsible account of a
scene that had just happened before their eyes, more than a majority
saw a scene that had not taken place. What then did they see? One
would suppose it was easier to tell what had occurred, than to invent
something which had not occurred. They saw their stereotype of such a
brawl. All of them had in the course of their lives acquired a series
of images of brawls, and these images flickered before their eyes. In
one man these images displaced less than 20% of the actual scene, in
thirteen men more than half. In thirty-four out of the forty observers
the stereotypes preempted at least one-tenth of the scene.

A distinguished art critic has said [Footnote: Bernard Berenson,
_The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance_, pp. 60, _et
seq_.] that “what with the almost numberless shapes assumed by an
object. … What with our insensitiveness and inattention, things
scarcely would have for us features and outlines so determined and
clear that we could recall them at will, but for the stereotyped
shapes art has lent them.” The truth is even broader than that, for
the stereotyped shapes lent to the world come not merely from art, in
the sense of painting and sculpture and literature, but from our moral
codes and our social philosophies and our political agitations as
well. Substitute in the following passage of Mr. Berenson’s the words
‘politics,’ ‘business,’ and ‘society,’ for the word ‘art’ and the
sentences will be no less true: “… unless years devoted to the study
of all schools of art have taught us also to see with our own eyes, we
soon fall into the habit of moulding whatever we look at into the
forms borrowed from the one art with which we are acquainted. There is
our standard of artistic reality. Let anyone give us shapes and colors
which we cannot instantly match in our paltry stock of hackneyed forms
and tints, and we shake our heads at his failure to reproduce things
as we know they certainly are, or we accuse him of insincerity.”

Mr. Berenson speaks of our displeasure when a painter “does not
visualize objects exactly as we do,” and of the difficulty of
appreciating the art of the Middle Ages because since then “our manner
of visualizing forms has changed in a thousand ways.” [Footnote:
_Cf._ also his comment on _Dante’s Visual Images, and his Early
Illustrators_ in _The Study and Criticism of Italian Art_ (First
Series), p. 13. “_We_ cannot help dressing Virgil as a Roman,
and giving him a ‘classical profile’ and ‘statuesque carriage,’ but
Dante’s visual image of Virgil was probably no less mediaeval, no
more based on a critical reconstruction of antiquity, than his entire
conception of the Roman poet. Fourteenth Century illustrators make
Virgil look like a mediaeval scholar, dressed in cap and gown, and
there is no reason why Dante’s visual image of him should have been
other than this.”] He goes on to show how in regard to the human
figure we have been taught to see what we do see. “Created by
Donatello and Masaccio, and sanctioned by the Humanists, the new canon
of the human figure, the new cast of features … presented to the
ruling classes of that time the type of human being most likely to win
the day in the combat of human forces… Who had the power to break
through this new standard of vision and, out of the chaos of things,
to select shapes more definitely expressive of reality than those
fixed by men of genius? No one had such power. People had perforce to
see things in that way and in no other, and to see only the shapes
depicted, to love only the ideals presented….” [Footnote: _The
Central Italian Painters_, pp. 66-67.]


If we cannot fully understand the acts of other people, until we know
what they think they know, then in order to do justice we have to
appraise not only the information which has been at their disposal,
but the minds through which they have filtered it. For the accepted
types, the current patterns, the standard versions, intercept
information on its way to consciousness. Americanization, for example,
is superficially at least the substitution of American for European
stereotypes. Thus the peasant who might see his landlord as if he were
the lord of the manor, his employer as he saw the local magnate, is
taught by Americanization to see the landlord and employer according
to American standards. This constitutes a change of mind, which is, in
effect, when the inoculation succeeds, a change of vision. His eye
sees differently. One kindly gentlewoman has confessed that the
stereotypes are of such overweening importance, that when hers are not
indulged, she at least is unable to accept the brotherhood of man and
the fatherhood of God: “we are strangely affected by the clothes we
wear. Garments create a mental and social atmosphere. What can be
hoped for the Americanism of a man who insists on employing a London
tailor? One’s very food affects his Americanism. What kind of American
consciousness can grow in the atmosphere of sauerkraut and Limburger
cheese? Or what can you expect of the Americanism of the man whose
breath always reeks of garlic?” [Footnote: Cited by Mr. Edward Hale
Bierstadt, _New Republic_, June 1 1921 p. 21.]

This lady might well have been the patron of a pageant which a friend
of mine once attended. It was called the Melting Pot, and it was given
on the Fourth of July in an automobile town where many foreign-born
workers are employed. In the center of the baseball park at second
base stood a huge wooden and canvas pot. There were flights of steps
up to the rim on two sides. After the audience had settled itself, and
the band had played, a procession came through an opening at one side
of the field. It was made up of men of all the foreign nationalities
employed in the factories. They wore their native costumes, they were
singing their national songs; they danced their folk dances, and
carried the banners of all Europe. The master of ceremonies was the
principal of the grade school dressed as Uncle Sam. He led them to the
pot. He directed them up the steps to the rim, and inside. He called
them out again on the other side. They came, dressed in derby hats,
coats, pants, vest, stiff collar and polka-dot tie, undoubtedly, said
my friend, each with an Eversharp pencil in his pocket, and all
singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

To the promoters of this pageant, and probably to most of the actors,
it seemed as if they had managed to express the most intimate
difficulty to friendly association between the older peoples of
America and the newer. The contradiction of their stereotypes
interfered with the full recognition of their common humanity. The
people who change their names know this. They mean to change
themselves, and the attitude of strangers toward them.

There is, of course, some connection between the scene outside and the
mind through which we watch it, just as there are some long-haired men
and short-haired women in radical gatherings. But to the hurried
observer a slight connection is enough. If there are two bobbed heads
and four beards in the audience, it will be a bobbed and bearded
audience to the reporter who knows beforehand that such gatherings are
composed of people with these tastes in the management of their hair.
There is a connection between our vision and the facts, but it is
often a strange connection. A man has rarely looked at a landscape,
let us say, except to examine its possibilities for division into
building lots, but he has seen a number of landscapes hanging in the
parlor. And from them he has learned to think of a landscape as a rosy
sunset, or as a country road with a church steeple and a silver moon.
One day he goes to the country, and for hours he does not see a single
landscape. Then the sun goes down looking rosy. At once he recognizes
a landscape and exclaims that it is beautiful. But two days later,
when he tries to recall what he saw, the odds are that he will
remember chiefly some landscape in a parlor.

Unless he has been drunk or dreaming or insane he did see a sunset,
but he saw in it, and above all remembers from it, more of what the
oil painting taught him to observe, than what an impressionist
painter, for example, or a cultivated Japanese would have seen and
taken away with him. And the Japanese and the painter in turn will
have seen and remembered more of the form they had learned, unless
they happen to be the very rare people who find fresh sight for
mankind. In untrained observation we pick recognizable signs out of
the environment. The signs stand for ideas, and these ideas we fill
out with our stock of images. We do not so much see this man and that
sunset; rather we notice that the thing is man or sunset, and then see
chiefly what our mind is already full of on those subjects.


There is economy in this. For the attempt to see all things freshly
and in detail, rather than as types and generalities, is exhausting,
and among busy affairs practically out of the question. In a circle of
friends, and in relation to close associates or competitors, there is
no shortcut through, and no substitute for, an individualized
understanding. Those whom we love and admire most are the men and
women whose consciousness is peopled thickly with persons rather than
with types, who know us rather than the classification into which we
might fit. For even without phrasing it to ourselves, we feel
intuitively that all classification is in relation to some purpose not
necessarily our own; that between two human beings no association has
final dignity in which each does not take the other as an end in
himself. There is a taint on any contact between two people which does
not affirm as an axiom the personal inviolability of both.

But modern life is hurried and multifarious, above all physical
distance separates men who are often in vital contact with each other,
such as employer and employee, official and voter. There is neither
time nor opportunity for intimate acquaintance. Instead we notice a
trait which marks a well known type, and fill in the rest of the
picture by means of the stereotypes we carry about in our heads. He is
an agitator. That much we notice, or are told. Well, an agitator is
this sort of person, and so _he_ is this sort of person. He is an
intellectual. He is a plutocrat. He is a foreigner. He is a “South
European.” He is from Back Bay. He is a Harvard Man. How different
from the statement: he is a Yale Man. He is a regular fellow. He is a
West Pointer. He is an old army sergeant. He is a Greenwich Villager:
what don’t we know about him then, and about her? He is an
international banker. He is from Main Street.

The subtlest and most pervasive of all influences ere those which
create and maintain the repertory of stereotypes. We are told about
the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we
experience them. And those preconceptions, unless education has made
us acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of perception. They
mark out certain objects as familiar or strange, emphasizing the
difference, so that the slightly familiar is seen as very familiar,
and the somewhat strange as sharply alien. They are aroused by small
signs, which may vary from a true index to a vague analogy. Aroused,
they flood fresh vision with older images, and project into the world
what has been resurrected in memory. Were there no practical
uniformities in the environment, there would be no economy and only
error in the human habit of accepting foresight for sight. But there
are uniformities sufficiently accurate, and the need of economizing
attention is so inevitable, that the abandonment of all stereotypes
for a wholly innocent approach to experience would impoverish human

What matters is the character of the stereotypes, and the gullibility
with which we employ them. And these in the end depend upon those
inclusive patterns which constitute our philosophy of life. If in that
philosophy we assume that the world is codified according to a code
which we possess, we are likely to make our reports of what is going
on describe a world run by our code. But if our philosophy tells us
that each man is only a small part of the world, that his intelligence
catches at best only phases and aspects in a coarse net of ideas,
then, when we use our stereotypes, we tend to know that they are only
stereotypes, to hold them lightly, to modify them gladly. We tend,
also, to realize more and more clearly when our ideas started, where
they started, how they came to us, why we accepted them. All useful
history is antiseptic in this fashion. It enables us to know what
fairy tale, what school book, what tradition, what novel, play,
picture, phrase, planted one preconception in this mind, another in
that mind.


Those who wish to censor art do not at least underestimate this
influence. They generally misunderstand it, and almost always they are
absurdly bent on preventing other people from discovering anything not
sanctioned by them. But at any rate, like Plato in his argument about
the poets, they feel vaguely that the types acquired through fiction
tend to be imposed on reality. Thus there can be little doubt that the
moving picture is steadily building up imagery which is then evoked by
the words people read in their newspapers. In the whole experience of
the race there has been no aid to visualization comparable to the
cinema. If a Florentine wished to visualize the saints, he could go to
the frescoes in his church, where he might see a vision of saints
standardized for his time by Giotto. If an Athenian wished to
visualize the gods he went to the temples. But the number of objects
which were pictured was not great. And in the East, where the spirit
of the second commandment was widely accepted, the portraiture of
concrete things was even more meager, and for that reason perhaps the
faculty of practical decision was by so much reduced. In the western
world, however, during the last few centuries there has been an
enormous increase in the volume and scope of secular description, the
word picture, the narrative, the illustrated narrative, and finally
the moving picture and, perhaps, the talking picture.

Photographs have the kind of authority over imagination to-day, which
the printed word had yesterday, and the spoken word before that. They
seem utterly real. They come, we imagine, directly to us without human
meddling, and they are the most effortless food for the mind
conceivable. Any description in words, or even any inert picture,
requires an effort of memory before a picture exists in the mind. But
on the screen the whole process of observing, describing, reporting,
and then imagining, has been accomplished for you. Without more
trouble than is needed to stay awake the result which your imagination
is always aiming at is reeled off on the screen. The shadowy idea
becomes vivid; your hazy notion, let us say, of the Ku Klux Klan,
thanks to Mr. Griffiths, takes vivid shape when you see the Birth of a
Nation. Historically it may be the wrong shape, morally it may be a
pernicious shape, but it is a shape, and I doubt whether anyone who
has seen the film and does not know more about the Ku Klux Klan than
Mr. Griffiths, will ever hear the name again without seeing those
white horsemen.


And so when we speak of the mind of a group of people, of the French
mind, the militarist mind, the bolshevik mind, we are liable to
serious confusion unless we agree to separate the instinctive
equipment from the stereotypes, the patterns, and the formulae which
play so decisive a part in building up the mental world to which the
native character is adapted and responds. Failure to make this
distinction accounts for oceans of loose talk about collective minds,
national souls, and race psychology. To be sure a stereotype may be so
consistently and authoritatively transmitted in each generation from
parent to child that it seems almost like a biological fact. In some
respects, we may indeed have become, as Mr. Wallas says, [Footnote:
Graham Wallas, _Our Social Heritage_, p. 17.] biologically
parasitic upon our social heritage. But certainly there is not the
least scientific evidence which would enable anyone to argue that men
are born with the political habits of the country in which they are
born. In so far as political habits are alike in a nation, the first
places to look for an explanation are the nursery, the school, the
church, not in that limbo inhabited by Group Minds and National Souls.
Until you have thoroughly failed to see tradition being handed on from
parents, teachers, priests, and uncles, it is a solecism of the worst
order to ascribe political differences to the germ plasm.

It is possible to generalize tentatively and with a decent humility
about comparative differences within the same category of education
and experience. Yet even this is a tricky enterprise. For almost no
two experiences are exactly alike, not even of two children in the
same household. The older son never does have the experience of being
the younger. And therefore, until we are able to discount the
difference in nurture, we must withhold judgment about differences of
nature. As well judge the productivity of two soils by comparing their
yield before you know which is in Labrador and which in Iowa, whether
they have been cultivated and enriched, exhausted, or allowed to run




THERE is another reason, besides economy of effort, why we so often
hold to our stereotypes when we might pursue a more disinterested
vision. The systems of stereotypes may be the core of our personal
tradition, the defenses of our position in society.

They are an ordered, more or less consistent picture of the world, to
which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our
hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of
the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are
adapted. In that world people and things have their well-known places,
and do certain expected things. We feel at home there. We fit in. We
are members. We know the way around. There we find the charm of the
familiar, the normal, the dependable; its grooves and shapes are where
we are accustomed to find them. And though we have abandoned much that
might have tempted us before we creased ourselves into that mould,
once we are firmly in, it fits as snugly as an old shoe.

No wonder, then, that any disturbance of the stereotypes seems like an
attack upon the foundations of the universe. It is an attack upon the
foundations of _our_ universe, and, where big things are at
stake, we do not readily admit that there is any distinction between
our universe and the universe. A world which turns out to be one in
which those we honor are unworthy, and those we despise are noble, is
nerve-racking. There is anarchy if our order of precedence is not the
only possible one. For if the meek should indeed inherit the earth, if
the first should be last, if those who are without sin alone may cast
a stone, if to Caesar you render only the things that are Caesar’s,
then the foundations of self-respect would be shaken for those who
have arranged their lives as if these maxims were not true. A pattern
of stereotypes is not neutral. It is not merely a way of substituting
order for the great blooming, buzzing confusion of reality. It is not
merely a short cut. It is all these things and something more. It is
the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world
of our own sense of our own value, our own position and our own
rights. The stereotypes are, therefore, highly charged with the
feelings that are attached to them. They are the fortress of our
tradition, and behind its defenses we can continue to feel ourselves
safe in the position we occupy.


When, for example, in the fourth century B. C., Aristotle wrote his
defense of slavery in the face of increasing skepticism, [Footnote:
Zimmern: _Greek Commonwealth_. See his footnote, p. 383.] the
Athenian slaves were in great part indistinguishable from free
citizens Mr. Zimmern quotes an amusing passage from the Old Oligarch
explaining the good treatment of the slaves. “Suppose it were legal
for a slave to be beaten by a citizen, it would frequently happen that
an Athenian might be mistaken for a slave or an alien and receive a
beating;–since the Athenian people is not better clothed than the
slave or alien, nor in personal appearance is there any superiority.”
This absence of distinction would naturally tend to dissolve the
institution. If free men and slaves looked alike, what basis was there
for treating them so differently? It was this confusion which
Aristotle set himself to clear away in the first book of his Politics.
With unerring instinct he understood that to justify slavery he must
teach the Greeks a way of _seeing_ their slaves that comported
with the continuance of slavery.

So, said Aristotle, there are beings who are slaves by nature.
[Footnote: _Politics_, Bk. 1, Ch. 5.] “He then is by nature
formed a slave, who is fitted to become the chattel of another person,
_and on that account is so_.” All this really says is that
whoever happens to be a slave is by nature intended to be one.
Logically the statement is worthless, but in fact it is not a
proposition at all, and logic has nothing to do with it. It is a
stereotype, or rather it is part of a stereotype. The rest follows
almost immediately. After asserting that slaves perceive reason, but
are not endowed with the use of it, Aristotle insists that “it is the
intention of nature to make the bodies of slaves and free men
different from each other, that the one should be robust for their
necessary purposes, but the other erect; useless indeed for such
servile labours, but fit for civil life… It is clear then that some
men are free by nature, and others are slaves. …”

If we ask ourselves what is the matter with Aristotle’s argument, we
find that he has begun by erecting a great barrier between himself and
the facts. When he had said that those who are slaves are by nature
intended to be slaves, he at one stroke excluded the fatal question
whether those particular men who happened to be slaves were the
particular men intended by nature to be slaves. For that question
would have tainted each case of slavery with doubt. And since the fact
of being a slave was not evidence that a man was destined to be one,
no certain test would have remained. Aristotle, therefore, excluded
entirely that destructive doubt. Those who are slaves are intended to
be slaves. Each slave holder was to look upon his chattels as natural
slaves. When his eye had been trained to see them that way, he was to
note as confirmation of their servile character the fact that they
performed servile work, that they were competent to do servile work,
and that they had the muscles to do servile work.

This is the perfect stereotype. Its hallmark is that it precedes the
use of reason; is a form of perception, imposes a certain character on
the data of our senses before the data reach the intelligence. The
stereotype is like the lavender window-panes on Beacon Street, like
the door-keeper at a costume ball who judges whether the guest has an
appropriate masquerade. There is nothing so obdurate to education or
to criticism as the stereotype. It stamps itself upon the evidence in
the very act of securing the evidence. That is why the accounts of
returning travellers are often an interesting tale of what the
traveller carried abroad with him on his trip. If he carried chiefly
his appetite, a zeal for tiled bathrooms, a conviction that the
Pullman car is the acme of human comfort, and a belief that it is
proper to tip waiters, taxicab drivers, and barbers, but under no
circumstances station agents and ushers, then his Odyssey will be
replete with good meals and bad meals, bathing adventures,
compartment-train escapades, and voracious demands for money. Or if he
is a more serious soul he may while on tour have found himself at
celebrated spots. Having touched base, and cast one furtive glance at
the monument, he buried his head in Baedeker, read every word through,
and moved on to the next celebrated spot; and thus returned with a
compact and orderly impression of Europe, rated one star, or two.

In some measure, stimuli from the outside, especially when they are
printed or spoken words, evoke some part of a system of stereotypes,
so that the actual sensation and the preconception occupy
consciousness at the same time. The two are blended, much as if we
looked at red through blue glasses and saw green. If what we are
looking at corresponds successfully with what we anticipated, the
stereotype is reinforced for the future, as it is in a man who knows
in advance that the Japanese are cunning and has the bad luck to run
across two dishonest Japanese.

If the experience contradicts the stereotype, one of two things
happens. If the man is no longer plastic, or if some powerful interest
makes it highly inconvenient to rearrange his stereotypes, he pooh-
poohs the contradiction as an exception that proves the rule,
discredits the witness, finds a flaw somewhere, and manages to forget
it. But if he is still curious and open-minded, the novelty is taken
into the picture, and allowed to modify it. Sometimes, if the incident
is striking enough, and if he has felt a general discomfort with his
established scheme, he may be shaken to such an extent as to distrust
all accepted ways of looking at life, and to expect that normally a
thing will not be what it is generally supposed to be. In the extreme
case, especially if he is literary, he may develop a passion for
inverting the moral canon by making Judas, Benedict Arnold, or Caesar
Borgia the hero of his tale.


The role played by the stereotype can be seen in the German tales
about Belgian snipers. Those tales curiously enough were first refuted
by an organization of German Catholic priests known as Pax. [Footnote:
Fernand van Langenhove, _The Growth of a Legend._ The author is a
Belgian sociologist.] The existence of atrocity stories is itself not
remarkable, nor that the German people gladly believed them. But it is
remarkable that a great conservative body of patriotic Germans should
have set out as early as August 16, 1914, to contradict a collection
of slanders on the enemy, even though such slanders were of the utmost
value in soothing the troubled conscience of their fellow countrymen.
Why should the Jesuit order in particular have set out to destroy a
fiction so important to the fighting morale of Germany?

I quote from M. van Langenhove’s account:

“Hardly had the German armies entered Belgium when strange rumors
began to circulate. They spread from place to place, they were
reproduced by the press, and they soon permeated the whole of Germany.
It was said that the Belgian people, _instigated by the clergy,_
had intervened perfidiously in the hostilities; had attacked by
surprise isolated detachments; had indicated to the enemy the
positions occupied by the troops; that old men, and even children, had
been guilty of horrible atrocities upon wounded and defenseless German
soldiers, tearing out their eyes and cutting off fingers, nose or
ears; _that the priests from their pulpits had exhorted the people
to commit these crimes, promising them as a reward the kingdom of
heaven, and had even taken the lead in this barbarity._

“Public credulity accepted these stories. The highest powers in the
state welcomed them without hesitation and endorsed them with their

“In this way public opinion in Germany was disturbed and a lively
indignation manifested itself, _directed especially against the
priests_ who were held responsible for the barbarities attributed
to the Belgians… By a natural diversion _the anger_ to which
they were a prey _was directed_ by the Germans _against the
Catholic clergy generally._ Protestants allowed the old religious
hatred to be relighted in their minds and delivered themselves to
attacks against Catholics. A new _Kulturkampf_ was let loose.

“The Catholics did not delay in taking action against this hostile
attitude.” (Italics mine) [Footnote: _Op. cit._, pp. 5-7]

There may have been some sniping. It would be extraordinary if every
angry Belgian had rushed to the library, opened a manual of
international law, and had informed himself whether he had a right to
take potshot at the infernal nuisance tramping through his streets. It
would be no less extraordinary if an army that had never been under
fire, did not regard every bullet that came its way as unauthorized,
because it was inconvenient, and indeed as somehow a violation of the
rules of the Kriegspiel, which then constituted its only experience of
war. One can imagine the more sensitive bent on convincing themselves
that the people to whom they were doing such terrible things must be
terrible people. And so the legend may have been spun until it reached
the censors and propagandists, who, whether they believed it or not,
saw its value, and let it loose on the German civilians. They too were
not altogether sorry to find that the people they were outraging were
sub-human. And, above all, since the legend came from their heroes,
they were not only entitled to believe it, they were unpatriotic if
they did not.

But where so much is left to the imagination because the scene of
action is lost in the fog of war, there is no check and no control.
The legend of the ferocious Belgian priests soon tapped an old hatred.
For in the minds of most patriotic protestant Germans, especially of
the upper classes, the picture of Bismarck’s victories included a long
quarrel with the Roman Catholics. By a process of association, Belgian
priests became priests, and hatred of Belgians a vent for all their
hatreds. These German protestants did what some Americans did when
under the stress of war they created a compound object of hatred out
of the enemy abroad and all their opponents at home. Against this
synthetic enemy, the Hun in Germany and the Hun within the Gate, they
launched all the animosity that was in them.

The Catholic resistance to the atrocity tales was, of course,
defensive. It was aimed at those particular fictions which aroused
animosity against all Catholics, rather than against Belgian Catholics
alone. The _Informations Pax_, says M. van Langenhove, had only
an ecclesiastical bearing and “confined their attention almost
exclusively to the reprehensible acts attributed to the priests.” And
yet one cannot help wondering a little about what was set in motion in
the minds of German Catholics by this revelation of what Bismarck’s
empire meant in relation to them; and also whether there was any
obscure connection between that knowledge and the fact that the
prominent German politician who was willing in the armistice to sign
the death warrant of the empire was Erzberger, [Footnote: Since this
was written, Erzberger has been assassinated.] the leader of the
Catholic Centre Party.




I HAVE been speaking of stereotypes rather than ideals, because the
word ideal is usually reserved for what we consider the good, the true
and the beautiful. Thus it carries the hint that here is something to
be copied or attained. But our repertory of fixed impressions is wider
than that. It contains ideal swindlers, ideal Tammany politicians,
ideal jingoes, ideal agitators, ideal enemies. Our stereotyped world
is not necessarily the world we should like it to be. It is simply the
kind of world we expect it to be. If events correspond there is a
sense of familiarity, and we feel that we are moving with the movement
of events. Our slave must be a slave by nature, if we are Athenians
who wish to have no qualms. If we have told our friends that we do
eighteen holes of golf in 95, we tell them after doing the course in
110, that we are not ourselves to-day. That is to say, we are not
acquainted with the duffer who foozled fifteen strokes.

Most of us would deal with affairs through a rather haphazard and
shifting assortment of stereotypes, if a comparatively few men in each
generation were not constantly engaged in arranging, standardizing,
and improving them into logical systems, known as the Laws of
Political Economy, the Principles of Politics, and the like. Generally
when we write about culture, tradition, and the group mind, we are
thinking of these systems perfected by men of genius. Now there is no
disputing the necessity of constant study and criticism of these
idealized versions, but the historian of people, the politician, and
the publicity man cannot stop there. For what operates in history is
not the systematic idea as a genius formulated it, but shifting
imitations, replicas, counterfeits, analogies, and distortions in
individual minds.

Thus Marxism is not necessarily what Karl Marx wrote in Das Kapital,
but whatever it is that all the warring sects believe, who claim to be
the faithful. From the gospels you cannot deduce the history of
Christianity, nor from the Constitution the political history of
America. It is Das Kapital as conceived, the gospels as preached and
the preachment as understood, the Constitution as interpreted and
administered, to which you have to go. For while there is a
reciprocating influence between the standard version and the current
versions, it is these current versions as distributed among men which
affect their behavior. [Footnote: But unfortunately it is ever so much
harder to know this actual culture than it is to summarize and to
comment upon the works of genius. The actual culture exists in people
far too busy to indulge in the strange trade of formulating their
beliefs. They record them only incidentally, and the student rarely
knows how typical are his data. Perhaps the best he can do is to
follow Lord Bryce’s suggestion [_Modern Democracies_, Vol. i, p.
156] that he move freely “among all sorts and conditions of men,” to
seek out the unbiassed persons in every neighborhood who have skill in
sizing up. “There is a _flair_ which long practise and ‘sympathetic
touch’ bestow. The trained observer learns how to profit by small
indications, as an old seaman discerns, sooner than the landsman,
the signs of coming storm.” There is, in short, a vast amount of
guess work involved, and it is no wonder that scholars, who enjoy
precision, so often confine their attentions to the neater formulations
of other scholars.]

“The theory of Relativity,” says a critic whose eyelids, like the Lady
Lisa’s, are a little weary, “promises to develop into a principle as
adequate to universal application as was the theory of Evolution. This
latter theory, from being a technical biological hypothesis, became an
inspiring guide to workers in practically every branch of knowledge:
manners and customs, morals, religions, philosophies, arts, steam
engines, electric tramways–everything had ‘evolved.’ ‘Evolution’
became a very general term; it also became imprecise until, in many
cases, the original, definite meaning of the word was lost, and the
theory it had been evoked to describe was misunderstood. We are hardy
enough to prophesy a similar career and fate for the theory of
Relativity. The technical physical theory, at present imperfectly
understood, will become still more vague and dim. History repeats
itself, and Relativity, like Evolution, after receiving a number of
intelligible but somewhat inaccurate popular expositions in its
scientific aspect, will be launched on a world-conquering career. We
suggest that, by that time, it will probably be called _Relativismus_.
Many of these larger applications will doubtless be justified; some will
be absurd and a considerable number will, we imagine, reduce to truisms.
And the physical theory, the mere seed of this mighty growth, will become
once more the purely technical concern of scientific men.” [Footnote:
_The Times_ (London), _Literary Supplement_, June 2, 1921, p.
352. Professor Einstein said when he was in America in 1921 that
people tended to overestimate the influence of his theory, and to
under-estimate its certainty.]

But for such a world-conquering career an idea must correspond,
however imprecisely, to something. Professor Bury shows for how long a
time the idea of progress remained a speculative toy. “It is not
easy,” he writes, [Footnote: J. B. Bury, _The Idea of Progress_,
p. 324.] “for a new idea of the speculative order to penetrate and
inform the general consciousness of a community until it has assumed
some external and concrete embodiment, or is recommended by some
striking material evidence. In the case of Progress both these
conditions were fulfilled (in England) in the period 1820-1850.” The
most striking evidence was furnished by the mechanical revolution.
“Men who were born at the beginning of the century had seen, before
they had passed the age of thirty, the rapid development of steam
navigation, the illumination of towns and houses by gas, the opening
of the first railway.” In the consciousness of the average householder
miracles like these formed the pattern of his belief in the
perfectibility of the human race.

Tennyson, who was in philosophical matters a fairly normal person,
tells us that when he went by the first train from Liverpool to
Manchester (1830) he thought that the wheels ran in grooves. Then he
wrote this line:

“Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of
change.” [Footnote: 2 Tennyson, _Memoir by his Son_, Vol. I, p.
195. Cited by Bury, _op. cit_., p. 326.]

And so a notion more or less applicable to a journey between Liverpool
and Manchester was generalized into a pattern of the universe “for
ever.” This pattern, taken up by others, reinforced by dazzling
inventions, imposed an optimistic turn upon the theory of evolution.
That theory, of course, is, as Professor Bury says, neutral between
pessimism and optimism. But it promised continual change, and the
changes visible in the world marked such extraordinary conquests of
nature, that the popular mind made a blend of the two. Evolution first
in Darwin himself, and then more elaborately in Herbert Spencer, was a
“progress towards perfection.”


The stereotype represented by such words as “progress” and
“perfection” was composed fundamentally of mechanical inventions. And
mechanical it has remained, on the whole, to this day. In America more
than anywhere else, the spectacle of mechanical progress has made so
deep an impression, that it has suffused the whole moral code. An
American will endure almost any insult except the charge that he is
not progressive. Be he of long native ancestry, or a recent immigrant,
the aspect that has always struck his eye is the immense physical
growth of American civilization. That constitutes a fundamental
stereotype through which he views the world: the country village will
become the great metropolis, the modest building a skyscraper, what is
small shall be big; what is slow shall be fast; what is poor shall be
rich; what is few shall be many; whatever is shall be more so.

Not every American, of course, sees the world this way. Henry Adams
didn’t, and William Allen White doesn’t. But those men do, who in the
magazines devoted to the religion of success appear as Makers of
America. They mean just about that when they preach evolution,
progress, prosperity, being constructive, the American way of doing
things. It is easy to laugh, but, in fact, they are using a very great
pattern of human endeavor. For one thing it adopts an impersonal
criterion; for another it adopts an earthly criterion; for a third it
is habituating men to think quantitatively. To be sure the ideal
confuses excellence with size, happiness with speed, and human nature
with contraption. Yet the same motives are at work which have ever
actuated any moral code, or ever will. The desire for the biggest, the
fastest, the highest, or if you are a maker of wristwatches or
microscopes the smallest; the love in short of the superlative and the
“peerless,” is in essence and possibility a noble passion.

Certainly the American version of progress has fitted an extraordinary
range of facts in the economic situation and in human nature. It
turned an unusual amount of pugnacity, acquisitiveness, and lust of
power into productive work. Nor has it, until more recently perhaps,
seriously frustrated the active nature of the active members of the
community. They have made a civilization which provides them who made
it with what they feel to be ample satisfaction in work, mating and
play, and the rush of their victory over mountains, wildernesses,
distance, and human competition has even done duty for that part of
religious feeling which is a sense of communion with the purpose of
the universe. The pattern has been a success so nearly perfect in the
sequence of ideals, practice, and results, that any challenge to it is
called un-American.

And yet, this pattern is a very partial and inadequate way of
representing the world. The habit of thinking about progress as
“development” has meant that many aspects of the environment were
simply neglected. With the stereotype of “progress” before their eyes,
Americans have in the mass seen little that did not accord with that
progress. They saw the expansion of cities, but not the accretion of
slums; they cheered the census statistics, but refused to consider
overcrowding; they pointed with pride to their growth, but would not
see the drift from the land, or the unassimilated immigration. They
expanded industry furiously at reckless cost to their natural
resources; they built up gigantic corporations without arranging for
industrial relations. They grew to be one of the most powerful nations
on earth without preparing their institutions or their minds for the
ending of their isolation. They stumbled into the World War morally
and physically unready, and they stumbled out again, much
disillusioned, but hardly more experienced.

In the World War the good and the evil influence of the American
stereotype was plainly visible. The idea that the war could be won by
recruiting unlimited armies, raising unlimited credits, building an
unlimited number of ships, producing unlimited munitions, and
concentrating without limit on these alone, fitted the traditional
stereotype, and resulted in something like a physical miracle.
[Footnote: I have in mind the transportation and supply of two million
troops overseas. Prof. Wesley Mitchell points out that the total
production of goods after our entrance into the war did not greatly
increase in volume over that of the year 1916; but that production for
war purposes did increase.] But among those most affected by the
stereotype, there was no place for the consideration of what the
fruits of victory were, or how they were to be attained. Therefore,
aims were ignored, or regarded as automatic, and victory was
conceived, because the stereotype demanded it, as nothing but an
annihilating victory in the field. In peace time you did not ask what
the fastest motor car was for, and in war you did not ask what the
completest victory was for. Yet in Paris the pattern did not fit the
facts. In peace you can go on endlessly supplanting small things with
big ones, and big ones with bigger ones; in war when you have won
absolute victory, you cannot go on to a more absolute victory. You
have to do something on an entirely different pattern. And if you lack
such a pattern, the end of the war is to you what it was to so many
good people, an anticlimax in a dreary and savorless world.

This marks the point where the stereotype and the facts, that cannot
be ignored, definitely part company. There is always such a point,
because our images of how things behave are simpler and more fixed
than the ebb and flow of affairs. There comes a time, therefore, when
the blind spots come from the edge of vision into the center. Then
unless there are critics who have the courage to sound an alarm, and
leaders capable of understanding the change, and a people tolerant by
habit, the stereotype, instead of economizing effort, and focussing
energy as it did in 1917 and 1918, may frustrate effort and waste
men’s energy by blinding them, as it did for those people who cried
for a Carthaginian peace in 1919 and deplored the Treaty of Versailles
in 1921.


Uncritically held, the stereotype not only censors out much that needs
to be taken into account, but when the day of reckoning comes, and the
stereotype is shattered, likely as not that which it did wisely take
into account is ship-wrecked with it. That is the punishment assessed
by Mr. Bernard Shaw against Free Trade, Free Contract, Free
Competition, Natural Liberty, Laissez-faire, and Darwinism. A hundred
years ago, when he would surely have been one of the tartest advocates
of these doctrines, he would not have seen them as he sees them
to-day, in the Infidel Half Century, [Footnote: _Back to
Methuselah_. Preface.] to be excuses for “‘doing the other fellow
down’ with impunity, all interference by a guiding government, all
organization except police organization to protect legalized fraud
against fisticuffs, all attempt to introduce human purpose and design
and forethought into the industrial welter being ‘contrary to the laws
of political economy'” He would have seen, then, as one of the
pioneers of the march to the plains of heaven [Footnote: _The
Quintessence of Ibsenism_] that, of the kind of human purpose and
design and forethought to be found in a government like that of Queen
Victoria’s uncles, the less the better. He would have seen, not the
strong doing the weak down, but the foolish doing the strong down. He
would have seen purposes, designs and forethoughts at work,
obstructing invention, obstructing enterprise, obstructing what he
would infallibly have recognized as the next move of Creative

Even now Mr. Shaw is none too eager for the guidance of any guiding
government he knows, but in theory he has turned a full loop against
laissez-faire. Most advanced thinking before the war had made the same
turn against the established notion that if you unloosed everything,
wisdom would bubble up, and establish harmony. Since the war, with its
definite demonstration of guiding governments, assisted by censors,
propagandists, and spies, Roebuck Ramsden and Natural Liberty have
been readmitted to the company of serious thinkers.

One thing is common to these cycles. There is in each set of
stereotypes a point where effort ceases and things happen of their own
accord, as you would like them to. The progressive stereotype,
powerful to incite work, almost completely obliterates the attempt to
decide what work and why that work. Laissez-faire, a blessed release
from stupid officialdom, assumes that men will move by spontaneous
combustion towards a pre-established harmony. Collectivism, an
antidote to ruthless selfishness, seems, in the Marxian mind, to
suppose an economic determinism towards efficiency and wisdom on the
part of socialist officials. Strong government, imperialism at home
and abroad, at its best deeply conscious of the price of disorder,
relies at last on the notion that all that matters to the governed
will be known by the governors. In each theory there is a spot of
blind automatism.

That spot covers up some fact, which if it were taken into account,
would check the vital movement that the stereotype provokes. If the
progressive had to ask himself, like the Chinaman in the joke, what he
wanted to do with the time he saved by breaking the record, if the
advocate of laissez-faire had to contemplate not only free and
exuberant energies of men, but what some people call their human
nature, if the collectivist let the center of his attention be
occupied with the problem of how he is to secure his officials, if the
imperialist dared to doubt his own inspiration, you would find more
Hamlet and less Henry the Fifth. For these blind spots keep away
distracting images, which with their attendant emotions, might cause
hesitation and infirmity of purpose. Consequently the stereotype not
only saves time in a busy life and is a defense of our position in
society, but tends to preserve us from all the bewildering effect of
trying to see the world steadily and see it whole.



ANYONE who has stood at the end of a railroad platform waiting for a
friend, will recall what queer people he mistook for him. The shape of
a hat, a slightly characteristic gait, evoked the vivid picture in his
mind’s eye. In sleep a tinkle may sound like the pealing of a great
bell; the distant stroke of a hammer like a thunderclap. For our
constellations of imagery will vibrate to a stimulus that is perhaps
but vaguely similar to some aspect of them. They may, in
hallucination, flood the whole consciousness. They may enter very
little into perception, though I am inclined to think that such an
experience is extremely rare and highly sophisticated, as when we gaze
blankly at a familiar word or object, and it gradually ceases to be
familiar. Certainly for the most part, the way we see things is a
combination of what is there and of what we expected to find. The
heavens are not the same to an astronomer as to a pair of lovers; a
page of Kant will start a different train of thought in a Kantian and
in a radical empiricist; the Tahitian belle is a better looking person
to her Tahitian suitor than to the readers of the _National
Geographic Magazine_.

Expertness in any subject is, in fact, a multiplication of the number
of aspects we are prepared to discover, plus the habit of discounting
our expectations. Where to the ignoramus all things look alike, and
life is just one thing after another, to the specialist things are
highly individual. For a chauffeur, an epicure, a connoisseur, a
member of the President’s cabinet, or a professor’s wife, there are
evident distinctions and qualities, not at all evident to the casual
person who discusses automobiles, wines, old masters, Republicans, and
college faculties.

But in our public opinions few can be expert, while life is, as Mr.
Bernard Shaw has made plain, so short. Those who are expert are so on
only a few topics. Even among the expert soldiers, as we learned
during the war, expert cavalrymen were not necessarily brilliant with
trench-warfare and tanks. Indeed, sometimes a little expertness on a
small topic may simply exaggerate our normal human habit of trying to
squeeze into our stereotypes all that can be squeezed, and of casting
into outer darkness that which does not fit.

Whatever we recognize as familiar we tend, if we are not very careful,
to visualize with the aid of images already in our mind. Thus in the
American view of Progress and Success there is a definite picture of
human nature and of society. It is the kind of human nature and the
kind of society which logically produce the kind of progress that is
regarded as ideal. And then, when we seek to describe or explain
actually successful men, and events that have really happened, we read
back into them the qualities that are presupposed in the stereotypes.

These qualities were standardized rather innocently by the older
economists. They set out to describe the social system under which
they lived, and found it too complicated for words. So they
constructed what they sincerely hoped was a simplified diagram, not so
different in principle and in veracity from the parallelogram with
legs and head in a child’s drawing of a complicated cow. The scheme
consisted of a capitalist who had diligently saved capital from his
labor, an entrepreneur who conceived a socially useful demand and
organized a factory, a collection of workmen who freely contracted,
take it or leave it, for their labor, a landlord, and a group of
consumers who bought in the cheapest market those goods which by the
ready use of the pleasure-pain calculus they knew would give them the
most pleasure. The model worked. The kind of people, which the model
assumed, living in the sort of world the model assumed, invariably
cooperated harmoniously in the books where the model was described.

With modification and embroidery, this pure fiction, used by
economists to simplify their thinking, was retailed and popularized
until for large sections of the population it prevailed as the
economic mythology of the day. It supplied a standard version of
capitalist, promoter, worker and consumer in a society that was
naturally more bent on achieving success than on explaining it. The
buildings which rose, and the bank accounts which accumulated, were
evidence that the stereotype of how the thing had been done was
accurate. And those who benefited most by success came to believe they
were the kind of men they were supposed to be. No wonder that the
candid friends of successful men, when they read the official
biography and the obituary, have to restrain themselves from asking
whether this is indeed their friend.


To the vanquished and the victims, the official portraiture was, of
course, unrecognizable. For while those who exemplified progress did
not often pause to inquire whether they had arrived according to the
route laid down by the economists, or by some other just as
creditable, the unsuccessful people did inquire. “No one,” says
William James, [Footnote: _The Letters of William James,_ Vol. I,
p.65] “sees further into a generalization than his own knowledge of
detail extends.” The captains of industry saw in the great trusts
monuments of (their) success; their defeated competitors saw the
monuments of (their) failure. So the captains expounded the economies
and virtues of big business, asked to be let alone, said they were the
agents of prosperity, and the developers of trade. The vanquished
insisted upon the wastes and brutalities of the trusts, and called
loudly upon the Department of Justice to free business from
conspiracies. In the same situation one side saw progress, economy,
and a splendid development; the other, reaction, extravagance, and a
restraint of trade. Volumes of statistics, anecdotes about the real
truth and the inside truth, the deeper and the larger truth, were
published to prove both sides of the argument.

For when a system of stereotypes is well fixed, our attention is
called to those facts which support it, and diverted from those which
contradict. So perhaps it is because they are attuned to find it, that
kindly people discover so much reason for kindness, malicious people
so much malice. We speak quite accurately of seeing through
rose-colored spectacles, or with a jaundiced eye. If, as Philip
Littell once wrote of a distinguished professor, we see life as
through a class darkly, our stereotypes of what the best people and
the lower classes are like will not be contaminated by understanding.
What is alien will be rejected, what is different will fall upon
unseeing eyes. We do not see what our eyes are not accustomed to take
into account. Sometimes consciously, more often without knowing it, we
are impressed by those facts which fit our philosophy.


This philosophy is a more or less organized series of images for
describing the unseen world. But not only for describing it. For
judging it as well. And, therefore, the stereotypes are loaded with
preference, suffused with affection or dislike, attached to fears,
lusts, strong wishes, pride, hope. Whatever invokes the stereotype is
judged with the appropriate sentiment. Except where we deliberately
keep prejudice in suspense, we do not study a man and judge him to be
bad. We see a bad man. We see a dewy morn, a blushing maiden, a
sainted priest, a humorless Englishman, a dangerous Red, a carefree
bohemian, a lazy Hindu, a wily Oriental, a dreaming Slav, a volatile
Irishman, a greedy Jew, a 100% American. In the workaday world that is
often the real judgment, long in advance of the evidence, and it
contains within itself the conclusion which the evidence is pretty
certain to confirm. Neither justice, nor mercy, nor truth, enter into
such a judgment, for the judgment has preceded the evidence. Yet a
people without prejudices, a people with altogether neutral vision, is
so unthinkable in any civilization of which it is useful to think,
that no scheme of education could be based upon that ideal. Prejudice
can be detected, discounted, and refined, but so long as finite men
must compress into a short schooling preparation for dealing with a
vast civilization, they must carry pictures of it around with them,
and have prejudices. The quality of their thinking and doing will
depend on whether those prejudices are friendly, friendly to other
people, to other ideas, whether they evoke love of what is felt to be
positively good, rather than hatred of what is not contained in their
version of the good.

Morality, good taste and good form first standardize and then
emphasize certain of these underlying prejudices. As we adjust
ourselves to our code, we adjust the facts we see to that code.
Rationally, the facts are neutral to all our views of right and wrong.
Actually, our canons determine greatly what we shall perceive and how.

For a moral code is a scheme of conduct applied to a number of typical
instances. To behave as the code directs is to serve whatever purpose
the code pursues. It may be God’s will, or the king’s, individual
salvation in a good, solid, three dimensional paradise, success on
earth, or the service of mankind. In any event the makers of the code
fix upon certain typical situations, and then by some form of
reasoning or intuition, deduce the kind of behavior which would
produce the aim they acknowledge. The rules apply where they apply.

But in daily living how does a man know whether his predicament is the
one the law-giver had in mind? He is told not to kill. But if his
children are attacked, may he kill to stop a killing? The Ten
Commandments are silent on the point. Therefore, around every code
there is a cloud of interpreters who deduce more specific cases.
Suppose, then, that the doctors of the law decide that he may kill in
self-defense. For the next man the doubt is almost as great; how does
he know that he is defining self-defense correctly, or that he has not
misjudged the facts, imagined the attack, and is really the aggressor?
Perhaps he has provoked the attack. But what is a provocation? Exactly
these confusions infected the minds of most Germans in August, 1914.

Far more serious in the modern world than any difference of moral code
is the difference in the assumptions about facts to which the code is
applied. Religious, moral and political formulae are nothing like so
far apart as the facts assumed by their votaries. Useful discussion,
then, instead of comparing ideals, reexamines the visions of the
facts. Thus the rule that you should do unto others as you would have
them do unto you rests on the belief that human nature is uniform. Mr.
Bernard Shaw’s statement that you should not do unto others what you
would have them do unto you, because their tastes may be different,
rests on the belief that human nature is not uniform. The maxim that
competition is the life of trade consists of a whole tome of
assumptions about economic motives, industrial relations, and the
working of a particular commercial system. The claim that America will
never have a merchant marine, unless it is privately owned and
managed, assumes a certain proved connection between a certain kind of
profit-making and incentive. The justification by the bolshevik
propagandist of the dictatorship, espionage, and the terror, because
“every state is an apparatus of violence” [Footnote: See _Two Years
of Conflict on the Internal Front_, published by the Russian
Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, Moscow, 1920. Translated by
Malcolm W. Davis for the _New York Evening Post_, January 15,
1921.] is an historical judgment, the truth of which is by no means
self-evident to a non-communist.

At the core of every moral code there is a picture of human nature, a
map of the universe, and a version of history. To human nature (of the
sort conceived), in a universe (of the kind imagined), after a history
(so understood), the rules of the code apply. So far as the facts of
personality, of the environment and of memory are different, by so far
the rules of the code are difficult to apply with success. Now every
moral code has to conceive human psychology, the material world, and
tradition some way or other. But in the codes that are under the
influence of science, the conception is known to be an hypothesis,
whereas in the codes that come unexamined from the past or bubble up
from the caverns of the mind, the conception is not taken as an
hypothesis demanding proof or contradiction, but as a fiction accepted
without question. In the one case, man is humble about his beliefs,
because he knows they are tentative and incomplete; in the other he is
dogmatic, because his belief is a completed myth. The moralist who
submits to the scientific discipline knows that though he does not
know everything, he is in the way of knowing something; the dogmatist,
using a myth, believes himself to share part of the insight of
omniscience, though he lacks the criteria by which to tell truth from
error. For the distinguishing mark of a myth is that truth and error,
fact and fable, report and fantasy, are all on the same plane of

The myth is, then, not necessarily false. It might happen to be wholly
true. It may happen to be partly true. If it has affected human
conduct a long time, it is almost certain to contain much that is
profoundly and importantly true. What a myth never contains is the
critical power to separate its truths from its errors. For that power
comes only by realizing that no human opinion, whatever its supposed
origin, is too exalted for the test of evidence, that every opinion is
only somebody’s opinion. And if you ask why the test of evidence is
preferable to any other, there is no answer unless you are willing to
use the test in order to test it.


The statement is, I think, susceptible of overwhelming proof, that
moral codes assume a particular view of the facts. Under the term
moral codes I include all kinds: personal, family, economic,
professional, legal, patriotic, international. At the center of each
there is a pattern of stereotypes about psychology, sociology, and
history. The same view of human nature, institutions or tradition
rarely persists through all our codes. Compare, for example, the
economic and the patriotic codes. There is a war supposed to affect
all alike. Two men are partners in business. One enlists, the other
takes a war contract. The soldier sacrifices everything, perhaps even
his life. He is paid a dollar a day, and no one says, no one believes,
that you could make a better soldier out of him by any form of
economic incentive. That motive disappears out of his human nature.
The contractor sacrifices very little, is paid a handsome profit over
costs, and few say or believe that he would produce the munitions if
there were no economic incentive. That may be unfair to him. The point
is that the accepted patriotic code assumes one kind of human nature,
the commercial code another. And the codes are probably founded on
true expectations to this extent, that when a man adopts a certain
code he tends to exhibit the kind of human nature which the code

That is one reason why it is so dangerous to generalize about human
nature. A loving father can be a sour boss, an earnest municipal
reformer, and a rapacious jingo abroad. His family life, his business
career, his politics, and his foreign policy rest on totally different
versions of what others are like and of how he should act. These
versions differ by codes in the same person, the codes differ somewhat
among persons in the same social set, differ widely as between social
sets, and between two nations, or two colors, may differ to the point
where there is no common assumption whatever. That is why people
professing the same stock of religious beliefs can go to war. The
element of their belief which determines conduct is that view of the
facts which they assume.

That is where codes enter so subtly and so pervasively into the making
of public opinion. The orthodox theory holds that a public opinion
constitutes a moral judgment on a group of facts. The theory I am
suggesting is that, in the present state of education, a public
opinion is primarily a moralized and codified version of the facts. I
am arguing that the pattern of stereotypes at the center of our codes
largely determines what group of facts we shall see, and in what light
we shall see them. That is why, with the best will in the world, the
news policy of a journal tends to support its editorial policy; why a
capitalist sees one set of facts, and certain aspects of human nature,
literally sees them; his socialist opponent another set and other
aspects, and why each regards the other as unreasonable or perverse,
when the real difference between them is a difference of perception.
That difference is imposed by the difference between the capitalist
and socialist pattern of stereotypes. “There are no classes in
America,” writes an American editor. “The history of all hitherto
existing society is the history of class struggles,” says the
Communist Manifesto. If you have the editor’s pattern in your mind,
you will see vividly the facts that confirm it, vaguely and
ineffectively those that contradict. If you have the communist
pattern, you will not only look for different things, but you will see
with a totally different emphasis what you and the editor happen to
see in common.


And since my moral system rests on my accepted version of the facts,
he who denies either my moral judgments or my version of the facts, is
to me perverse, alien, dangerous. How shall I account for him? The
opponent has always to be explained, and the last explanation that we
ever look for is that he sees a different set of facts. Such an
explanation we avoid, because it saps the very foundation of our own
assurance that we have seen life steadily and seen it whole. It is
only when we are in the habit of recognizing our opinions as a partial
experience seen through our stereotypes that we become truly tolerant
of an opponent. Without that habit, we believe in the absolutism of
our own vision, and consequently in the treacherous character of all
opposition. For while men are willing to admit that there are two
sides to a “question,” they do not believe that there are two sides to
what they regard as a “fact.” And they never do believe it until after
long critical education, they are fully conscious of how second-hand
and subjective is their apprehension of their social data.

So where two factions see vividly each its own aspect, and contrive
their own explanations of what they see, it is almost impossible for
them to credit each other with honesty. If the pattern fits their
experience at a crucial point, they no longer look upon it as an
interpretation. They look upon it as “reality.” It may not resemble
the reality, except that it culminates in a conclusion which fits a
real experience. I may represent my trip from New York to Boston by a
straight line on a map, just as a man may regard his triumph as the
end of a straight and narrow path. The road by which I actually went
to Boston may have involved many detours, much turning and twisting,
just as his road may have involved much besides pure enterprise, labor
and thrift. But provided I reach Boston and he succeeds, the airline
and the straight path will serve as ready made charts. Only when
somebody tries to follow them, and does not arrive, do we have to
answer objections. If we insist on our charts, and he insists on
rejecting them, we soon tend to regard him as a dangerous fool, and he
to regard us as liars and hypocrites. Thus we gradually paint
portraits of each other. For the opponent presents himself as the man
who says, evil be thou my good. He is an annoyance who does not fit
into the scheme of things. Nevertheless he interferes. And since that
scheme is based in our minds on incontrovertible fact fortified by
irresistible logic, some place has to be found for him in the scheme.
Rarely in politics or industrial disputes is a place made for him by
the simple admission that he has looked upon the same reality and seen
another aspect of it. That would shake the whole scheme.

Thus to the Italians in Paris Fiume was Italian It was not merely a
city that it would be desirable to include within the Italian kingdom.
It was Italian. They fixed their whole mind upon the Italian majority
within the legal boundaries of the city itself. The American
delegates, having seen more Italians in New York than there are in
Fiume, without regarding New York as Italian, fixed their eyes on
Fiume as a central European port of entry. They saw vividly the
Jugoslavs in the suburbs and the non-Italian hinterland. Some of the
Italians in Paris were therefore in need of a convincing explanation
of the American perversity. They found it in a rumor which started, no
one knows where, that an influential American diplomat was in the
snares of a Jugoslav mistress. She had been seen…. He had been
seen…. At Versailles just off the boulevard. … The villa with the
large trees.

This is a rather common way of explaining away opposition. In their
more libelous form such charges rarely reach the printed page, and a
Roosevelt may have to wait years, or a Harding months, before he can
force an issue, and end a whispering campaign that has reached into
every circle of talk. Public men have to endure a fearful amount of
poisonous clubroom, dinner table, boudoir slander, repeated,
elaborated, chuckled over, and regarded as delicious. While this sort
of thing is, I believe, less prevalent in America than in Europe, yet
rare is the American official about whom somebody is not repeating a

Out of the opposition we make villains and conspiracies. If prices go
up unmercifully the profiteers have conspired; if the newspapers
misrepresent the news, there is a capitalist plot; if the rich are too
rich, they have been stealing; if a closely fought election is lost,
the electorate was corrupted; if a statesman does something of which
you disapprove, he has been bought or influenced by some discreditable
person. If workingmen are restless, they are the victims of agitators;
if they are restless over wide areas, there is a conspiracy on foot.
If you do not produce enough aeroplanes, it is the work of spies; if
there is trouble in Ireland, it is German or Bolshevik “gold.” And if
you go stark, staring mad looking for plots, you see all strikes, the
Plumb plan, Irish rebellion, Mohammedan unrest, the restoration of
King Constantine, the League of Nations, Mexican disorder, the
movement to reduce armaments, Sunday movies, short skirts, evasion of
the liquor laws, Negro self-assertion, as sub-plots under some
grandiose plot engineered either by Moscow, Rome, the Free Masons, the
Japanese, or the Elders of Zion.




Skilled diplomatists, compelled to talk out loud to the warring
peoples, learned how to use a large repertory of stereotypes. They
were dealing with a precarious alliance of powers, each of which was
maintaining its war unity only by the most careful leadership. The
ordinary soldier and his wife, heroic and selfless beyond anything in
the chronicles of courage, were still not heroic enough to face death
gladly for all the ideas which were said by the foreign offices of
foreign powers to be essential to the future of civilization. There
were ports, and mines, rocky mountain passes, and villages that few
soldiers would willingly have crossed No Man’s Land to obtain for
their allies.

Now it happened in one nation that the war party which was in control
of the foreign office, the high command, and most of the press, had
claims on the territory of several of its neighbors. These claims were
called the Greater Ruritania by the cultivated classes who regarded
Kipling, Treitschke, and Maurice Barres as one hundred percent
Ruritanian. But the grandiose idea aroused no enthusiasm abroad. So
holding this finest flower of the Ruritanian genius, as their poet
laureate said, to their hearts, Ruritania’s statesmen went forth to
divide and conquer. They divided the claim into sectors. For each
piece they invoked that stereotype which some one or more of their
allies found it difficult to resist, because that ally had claims for
which it hoped to find approval by the use of this same stereotype.

The first sector happened to be a mountainous region inhabited by
alien peasants. Ruritania demanded it to complete her natural
geographical frontier. If you fixed your attention long enough on the
ineffable value of what is natural, those alien peasants just
dissolved into fog, and only the slope of the mountains was visible.
The next sector was inhabited by Ruritanians, and on the principle
that no people ought to live under alien rule, they were re-annexed.
Then came a city of considerable commercial importance, not inhabited
by Ruritanians. But until the Eighteenth Century it had been part of
Ruritania, and on the principle of Historic Right it was annexed.
Farther on there was a splendid mineral deposit owned by aliens and
worked by aliens. On the principle of reparation for damage it was
annexed. Beyond this there was a territory inhabited 97% by aliens,
constituting the natural geographical frontier of another nation,
never historically a part of Ruritania. But one of the provinces which
had been federated into Ruritania had formerly traded in those
markets, and the upper class culture was Ruritanian. On the principle
of cultural superiority and the necessity of defending civilization,
the lands were claimed. Finally, there was a port wholly disconnected
from Ruritania geographically, ethnically, economically, historically,
traditionally. It was demanded on the ground that it was needed for
national defense.

In the treaties that concluded the Great War you can multiply examples
of this kind. Now I do not wish to imply that I think it was possible
to resettle Europe consistently on any one of these principles. I am
certain that it was not. The very use of these principles, so
pretentious and so absolute, meant that the spirit of accommodation
did not prevail and that, therefore, the substance of peace was not
there. For the moment you start to discuss factories, mines,
mountains, or even political authority, as perfect examples of some
eternal principle or other, you are not arguing, you are fighting.
That eternal principle censors out all the objections, isolates the
issue from its background and its context, and sets going in you some
strong emotion, appropriate enough to the principle, highly
inappropriate to the docks, warehouses, and real estate. And having
started in that mood you cannot stop. A real danger exists. To meet it
you have to invoke more absolute principles in order to defend what is
open to attack. Then you have to defend the defenses, erect buffers,
and buffers for the buffers, until the whole affair is so scrambled
that it seems less dangerous to fight than to keep on talking.

There are certain clues which often help in detecting the false
absolutism of a stereotype. In the case of the Ruritanian propaganda
the principles blanketed each other so rapidly that one could readily
see how the argument had been constructed. The series of
contradictions showed that for each sector that stereotype was
employed which would obliterate all the facts that interfered with the
claim. Contradiction of this sort is often a good clue.


Inability to take account of space is another. In the spring of 1918,
for example, large numbers of people, appalled by the withdrawal of
Russia, demanded the “reestablishment of an Eastern Front.” The war,
as they had conceived it, was on two fronts, and when one of them
disappeared there was an instant demand that it be recreated. The
unemployed Japanese army was to man the front, substituting for the
Russian. But there was one insuperable obstacle. Between Vladivostok
and the eastern battleline there were five thousand miles of country,
spanned by one broken down railway. Yet those five thousand miles
would not stay in the minds of the enthusiasts. So overwhelming was
their conviction that an eastern front was needed, and so great their
confidence in the valor of the Japanese army, that, mentally, they had
projected that army from Vladivostok to Poland on a magic carpet. In
vain our military authorities argued that to land troops on the rim of
Siberia had as little to do with reaching the Germans, as climbing
from the cellar to the roof of the Woolworth building had to do with
reaching the moon.

The stereotype in this instance was the war on two fronts. Ever since
men had begun to imagine the Great War they had conceived Germany held
between France and Russia. One generation of strategists, and perhaps
two, had lived with that visual image as the starting point of all
their calculations. For nearly four years every battle-map they saw
had deepened the impression that this was the war. When affairs took a
new turn, it was not easy to see them as they were then. They were
seen through the stereotype, and facts which conflicted with it, such
as the distance from Japan to Poland, were incapable of coming vividly
into consciousness.

It is interesting to note that the American authorities dealt with the
new facts more realistically than the French. In part, this was
because (previous to 1914) they had no preconception of a war upon the
continent; in part because the Americans, engrossed in the
mobilization of their forces, had a vision of the western front which
was itself a stereotype that excluded from _their_ consciousness
any very vivid sense of the other theatres of war. In the spring of
1918 this American view could not compete with the traditional French
view, because while the Americans believed enormously in their own
powers, the French at that time (before Cantigny and the Second Marne)
had the gravest doubts. The American confidence suffused the American
stereotype, gave it that power to possess consciousness, that
liveliness and sensible pungency, that stimulating effect upon the
will, that emotional interest as an object of desire, that congruity
with the activity in hand, which James notes as characteristic of what
we regard as “real.” [Footnote: _Principles of Psychology_, Vol.
II, p. 300.] The French in despair remained fixed on their accepted
image. And when facts, gross geographical facts, would not fit with
the preconception, they were either censored out of mind, or the facts
were themselves stretched out of shape. Thus the difficulty of the
Japanese reaching the Germans five thousand miles away was, in
measure, overcome by bringing the Germans more than half way to meet
them. Between March and June 1918, there was supposed to be a German
army operating in Eastern Siberia. This phantom army consisted of some
German prisoners actually seen, more German prisoners thought about,
and chiefly of the delusion that those five thousand intervening miles
did not really exist. [Footnote: See in this connection Mr. Charles
Grasty’s interview with Marshal Foch, _New York Times_, February
26, 1918. “Germany is walking through Russia. America and Japan, who
are in a position to do so, should go to meet her in Siberia.” See
also the resolution by Senator King of Utah, June 10, 1918, and Mr.
Taft’s statement in the _New York Times_, June 11, 1918, and the
appeal to America on May 5, 1918, by Mr. A. J. Sack, Director of the
Russian Information Bureau: “If Germany were in the Allied place…
she would have 3,000,000 fighting on the East front within a year.”]


A true conception of space is not a simple matter. If I draw a
straight line on a map between Bombay and Hong Kong and measure the
distance, I have learned nothing whatever about the distance I should
have to cover on a voyage. And even if I measure the actual distance
that I must traverse, I still know very little until I know what ships
are in the service, when they run, how fast they go, whether I can
secure accommodation and afford to pay for it. In practical life space
is a matter of available transportation, not of geometrical planes, as
the old railroad magnate knew when he threatened to make grass grow in
the streets of a city that had offended him. If I am motoring and ask
how far it is to my destination, I curse as an unmitigated booby the
man who tells me it is three miles, and does not mention a six mile
detour. It does me no good to be told that it is three miles if you
walk. I might as well be told it is one mile as the crow flies. I do
not fly like a crow, and I am not walking either. I must know that it
is nine miles for a motor car, and also, if that is the case, that six
of them are ruts and puddles. I call the pedestrian a nuisance who
tells me it is three miles and think evil of the aviator who told me
it was one mile. Both of them are talking about the space they have to
cover, not the space I must cover.

In the drawing of boundary lines absurd complications have arisen
through failure to conceive the practical geography of a region. Under
some general formula like self-determination statesmen have at various
times drawn lines on maps, which, when surveyed on the spot, ran
through the middle of a factory, down the center of a village street,
diagonally across the nave of a church, or between the kitchen and
bedroom of a peasant’s cottage. There have been frontiers in a grazing
country which separated pasture from water, pasture from market, and
in an industrial country, railheads from railroad. On the colored
ethnic map the line was ethnically just, that is to say, just in the
world of that ethnic map.


But time, no less than space, fares badly. A common example is that of
the man who tries by making an elaborate will to control his money
long after his death. “It had been the purpose of the first William
James,” writes his great-grandson Henry James, [Footnote: _The
Letters of William James_, Vol. I, p. 6.] “to provide that his
children (several of whom were under age when he died) should qualify
themselves by industry and experience to enjoy the large patrimony
which he expected to bequeath to them, and with that in view he left a
will which was a voluminous compound of restraints and instructions.
He showed thereby how great were both his confidence in his own
judgment and his solicitude for the moral welfare of his descendants.”
The courts upset the will. For the law in its objection to
perpetuities recognizes that there are distinct limits to the
usefulness of allowing anyone to impose his moral stencil upon an
unknown future. But the desire to impose it is a very human trait, so
human that the law permits it to operate for a limited time after

The amending clause of any constitution is a good index of the
confidence the authors entertained about the reach of their opinions
in the succeeding generations. There are, I believe, American state
constitutions which are almost incapable of amendment. The men who
made them could have had but little sense of the flux of time: to them
the Here and Now was so brilliantly certain, the Hereafter so vague or
so terrifying, that they had the courage to say how life should run
after they were gone. And then because constitutions are difficult to
amend, zealous people with a taste for mortmain have loved to write on
this imperishable brass all kinds of rules and restrictions that,
given any decent humility about the future, ought to be no more
permanent than an ordinary statute.

A presumption about time enters widely into our opinions. To one
person an institution which has existed for the whole of his conscious
life is part of the permanent furniture of the universe: to another it
is ephemeral. Geological time is very different from biological time.
Social time is most complex. The statesman has to decide whether to
calculate for the emergency or for the long run. Some decisions have
to be made on the basis of what will happen in the next two hours;
others on what will happen in a week, a month, a season, a decade,
when the children have grown up, or their children’s children. An
important part of wisdom is the ability to distinguish the
time-conception that properly belongs to the thing in hand. The person
who uses the wrong time-conception ranges from the dreamer who ignores
the present to the philistine who can see nothing else. A true scale
of values has a very acute sense of relative time.

Distant time, past and future, has somehow to be conceived. But as
James says, “of the longer duration we have no direct ‘realizing’
sense.” [Footnote: _Principles of Psychology_, Vol. I, p. 638.] The longest duration which we immediately feel is what is called the
“specious present.” It endures, according to Titchener, for about six
seconds. [Footnote: Cited by Warren, _Human Psychology_, p. 255.] “All impressions within this period of time are present to us _at
once_. This makes it possible for us to perceive changes and events
as well as stationary objects. The perceptual present is supplemented
by the ideational present. Through the combination of perceptions with
memory images, entire days, months, and even years of the past are
brought together into the present.”

In this ideational present, vividness, as James said, is proportionate
to the number of discriminations we perceive within it. Thus a
vacation in which we were bored with nothing to do passes slowly while
we are in it, but seems very short in memory. Great activity kills
time rapidly, but in memory its duration is long. On the relation
between the amount we discriminate and our time perspective James has
an interesting passage: [Footnote: _Op. cit._, Vol. I, p. 639.]

“We have every reason to think that creatures may possibly differ
enormously in the amounts of duration which they intuitively feel, and
in the fineness of the events that may fill it. Von Baer has indulged
in some interesting computations of the effect of such differences in
changing the aspect of Nature. Suppose we were able, within the length
of a second, to note 10,000 events distinctly, instead of barely 10 as
now; [Footnote: In the moving picture this effect is admirably produced
by the ultra-rapid camera.] if our life were then destined to hold the
same number of impressions, it might be 1000 times as short. We should
live less than a month, and personally know nothing of the change of
seasons. If born in winter, we should believe in summer as we now
believe in the heats of the carboniferous era. The motions of organic
beings would be so slow to our senses as to be inferred, not seen. The
sun would stand still in the sky, the moon be almost free from change,
and so on. But now reverse the hypothesis and suppose a being to get
only one 1000th part of the sensations we get in a given time, and
consequently to live 1000 times as long. Winters and summers will be
to him like quarters of an hour. Mushrooms and the swifter growing
plants will shoot into being so rapidly as to appear instantaneous
creations; annual shrubs will rise and fall from the earth like
restless boiling water springs; the motions of animals will be as
invisible as are to us the movements of bullets and cannon-balls; the
sun will scour through the sky like a meteor, leaving a fiery trail
behind him, etc.”


In his Outline of History Mr. Wells has made a gallant effort to
visualize “the true proportions of historical to geological time”
[Footnote: 1 Vol. II, p. 605. See also James Harvey Robinson, _The
New History,_ p. 239.] On a scale which represents the time from
Columbus to ourselves by three inches of space, the reader would have
to walk 55 feet to see the date of the painters of the Altamara caves,
550 feet to see the earlier Neanderthalers, a mile or so to the last
of the dinosaurs. More or less precise chronology does not begin until
after 1000 B.C., and at that time “Sargon I of the Akkadian-Sumerian
Empire was a remote memory,… more remote than is Constantine the
Great from the world of the present day…. Hammurabi had been dead a
thousand years… Stonehedge in England was already a thousand years

Mr. Wells was writing with a purpose. “In the brief period of ten
thousand years these units (into which men have combined) have grown
from the small family tribe of the early neolithic culture to the vast
united realms–vast yet still too small and partial–of the present
time.” Mr. Wells hoped by changing the time perspective on our present
problems to change the moral perspective. Yet the astronomical measure
of time, the geological, the biological, any telescopic measure which
minimizes the present is not “more true” than a microscopic. Mr.
Simeon Strunsky is right when he insists that “if Mr. Wells is
thinking of his subtitle, The Probable Future of Mankind, he is
entitled to ask for any number of centuries to work out his solution.
If he is thinking of the salvaging of this western civilization,
reeling under the effects of the Great War, he must think in decades
and scores of years.” [Footnote: In a review of _The Salvaging of
Civilization, The Literary Review of the N. Y. Evening Post_, June
18, 1921, p. 5.] It all depends upon the practical purpose for which
you adopt the measure. There are situations when the time perspective
needs to be lengthened, and others when it needs to be shortened.

The man who says that it does not matter if 15,000,000 Chinese die of
famine, because in two generations the birthrate will make up the
loss, has used a time perspective to excuse his inertia. A person who
pauperizes a healthy young man because he is sentimentally
overimpressed with an immediate difficulty has lost sight of the
duration of the beggar’s life. The people who for the sake of an
immediate peace are willing to buy off an aggressive empire by
indulging its appetite have allowed a specious present to interfere
with the peace of their children. The people who will not be patient
with a troublesome neighbor, who want to bring everything to a
“showdown” are no less the victims of a specious present.


Into almost every social problem the proper calculation of time
enters. Suppose, for example, it is a question of timber. Some trees
grow faster than others. Then a sound forest policy is one in which
the amount of each species and of each age cut in each season is made
good by replanting. In so far as that calculation is correct the
truest economy has been reached. To cut less is waste, and to cut more
is exploitation. But there may come an emergency, say the need for
aeroplane spruce in a war, when the year’s allowance must be exceeded.
An alert government will recognize that and regard the restoration of
the balance as a charge upon the future.

Coal involves a different theory of time, because coal, unlike a tree,
is produced on the scale of geological time. The supply is limited.
Therefore a correct social policy involves intricate computation of
the available reserves of the world, the indicated possibilities, the
present rate of use, the present economy of use, and the alternative
fuels. But when that computation has been reached it must finally be
squared with an ideal standard involving time. Suppose, for example,
that engineers conclude that the present fuels are being exhausted at
a certain rate; that barring new discoveries industry will have to
enter a phase of contraction at some definite time in the future. We
have then to determine how much thrift and self-denial we will use,
after all feasible economies have been exercised, in order not to rob
posterity. But what shall we consider posterity? Our grandchildren?
Our great grandchildren? Perhaps we shall decide to calculate on a
hundred years, believing that to be ample time for the discovery of
alternative fuels if the necessity is made clear at once. The figures
are, of course, hypothetical. But in calculating that way we shall be
employing what reason we have. We shall be giving social time its
place in public opinion. Let us now imagine a somewhat different case:
a contract between a city and a trolley-car company. The company says
that it will not invest its capital unless it is granted a monopoly of
the main highway for ninety-nine years. In the minds of the men who
make that demand ninety-nine years is so long as to mean “forever.”
But suppose there is reason to think that surface cars, run from a
central power plant on tracks, are going out of fashion in twenty
years. Then it is a most unwise contract to make, for you are
virtually condemning a future generation to inferior transportation.
In making such a contract the city officials lack a realizing sense of
ninety-nine years. Far better to give the company a subsidy now in
order to attract capital than to stimulate investment by indulging a
fallacious sense of eternity. No city official and no company official
has a sense of real time when he talks about ninety-nine years.

Popular history is a happy hunting ground of time confusions. To the
average Englishman, for example, the behavior of Cromwell, the
corruption of the Act of Union, the Famine of 1847 are wrongs suffered
by people long dead and done by actors long dead with whom no living
person, Irish or English, has any real connection. But in the mind of
a patriotic Irishman these same events are almost contemporary. His
memory is like one of those historical paintings, where Virgil and
Dante sit side by side conversing. These perspectives and
foreshortenings are a great barrier between peoples. It is ever so
difficult for a person of one tradition to remember what is
contemporary in the tradition of another.

Almost nothing that goes by the name of Historic Rights or Historic
Wrongs can be called a truly objective view of the past. Take, for
example, the Franco-German debate about Alsace-Lorraine. It all
depends on the original date you select. If you start with the Rauraci
and Sequani, the lands are historically part of Ancient Gaul. If you
prefer Henry I, they are historically a German territory; if you take
1273 they belong to the House of Austria; if you take 1648 and the
Peace of Westphalia, most of them are French; if you take Louis XIV
and the year 1688 they are almost all French. If you are using the
argument from history you are fairly certain to select those dates in
the past which support your view of what should be done now.

Arguments about “races” and nationalities often betray the same
arbitrary view of time. During the war, under the influence of
powerful feeling, the difference between “Teutons” on the one hand,
and “Anglo-Saxons” and French on the other, was popularly believed to
be an eternal difference. They had always been opposing races. Yet a
generation ago, historians, like Freeman, were emphasizing the common
Teutonic origin of the West European peoples, and ethnologists would
certainly insist that the Germans, English, and the greater part of
the French are branches of what was once a common stock. The general
rule is: if you like a people to-day you come down the branches to the
trunk; if you dislike them you insist that the separate branches are
separate trunks. In one case you fix your attention on the period
before they were distinguishable; in the other on the period after
which they became distinct. And the view which fits the mood is taken
as the “truth.”

An amiable variation is the family tree. Usually one couple are
appointed the original ancestors, if possible, a couple associated
with an honorific event like the Norman Conquest. That couple have no
ancestors. They are not descendants. Yet they were the descendants of
ancestors, and the expression that So-and-So was the founder of his
house means not that he is the Adam of his family, but that he is the
particular ancestor from whom it is desirable to start, or perhaps the
earliest ancestor of which there is a record. But genealogical tables
exhibit a deeper prejudice. Unless the female line happens to be
especially remarkable descent is traced down through the males. The
tree is male. At various moments females accrue to it as itinerant
bees light upon an ancient apple tree.


But the future is the most illusive time of all. Our temptation here
is to jump over necessary steps in the sequence; and as we are
governed by hope or doubt, to exaggerate or to minimize the time
required to complete various parts of a process. The discussion of the
role to be exercised by wage-earners in the management of industry is
riddled with this difficulty. For management is a word that covers
many functions. [Footnote: Cf. Carter L. Goodrich, The Frontier of
Control.] Some of these require no training; some require a little
training; others can be learned only in a lifetime. And the truly
discriminating program of industrial democratization would be one
based on the proper time sequence, so that the assumption of
responsibility would run parallel to a complementary program of
industrial training. The proposal for a sudden dictatorship of the
proletariat is an attempt to do away with the intervening time of
preparation; the resistance to all sharing of responsibility an
attempt to deny the alteration of human capacity in the course of
time. Primitive notions of democracy, such as rotation in office, and
contempt for the expert, are really nothing but the old myth that the
Goddess of Wisdom sprang mature and fully armed from the brow of Jove.
They assume that what it takes years to learn need not be learned at

Whenever the phrase “backward people” is used as the basis of a
policy, the conception of time is a decisive element. The Covenant of
the League of Nations says, [Footnote: Article XIX.] for example, that
“the character of the mandate must differ according to the stage of
the development of the people,” as well as on other grounds. Certain
communities, it asserts, “have reached a stage of development” where
their independence can be provisionally recognized, subject to advice
and assistance “until such time as they are able to stand alone.” The
way in which the mandatories and the mandated conceive that time will
influence deeply their relations. Thus in the case of Cuba the
judgment of the American government virtually coincided with that of
the Cuban patriots, and though there has been trouble, there is no
finer page in the history of how strong powers have dealt with the
weak. Oftener in that history the estimates have not coincided. Where
the imperial people, whatever its public expressions, has been deeply
convinced that the backwardness of the backward was so hopeless as not
to be worth remedying, or so profitable that it was not desirable to
remedy it, the tie has festered and poisoned the peace of the world.
There have been a few cases, very few, where backwardness has meant to
the ruling power the need for a program of forwardness, a program with
definite standards and definite estimates of time. Far more
frequently, so frequently in fact as to seem the rule, backwardness
has been conceived as an intrinsic and eternal mark of inferiority.
And then every attempt to be less backward has been frowned upon as
the sedition, which, under these conditions, it undoubtedly is. In our
own race wars we can see some of the results of the failure to realize
that time would gradually obliterate the slave morality of the Negro,
and that social adjustment based on this morality would begin to break

It is hard not to picture the future as if it obeyed our present
purposes, to annihilate whatever delays our desire, or immortalize
whatever stands between us and our fears.


In putting together our public opinions, not only do we have to
picture more space than we can see with our eyes, and more time than
we can feel, but we have to describe and judge more people, more
actions, more things than we can ever count, or vividly imagine. We
have to summarize and generalize. We have to pick out samples, and
treat them as typical.

To pick fairly a good sample of a large class is not easy. The problem
belongs to the science of statistics, and it is a most difficult
affair for anyone whose mathematics is primitive, and mine remain
azoic in spite of the half dozen manuals which I once devoutly
imagined that I understood. All they have done for me is to make me a
little more conscious of how hard it is to classify and to sample, how
readily we spread a little butter over the whole universe.

Some time ago a group of social workers in Sheffield, England, started
out to substitute an accurate picture of the mental equipment of the
workers of that city for the impressionistic one they had. [Footnote:
_The Equipment of the Worker_.] They wished to say, with some
decent grounds for saying it, how the workers of Sheffield were
equipped. They found, as we all find the moment we refuse to let our
first notion prevail, that they were beset with complications. Of the
test they employed nothing need be said here except that it was a
large questionnaire. For the sake of the illustration, assume that the
questions were a fair test of mental equipment for English city life.
Theoretically, then, those questions should have been put to every
member of the working class. But it is not so easy to know who are the
working class. However, assume again that the census knows how to
classify them. Then there were roughly 104,000 men and 107,000 women
who ought to have been questioned. They possessed the answers which
would justify or refute the casual phrase about the “ignorant workers”
or the “intelligent workers.” But nobody could think of questioning
the whole two hundred thousand.

So the social workers consulted an eminent statistician, Professor
Bowley. He advised them that not less than 408 men and 408 women would
prove to be a fair sample. According to mathematical calculation this
number would not show a greater deviation from the average than 1 in
22. [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p. 65.] They had, therefore, to
question at least 816 people before they could pretend to talk about
the average workingman. But which 816 people should they approach? “We
might have gathered particulars concerning workers to whom one or
another of us had a pre-inquiry access; we might have worked through
philanthropic gentlemen and ladies who were in contact with certain
sections of workers at a club, a mission, an infirmary, a place of
worship, a settlement. But such a method of selection would produce
entirely worthless results. The workers thus selected would not be in
any sense representative of what is popularly called ‘the average run
of workers;’ they would represent nothing but the little coteries to
which they belonged.

“The right way of securing ‘victims,’ to which at immense cost of time
and labour we rigidly adhered, is to get hold of your workers by some
‘neutral’ or ‘accidental’ or ‘random’ method of approach.” This they
did. And after all these precautions they came to no more definite
conclusion than that on their classification and according to their
questionnaire, among 200,000 Sheffield workers “about one quarter”
were “well equipped,” “approaching three-quarters” were “inadequately
equipped” and that “about one-fifteenth” were “mal-equipped.”

Compare this conscientious and almost pedantic method of arriving at
an opinion, with our usual judgments about masses of people, about the
volatile Irish, and the logical French, and the disciplined Germans,
and the ignorant Slavs, and the honest Chinese, and the untrustworthy
Japanese, and so on and so on. All these are generalizations drawn
from samples, but the samples are selected by a method that
statistically is wholly unsound. Thus the employer will judge labor by
the most troublesome employee or the most docile that he knows, and
many a radical group has imagined that it was a fair sample of the
working class. How many women’s views on the “servant question” are
little more than the reflection of their own treatment of their
servants? The tendency of the casual mind is to pick out or stumble
upon a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to
make it the representative of a whole class.

A great deal of confusion arises when people decline to classify
themselves as we have classified them. Prophecy would be so much
easier if only they would stay where we put them. But, as a matter of
fact, a phrase like the working class will cover only some of the
truth for a part of the time. When you take all the people, below a
certain level of income, and call them the working class, you cannot
help assuming that the people so classified will behave in accordance
with your stereotype. Just who those people are you are not quite
certain. Factory hands and mine workers fit in more or less, but farm
hands, small farmers, peddlers, little shop keepers, clerks, servants,
soldiers, policemen, firemen slip out of the net. The tendency, when
you are appealing to the “working class,” is to fix your attention on
two or three million more or less confirmed trade unionists, and treat
them as Labor; the other seventeen or eighteen million, who might
qualify statistically, are tacitly endowed with the point of view
ascribed to the organized nucleus. How very misleading it was to
impute to the British working class in 1918-1921 the point of view
expressed in the resolutions of the Trades Union Congress or in the
pamphlets written by intellectuals.

The stereotype of Labor as Emancipator selects the evidence which
supports itself and rejects the other. And so parallel with the real
movements of working men there exists a fiction of the Labor Movement,
in which an idealized mass moves towards an ideal goal. The fiction
deals with the future. In the future possibilities are almost
indistinguishable from probabilities and probabilities from
certainties. If the future is long enough, the human will might turn
what is just conceivable into what is very likely, and what is likely
into what is sure to happen. James called this the faith ladder, and
said that “it is a slope of goodwill on which in the larger questions
of life men habitually live.” [Footnote: William James, _Some
Problems of Philosophy_, p. 224.]

“1. There is nothing absurd in a certain view of the world being true,
nothing contradictory;

2. It _might_ have been true under certain conditions;

3. It _may_ be true even now;

4. It is _fit_ to be true;

5. It _ought_ to be true;

6. It _must_ be true;

7. It _shall_ be true, at any rate true for me.”

And, as he added in another place, [Footnote: _A Pluralistic
Universe_, p. 329.] “your acting thus may in certain special cases
be a means of making it securely true in the end.” Yet no one would
have insisted more than he, that, so far as we know how, we must avoid
substituting the goal for the starting point, must avoid reading back
into the present what courage, effort and skill might create in the
future. Yet this truism is inordinately difficult to live by, because
every one of us is so little trained in the selection of our samples.

If we believe that a certain thing ought to be true, we can almost
always find either an instance where it is true, or someone who
believes it ought to be true. It is ever so hard when a concrete fact
illustrates a hope to weigh that fact properly. When the first six
people we meet agree with us, it is not easy to remember that they may
all have read the same newspaper at breakfast. And yet we cannot send
out a questionnaire to 816 random samples every time we wish to
estimate a probability. In dealing with any large mass of facts, the
presumption is against our having picked true samples, if we are
acting on a casual impression.


And when we try to go one step further in order to seek the causes and
effects of unseen and complicated affairs, haphazard opinion is very
tricky. There are few big issues in public life where cause and effect
are obvious at once. They are not obvious to scholars who have devoted
years, let us say, to studying business cycles, or price and wage
movements, or the migration and the assimilation of peoples, or the
diplomatic purposes of foreign powers. Yet somehow we are all supposed
to have opinions on these matters, and it is not surprising that the
commonest form of reasoning is the intuitive, post hoc ergo propter

The more untrained a mind, the more readily it works out a theory that
two things which catch its attention at the same time are causally
connected. We have already dwelt at some length on the way things
reach our attention. We have seen that our access to information is
obstructed and uncertain, and that our apprehension is deeply
controlled by our stereotypes; that the evidence available to our
reason is subject to illusions of defense, prestige, morality, space,
time, and sampling. We must note now that with this initial taint,
public opinions are still further beset, because in a series of events
seen mostly through stereotypes, we readily accept sequence or
parallelism as equivalent to cause and effect.

This is most likely to happen when two ideas that come together arouse
the same feeling. If they come together they are likely to arouse the
same feeling; and even when they do not arrive together a powerful
feeling attached to one is likely to suck out of all the corners of
memory any idea that feels about the same. Thus everything painful
tends to collect into one system of cause and effect, and likewise
everything pleasant.

“IId IIm (1675) This day I hear that G[od] has shot an arrow into the
midst of this Town. The small pox is in an ordinary ye sign of the
Swan, the ordinary Keepers name is Windsor. His daughter is sick of
the disease. It is observable that this disease begins at an alehouse,
to testify God’s displeasure agt the sin of drunkenness & yt of
multiplying alehouses!” [Footnote: _The Heart of the Puritan_, p.
177, edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom.]

Thus Increase Mather, and thus in the year 1919 a distinguished
Professor of Celestial Mechanics discussing the Einstein theory:

“It may well be that…. Bolshevist uprisings are in reality the
visible objects of some underlying, deep, mental disturbance,
world-wide in character…. This same spirit of unrest has invaded
science.” [Footnote: Cited in _The New Republic_, Dec. 24, 1919,
p. 120.]

In hating one thing violently, we readily associate with it as cause
or effect most of the other things we hate or fear violently. They may
have no more connection than smallpox and alehouses, or Relativity and
Bolshevism, but they are bound together in the same emotion. In a
superstitious mind, like that of the Professor of Celestial Mechanics,
emotion is a stream of molten lava which catches and imbeds whatever
it touches. When you excavate in it you find, as in a buried city, all
sorts of objects ludicrously entangled in each other. Anything can be
related to anything else, provided it feels like it. Nor has a mind in
such a state any way of knowing how preposterous it is. Ancient fears,
reinforced by more recent fears, coagulate into a snarl of fears where
anything that is dreaded is the cause of anything else that is


Generally it all culminates in the fabrication of a system of all
evil, and of another which is the system of all good. Then our love of
the absolute shows itself. For we do not like qualifying
adverbs. [Footnote: _Cf_. Freud’s discussion of absolutism in
dreams, _Interpretation of Dreams_, Chapter VI, especially pp.
288, _et seq_.] They clutter up sentences, and interfere with
irresistible feeling. We prefer most to more, least to less, we
dislike the words rather, perhaps, if, or, but, toward, not quite,
almost, temporarily, partly. Yet nearly every opinion about public
affairs needs to be deflated by some word of this sort. But in our
free moments everything tends to behave absolutely,–one hundred
percent, everywhere, forever.

It is not enough to say that our side is more right than the enemy’s,
that our victory will help democracy more than his. One must insist
that our victory will end war forever, and make the world safe for
democracy. And when the war is over, though we have thwarted a greater
evil than those which still afflict us, the relativity of the result
fades out, the absoluteness of the present evil overcomes our spirit,
and we feel that we are helpless because we have not been
irresistible. Between omnipotence and impotence the pendulum swings.

Real space, real time, real numbers, real connections, real weights
are lost. The perspective and the background and the dimensions of
action are clipped and frozen in the stereotype.