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WORLD TROUBLE AND REALISM
BY VERNON KELLOGG
THE scientist tries to be a realist. Face to face with phenomena he would like to understand he assures himself that, concerning these phenomena, there are some ascertainable facts to be discovered, some probable conjectures to be made and some wild guesses to be hazarded. He goes first after the ascertainable facts; then he is likely to make some conjectures that seem reasonable, and he may even, if he is of a certain temperament, hazard a few wild guesses. But first he goes after the ascertainable facts.
He may be temperamentally idealist in his outlook on the world. He may be a man of vision-if he is not he will never be a great scientist. His vision may determine for him ideals of human life, personal and social human life, which he thinks human individuals and the human race should strive to attain. But in this striving for ideals he will be realist in method. He will test the methods and measures suggested by other men-and by himself by his understanding of realities.
Ideal in aim, but realist in method. That is the scientific man. It is not what he studies but how he studies that distinguishes the scientific man from the non-scientific man. The majority of professed or professional scientific men do, to be sure, confine most of their study to the fields of the natural sciences, such as mathematics and astronomy and physics and chemistry and geology and biology. But there are scientific men whose field is in the humanities. There are thoroughgoing scientific students of political economy, political science, sociology, statesmanship, diplomacy, politics in general. But there are not many of them. They can be distinguished from other students or workers or dabblers in these fields by their method, their method of realism.
lyle, who was really in earnest and knew what he was talking about.
About Americans Carlyle said many things as unjust as they were unpleasant. But about Britons also he said many things which were equally unpleasant, though perhaps less unjust. He was never tired of telling us, for example, that we are "mostly fools", a saying which made him hateful to the Podsnaps of his time, but which our subsequent history has, in the opinion of many, proved to be true. The few wise men among us have forgiven him that long ago; and I suggest that the time has now come when the wise men of America might forgive him for saying that their nation were "mostly bores", and hegin to meditate anew, as many of us are now doing in Britain, with somewhat rueful faces, on the Book of Prophecy he left us. Even his horrible blasphemies about the "Nigger Question" might be overlooked by generous souls in America on the ground that the light that led him astray was undoubtedly light from heaven.
The book of his that I would specially recommend for this purpose of reconciliation and enlightenment is the Latter Day Pamphlets, in which I can detect only one really important mistake, the date being given as 1850 instead of 1922. For my own part I find the bitter medicine of that book far more wholesome in our present disorders than the weird and windy prescriptions for mending the world now so plentifully hawked about on both sides of the Atlantic, "by quidnuncs with a smattering of grammar," many of which a wise man would as soon swallow as make his dinner from the witches' cauldron in Macbeth.
For example, on opening my weekly paper this morning, the very first thing I light upon (it is a headline) is the following: "The old sanctions for our society have dissolved and we know it; and we know that we must seek new and finer sanctions."
Now, I believe it would be no exaggeration to say that, since the war broke out, I have heard or read that statement, in varying forms, a thousand times. So far it has produced not the slightest effect; nor will produce any, though it be repeated fifty thousand times more, and printed in large type in every newspaper, and shouted from the roof of every house, in Europe and in Americathe reason being that it is false. The old sanctions of our society
ently, and even Christ could not convince all of His hearers to become His followers.
I should like to understand how Russia could ever get into the impossible state it is in. No reasonable conjecture or even wild guess made before the fact would ever have pictured with any accuracy the present impossible situation-which is nevertheless possible because it now exists. I hardly accept as real the reality that I saw in Russia last autumn. I saw things as seemingly unreal, as topsy-turvy, as Alice saw in Wonderland. But I, and others, did see them and it was on a basis of these ascertained realities that Mr. Hoover, who is a scientific man, acted promptly with the result of saving the lives of several million men, women and children.
On the basis of facts that could be ascertained Mr. Hoover could and did act with the result of ameliorating great and distressing trouble. But he is urged all the time now, on a basis of conjecture and guess, to act, or use his influence to have the American Government act, in other ways that would, if the guess is correct, conjecturally further relieve trouble in Russia. But, consistently scientific, he asks for the ascertainable facts on which to base proper action. He cannot commit himself, or help commit the Government, to action on a basis of guess and conjecture. Indeed, the situation in Russia is an outstanding example of the difficulties of knowing things in the realm of human psychology and human behavior in the way the scientific man insists on knowing them, or trying to know them.
But difficult or not, the solution of the problems of economic and political trouble in Russia and world trouble in general will depend on getting at the realities in a scientific way. There must be a basis of realism for planning and carrying out any activity to ameliorate this trouble. That is what I mean to suggest by the title of my paper.
What are the criteria of reality? What tests can we apply to things as they seem to determine things as they are? This is no simple and perhaps no certain matter. But there are some grounds for confidence concerning it. The scientific man has a
test of the reality of things which can be stated rather baldly as the test of betting your life on them. If they stand that test he accepts them as realities.
Philosophers have different attitudes, varying with their schools", toward material phenomena. There are some who say that the reality of the material things we feel, see, hear, taste or smell lies only in our minds, because it is only the mind perceptions of things that we can certainly know to exist. Few scientific men agree with this. They say that a photographic plate put where it will intercept light waves or a stretched membrane where it will be struck by sound waves will be, respectively, chemically and physically affected by these vibrations in ether and atmosphere. They say further that if one stands on a railway long enough he will first see or hear an approaching reality in the guise of a locomotive, and then, unless he gets off, will feel it. He can bet his life on the reality of this locomotive as revealed to him by his senses. He believes therefore that reality exists outside of mind. He bets his life on it and wins. The philosopher would lose his bet-and life-if he tested his belief to the limit.
The kind of reality represented by the rushing locomotive or by a cyclone or earthquake is reality in the world of nature. But there are catastrophic happenings because of the behavior of human beings in masses, which bring trouble or disaster to themselves or to other people just as the cyclone or earthquake brings disaster. These are realities in the world of human society and civilization. We may also perhaps establish a third category of realities which largely affect human life: realities in the world of morality. As difficult of understanding, compared with the realities of the world of nature, as may be these realities in the worlds of civilization and morality, they nevertheless form a body of actualities that are more or less available to scientific study, study by the scientific method. And it is by that kind of study and by taking the attitude of the realist toward them that any considerable progress can be made toward solving the problems which these realities in the realm of civilization and morality may pose to mankind. An attention to these problems from the point of view and by the method of the scientific realist can lead to
War, and its horrible sequel in the so-called Peace, to the delusions of an age which had long accustomed itself both to think and to act as though talk could be made to do the business of life. The war was the product of worldwide lying, in which the "world views" formed no small part, especially those that had been worked up in Germany. Not the venial lying which speaks a word untrue to another word, but the mortal, deadly lying where all the words, while beautifully harmonizing with one another, are collectively untrue to reality or fact. The very notion of a "world view", which we were led to believe would be a kind of summarized total, or general conspectus, of all the truth that can be known, is itself a lie of this collective kind, what one might call a "mass lie", and a highly pernicious one. The wisest man that ever drew the breath of life cannot "view" more than an inconceivably small fraction of the world, a significant fraction it is true, just enough to warn him against playing tricks with the Ten Commandments, and no more; the wise man becoming unutterably foolish when he pretends otherwise. What comes of trusting to "world views" to do the business of the world may be abundantly seen in the sorry performance we have already considered, where every writer and speaker, high and low, after explaining his "world view" to admiring sight seers in that line, can think of nothing better than to bellow at his audience to change their hearts", while making not the least effort to change his own, and with no serious intention of doing so the world meantime mocking the view he has taken of it and visibly going from bad to worse.
This fundamental lying, which has reproduced itself in an endless progeny of abominable forms, was, I repeat, the underlying cause of the Great War and its sequent calamities. In Germany, where this sort of lying had been developed to a fine art and where the chief adepts in the practice of it were to be found, it produced the trash of Von Bernhardi, Treitschke, Houston Chamberlain and the Kaiser's speeches. In Britain (I say nothing of America) we gave it a more moralized but not less deadly version. Our notion was that the "international situation" is governed by political speeches, protocols, foreign office correspondence, interchange of diplomatic views, and paper treaties