Social Ethics: Sociology and the Future of Society

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Michael R. Hill et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 11
CONDUCT AND PROGRESS

WITHOUT ACCURATE and reliable knowledge of physics, both empirical and theoretic, we could make small progress in the mechanical arts which develop our social body.

Without a similarly accurate and reliable knowledge of ethics, we can make small progress in those psychic arts which develop our social soul.

At present the body is faring better than the soul. We elaborate a magnificent mechanism of external life, only to see it collapse and decay because the spirit which should go with it is not there.

Landlords complain that their ignorant tenants use their bathtubs for coal-bins; travelers tell us of a savage chieftain insisting on riding on the box of the stage-coach and making the driver sit inside. The conduct of our so-called “civilized” nations is of a similar absurdity.

To use a college as a medium for playing football is quite as absurd as putting coal in a bathtub.1 To use a church as a means of social advancement, to use clothing as a glaring means of sex-attraction, to use the law as a prepared shelter for dishonesty, to use the government as a feeding trough,—things like this show as little knowledge of the true purpose and dignity of civilized life as does the bare-legged black king riding on the coachman’s box.

The people who do these things are not, as a rule, evilly disposed. They are simply ignorant, grossly, shamefully, pathetically, ignorant. They have never been taught the science of ethics.

We stand in the great game of life like chessmen who have to do their

-111-

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