If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him, there will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you. Havoc.
The answer “I’m against them” has, besides its frankness, the merit of simplicity. It does not require that the mind be stretched to encompass the whole of humanity. It turns no careful and discerning eye towards the system under which men live. It seems at best one interstice of the web, one corner of the hive, where pauses for a moment the well-beloved self. To secure that comfort of the moment and ease of passage into the next is all that can be heeded. I have known businessmen who were so bemused by the problems of their little private worlds as to be convinced that there exists no economic system at all. “What are you worried about?” said one of these to me. “There is no such thing as capitalism.”
Compared to the sublime simplicity, the other answer will seem intolerably complex. For here we add to the woes, already great, of maintaining our existence in the world further anxieties over the lot of our fellows. To place oneself on the people’s side is to care whether they have enough food and shelter and clothing. It is to feel, not indeed with the immediacy of direct suffering, but keenly nevertheless, each hurt and loss which can befall them. Nor is it possible to set shrewd limits to the range of sympathy. The true personality, if there is such a thing, finds his sympathy increasing as he passes down the social scale, so that the more oppressed and despoiled people are, the more lively and eager is his love. His emotions are governed not by the dreadful and corrosive calculus of “what is each man worth?” but by awareness of the social forces which have condemned men to their present destiny.
Complications does not end here. Men who choose the people’s side do not merely increase the range and intensity of their emotional lives. They act. They undertake campaigns. They ring doorbells, had out circulars, interview celebrities and remind legislators the rights of man. They conduct meetings on street corners and halls. They form committees to combat this and establish that. Society, like a sober elephant, shudders bulkily and moves on, often in the right direction.
How there is time for all these giddy motions no sane man ever knows. The day retains its immutable extent of hours; the clock turns at no slower rate. Yet time exists – time borrowed from lunch and dinner, from recreation, and alas, from sleep. The borrower develops perhaps an exaggerated sense of crisis; he lives it. Surely his life is full, with much labour spent and a little lost, with achievement to be rejoiced in and failures to be endured, with sunlight and shadow drifting across the surface of the world.
I do not suggest that all socially-middd people agitate so violently the waters around them. While agitation may well be a sign of concern, this latter can exist with much less outward manifestation. There is a quiet affection for mankind which shows itself more gently, and accomplishes often when a touch what intenser spirits cannot do with blows. Yet the calm affection has depth, and in those depths some anguish, as hating to see others balked of benefits which it itself enjoys.
Measured in the thought, the feeling, or the doing, social-mindedness is altogether the more difficult creed. How much easier as well as safer it must seem to narrow one’s gaze to the ego, and his own, to calculate his and comfort and plot his prosperity, to lard his flesh and exalt his spirit as if the universe were a garden for other appetites than his, and at last to mourn over six feet of earth as the end and dissolution of a world. Easier, certainly; safer, perhaps. But it will be our task to show that, whatever its attractions, the ethics of selfishness is false.