Gerald Stanley Lee.

Crowds: a moving-picture of democracy online

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minutes the other day when Wilbur Wright was there was that
Wilbur Wright had a new vision in the presence of all those men
of something that they could do. He touched the imagination
of men about themselves. They were profoundly moved be-
cause they saw him in their presence inventing a new kind and
new size of human being. He raised the standard of impos-
sibility, a'nd built an annex on to the planet while they looked;
took a great strip oflF of space three miles wide and folded it
softly on to the planet all the way round before their eyes. For
three miles more — three miles farther up above the groimd —
there was a space where human beings would have to stop say-
mg, "I can't," and "You can't," and "We can't." If people
want to say "I can't," and " You can't," they will have to say
it farther and farther away from this planet now. Let them
try Mars. The modem imagination takes to impossibilities
naturally with Wilbur Wright against the horizon. The thing
we next cannot believe is the next thing to expect.

Nobody would have believed ten years ago that an architect
could be invented who would tell a man that his house would
cost him thirty thousand dollars, and then hand him back two
thousand dollars when he had finished it. But the man had
been invented — he invented himself.

He represents the owner, and does as the owner would be done
by if he did it himself — if he had the technical knowledge and
the time to do it.

Nobody would have believed a few years ago that a railway
president, when he had occasion to reduce the wages of several
thousand employees 10 per cent, would begin by reducing his

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own salary 30 per cent, and the salary of all the officials all the
way down 15 per cent, or 20 per cent.

Nobody would have believed some time ago that an organiz-
ing inventor would be evolved who would meet his directors and
tell them that, if they would have theii* work done in their
mills in three shifts instead of two, the men would work so much
better that it would not cost the Company more than 10 per
cent, more to oflFer the better conditions. But such an organizing
inventor has been invented, and has proved his case.

Luther Burbank has made a chestnut tree eighteen months
old bear chestnuts; and it has always taken from ten to twenty-
five years to make a tree furnish its first chestnut before.

About the same time that Luther Burbank had succeeded
in doing this with chestnuts a similar type of man, who was not
particularly interested in chestnuts and wanted to do something
with human nature, who believed that human nature could
really be made to. work, found a certain staple article that every-
body needs every day in a state of anarchy in the market. The
producers were not making anything on it. The wholesalers
dealt in it without a profit, and the retailers sold it without a
profit, and merely because the other things they sold were
worthless without it;

y who was the leading wholesale dealer and in the best

position to act, pointed out that, if the business was organized
and everybody in it would combine with everybody else and
make it a monopoly, the price could be made lower, and every-
body would make money.

Of course this was a platitude.

It was also a platitude that human nature was not good
enough, and could not be trusted to work properly in a mo-

then proceeded to invent a monopoly — a kind of

monopoly in which human nature could be trusted.

He used a very simple device.

He began by being trusted himself.

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Having personally and directly proved that human nature in
a monopoly could be trusted by being trusted himself, all he
had to do was to capitalize his knowledge of human nature, use
the enormous market value of the trust people had in him to
gather people about him in the business who had a good prac-
tical business genius for being trusted too and for keeping
trusted: everybody else was shut out.

The letter with which the monopoly was started (after deal-
ing duly with the technical details of the business) ended like

". . . the soimdest lines of business — viz., fair prices,
fair profits, fair division of profits, fair recognition of service
do as you would be done by, money back where it is practicable,
one's profit so small as to make competition not worth while,
open dealing, and open books."

He had invented a monopoly which shared its profits with
the people, and which the people trusted. He was a Luther
Burbank in money and people instead of chestnuts. He raised
the standard of impossibility in people, and invented a new way
for human nature to work.

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THE modem imagination takes, speaking roughly, three
characteristic forms:

1. Imagination about the unseen or intangible — the spiritual
— as especially typified in electricity, in the wireless telegraph,
the aeroplane: a new and extraordinary sense of the invisible
and the improved as an energy to be used and reckoned with.

2. Imagination about the future — a new and extraordinary
sense of what is going to happen next in the world.

3. Imagination about people. We are not only inventing
new machines, but our new machines have turned upon us and
are creating new men. The telephone changes the structure of
the brain. Men live in wider distances, and think in larger
figures, and become eligible to nobler and wider motives.

Imagination about the imseen is going to give us in an in-
credible degree the mastery of the spirit over matter.

Imagination about the future is going to make the next few
hundred years an organic part of every man's life to-day.

The imagination of men about themselves and other people
is going to give us a race of men with new motives; or, to put
it differently, it is going to give us not only new sizes but new
kinds of men. People are going to achieve impossibilities in
goodness, and our inventions in human natiure are going to keep
up with our other inventions.


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THE most distinctively modern thing that ever happened
was when Benjamin Franklin went out one day and called down
lightning from heaven. Before that, power had always been
dug up, or scraped oflF the ground. The jnore power you wanted
the more you had to get hold of the ground and dig for it;
and the more solid you were, the more heavy, solid things you
could get, the more you could pull solid, heavy things round
in this world where you wanted them. Franklin turned to
the sky, and turned power on from above, and decided that
the real and the solid and the substantial in this world was to be
pulled about by the Invisible.

Copernicus had the same idea, of course, when he fared forth
into space, and discovered the centre of all power to be in the
sun. It grieved people a good deal to find how much more
important the sky was than they were, and their whole little
planet with all of them on it. The idea that that big blue field
up there, empty by day and with such crowds of little faint dots
in it all night, was the real thing — the big, final, and important
thing — and that they and their churches and popes and pyra-
mids and nations should just dance about it for miUions of years
like a mote in a sunbeam, hurt their feelings at first. But it
did them good. It started them looking Up, and looking the
other way for power.

Very soon afterward Columbus enlarged upon the same idea
by starting the world toward very far things, on the ground; and
he bored through the skylines, a thousand skylines, and spread
the nations upon the sea. Columbus was the typical modern


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man led by the invisible, the intangible; and on the great waters
somewhere between Spain and New York, between the old and
the new, Columbus discovered the Future Tense, the centrifugal
tense, the tense that sweeps in the unknown, and gathers in, out
of space, out of hope, out of faith, the lives of men. The mere
fastened-down stable things, the mere actual facts, stopped
being the world with Colun^bus, and the air and the sky began
to be swung in, and to be swept through the thoughts and acts
of men and of women. . . . Then miners, mariners, explorers,
inventors — the impossible steamship, the railway, the impos-
sible cotton-gin and sewing-machine and reaper, Hoosac
tunnels and Atlantic cables. The impossible became one of
the habits of modem life.

Of course the sky and the air and the unknown and the future
had been recognized before, but only a little and in a rather
patronizing way. But when a world has made a great, solid
continent by following a horizon line, it begins to take things
just beyond very seriously. And so our Time has been fulfilled.
We have had the stone age; we have had the iron age; and now
we have the sky age, and the sky telegraph, and sky men, and
sky cities. Mountains of stone are built out of men's visions.
Towers and skyscrapers swing up out of their wills and up out
of their hearts.

Not long ago, as I was coming away from New York in the
Springfield Express, which was running at fifty-five miles an
hour, I saw suddenly some smoke coming up apparently out of
a satchel on the floor, belonging to the man in the chair in front
of me. I moved the satchel away, and the smoke came up
through the carpet. I spoke to the Pullman conductor who was
passing through, and in a second the train had stopped, and
the great wild roaring Thing had ceased, and we stood in a long,
wide, white silence in the fields. We got off the car — some of
us — to see what had happened, and to see if there was a hot box

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on the wheels. We found that the entire underside of the floor
of the car was on fire, and what had happened? Nothing except
a new impossiblity; nothing except that a human being had
invented an electrical locomotive so powerful that it was pulling
that train fifty-five miles an hour while the brakes on the car
were set — twelve brakes all grinding twenty miles on those
twelve wheels; and the locomotive paid no more attention to
the brakes of that heavy Pullman than it would to a feather or
to a small boy, all the way from New York to Stamford, hanging
on behind. As I came in I looked again at the train — the
long dull train that had been pulled along by the Invisible, by
the kingdom of the air and the sky — the long, dull, heavy
Train ! And the spirit of the f ar-oflF sun was in it !

In Count Zeppelin's new airship the new social spirit has a
symbol, and in the gyroscopic train the inspired millionaire is
on a firm foundation. The power of the new kind and new size
of capitalist is his power of keeping an equilibrium with the
people, and the men of real genius in modern affairs are men
who have motor genius and light genius over other men's wills.
They are allied to the X-ray and the airship, and gain their pre-
eminence by their power of forecast and invention — their
power of riding upon the unseen, upon the thoughts of men and
the spirit of the time. Even the painters have caught this
spirit. The plein air painters are painting the light, and the
sculptors are carving shadows and haloes, and we have not an
art left which does not lean out into the Invisible. And religion
is full of this spirit and theosophy and Christian Science. The
playwrights are touched by it; and the action, instead of being
all on the stage, is thrown out into the spirit of the audience.
The play in a modern theatre is not on the stage but in the stalls.
Maeterlinck, Ibsen, Shaw, merely use the stage as a kind of
magic-lantern or suggestion-centre for the real things that, out
behind us in the dark, are happening in the audience.

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I REMEMBER looking over with H. Q. Wells one night some
time ago a set of pictures or photographs of the future in Amer-
ica, which he had brought home with him. They were largely
skyscrapers, big bridges, Niagaras, and things; and I could not
help thinking, as I came home that night, how much more Mr.
Wells had of the future of America in his own mind than he
could possibly buy in his photographs. What funny little
films they were after all, how faint and pathetic, how almost
tragically dull, those pictures of the future of my coimtry were!
H. G. Wells himself, standing in his own doorway, was more
like America, and more like the future of America, than the
pictures were.

The future in America cannot be pictured. The only place
it can be seen is in people's faces. Go out into the street, in
New York, in Chicago, in San Francisco, in Seattle; look
eagerly as you go into the faces of the men who pass, and
you feel hundreds of years — the next hundred years — like a
breath, swept past. America, with all its forty-story buildings,
its little Play Niagaras, its great dumb Rockies, is the imseen
country. It can only as yet be seen in people's eyes. Some
days, flowing sublime and silent through our noisy streets, and
through the vast panorama of our towers, I have heard the foot-
falls of the imbom, like sunshine arouncl me.

This feeling America gives one in the streets is the real
America. The solidity, the finality, the substantial fact in
America, is the daily sense in the street^ of the future. And it
has seemed to me that this fact — whether one observes it in

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Americans in America, in Americans in England and in other
nations — is what one might call, for lack of a better name, the
American temperament in all peoples is the most outstanding
typical and important fact with which our modem world and
our philosophy about the world have now to reckon. Nothing
can be seen as it really is if this amazing pervasive hourly sense
of the future is left out of it.

All power is rapidly coming to be based on news — news about
human nature, and about what is soon to be done by people.
This news travels by express in boxes, by newspapers, by tele-
phone, by word of mouth, and by wireless telegraph. Most of
the wireless news is not only wireless, but it is in cipher — hence
prophets, or men who have great sensitiveness; men whose
souls and bodies are films for the future, platinum plates for
the lights and shadows of events; men who are world-poets,
sensitive to the air-waves and the light-waves of truth, to the
faintest vibrations from To-morrow, or from the next hundred
years hovering just ahead. As a matter of course, it is already
coming to be true that the most practical man to-day is the
prophet. In the older days, men used to look back for wisdom,
and the practical man was the man who spoke from experience,
and they crucified the prophet. But to-day, the practical man
is the man who can make the best guess on to-morrow. The
cross has gone by; at least, the cross is being pushed farther
along. A prophet in business or politics gets a large salary now;
he is a recognized force. Being a prophet is getting to be al-
most smug and respectable.

We live so in the future in our modern life, and our rewards
are so great for men who can live in the future, that a man who
can be a ten-year prophet, or a twenty-five-year prophet, like
James J. Hill, is put on a pedestal, or rather is not wasted on a
pedestal, and is made President of a railroad. He swings the
country as if it were his hat. We see great cities tagging Wilbur
Wright, and emperors clinging to the skirts of Count Zeppelin.
We only crucify a prophet now if he is a hundred, or two hun-

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dred or five hundred years ahead. Even then, we would not be
apt to crucify; we would merely not use him much, except the
first twenty-five years of him.

The theory is no longer tenable that prophets must be neces-
sarily crucified. As a matter of history, most prophets have been
crucified by people; but it was not so much because of their
prophecy as because their prophecy did not have any first
twenty-five years in it. They were crucified because of a blank
place or hiatus, not necessarily in their own minds, but at least
in other people's. People would have been very glad to have
their first twenty-five years' worth if they could have got it. It
is this first twenty-five years, or joining-on part, which is most
important in prophecy, and which has become our specialty in
the Western World. One might say, in a general way, that the
idea of having a first twenty-five years' section in truth for a
prophet is a modern, an almost American, invention. We are
temperamentally a country of the future, and think instinc-
tively in futures; and perhaps it is not too much to say (con-
sidering all the faults that go with it for which we are criticized)
that we have led the way in futures as a specialty, as a national
h'^.bit of mind; and though with terrific blimders perhaps have
been really the first people en masse to put being a prophet on a
practical basis — that is, to supply the first twenty-five years'
section, or the next-thing-to-do section to Truth, to put in a
kind of coupling between this world and the next. This is
what America is for, perhaps — to put in the coupling between
this world and the next.

In the former days, the strength of a man, or of an estate, or a
business, was its stability. In the new world, instead of sta-
bility, we have the idea of persistence, and power lies not so
much in solid brittle foundation quality as in conductivity.
Socially, men can be divided into conductors — men who con-
nect powers — and non-conductors — men who do not; and
power lies in persistence, in dogged flexibility, adaptableness,
and impressionableness. The set conservative class of people.

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in three hundred years, are going to be the dreamers, inventors
— those who demonstrate their capacity to dream true, and who
hit shrewdly upon probabilities and trends and futures; and the
power of a man is coming to be the power of observing atmos-
pheres, of being sensitive to the intangible and the unknown.
People are more likely to be crucified two thousand years from
now for wanting to stay as they are. There used to be the
inertia of rest; and now in its place, working reciprocally in a
new astonishing equilibrium, we step up calmly on our vast
moving sidewalk of civilization and swing into the inertia of
motion. •

The inertia of men, instead of being that of foundations,
conventions, customs, facts, sogginess, and heaviness, is getting
to be an inertia now toward the future, or the next-thing-to-do.
Most of us can prove this by simply looking inward and taking
a glimpse of our own consciousness. Let a man draw up before
his own mind the contents of his own consciousness (if he has a
motor consciousness), and we find that the future in his life
looms up, both in its motives and its character, and takes about
three quarters of the room of his consciousness; and when it
is not looming up, it is woven into everything he does. Even if
all the future were for was to help one understand the present
and act this immediate moment as one should, nine tenths of
the power of seeing a thing as it is, turns out to be one's power
of seeing it as it is going to be. In any normal man's life, it is
really the future and his sense of the future that make his
present what it is.

History is losing its monopoly^ It is only absorbed in men's
minds — in the minds of those who are making more of it —
in parts or rather in elements of all its parts.

The trouble with history seems to have been, thus far, that
people have been under the illusion that history should be taken
as a solid. They seem to think it should be taken in bulk.
They take it, some of them, a solid hundred years of it or so,
and gulp it down. The advantage of prophecy is that it can-

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not be taken as a solid by people who would take eveiything so
if they could. Prophecy is protected. People have to breathe
it, assimilate it, and get it into their circulation and make a
soUd out of it personally, and do it all themselves. It is this
process which is making our modem men spiritual, interpre-
tative, and powerful toward the present and toward the past,
and which is giving a body and soul to knowledge, and is making
knowledge lively and human, the kind of knowledge (when
men get it) that makes things happen.

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I WOULD like to propose, as a basis for the judgment of
men and events, and as a basis for forecasting the next men and
next events, and arriving at a vision of action, a Theory of
the World.

Every man has one.

Every man one knows can be seen doing his work in this
world on a great background, a kind of panorama or stage
setting in his mind, made up of history and books, newspapers,
people, and experiences, which might be called his Theory of
the World.

It is his theory of the world which makes him what he is —
his personal judgment or personal interpretation of what the
world is like, and what works in it, and what does not work.

A man's theory as to why people do or do not do wrong is not
a theory he might in some brief disinterested moment, possibly
at luncheon, take time to discuss. His theory of what is wrong
and of what is right, and of how they work, touches the eflSciency
with which he works intimately and permanently at every point
every minute of his business day.

If he does not know, in the middle of his business day, what
his theory of the world — of human nature — is, let him stop
and find out.

A man's theory of the world is the skylight or manhole over
his work. It becomes his hell or heaven — his day and night.
He breathes his theory of the world and breathes his idea of the
people in it; and everything he does may be made or may be
marr^ by what, for instance, he thinks in the long-run about


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what I am saying now on this next page. Whether he is writing
for people, or doing business with them over a counter, or
launching books at them, everything he does will be steeped in
what he beUeves about what I am* saying now — it shall be the
colour of the world to him, the sound or timbre of his voice
— what he thinks or can make up his mind to think, of what
I am saying — on this next page.

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IF THE men who were crucifying Jesus could have been
suddenly stopped at the last moment, and if they could have
been kept perfectly still for ten minutes and could have thought
about it, some of them would have refused to go on with the
crucifixion when the ten minutes were over. If they could have
been stopped for twenty minutes, there would have been still
more of them who would have refused to have gone on with it.
They would have stolen away and wondered about The Man
in their hearts. There were others who were there who would
have needed twenty days of being still and of thinking. There
were some who would have had to have twenty years to see
what they really wanted, in all the circumstances, to do.

People crucified Christ because they were in a hurry.

They did what they wanted to do at the moment. So far
as we know, there were only two men who did what they would
have wished they had done in twenty years: there was the thief
on the other cross, who showed The Man he knew who He was;
and there was the disciple John, who kept as close as he could.
John perhaps was thinking of the past — of all the things that
Christ had said to him; and the man on the other cross was
thinking what was going to happen next. The other people
who had to do with the crucifixion were all thinking about the
thing they were doing at the moment and the way they felt
about it. But the Man was Thinking, not of His suffering, but
of the men in front of Him, and of what they could be thinking
about, and what they would be thinking about afterward —
in ten minutei^ in twenty minutes, in twenty days, or in twenty


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years; and suddenly His heart was flooded with pity at what
they would be thinking about afterward, and in the midst of
the pain in His arms and the pain in His feet He made that
great cry to Heaven: "Father, forgive them; they know not

Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds: a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 6 of 44)