By using numerous tests which have been suggested in preceding chapters we can learn how far we and our communities obey natural law when working and playing. Health for health's sake has nowhere been urged. On the contrary, healthful living has been frankly valued for its aid to efficient living by individual and by community; wherefore the emphasis upon others' health and upon the civic aspects of our own health. Tests furnish us with the technic necessary to efficient living; civics, with the larger reason; natural law, with the "pillar of fire by night" to help us choose our path among habits and pleasures whose immediate results upon efficient living cannot easily be determined.
Fashions, tastes, mannerisms, personal indulgences, have been left for Agassiz to deal with. Generally speaking, we all know of numerous acts committed and numerous acts omitted in our daily routine that convict us of not living up to our knowledge of physiology and hygiene,—wearing tight shoes or tight corsets, drinking strong coffee, smoking, reading while reclining, failing to insure clean air and clean bodies. Then there are other acts whose omission or commission violate no physical law so far as we can see, but whose unnaturalness we concede,—putting chalk on the eyebrows, wearing false hair or curious puffs, putting perfumery in the bath or on handkerchiefs, assuming artificial poses of body or mouth. These violations of natural law are forced upon us by "style" or "custom" or family convenience. When we come to choose between following fashions and disobeying them, we generally decide that it is better to do a foolish or slightly harmful thing than to occasion criticism, mirth, or even special notice by our dress or our abstemiousness.
Last night I went to a dinner party at eight. I ate and ate a great variety of palatable foods that Nature Back never knew. After two hours of eating I imbibed for two hours the tobacco smoke of the gentlemen who made up the party. I knew that eight o'clock was too late for me to begin eating, that two hours was too long to eat, that the tobacco of others was bad for my health and for to-day's efficiency. All this I knew when I accepted the invitation to dinner. I went with no intention of preventing others from smoking or of lecturing my host or his chef or his guests for the unhygienic practices of our day. Yet the physical ills were more than offset by certain definite gains to the school children of New York that will result from last night's meeting. Natural law was abated in part. But I declined certain dishes that would not agree with me, helped myself sparingly of many dishes, avoided tobacco and wines, and by a three-mile walk in the open air, a bath, and a good long night's sleep have almost recovered my right to talk of the sacredness of natural law.
Nature Back says I should not have gone to this dinner. But I was compelled to go. I know I am going to others. I cannot do my work unless I overdraw my current health account. Nature Fore tells me that effective cooperation with others will frequently require me to eat at the dinner hour of others, to retire at others' sleeping time, to wear what others will approve, to violate natural law. But Nature Fore also tells me how to build up a health reserve so that I can meet these emergencies without endangering my health credit.
Nature Back demands "dress reform." Nature Fore tells me that I can march in step with my contemporaries without either attracting attention or discrediting and affronting natural law. Passion for the natural has effected numerous reforms in dress, diet, and social habits, until commerce provides a natural adaptation of practically every fashion. With regard to few things is it necessary to-day for any one who reads magazines to do violence to bodily health for fashion's sake. We may wear what we will, eat what we prefer, decline what is unnatural for us, without inviting censure. The debauches of those unfortunate people who live an unnatural, purposeless existence, affect such a small number that their laws need not be considered here. Natural law makes obedience to itself attractive; hence commerce is rapidly learning to cater to distaste for the unnatural. With few exceptions, only temporary concessions to unnatural living are required in order to dress and act conventionally.
Nature Back throws little light upon conditions necessary for modern labor. It can do nothing but demand the abolition of the factory, the big store, the tenement, the school. Nature Fore says we cannot abolish the means of working out the highest forms of cooperation. But we can make them compatible with natural living. We can modify conditions so that earning a livelihood will not compel workers to violate natural law at any or all times. The greatest need of factory and tenement reform is for parents and teachers to make a religion of Nature Fore and to instill its principles in the minds of children. Parents and teachers must live the natural before they can make children love the natural. Parents and teachers cannot possibly be natural in this day, cannot live or love natural law unless they know the machinery by which their communities are combating conditions prejudicial to health, morals, and civic efficiency.