This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
When we put together man's possible future and his probable past, so as to form the program of his entire career on the earth, - to get the human episode as a whole before us, - our present falls well back in the earlier portion. Humanity is still young. It is like a boy in his teens who is still growing, who is just discovering his own capacities, who is roaming over the field which has fallen to his lot, tasting the fruits, and putting in his spade here and there; before long he will get control of himself and settle down to the real work of his life which will last several times as long as his chequered past; his future will be incomparably richer than his past and more satisfactory to himself. The present stage of the human episode is like the pioneer stage in the history of a country, - really like it, and not merely figuratively. The exploration of the world is still going on. The tapping of its resources by the aid of modern science has only begun. Only a small proportion of the usable surface of the earth has been intensively developed. There is still plenty of room for the pioneer who forsakes civilization in order to have his pick of land in some newly opened region, or perhaps merely for the sake of the freedom which he finds on the frontier. The boomer and the promoter are still much in evidence. One of the urgent political problems is to prevent a few from appropriating nature's gifts for their private benefit. The climax of the human episode - in mere magnitude, certainly, and also, we may hope, as measured by some of our ideal standards, - is still to come.
Every ton of coal that we burn, every scar on the face of nature that we help to make, every new custom which we start or old custom which we modify, above all every act or refusal to act which affects the procreation of children, will influence the uncounted millions who do not yet exist. - Wallas, The Great Society, p. 155.
. . . The interpretation of the future must, of course, be in large degree hypothetical. Yet this in no sense invalidates the interpretation or renders it useless. An intelligent hypothesis is a far safer guide than blind chance. Indeed, all the conscious progress of the race has been accomplished by following promising hypotheses, which have had, of course, constantly to be reconstructed in the light of new experience. - Betts, Social Principles of Education, p. 53.
Past, present, and future are best regarded as constituting the indivisible unity of time, and each of the three aspects should therefore be taken account of in every general problem. ... - American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 21, p. 523, G. Spiller.
This view of humanity's past and future helps to save from the opportunist sensualism which Omar Khayyam has expressed:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why: Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.
- Rubdiydt, Fitzgerald's Third Edition, LXXIV.
The soldier, the industrial worker, the teacher, trained to work in a certain niche, in seeking the meaning of his work by the study of contemporary society, finds the full meaning only when he sees that the present is only part of a whole which includes a great past and a still greater future. The humblest work has a dignity when seen as part of the whole. To shirk it or skimp it is to do the act of the coward who runs away at the critical point in a battle.
The lesson to the teacher is clear enough. Those who have a hand in shaping the life of the future are building not for a day or a year, but for thousands and thousands of years. They determine the character of that climax. The teacher, in so far as she is shaping the lives of her pupils at all, is shaping not merely their lives, but through them she is shaping the lives of millions of others to whom her influence will pass in the succeeding generations. Here is the way it appears to some of them:
As teachers we feel the responsibilities of our position in the teaching and training of the race. However, the feeling of such a responsibility is no burden, but a pleasure, and an incentive to do our very best.
We know that this is just the beginning of the human episode, and we are filled with hope. We want to make this growing world better, and how else can we do it than by giving the future citizens high ideals?
We as teachers try to work harder, bringing out the best in our pupils so that they can be fitted to help make the climax that is to come.
This sketch of man's career, past and future, sheds light on the ethical problem of defining progress. Even after the climax is passed progress need not cease. Progress, of course, is movement toward a goal, some approach to an ideal. But the goal of society, since it is set by society for itself, recedes as it is approached; each generation frames the ideal for itself in the reforms which it undertakes, and in much the same way as an individual at each successive period of his life sets a new aim for himself appropriate to his circumstances and time of life so that he always has something to live for. A farmer at fifty-seven years of age found his strength diminishing; thereafter he could not do so much hard work. Surely this change was not progress. But by planning his work better he made his farm yield more than it ever had before. So, although there was decay of one kind, there was advancement of another kind, and the net result might be regarded as progress. The exhaustion of the forests of southern England was a change that spelled national decay; but it helped on the movement of population and industry to the north where the coal beds lay, and so ultimately contributed to progress. So also the exhaustion of all the coal beds of the earth a thousand years hence may lead to changes that will be real progress. Other sources of heat and power of course there will be, but they, too, will be exhausted sometime. During the long ages of the latter part of man's career, when the population of the earth will be declining, there may still be progress in human relationships. As the region of the earth which is habitable becomes narrowed, the available resources will be more carefully apportioned. There may also be more real freedom. It is quite probable that, although there will be fewer children, they will be better reared; that there will be a fuller utilization of the talents of each individual; that longevity will be greater. It is quite possible that there may be a better type of man. The last family to live may cherish one another with greater tenderness than was ever shown before. The last man to live will have his own conscience to be loyal to; disciplined by the experience of the race, he will have the liberty, after the manner of the musicians who went down in the Titanic with their instruments playing, to bring the human episode to a heroic conclusion. But discipline alone cannot do this. There must also be the right kind of man to receive the discipline. Man began his career as a brute; he may end it as a moron. Let us look the situation squarely in the face and admit that the continuance of progress in social organization throughout the millenniums of decline in material resources requires breeding the right kind of human stock from now on until the last child is begotten. Whether the optimistic or the pessimistic possibilities are to be realized depends on the relative strength of the factors which are to be analyzed in the next three chapters.