The Power to Generalise

When one realises the tremendous waste of force that results from inability or neglect to survey the social problem from a detached point of view, the importance of urging the necessity for the development of the power to generalise becomes apparent. On every hand we see reformers directing their efforts toward the remedy, or what they conceive to be the remedy, for the particular evil that appeals to them, and yet failing to recognise that these evils are but the outcome of a common cause for the reason that they have never, so to say, been able to get outside their subject and regard it from the broad point of view that is absolutely essential to its proper understanding, and that would enable them to see its connection with, and dependency upon, the basic fact underlying all the evils of the modern form of society, including the pet evils of our particular reformer : the fact of the private ownership of the means of life.

It is easily understood why the intellectual vision of the worker should be limited, when the detailed condition of his labour is realised. The subdivision of labour has been carried to such an extent that the outlook of the worker is largely limited to his own particular branch of industry; but such an individual must climb out of his rut and view the situation generally to understand the position. He must leave his position as a cog in a wheel of a complicated machine, and seek to get over the machine itself and see it running to be able to understand the part he plays there, far less to fully comprehend the total economy of the machine.

When a man views a picture he steps back until he can see the whole picture at once, thus getting a general view. He can then understand the true relation of the parts, the bearing one part has to another part and to the whole, which would be impossible without taking such a general view. If he were to look never so closely at first one part and then another over the whole picture, he would have a very confused idea of the subject of the picture, and would be unable to appreciate the details. The same thing applies to the social problem. If that man were to view the social problem part by part over the whole area he would have as confused a conception of the problem as the art critic would have of that picture. When he draws back and views the whole question he understands the importance, the relation, and the value of the details, but such an understanding is impossible until he has taken such general view. And it seems that it is this inability to generalise that makes the lopsided, ill-balanced cranks, whose inconsistent actions so tend to discredit the movement and play into the hands of the enemies of Socialism.

It is only by taking up this detached point of view that we can get a general view of modern society and its twentieth century poverty problem, for it has become a truism that the onlooker sees more of the game than the player. The deep and wide division between the classes will be more obvious, and the gross injustice of modern society will force itself upon the observer. To realise one class, consisting of millions of men, women, and children existing now whose sole function seems to be to work, while the result of all their labour is poverty and misery and want; while the other class live an idle life of luxury and pleasure. When the poverty of the wealth-producer and the wealth of the non-producer are seen together the extraordinary contradiction of capitalism will be recognised.

The fads of the social reformers will then appear in a new light. The temperance problem, the housing problem, the unemployed problem, and the hundred and one problems that arise from the fundamental economic problem will appear as parts of the whole; and their connection with, their dependence on, and their relation to the whole social problem will make plain to the investigator the futility of an attack on any of these special problems. We know that such efforts can come to nothing, simply because of the neglect to comprehend the whole problem, the connection and interconnection of the parts, and, more important still, the common parent of all the evils that the one-sided reformers seek to remedy. Until they realise that the whole of the evils that modern society suffers under are traceable, ultimately, to the basic factor, the economic conditions of society, they will continue to waste their time and energy through an incomplete comprehension of the whole social problem, which can only be obtained by making good use of the Power to Generalise.


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