If Man Friday —
If Man Friday could be suddenly introduced to our industrial life, taken into the factories and shown the wonderful processes by which we pour out society’s dazzling stream of wealth, have explained to him the astonishing contrivances by which we have conquered space and time and the forces of nature, what would surprise him most? Would it be the wonderful looms reeling off miles of fine cloth, or the carpet looms weaving a double fabric to be split into two as it is woven, or the railway trains flying over the land at a mile a minute, or the 50,000 horse power engines of the giant ships, or the mighty mills grinding a nations’ corn, or the newspaper machines turning out their scores of thousands of papers per hour, or the airmen climbing up into the clouds, or what?
No, it would not be any of these things that would give Robinson Crusoe’s batman his greatest or most lasting surprise. When he had seen all our technical marvels he would naturally ask to be shown the results, and then he would get a jolt. He would find that in spite of the prodigious wealth that could be produced, people were in want; then he would discover that, contrary to all his previous experience, people were most in want when there was most wealth in the land, and finally he would see that it was not those who did not produce the wealth that were in want, but those who did, and—the knockout—the more they produced the deeper their want. And then he would laugh!
He would laugh because he had tumbled to the secret of the whole thing. His mind would go back to the time when he lay on the beach, the prospective joint of his hungry brethren, before Robinson robbed them of their dinner. He would recognise in our productive system only another form of cannibalism. All our marvels of science and ingenuity he would recognise only as adjuncts of an elaborate scheme of cannibalism, in which men ate other men piecemeal, instead of at a sitting.
Yes, he would see men’s and women’s sinews being, through these wonderful instruments of labour, worn into wealth for their masters appropriation, their flesh ground into profit for their master’s pocketing; and he would marvel not so much at the development of our industrial devices as at the surprising way in which cannibalism has been elaborated through ages of development, to convert the unconscious victim of an hour’s feast into sentient flesh quivering for a lifetime under wheels that pinch and peel.
A. E. Jacomb