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| Chapter 8
OUR study of American problems went on now with persistence. Ellador was as busy, as patient, as inexorably efficient as an eminent surgeon engaged in a first-class operation. We studied together, she wrote carefully, from time to time, and read me the results — or part of them. And we talked at all hours, not only between ourselves, but with many other persons, of all kinds and classes.
"I've seen the ruined lands that were once so rich," she said one day, "and the crowded lands now being drained by a too thick population. (Those blind mothers! Can't they once think of what is going to happen to their children?)
"But here I see land in plenty, carelessly skimmed and left, or not even skimmed, just lying open to the sun, while your squeezed millions smother in the cities.
"You are used to it, to you it is merely a fact — accepted without question. To an outsider, it seems as horribly strange as to see a people living in cellars thick and crawling, while great airy homes stand empty above.
"My study is mainly to get at your state of mind, to understand, if possible, what mysterious ideas and convictions keep you so poor, so dirty, so crowded, so starved, so ill-clothed, so unhealthy, so unhappy, when there is no need of it."
"Now look here, Ellador! That's rather strong, isn't it? You surely don't describe the American people that way."
Then she produced another of those little groups of assorted statistics she was so fond of. She gave the full wealth of the country — as at present administered, and showed that it ought to give nearly $2,000 to each of us. "That is per capita, you see, Van, not per family. For a family of five, that would be nine or ten thousand — not a bad nest egg, besides what they earn."
Then she showed me the estimate made by our latest scientific commission of inquiry, that "fully one-half of our wage earners do not receive incomes sufficient to maintain healthful conditions of living." A World Almanac was at hand, and she pointed out on page 228 the summary of manufactures.
"Here you have enough to show how people live in this splendid country, Van. See here — 'Average number of wage earners 6,615,046. Wages, $3,427,038,000' — which, being divided, gives to each $518 plus — less than $520 a year, Van. Less than $10 a week — to keep a family — average family, five; $104 a year, $2 a week apiece for Americans to live on. And you know what food and rent costs. Of course they are not healthy — how could they be?"
I looked at the figures, uncomfortably. She gave me a few more.
"Salaried employees average $1,187 plus — that's a bit more than twice as much. About $4.40 a week, apiece, for Americans to live on."
"How much do you want them to have?" I asked a little irritably; but she was sweetly patient, inquiring, "How much would you be willing to live on — or how little, rather? I don't mean luxuries; I mean a decent, healthy life. Think you could do it on $4.40? Think you could do it on less than $6 say? Rent, board, clothing, car fares?"
Now I had spent a few months during my youth, living on a modest salary of $10 a week, and remembered it as a period of hardship and deprivation. There was $6 a week for board, 60 cents for carfare, 90 cents for my modest 15-cent lunches, 70 cents for tobacco — it left $1.80 for clothing and amusements, if any. I had thought it hard enough at that time to endure life on $10 a week for one. It had never occurred to me that the working man had to keep five on it. And here were six million of them who did, it appeared, and a lot of clerks who were only twice as well off.
"Ten dollars a week, for each person is little enough for decent living in this country, isn't it, Van? That would call for $50 a week for a family of five — $2,600 a year."
"But, my dear girl, the business would not stand it! You ask impossibilities!" I protested. She turned to her figures again.
"Here is the 'value added by manufacture!" she said. "That must be what these workers produce, isn't it? $8,530,261,000. Now we'll take out these wages — it leaves $5,103,223,000. Then we'll take out the salaries, that leaves $4,031,649,000. Where does that go? Here is a four-billion dollar item — for services — whose?
"It must be those "proprietors and firm members — only 273,265 of them — let's see, out of that four billion they get nearly $16,000 a year each. Don't you think it is a little — remarkable, Van? These services are valued at fourteen times as much as those of the salaries of employees and thirty times as much as the workers?"
"My dear girl," I said, "You have the most wonderful mind I ever lived with — ever met. And you know more than I do about ever so many things. But you haven't touched economics yet? There are laws here which you take no notice of."
And I told her of the iron law of wages, the law of supply and demand, and others. She listened, giving careful attention.
"You call them 'laws,'" she said, presently, "are they laws of nature?"
"Why, yes," I agreed slowly, "of human nature acting under economic conditions."
"Surely the economic conditions are those of soil, climate, materials available, the amount and quality of strength, intelligence, scientific and mechanical development."
"Why, of course; but also there are these I have mentioned."
"Do you mean to tell me that it is a 'law of nature' for men to arrange their working and paying so that half the people shall be unhealthy? Do you really believe for a minute that this has to be so? "
But I was not prepared to repudiate all my education in economics at once, and doggedly pointed out, "It is a law of human nature."
Then she smiled at me with cheerful derision. I am glad to say that Ellador had risen above the extreme horror and pain of her first year among us, and was able to smile at what used to bring distress.
"It must be male human nature," quoth she, "we have no such 'law' in Herland."
"But you are all sisters," I said rather lamely. "Well, you are all sisters and brothers — aren't you? Of course, Van, I know the difference. You have had your long history of quarrels and hatred, of inimical strange races, of conquest and slavery. It looks to me as if the contempt of the rich for the poor was a lineal descendant of that of the conqueror for the vanquished. A helpless enemy, a slave, a serf, an employee, and the state of mind coming along unchanged. But the funny part of it is that in this blessed land, with more general good will and intelligence than I have found anywhere, you should have allowed this old foolishness to hang on so long.
"Now, Van, dear, don't you see how foolish it is? This is a democracy. To be efficient, that demands a competent electorate, doesn't it?"
"Why, we know that," I answered, with some heat. "Those forefathers of ours that you so scoff at knew that much. That's why we have our great system of free public education — from kindergarten to college."
"And in 1914," said Ellador, turning to that handy volume again, "you had a public school primary enrollment of 17,934,982. A drop in high school enrollment down to 1,218,804 — only one out of seventeen to get that far; and another drop to a college enrollment of 87,820. That free public education does not seem to go far does it?"
"But most of these children have to go to work early — they cannot take the time for more education, even if they could afford it."
"Does going to work early make them better citizens?"
"I dare say it does — some of the college graduates aren't any too good."
She shook her head at this, and confronted me with more figures. The college graduates certainly made a pretty good showing, and the terrible dregs, as she called the criminals and paupers, were not as a rule well educated.
"Do look at it reasonably, Van. I'm not trying to be unpleasant and I know I am ignorant of this "economics you talk of. But I'm looking as a stranger, of average intelligence, and with the additional advantage of an entirely different background at your country. You have natural advantages as good as earth affords. You have plenty of room. You have good racial stocks in large variety. You have every element of wealth. You have a good many true principles to go on. And yet — in the time you have been at it — in a hundred and forty years, you have built up the most crowded cities on earth, robbed, neglected and wasted the soil, made politics a thing of shame, developed private wealth that is monstrous and general poverty that is — disgraceful."
There was some silence after this.
It was extremely unpleasant. It was quite true.
"I know it is better here than in Europe," she went on, "I know that, with all your imperfections and errors you are better off than Germany — poor, mistaken Germany, so authoritatively perfect that she became proud; so proud that She became hateful, so hateful that it will take generations before the world can forgive her. You are not lost, Van — not a bit of it. But surely you can see that it is as I say?"
I could. Who couldn't?
"It is very easy for me to show what could be done, how easily and how ,soon. In ten years' time you could see an end of poverty, in twenty of crime, in thirty of disease. This whole great land could be as fair and clean and healthy and happy as my own — and vastly richer in products Even richer in happiness — with this heaven of married love to crown all else!"
She took my hand at the end and was still for a little.
"But for the most part — you don't have that," she continued evenly. "Van, I've been reading. I've been talking with doctors and many wise persons, and, it seems to me, dear, that you don't appreciate marriage."
I had to grin at that. This Herlander, who never saw a man till a few years ago, and had only married one of them. Moreover, I recalled, with a momentary touch of bitterness, that we were not "married people" at present — not in the usual sense. And then I was ashamed. I had accepted my bargain, such as it was, with open eyes; I had had all this time of unbroken, happy love, living so near a beautiful women who gave me comfort and rest and calmness in some mysterious, super-sexual way, and keeping always the dear hope of a further fulfilment.
We had had no misunderstandings, no quarrels, and while I own that at first there had been periods of some unease for me, they were as nothing to our larger joy. It was as if, in clean vigor and activity, I was on an expedition with a well-loved sister — a sister dearer and sweeter than all the world, and with that background of a still happier future.
From this I looked at the world about me, seeing it as I had never seen it before, as it was. All the eager, fresh young boys and girls, all the happy, hopeful lovers, the marriages, and then, how painful a proportion of miserable failures. It was not only the divorces, not only the undivorced ill-doing; but the low order of happiness among so many.
That was what Ellador had in mind, with her fine sense of personal relationship. She did not know as much as I of the deeper gulf; what she meant was the dreary level.
"You make fun of it, you know," she went on. "It's a joke, a question for discussion — 'Is Marriage a Failure?' — it is being discussed by many, ignored, made the subject of cheap talk."
"There are many who feel this," I answered her. "There is great effort to check the divorce evil, to preserve the sanctity of marriage."
Another thing my Ellador had learned, I think from being in America, was a spice of mischief. It became her well. With a mind as keen and powerful as hers, lack of humor would have been a serious loss.
"Have they tried benzoate — to preserve the sanctity of marriage?" she inquired. "Or is it enough to be hermetically sealed — under pressure — at the boiling point?"
I'm not much of a cook, nor is she for that matter, but I could smile at that, too.
"Without going into the marriage question at present, I wish you would go on with your Herland view of economics," I told her. "It looks to me as if you wanted to adopt socialism at once. And that's out of the question — most of us don't believe in it."
"Most of you don't seem to understand it, it seems to me," she answered.
"If you mean by socialism, the principles of socialism — yes, that is the way we manage in Herland. The land is ours, visibly. We never divided it up into little bits as you people have. What we raised on it and out of it was ours, too, visibly — when there was little, we had little — children first, of course — and now that there is a balanced plenty why, of course, every one has enough."
"Had you no selfish women? No ambitious women? No superwomen trying to get ahead of the others?"
"Why of course we had; still have some few."
"Well — how did you manage them?"
"Why that is what government is for isn't it?" she replied. "To preserve justice, to prevent the selfish and ambitious from injuring the others, to see to it that production is increased and distribution fairly carried on."
"We say that government is the best that governs least," I told her.
"Yes, I've heard that. Do any of you really believe it? Why do you believe it? How can you?"
"But look at Germany!" I cried; "there you see what comes of too much government."
"I wish you would look at Germany — every other nation might study Germany with great improvement," she replied, a little hotly. "Just because Germany has gone criminally insane, that is no reason for underating all the magnificent work she has done. The attitude of some people toward Germany is like that of your lynchers. Nations that do wrong are not to be put to death with torture, surely! Like individual criminals, they need study — help — better conditions. I think Germany is one of the most glorious, pathetic, awful examples of — of the way our world works," she concluded solemnly.
"They wouldn't thank you for calling them pathetic," I said. "No; I know they wouldn't. Their weakest spot is their blind
pride. I find all of your nations are proud — it's easy to see why." "Well — if you see it easily, do tell us."
"Why, it's one of your laws of nature," she explained, with a twinkle in her eye.
"You know something of perspective? The farther a thing is away from you the smaller it is, the less well you can see it, the less you are able to understand it, and by the 'law of nature' you look down upon it! That was the reason when nations were really far apart and separate. Now that you are all so close together you should have long since come to see and know and understand and work together — that means love, you know. But to prevent that are two big, unnecessary, foolish things. One is ignorance — the common ignorance which takes the place of distance. The man next door is as strange as the man in the antipodes — if you don't know him.
"The nations of the earth don't try to understand each other, Van. Then as a positive evil you have each built up for yourselves an artificial wall of brag and boastfulness. Each nation ignores the other nations and deliberately teaches its helpless children that It alone is the greatest and best —"
"Why, Van —" The tears always came when she touched upon children, but this time they vanished in a flashing smile.
"Children!" she said. "Anything more like the behavior of a lot of poor, little, underbred children it would be hard to find. Quarrelsome, selfish, each bragging that he can 'lick' the others — oh, you poor dears! How you do need your mother! And she's coming at last."
"I suppose you think she will solve these economic problems forthwith."
"Why not, Van? Look here, dear — why can't you people see that —" (Here she spoke very slowly as if she were writing some A, B, C's very large on a blackboard.) "There is nothing to prevent human beings in this historic period from being healthy, beautiful, rich, intelligent, good — and happy."
"That's easy to say, my dear," I remarked, rather glumly. "I wish it was true."
"Why isn't it true?" she demanded. "Do you think Satan prevents you, or God, or what? Don't you see — can't you see? God's on the side of all the growing good of life. God's with you — what's against?"
"I suppose it is only ourselves," I agreed; "but that's something. Of course I know what you mean. We could, conceivably, do and be all that you say, but there's an 'if — an 'if as big as all the world. If we knew what to do, and IF we would act together."
"That is not half such an obstacle, as you think, Van. You know enough now easily to set everything going in the right direction. It doesn't have to be done by hand, you know. It does itself, give it a chance. You know what to do for one baby, to give it the best chance of health, full growth and happy usefulness, don't you?"
"Well, yes; we do know that much," I admitted.
"Very well then, do it for all of them, and you lift the whole stock; that's easy. You know how good roads, waterways and efficient transportation build up the wealth of a community. Very well. Have them everywhere."
She was splendid in her young enthusiasm — that keen, strong face, all lit and shining with love for the naughty world and wise suggestions for its betterment. But I could not catch the fire.
"I don't want to dash your hopes, my dear," I told her gently. "You are, in a sense, correct; even I could make a plan that would straighten things out quite a bit. The difficulty is to get that plan accepted by the majority. No king is going to do it, and in a democracy you have to convince more than half the people; that's slow work."
She sat silent, looking out of our high hotel window, and thinking of what I said.
"It isn't as if our minds were empty," said I, "we don't think we're ignorant. We think we know it all. Only the wise are eager to learn, I'm afraid, and for everything you tell the people as truth there are no end of other teachers to tell them something else. It's not so easy as it looks. There's more excuse for us than would appear at first sight."
* * *
We had made special studies as we traveled about, of different industries and social conditions. Now we plunged more deeply into economics, politics and the later researches of sociology and social psychology. Ellador became more and more interested. Again and again she wished for the presence and help of certain of her former teachers in Herland.
"How they would love it," she said. "They wouldn't be tired or discouraged. They'd just plunge in and find a way to help in no time. Even I can see something."
From time to time she gave me the benefit of the things she saw.
"The reason we had so little trouble is that we had no men, I'm sure of that. The reason you have made so much progress is because you have had men, I'm sure of that, too. Men are splendid, but " here was a marked pause, "the reason you had so much trouble is not because of the men, but because of this strange dissociation of the men and women. Instead of the smooth, helpful interelationship, you have so much misery. I never knew — of course not, how could I? — that there could be such misery. To have two kinds of people, evidently adapted for such perfect coordinate action — once in a while you see it, even now — and then to have them hurt and degrade one another so."
Another time she propounded this suggestion:
"Can't some of your big men, and women, of course, work out an experiment station in methods of living — an economic and social unit, you know — to have for reference, to establish facts, as you do in other things?"
"What do you mean?" I asked her. "Compulsory eugenics and a co-operative colony?"
"Don't tease me, Van. I'm not as foolish as that. No, what I mean is something like this. Take a given piece of ground, most anywhere, and have it surveyed by competent experts to see how much it could produce under the best methods known. Then see how many persons it would take to do the necessary work to insure that production. Then see by what arrangements of living those persons could be kept healthful and happy at the least expense. For that unit you'd have something to go on — some definite proof of what the country could do."
"You leave out the 'human side of the problem, my dear. We have so many different causes for living where and how and as we do. Our people are not pawns on a chessboard; they can't be managed to prove theories."
It was no wonder that Ellador, for all her wonderful clarity of vision, her exceptionable advantage of viewpoint, should become somewhat overwhelmed in our sociological morass. The very simplicity and ease of living to which She was accustomed made her see a delusive simplicity and ease in attempting to solve our problem.
"How about the diagnosis?" I suggested. "Suppose we merely consider symptoms awhile. What strikes you most forcibly in the way of symptoms?"
"Yes, physically, first."
"As to the land — neglect, waste, awful, glaring waste," she answered promptly. "It makes me sick. It makes me want to cry. As a mere wilderness, of course, it would be interesting, but as a wilderness with a hundred million people in it, and such able people, I don't know whether it is more laughable or horrible. As to the water, neglect and waste again, and hideous, suicidal defilement.
"As to means of communication " words failed her. "You know how I feel about your roads, and the city streets are worse. One would think to see the way you rip up and lay down in your cities that an organized group of human habitations had never been built before. Such childish experiments. Over and over and over. Why a city, Van, is no new thing. It can be foreseen and planned for. That was done in ancient Egypt, in Assyria, and today, with all you know, with the whole past to learn from Van, as I come into your cities, by rail, and see the poor, miserable, dirty, unhealthy things it makes me feel almost as badly as those European battlefields. They are at least trying to kill one another; you are doing it unconsciously. A city should be the loveliest thing. Why you remember — oh, Van!"
For the moment homesickness overcame her. I did remember. From that first low flight of ours, soaring across that garden land, that fruitful park and pleasure ground, with its little villages, so clean, so bright in color, so lovely in arrangement, lying here and there among the green, all strung together by those smooth, shaded roads and winding paths. From that bird's-eye view to my later, more intimate knowledge, I recalled them with deep admiration and with a painful envy. They had no slums — not in all Herland; they had no neglected, dirty places; they had no crowded tenements; they lived in houses, and the houses were in gardens, and their manufacturing, storing and exchanging — all the larger business of life was carried on in buildings, if possible even more lovely than their dwelling houses. It could be done — I had seen it.
"I don't wonder you cry, my dear."