Discussion of C.H. Cooley's "Social Consciousness"
MR. JAMES MINNICK
PROVIDENCE, R. I.
I should like to say a word in regard to the line of thought suggested by Professor Earp. I could not help feeling, in listening to the paper of this evening and also to that of Professor Jenks at the opening of this conference, that in our endeavor to explain the workings of the social conscience there is a tendency to excuse too much the acts of certain individuals, that have been socially and industrially harmful. I am wondering also whether the present state of public mind in regard to social and industrial ills is due entirely to a higher state of social conscience recently developed, or whether it is that the public at large has begun to understand the influence of the acts of many of the leaders in the financial and industrial world. The game of cards is so universal that practically everyone knows what we mean by "stacking the deck," but when James Hyde invented his great gambling scheme of the tontine policies in
( 115) insurance, the public at large was not sufficiently well informed in regard to the game to understand what Mr. Hyde was really doing. It seems to me, however, that Mr. Hyde was fully aware of just exactly what he was doing, and it was just because he did understand and was so far-seeing that it was possible for him to carry on his plan so successfully. When the great railway companies obtained grants of land, and afterward, when the lands were all sold, straightened their tracks, it seems to me they understood exactly what they were doing. The public at large did not protest, because they did not know what was going on. A striking example of this seems to me to be that of the agitation about the public schools in Chicago. When years ago the attorney of the Tribune, a member of the board of education, forgot his obligation to the welfare of the public schools and, acting as the attorney for the Tribune, obtained leases of public lands that gave to that company valuable school lands at the rental of thousands of dollars per year less than their true value, it seems to me he knew exactly what he was doing. The public did not protest at the time, because the public knew nothing about it, and as the leading newspapers of Chicago are all equally guilty with the Tribune in similar transactions, the combined power of the press has been used to keep the public in ignorance and to attack the Federation of Teachers, which has exposed the scheme. The press did everything in its power to create public sentiment adverse to the Teachers' Federation and to confuse the public mind as to the real question at issue. It is estimated that the loss to the public-school fund in rentals in the past decade is something like twenty million dollars. Can any theory of development of social conscience justly excuse the guilty individual? When Senator Dryden persuaded a compliant legislature of New Jersey to turn over to him the accumulated surplus of his insurance company, it seems to me he knew exactly what he was doing, and it does not seem to me that any theory of development of social conscience should make us find excuses for individuals :n such acts. It is important to decide, therefore, whether any particular state of public mind is due to a development of higher social conscience, or whether it is because the public is just being informed of the facts in the case. Even the socialists, whose programme demands the most complete change in the structure of society, maintain they have no quarrel with individuals, but entirely with institutions. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we should quarrel with those individuals whose acts are far-reaching and harmful to the whole country.