The Cultural Lag
Paper written for the Fortnightly Club, Redlands, California
February 16, 1968
Frank M. Toothaker
Years ago Bruce Barton hit off the phrase: “When we’re through changing, we’re through.” Obviously he believed that the universe displays certain dependable traits, and one of these we may call the law of change. Life involves processes of creation and growth, of appropriation and transfer; identification and transformation; of decay and reintegration. It involves countless intermediate stages by which the elements of yesterday, plus the ferment of today may emerge tomorrow as the new realities.
Inorganic nature does forever change today’s forms to reappear again in different forms. Stones under action of heating and freezing, under rain and wind become finely fragmented. In water and under pressure they become sandstone and the cycle begins again, often with added elements of change. This is the Creator’s writ in the physical universe. The pages of Fraser’s “Golden Bough” and of Darwin’s “Origin of a Species” tell the long story of change in the animate world. This process may be interpreted as fulfilling some eternal creative destiny inherent in the biological world.
We who belong to the race of men – now recently dubbed the naked ape – note that, fragile and limited as we are, we also change, and are changed by our environment. In fact, we never tire of changing our surroundings. Note what is commonly experienced by husbands who have been away for a week, returning to stumble over the lately rearranged furniture, a wifely prerogative. More importantly, not one of us was born without affecting the totality of things. Our appearance made immediate demands upon at least one other person. You came with a hungry stomach which set in motion a train of events – economic, social, industrial, political and moral. Another mouth in the bamboo hut of a rickshaw coolie may spell an economic crisis. Another body, small though it is, may add up to utter overcrowding in a ghetto slum. A male child born in a palace may produce profound political repercussions.
Let us add another dimension. Man will not leave things untouched. The well known jingle has a grain of truth. “As a rule a man’s a fool, when it’s hot he wants it cool, when it’s cool, he wants it hot, always wanting what is not”. The grain of truth is, man believes he can do something about what is, and can improve on it. He inherits a discontent which some call “divine”. He simply will exercise his inbuilt creativity. In the long run, we owe much to his instinct to workmanship, as one psychologist called it. Our forefathers’ dislike of shivering in the cold had something to do with his domestication of fire. His preference of roast pig over raw may have had something to do with it, according to Charles Lamb. His small muscles were no match for his need for power, so he trained animals or harnessed running water. Hunger spurred him to investigate seeds and roots for his need, and we know what came of that. He found caves useful but lacking. He secured mobility with a tent. He added protection and a sense of security with a house. The natural world did not reward man with the benefits of these changes. Whatever he may have been, as he came off God’s assembly line, he quickly assumed the pragmatic view that something could and must be done about it. Recalling again his hunger, as he stretched after unreachable or too speedy quarry, he found that with countless trials he could project his arm using a roundish stone, and take the game. A flattish stone, thonged to a stick became an ax; the sharpened stick suggested a weapon of offense and defense; the spherical rock inspired the wheel. Someone with good reason has called this last observation the greatest of man’s discoveries. Imagine modern life minus all wheels!
Thus, out of his fears and hungers; out of his native drive to create; out of his wit to observe and understand what he saw, he went from discovery to discovery and to the invention of instruments of change. These often developed into influences that far outran the immediate purposes he sought to serve.
Another element at some time came into man’s outlook and action. Until this point we assumed that he knew no inhibitions. Let me try a rather shaky allusion which proves nothing but may illuminate a point. Eve proposed that Adam try a certain fruit. Why didn’t she first bite it? She somehow felt – shall we say, intuitively – that she shouldn’t. Perhaps to propose an improper deed is not quite as culpable as to do it. At least, Adam overcame any reluctance he had, and answered “I ought not” with “O.K. I’ll try it.” No digestive disorder resulted, but, if the story is analyzed, it tells of the dawn of moral sensitivity. What is right and what is wrong? Final answers to that question still remain to be given, whether the choice is settled on a basis of more than hunger, or curiosity, or perversity, it is obvious that man is often moved by much more than physical considerations. Over against “I want” he acknowledges “I ought”, whatever that word may connote, of loyalty to a higher spirit, or quest for social approval, or the drive to survive.
Sum it up, from the dawn of time man has said, “Life isn’t good enough”. “It ought to be better”. We will work to that end. Perhaps the psychology of it is like that of the two bums I heard about. They were working down the street for handouts. One said, “I’ll go to the first house, you go next door, and so on.” The second responded, “But there isn’t any house next door.” “Well, so there isn’t. But there ought to be. Let’s build one.” This objective certainly is praiseworthy, and the discoverer and inventor do get some publicity. Sad to say, some pirate or exploiter reaps most of the substantial reward.
We must note that inventors and discoverers make us trouble. When Alexander the Great fought his way to India he found cotton cloth in use. When the discoverers found America they likewise found cotton. But the difficulty of separating the fibres from the seed limited general use. In 1794 Eli Whitney came up with a mechanical idea that worked, the cotton gin, and much larger quantities now could be processed. That is, thanks to James Watt, who, ten years earlier had produced the first really practical steam engine. The multiplication of power and machine spinning and weaving of cotton gave great impetus to the factory system. Hovel towns clustered around the factories; child labor of utterly indecent description and, in the United States, the stimulus to multiply the hordes of slaves. It is said that the average cost to maintain a Negro slave involved not more than $15 – per year. At that rate cotton, rice and sugar were profitable.
The explosive power of invention generally overcomes our reluctance to change, but we can hardly blame the men of new ideas that upset the social and economic applecart. Recall Henry Ford’s gasoline buggy that bankrupt some railroads, banished the crossroads school and killed the country church, drove the mule out of the cotton patch and tractored unlucky sharecroppers onto the public highway. He certainly didn’t mean it that way, but that’s how it turned out, and we call it “progress”. Henry was also among the few who became rich from their inventions.
Another consequence of the possession of or control of power is seen in the growth of what we call “the power structure”. As an individual becomes able to order the life and labor of others he assumes a posture of power, and to assume certain license to work his pleasure even toward individual autocracy. This the so-called Robber Barons assumed to be their prerogative. But social tensions increased and counteracting, retributive responses developed. With the struggle of individuals group strengths were to emerge. Labor unions and co-operative societies grew, not without struggle, to be sure. Resort was had to political power and legal regulation, such as anti-monopoly laws and government controls. Wars, such as the civil war; revolutions, such as the French and Russian revolutions; civil disturbances such as strikes broke loose in situations that did not yield to peaceable moderations in the struggle for shared power. Valuable as these correctives may be, they leave also a wake of debris and bad relationships. The cultural lag involved plainly is this: Holders of an advantage rarely if ever welcome any change that minimizes their status, regardless of how fair, or just or humane that change may be.
A sober sociologist (Ogburn-Nimkoff, Sociol. P. 918) appraises the problem in these words: “The human race is like passengers in a bus with seats turned so that they always look backward. The driver too looks backward while the bus hurtles ahead across the open country through the mist at a terrific speed. It is preposterous to talk seriously about controlling social change when so few are looking ahead for the derivative influences of inventions”.
And by inventions the sociologist reaches beyond mechanical devices. He includes also economic devices. A tariff bill was pending, setting high tariffs for certain articles. A thousand economists, give or take a few, analyzed the probable results, and condemned the proposal. Congress listened to the cries of constituents, or to their own prejudices and passed the Hawley-Smoot tariff. It destroyed the Belgian lace industry and for the time it bankrupt the Swiss watch manufacturers. One Swiss community voted never again to buy anything made in the U.S. After the debacle politicians saw how they had viewed the world scene through a parochial knothole.
Another example of demanding a short run reward instead of a long run value is the post-World War I policy relative to Germany. We demanded war reparations, we sought isolationist aloofness rather than a type of aid that would help the defeated peoples, we turned a deaf ear to the plea to help the weakening Weimar Republic. The results of the work of victor reluctance to aid the defeated were a Hitler come to power, a second world war, an atomic bomb, a nuclear crisis and a Russian power that challenges America’s every position. Who would have thought it? Our cultural lag keeps us solving the current crisis with the policies that already have failed because they did not avert the crisis.
Let me now project into the picture the person or persons I call the Prophet or the Pioneer. He is not a soothsayer or a magician. He doesn’t predict where you will die, so that you choose to go elsewhere. He is, however, more concerned with human welfare in the widest sense and less concerned with private gain. He proves his prevailing interest in the long term good rather than the short term advantage. Like a surveyor he takes his stand amid the current scene, looking back to review the past, analyzing the present, and facing the morrow. With history in his mind, with an insight into human nature and faith in the quality of the universe, he projects the long swing of events. Seeing things as they are, he sees beyond, how they might be better. He looks ahead to discover the derivative influences of proposed action. He has detached himself from entrapment by things, in order to focus on values that give life meaning and purpose. He often feels an imperative to speak, and asks no exemption from the anger of those who are displeased. He inevitably calls for change in persons and institutions. He demands some adjustment between things local, such as the abatement of slums in our town, or general, such as the abolition of war through accepted world law. He points out the faults in the status quo as he sees them. This is a dangerous pastime. He tries to depict the penalties for continuing existent conditions. He describes the advantages of reform. Francis McConnell (Prophetic Ministry p. 204) wrote: “If we could get back into the consciousness of the prophets we should likely find that the burden of their souls simply had to be declared, whether people liked it or not.” If they were sufficiently angered the pioneer thinker and propagandist for change could be identified by his scars or his headstone. Popular resistance takes heavy toll of the innovator. Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, who had some scars to his credit once reminded us: “His eyes may be fixed upon the Promised Land, but his feet are in the dust of the desert.” The social, religious, political or economic pioneer envisions a society that he bets his life ought to be, and he surely must expect to be scorched by the fires of opposition. In 1968 [In this day] who needs any illustration of this declaration.
We now should focus our attention on the question: “As he faces the societal lag, the reluctance on the part of many even to consider important change, how far ahead of his society can a pioneer go, and still hope to hold a following?” We certainly cannot come up with a conclusive answer, but we had better look at the question. Often it is a dilemma, you will be damned if you are too far ahead of the crowd, and damned if you think you are leaving well enough alone. History will tell.
Let us begin with two Biblical situations. The first involves the migrating Hebrew people. They gradually moved out of a predominantly pastoral pattern of roving life, and began entering upon a relatively stable agricultural society. Infiltrating an already settled agricultural population they discovered the superstition attached to common religious practice, whereby the act of human procreation was supposed to promote the fertility of the fields. To the Hebrews this practice was outrageous, to them it appeared as nothing less than prostitution at the symbols of a shrine. As long as they remained in this social atmosphere the humanness of many individuals tended, first, to tolerance, and then to acceptance, if not approval. Doubtless the subject enjoyed spirited debate, and as with many debates, nobody did anything about the problem. Once more, what citizen of 1968 [today] needs ask for an illustration? At that time, into the Hebrew community came a rugged fellow, Elijah, who challenged this socio-religious practice, nearly losing his life in the attempt to blot it out. After a dramatic challenge to the priests of the agricultural deities he was able to foment a popular uprising that massacred the phallic supportive priests. It might be supposed that this drastic solution would have closed the case, but readers of subsequent history know that while public approval ended, private acceptance and sporadic religio-sexual sprees continued.
A different picture is printed on history’s page of the eighth century before Christ. A herdsman who moonlighted as an orchardist used his quiet hours in the field or on the range, pondering the perversion of the governmental halls, the exploitation of the poor and the heartless greed of money lenders. He revolted at the sale of children for parental debts, at the gross display of luxury, and at wealth piled up from the loot of successful war. He came at length to the end of his endurance. Linking his knowledge of these social atrocities with his understanding of religion he openly, vigorously and cleverly attacked these accepted practices, and warned those who indulged in them of justice that at length would overtake them. He had a clear case, yet nothing is more certain than that the reforms he preached were not accomplished in his lifetime. One historian says, “It was probably one hundred years before the ideas of Amos found their way into the law and customary practices of Israel.” A current writer in the field of religious practice charges: “More than a century after the so-called abolition of slavery many of our citizens are still bound in economic, class or ghetto servitude … The American Indian … for nearly 200 years … has been confined to the ghetto of the reservation.” (J.E. Seiler, Christian Century, 2/14/68) Such is the cultural lag. The pioneer and the prophet in this field exercises an influence, but he may not live to write accomplishment as a fact. Who says it better than James Russell Lowell?
“Then to side with truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit and ‘tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.”
If this is true with the prophet of spiritual values in a somewhat less dramatic fashion it is true for the scientist. If his new light upsets somebody’s smug system he will fare ill. He may have no wish to inconvenience anybody or threaten his security, or affront his honor, but he must tell what he has learned. Some of you have read the story of Copernicus, the “Star Gazer”. The implications of his science were only dimly perceived, but when Galileo explained it the zeal of the so-called Holy Inquisition quashed the whole matter. The church won its argument with the scientist, and it took some time for the solar system to settle its truth over dogma. The time lag approximated two centuries.
In the realm of mechanics the successful innovator may be more fortunate. At that, he may expect some 25 years of impatience before his idea elbows its way to the front. Independent wheel spring suspension for automobiles was known as early as 1906, but did not get incorporated into a car until about 1930. A clutchless transmission was offered in 1903. When did you first drive a vehicle equipped with it? The wire recorder and tape recorder were invented and tested years before they became available in the market. Some writers assert that phonograph and recording interests secured control and put these inventions into cold storage. Industry does seem to be able to freeze instruments and processes until, to meet competition or boost profits, these new items must be brought out.
One must be cautious about discussing the field of medicine. Certainly where human life is involved we raise no cry against check and double check on wonder drugs or miracle techniques. Still even this profession suffers from some foot dragging. Pasteur demonstrated the bacterial relationships in certain diseases, but it was many a year before the germ theory of disease could be spoken of as respectable. How long was it after George Harvey demonstrated the fact of the circulation of the blood before the fact was conceded by Harvey’s colleagues. There was no physician over forty years of age who accepted Harvey’s conclusions when he first presented them. Even Harvey thought that could be called a rather quick recognition.
I must not blame the medical profession for the stubborn superstition that until recent years, at least, if not now, insists on the segregation of donated blood in the categories of the race of the donor. Still we hear “he has a lot of white blood in his veins” or “his Negro blood will show up later, if not now.” William Shockley physicist at the Bell Laboratories charges that “the scientific community has been ignorant or blocking research into possible differences in genetic makeup of the races” (Time 89:65. F 3 67). He does not go unchallenged. From Stanford medical comes the estimate that “he is seeking pseudoscientific justification of class and race prejudice”. The University of California offers what seems a more scientific explanation. There is “no area in which control of all factors is possible”.
One dependable experience overbalances a thousand opinions. In Wichita Falls a prized chef underwent surgery for an arthritic knee. The hospital immediately discovered that the patient, unknown to himself or the surgeons, was a hemophiliac. His blood lacked Factor X. Massive transfusions alone saved his life, ten to twelve pints at a time. Someone appealed to the personnel of a nearby airforce squadron for donations. The response, in phenomenal volume over a two year period, built up the Factor X in his system until the hemorrhaging stopped, the man recovered and went back to his work. The payoff is that the donors included about every race and religion, male and female. No publicity was given to the truth that the recipient is a Negro. Black Power advocates might take note, not mention certain Caucasoids. How long will it take before our culture moves up to treat people as people instead of digits in skin colored pigeon holes?
Now when we enter the arena of social change we discover that the gladiator must face fiercer beasts than those that roar against the inventor of gadgets or the discoverer of natural law. Suppose we go back and pick up one of the abolitionists as a sample, a man recently honored on TV in connection with the re-opening of the Ford Theater. John Brown of Ossawatomie could not show an impeccable financial record. He was to some degree emotionally unstable. His Free Soil belligerency in Kansas would be better forgotten. But, on the matter of Negro slavery he cannot be unseen or unheard. Abolition became for him an obsession demanding action. While he believed in “next steps” he failed to see anyone taking them. He operated a station on “the underground railroad”, but its slowness repelled him. He felt that the only answer to do-nothing complacency was to incite the slaves to insurrection. He probably considered his voice as the voice of God. While we cannot agree we might do well to ponder whether God’s perfection involves infinite patience. Does a time arrive when an idea is not only ripe, but explosive for action? Brown believed the time had come. Did he anticipate success? We do not know. There remains no record that he anticipated failure. When that came to pass he accepted it with unexpected dignity. He made no outcry against the penalty for failure. Wendell Phillips said of him: “John Brown violated the law. Yes. On yonder desk lie the inspired words of men who died violent deaths for breaking the laws of Rome. Why do you listen to them reverently? George Washington, had he been caught before 1783 would have died on the gibbet for breaking the laws of his sovereign. Bad laws? Who says then that slave laws are not ten thousand times worse than any those men resisted?” Later he continued: “John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system… it only breathes, it does not live, hereafter.” (Speeches and Lectures – 279 ff, 290) Let us ask “Was John Brown a leader?” Yes and no. Admirers sang “His soul goes marching on.” But they did not imitate his example. One John Brown was enough. What he did dramatized the issue and sharpened the need for action. To wipe out black slavery one man was willing to throw in his life. That is something.
Wendell Phillips, cultured, able, daring, suffered execration by many, and unlike Brown, he carried the throngs with him. He advocated a militant, non-violent attack on the system aimed at abolishing it. His method, widely approved, gained adherents, and in the end precipitated a conflict. He wanted it to be non-violent, but, as usual, the benefactors of a system resorted to violence in defense of the status quo. The dalliance of both political parties, each trying to outdo the non-committal posture of the other, only served to muddle the masses and to allow the drift to war. The ensuing conflict, violent in the extreme, blocked the dissolution of the Union and offered occasion for the Emancipation Proclamation. As has been amply attested, Lincoln had refused to crusade for abolition while he believed thoroughly that the nation with its schizoid attitude and practice could not long endure on that basis. He was willing to try to preserve the Union, all free, or part free. The preservation of the United States of America he accepted as the top priority. When the Union appeared to be relatively secure he declared that all men must be free. At Gettysburg he noted “the great task remaining”. How wise of Lincoln. Over 100 years later we yet have not accomplished full freedom for minority groups of color or of foreign origin. Against the lag which is rooted in prejudice, fear, ignorance, superstition and misconstrued religion our generation labors for an America “with liberty and justice for all” – including the Hutterites who could not buy Liberty Bonds, but whose cattle were forcibly removed and sold to buy bonds; including the Amish, whose religion requires their children to be educated in schools of their elder’s approval; including Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose children may not salute the flag or any other earthly symbol; including the children of the Mexican gardener, the son of the Jewish peddler; the daughter of the Negro share-cropper, and the family of the American Indian. It required about 250 years to enforce the right of physical freedom for the Negro. Happily we record that he may eat where others eat (more or less); sleep where others find accommodation (more or less), swim in the public pool (while it remains public), attend the school in his district (maybe, maybe), apply for employment for which his skill fits him (except where barred from the union, or by flimsy excuses) and vote as freely as any citizen (where the local law-enforcement officers protect him from threats and from actual lethal violence). My guess is that another fifty or more years of struggle must be suffered before Man (in the generic sense) is emancipated from the shackles of color, race and religion, or from invidious discrimination of other sorts. Such is the cultural lag. In a word, Richard Gregg is too optimistic when he says: “A three generation period is required for non-violent adaptations to deep cultural alterations.”
We may be spending too much time beating this drum, but to fend against our too-easy lack of remembrance I discuss one more area, one that involves women. They did not easily achieve the status they now occupy. As early as 1499 certain English women petitioned for the right to vote. “Not granted”. In 1647 Margaret Brent, a relative of the Calverts, demanded “place and voyce” in the Maryland Assembly. She didn’t get it. When “taxation without representation” became a Colonial rally cry, inevitably somebody would note that half the adult population had no voice in government. Abigail Adams vigorously reminded her husband while he sat in the Continental Congress that “We will not hold ourselves bound to obey any laws in which we have had no voice or representation.” I don’t know how that came out! From that day on, voices reasoning, arguing and demanding, never fell silent. When women espoused the Abolitionist cause they won the support of men in their quest for equal suffrage. Quakers, who had never agreed on the slavery question, united on equal rights for women. No political party would touch an issue so hot. Why should it have been so hot? Why hot at all? At last, a splinter party, born in 1869, the Prohibition party included a woman’s suffrage plank in their platform. As an aside, it is interesting to note that this party which never won an election, pioneered several noteworthy and controversial issues before any other group.
In 1872 the Republicans cautiously tipped their party hats to the women, remarking most casually that “the honest demand of any class of citizens for additional rights should be treated with respectful attention.” That statement should swell the bosom of any GOP supporter today! The banality repeated itself in 1876, then died an unmourned death. Its undefined subject sprang from the ashes 40 years later. In the meantime the Democrats clamped down a total silence. In 1878 Susan B. Anthony wrote the amendment to the Constitution, and 41 years later, on June 4th it passed the Congress. Ratification came rather quickly. The necessary 36 states ratified before August 26th, 1920, in time to win the women’s votes in the Presidential election. Nine states had voted against ratification.
Nine years before adoption this equal suffrage issue had lost in fifteen out of seventeen elections in eleven states. Those years, believe it or not, made news of violence. Agitators built a fire in front of the White House, vowing to keep it burning until equal rights for women were granted. Police jailed the keepers of the flame; firemen put it out. But it burned in precincts where enforcers of the law and fire departments could not reach it. One day when President Woodrow Wilson was making a plea for greater freedom for Puerto Rico a banner suddenly unfurled from the balcony asking: “Mr. President, what will you do for Woman Suffrage?” The banner bearers suffered ejection from the chamber. Strange, but true, not until 35 of the 36 necessary states had voted ratification did the two major political parties give the Amendment formal recognition. So much for the prophetic spirit of political major parties. A man from Mars would be justified in concluding that leading parties espouse controversial causes only when forced to do so, rather than leading a nation to possible higher achievement.
What does this recital say about cultural lag? Was it 400 years; or 270 years; or 200 years? Miss Anthony’s life was too short to see the adoption of the product of her heart and mind and pen. And when it finally won the decisive vote, who can analyze the power factors that won it? How much strength issued from personal leadership? What part belonged to the ongoing social revolution fermenting as overlapping generations honestly faced the question and changed their answer from No to Yes? The people who finally voted “Yes” had graduated from the conditions of their forebears, people to whom the steam engine was almost a passing relic; who lived in an increasingly electric age; who rode, not in one horse carts, but in automobiles, often controlled by women drivers; in an economy increasingly owned by women; working in offices filled with women; graduated from schools and co-ed colleges, where they frequently sat under the instruction of women whose knowledge and teaching ability spoke for itself. Marion Brown, in “Leadership Among High School Students” (Calif. Univ. Series) suggests that “A follower of Carlyle or Emerson will attribute social progress to the work of leaders; it is conceivable that other thinkers would claim that leaders are but exploiters”. I would say rather, opportunists, that is, those who float their boats on the tides of social forces generated by multiple agencies of change. Still, the pioneer and the prophet do dramatize the cause regardless of what social tides may ebb and flow.
One mighty prophecy has challenged men for at least 27 centuries. Isaiah voiced it thus: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. I know of no cause of prime importance that has suffered so long. Perhaps the technological advances of this age have made a reasonable answer to this issue no longer an elective, but a requirement if any of us or our children are to live. Edward Allsworth Ross years ago gave us his explanations for this awful lag. (1) Mental inertia, (2) Vested interests, (3) Sincere distrust. (New Era Sociology, p 519) Other sociologists break these three areas of resistance down into such categories as these: IGNORANCE (lack of the facts); MEAGER MENTAL ABILITY (cannot perceive the difference between values); SUPERSTITION (anything can cause anything else, ruling out purposive change); PREJUDICE (what else could have made Liebig discoverer of chloroform refuse so much as to look at the yeast cells under Pasteur’s microscope?); COMPLACENCY (please don’t bother me); ESTABLISHED HABITS OF OPINION AND ACTION (Ross calls it “the momentum of the past”); thus immigrants continue to eat garlic and goulash though better diets may be easily available); RELIGIOUSLY ATTRIBUTED LOYALTIES AND REVERENCE FOR THE PAST (mark the resistance to new translations of the Bible and to historical evaluation of the Scripture records); FEAR OF DISLOCATION OF EXISTING SOCIAL STRUCTURES (fear lest someone accuse the pioneer and his friends of being “radical” or of being “fellow travelers”); ECONOMIC COSTS (change may raise taxes. Better schools are expensive. Safer buildings cost money); FEAR OF THE NEW (my own parents rejected life insurance and refused to have me vaccinated. In a quite different field, business men often opposed the Credit Union idea); AGE of persons often tends to promote objection to change. Children of immigrants tend to adopt new ways over the reluctance of their parents. Family problems often arise, e.g. between the Issei and Nisei of Japanese ancestry. College students for generations gone have argued, demonstrated and rebelled. A poll of older persons showed that 51% of adults consider today’s youth less moral than yesterdays’. Only 23% of youth agree on this with their elders. IN POLITICS, A QUALITY AKIN TO RELIGIOUS LOYALTY often marks party followers. Note the New York Tammany Hall, and the one time solid South. Josiah Stamp (Social Adjustment, p 53) says this partly accounts for the fact that on the average, 19 years of popular campaigning is required to install the city manager system as a business control for cities. THE VESTED INTERESTS MENTIONED BY ROSS fall into three general areas – finance, power, and prestige. Canals fought railroads and railroads fight trucks. Coolies in China heated and twisted rails to support the wheelbarrow system of support. A wheelbarrow equaled rice and cabbage in the family’s bowls. Rural mail delivery met opposition from saloons on the ground that it would keep farmers out of town. Newspapers and one great church opposed a child labor amendment. Railway express companies attacked the parcel post. Short of coercion, factories and mines refused to install safety equipment.
If we analyze FEAR OF THE NEW we discover that for all, save the propertyless and underprivileged, their desire for security tends to outweigh the desire for adventure and change. SINCERE DISTRUST certainly warns against precipitate action and calls out thoughtful evaluation of new proposals. At the time the Townsend Plan was offered I deeply questioned its workability, yet at the same time I joined the many who believed there must be greater concern and better planning for the nation’s senior citizens. It is amazing, and somewhat encouraging that Social Security and all its branching benefits have been set in motion in so short a space of time.
We have seen that change is inevitable and that in great and tangled masses mankind throws barbed wire entanglements across the path of change. We are among the more privileged of people. We certainly reject being classified as the complacent. We are not automatically resistant to such newness as may improve the life around us, and the institutions we bequeath to our children. More and more we must think in global terms, even inter-spatial dimensions. We seek to translate our Christian and our American ideals into those definite attitudes and acts as promise to promote and create constructive change. To surmount the cultural lag which assuredly cannot be eliminated, may I make bold to suggest a few lines of approach, none of them original, I am sure:
1. RECOGNIZE THE LONG PROCESS REQUIRED FOR A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE. Important next steps may be made with comparative ease, but the basic habits of mental life and the accepted social philosophies of a culture will yield only by stubborn inches.
2. ILLUMINATE THE NEED FOR CHANGE, and the ADVANTAGE of it. Continually seek to clarify the simple facts, especially those not commonly broadcast by the popular means of communication. Know and share the news behind the news. Help to bridge the credibility gap by filling in the story that may have been suppressed for cause. Divulge the truth that stockholders in the status quo do not think discreet to reveal. This is not mere muckraking or debunking, but rather, it means educating a shockingly propagandized public concerning important issues of national and world life. For example, note what the American Cancer Society is attempting to do to save youth and adults from needless cancer and emphysema.
3. INTERPRET THE SITUATION, its maladjustments, its injustices, its fundamental “missing the mark” and the inevitable results of continued misdirection. We have already noted the world balance of terror because of stockpiles of weapons so globally lethal in a setting of nations, each claiming absolute power of decision when and where these weapons may be released. This cannot be long supported if the world’s people entertain a reasonable hope of survival. As long, I am persuaded, as nation states yield no whit of total sovereignty, in order to create global institutions for the adjudication of differences and the control of criminal barbarisms, just so long will our earthly tenure hang by a tiny thread.
Such a view is open to all kinds of smears, such as “it’s communistic” or it is “creeping socialism”. The smear tactic has been used against practically every accomplished improvement in society.
4. ILLUSTRATE HOW THE PRINCIPLE OF ACTION WILL WORK ADVANTAGEOUSLY. If that principle has worked on a small or local scale it may operate safely and helpfully in a larger field. Those who propose the abolition of the death penalty should not forget to continually call attention to the states and nations that have discarded capital punishment, and how they fare. An ounce of testing is worth a ton of argument.
5. DRAMATIZE THE ISSUE AND INDUCT PERSONS INTO THE STRUGGLE. Nowhere has this been better illustrated than the “walk program” which broke down racial discrimination in public transportation in Birmingham. Few happenings within the Methodist Church have stirred college and seminary circles as much as the dismissal of a student at Vanderbilt University for his giving counsel to lunch counter sit-in participants. The dean of the school of theology resigned in protest, together with most of the faculty. This was vicarious suffering on the part of persons not immediately engaged in an action subject to criticism, persons who felt the need of change so keenly that they identified themselves with the actors in the drama itself.
In the same field of struggle one of our bishops became involved, not because he sought it but because he refused to run away from it or to act blind in the middle of it. He had agreed to a preaching mission in a city church where segregation had been 100% for many years. A few college students and teachers from a Negro school presented themselves for admission and were refused. At the knowledge of this, the bishop announced his immediate withdrawal. “If I am not to be permitted to preach to the people who wish to hear me, then I will not preach here at all.” That cracked the color bar in one church. I recall this event with a deep sense of shame for my church, rather than a sense of “Good, we licked ‘em”. The church should have been the leader instead of the cultural road block.
An individual may participate in overcoming the cultural lag in the sociological field. For example, while Dag Hammarskjöld pressed for some advance in the creation of a non-national armed force directed to withstand irrational and riotously violent action, and to do so without military aggression on its own part, we could, I believe have given the Secretary-general greater support than we did. We can now spiritually identify with U Thant more deeply than many do. This is one way of identification.
Another way is to personally participate in life changing activity. No small part of the cultural lag takes resistance strength from the fact that too few persons are active in bringing about the little changes that add up to the big change. An individual cannot solve the problem of the employment of the jobless ghetto dweller. But almost anyone can work for the employment of at least one person.
A third road to participation is to keep the unsolved problem agitated. This is struggle. Struggle is not maintained by a tired radical. If seventy times seven trials does not bring success, they quit. Overseas the Communist camp appears never to cry “Uncle”. They even believe that every little clash is their ready made opportunity, and they quickly make it so. This is good strategy allowed to be hitched to bad ends. I here support the view that we should adopt the strategy of capturing every field in the dramatic struggle for freedom from disease, enslavement, worklessness, indignity and for the enjoyment of man’s right to be fully a man. In such struggle, violence and insult win no worthy ends. Patience must possess the innovator’s soul, but patience with unremitting pressure toward the goal. Yes, pressure held in leash, held just below the breaking point. In a way this is a sort of brinkmanship. By the breaking point I mean the limits of people’s capacity to face the criticism of an ethic they continue to refuse to adopt. Perhaps the definition may also be stated: The breaking point is the limit of tolerance of a way of life that the group strongly opposes. Plenty of illustrations come from the field of labor relations. (Records of Ladies’ Garment Workers Strike, Los Angeles.) Not only should reliance be placed on social pressure, but upon personal appeal. Every opponent of social change is a person of some social ideals, though these ideals may be buried deep under fear, prejudice or some other qualification of his personal makeup. An exception certainly must point to goons, the mafia, the criminal element, and those with no regard for social welfare.
6. The sixth line of approach by persons concerned to overcome the cultural lag is UTTER DEVOTION AND ABANDONMENT TO THE CAUSE. This devotion requires something we can call penitence, remembering that each of us is inextricably involved in whatever social maladjustment or evil inheres in things as they are. With persistence court the friendship of all who join in the main purpose though they may differ in some particulars. With understanding, keep clear that the whole goal is greater than any single part of it. With patience, remember that the cause will not likely be fully won in a crusader’s lifetime, but keep up the pursuit of it as diligently as if one knows that to quit is to fail to fulfill the destiny of one’s life. With power, such as that of a painstakingly timed, carefully aimed stroke of a sledge in forging a metal part, strike the blow. John Drinkwater put it:
“Grant us the will to fashion as we feel,
Grant us the strength to labor as we know,
Grant us the purpose, ribbed and edged with steel,
To strike the blow.”
No delicately balanced and indecisive weighing of pro and con, actionless from day to day, can reform any tough or crooked social structure. An abandoned life forsakes balance for its own sake. It rejects wearing out its pants sitting on the fence. It deliberately throws itself into unbalance in order to counteract the opposite unbalance which threatens the greatest good. This is dangerous, but progress is not won without this risk, this cost. The cultural lag is overleaped only by the courageous.