King Solomon, in all his glory, reigned from 843 to 803 B. C., nearly twenty-eight centuries ago. He was a master politician. He accomplished the unification of the Jewish nation, which has struggled for centuries under tribal leadership to establish its identity in strange lands, and against formidable enemies. The price of national identity was the complete subjugation of individual freedom, but the pomp and splendor of the dictator appealed to the masses, and they liked it more than liberty.
Now the king had a night-mare in which Jehovah granted him his most cherished desire. This gift is usually referred to as “wisdom” as applied to Solomon, but a more exact translation calls it cleverness. Unquestionably he was clever; he knew just how far he could go in collecting the enormous tributes from his subjects, and he was careful not to over-do it. So the powerful became immensely wealthy, and the average man became contented with obscurity, because it seemed that was the way it ought to be,. But the clever man eventually died, and a century later even the temple was in ruins. It must have been a swell racket while it lasted.
I can see several present-day morals in the above, but if I talk too much about the obvious I run the risk of boring you, not to mention myself. So draw your own conclusions.
Of course the obvious is what holds our attention for ninety-nine per cent of the time; it isn’t often that we concern ourselves with the hidden significance of things. But hidden meanings are the greatest realities: the kernel of wheat requires a lot of stem and chaff to support it.
And that makes me speculate on the quantity of chaff we have to dispose of before we can see the significance of material progress and its relation to civilization. Americans are very found of patting themselves on the back, and pointing with pride to the great strides in technology, which has given us an advantage over any other nation in comfort and convenience. And we like to think that this is a measure of our civilization.
For instance, there is a great wave of popular sentiment today wrapped up in the fallacy that electric power is the great civilizing agency which should be made available to every nook and corner of the land. Now I admit that every kind of labor saver offers a release of human energy for some other purpose, and it is conceivable that five per cent of this energy will be put to work for the betterment of humanity. Come to think of it, the grandiose schemes of social planners are splendid--to that extent.
Let’s look at it from another angle. Those mechanical wizards up in Detroit have provided the masses of America with the means of whizzing over the landscape at uncanny speeds, in complete comfort, and with a sense of safety based on a sublime faith that "it can’t happen to me”. Anyway, the doctor gets a hurry-up call to perform an errand of mercy at a distant point; and, by golly, he gets there in a hurry. No questions are asked about a civilizing agency there. But the doctor’s neighbor gets into his car, decides on a self-indulging spree, or uses it for a get-away after robbing the doctor, and--well, that’s enough. The opposite is established.
So the obvious is scarcely enough to tell us whether or not mechanical ingenuity is civilizing.
Obviously, we have to dig further for an answer. And the simple truth is, only on the use we make of our privileges can we judge our progress. And correct use depends upon education. And education is effective only insofar as it effects individuals.
Social reform starts with the individual. Have you noticed any cart-before-the-horse items in your newspaper in recent years?
Go To Next entry Return to entry dates