[The Old Man and the Young Man had been conversing. The Old
Man had asserted that the human being is merely a machine, and
nothing more. The Young Man objected, and asked him to go into
particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.
Old Man. What are the materials of which a steam-engine is made?
Young Man. Iron, steel, brass, white-metal, and so on.
O.M. Where are these found?
Y.M. In the rocks.
O.M. In a pure state?
Y.M. No--in ores.
O.M. Are the metals suddenly deposited in the ores?
Y.M. No--it is the patient work of countless ages.
O.M. You could make the engine out of the rocks themselves?
Y.M. Yes, a brittle one and not valuable.
O.M. You would not require much, of such an engine as that?
Y.M. No--substantially nothing.
O.M. To make a fine and capable engine, how would you
Y.M. Drive tunnels and shafts into the hills; blast out the
iron ore; crush it, smelt it, reduce it to pig-iron; put some of
it through the Bessemer process and make steel of it. Mine and
treat and combine several metals of which brass is made.
Y.M. Out of the perfected result, build the fine engine.
O.M. You would require much of this one?
Y.M. Oh, indeed yes.
O.M. It could drive lathes, drills, planers, punches,
polishers, in a word all the cunning machines of a great factory?
Y.M. It could.
O.M. What could the stone engine do?
Y.M. Drive a sewing-machine, possibly--nothing more,
O.M. Men would admire the other engine and rapturously
O.M. But not the stone one?
O.M. The merits of the metal machine would be far above
those of the stone one?
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Personal merits?
Y.M. PERSONAL merits? How do you mean?
O.M. It would be personally entitled to the credit of its
Y.M. The engine? Certainly not.
O.M. Why not?
Y.M. Because its performance is not personal. It is the
result of the law of construction. It is not a MERIT that it
does the things which it is set to do--it can't HELP doing them.
O.M. And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine
that it does so little?
Y.M. Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the
law of its make permits and compels it to do. There is nothing
PERSONAL about it; it cannot choose. In this process of "working
up to the matter" is it your idea to work up to the proposition
that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there
is no personal merit in the performance of either?
O.M. Yes--but do not be offended; I am meaning no offense.
What makes the grand difference between the stone engine and the
steel one? Shall we call it training, education? Shall we call
the stone engine a savage and the steel one a civilized man? The
original rock contained the stuff of which the steel one was
built--but along with a lot of sulphur and stone and other
obstructing inborn heredities, brought down from the old geologic
ages--prejudices, let us call them. Prejudices which nothing
within the rock itself had either POWER to remove or any DESIRE
to remove. Will you take note of that phrase?
Y.M. Yes. I have written it down; "Prejudices which
nothing within the rock itself had either power to remove or any
desire to remove." Go on.
O.M. Prejudices must be removed by OUTSIDE INFLUENCES or
not at all. Put that down.
Y.M. Very well; "Must be removed by outside influences or
not at all." Go on.
O.M. The iron's prejudice against ridding itself of the
cumbering rock. To make it more exact, the iron's absolute
INDIFFERENCE as to whether the rock be removed or not. Then
comes the OUTSIDE INFLUENCE and grinds the rock to powder and
sets the ore free. The IRON in the ore is still captive. An
OUTSIDE INFLUENCE smelts it free of the clogging ore. The iron
is emancipated iron, now, but indifferent to further progress.
An OUTSIDE INFLUENCE beguiles it into the Bessemer furnace and
refines it into steel of the first quality. It is educated, now
--its training is complete. And it has reached its limit. By no
possible process can it be educated into GOLD. Will you set that
Y.M. Yes. "Everything has its limit--iron ore cannot be
educated into gold."
O.M. There are gold men, and tin men, and copper men, and
leaden mean, and steel men, and so on--and each has the
limitations of his nature, his heredities, his training, and his
environment. You can build engines out of each of these metals,
and they will all perform, but you must not require the weak ones
to do equal work with the strong ones. In each case, to get the
best results, you must free the metal from its obstructing
prejudicial ones by education--smelting, refining, and so forth.
Y.M. You have arrived at man, now?
O.M. Yes. Man the machine--man the impersonal engine.
Whatsoever a man is, is due to his MAKE, and to the INFLUENCES
brought to bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his
associations. He is moved, directed, COMMANDED, by EXTERIOR
influences--SOLELY. He ORIGINATES nothing, not even a thought.
Y.M. Oh, come! Where did I get my opinion that this which
you are talking is all foolishness?
O.M. It is a quite natural opinion--indeed an inevitable
opinion--but YOU did not create the materials out of which it is
formed. They are odds and ends of thoughts, impressions,
feelings, gathered unconsciously from a thousand books, a
thousand conversations, and from streams of thought and feeling
which have flowed down into your heart and brain out of the
hearts and brains of centuries of ancestors. PERSONALLY you did
not create even the smallest microscopic fragment of the
materials out of which your opinion is made; and personally you
cannot claim even the slender merit of PUTTING THE BORROWED
MATERIALS TOGETHER. That was done AUTOMATICALLY--by your mental
machinery, in strict accordance with the law of that machinery's
construction. And you not only did not make that machinery
yourself, but you have NOT EVEN ANY COMMAND OVER IT.
Y.M. This is too much. You think I could have formed no
opinion but that one?
O.M. Spontaneously? No. And YOU DID NOT FORM THAT ONE;
your machinery did it for you--automatically and instantly,
without reflection or the need of it.
Y.M. Suppose I had reflected? How then?
O.M. Suppose you try?
Y.M. (AFTER A QUARTER OF AN HOUR.) I have reflected.
O.M. You mean you have tried to change your opinion--as an
O.M. With success?
Y.M. No. It remains the same; it is impossible to change
O.M. I am sorry, but you see, yourself, that your mind is
merely a machine, nothing more. You have no command over it, it
has no command over itself--it is worked SOLELY FROM THE OUTSIDE.
That is the law of its make; it is the law of all machines.
Y.M. Can't I EVER change one of these automatic opinions?
O.M. No. You can't yourself, but EXTERIOR INFLUENCES can
Y.M. And exterior ones ONLY?
O.M. Yes--exterior ones only.
Y.M. That position is untenable--I may say ludicrously
O.M. What makes you think so?
Y.M. I don't merely think it, I know it. Suppose I resolve
to enter upon a course of thought, and study, and reading, with
the deliberate purpose of changing that opinion; and suppose I
succeed. THAT is not the work of an exterior impulse, the whole
of it is mine and personal; for I originated the project.
O.M. Not a shred of it. IT GREW OUT OF THIS TALK WITH ME.
But for that it would not have occurred to you. No man ever
originates anything. All his thoughts, all his impulses, come
FROM THE OUTSIDE.
Y.M. It's an exasperating subject. The FIRST man had
original thoughts, anyway; there was nobody to draw from.
O.M. It is a mistake. Adam's thoughts came to him from the
outside. YOU have a fear of death. You did not invent that--you
got it from outside, from talking and teaching. Adam had no fear
of death--none in the world.
Y.M. Yes, he had.
O.M. When he was created?
O.M. When, then?
Y.M. When he was threatened with it.
O.M. Then it came from OUTSIDE. Adam is quite big enough;
let us not try to make a god of him. NONE BUT GODS HAVE EVER HAD
A THOUGHT WHICH DID NOT COME FROM THE OUTSIDE. Adam probably had
a good head, but it was of no sort of use to him until it was
filled up FROM THE OUTSIDE. He was not able to invent the
triflingest little thing with it. He had not a shadow of a
notion of the difference between good and evil--he had to get the
idea FROM THE OUTSIDE. Neither he nor Eve was able to originate
the idea that it was immodest to go naked; the knowledge came in
with the apple FROM THE OUTSIDE. A man's brain is so constructed
that IT CAN ORIGINATE NOTHING WHATSOEVER. It can only use
material obtained OUTSIDE. It is merely a machine; and it works
automatically, not by will-power. IT HAS NO COMMAND OVER ITSELF,
ITS OWNER HAS NO COMMAND OVER IT.
Y.M. Well, never mind Adam: but certainly Shakespeare's
O.M. No, you mean Shakespeare's IMITATIONS. Shakespeare
created nothing. He correctly observed, and he marvelously
painted. He exactly portrayed people whom GOD had created; but
he created none himself. Let us spare him the slander of
charging him with trying. Shakespeare could not create. HE WAS
A MACHINE, AND MACHINES DO NOT CREATE.
Y.M. Where WAS his excellence, then?
O.M. In this. He was not a sewing-machine, like you and
me; he was a Gobelin loom. The threads and the colors came into
him FROM THE OUTSIDE; outside influences, suggestions,
EXPERIENCES (reading, seeing plays, playing plays, borrowing
ideas, and so on), framed the patterns in his mind and started up
his complex and admirable machinery, and IT AUTOMATICALLY turned
out that pictured and gorgeous fabric which still compels the
astonishment of the world. If Shakespeare had been born and bred
on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean his mighty intellect
would have had no OUTSIDE MATERIAL to work with, and could have
invented none; and NO OUTSIDE INFLUENCES, teachings, moldings,
persuasions, inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have
invented none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing.
In Turkey he would have produced something--something up to the
highest limit of Turkish influences, associations, and training.
In France he would have produced something better--something up
to the highest limit of the French influences and training. In
England he rose to the highest limit attainable through the
OUTSIDE HELPS AFFORDED BY THAT LAND'S IDEALS, INFLUENCES, AND
TRAINING. You and I are but sewing-machines. We must turn out
what we can; we must do our endeavor and care nothing at all when
the unthinking reproach us for not turning out Gobelins.
Y.M. And so we are mere machines! And machines may not
boast, nor feel proud of their performance, nor claim personal
merit for it, nor applause and praise. It is an infamous
O.M. It isn't a doctrine, it is merely a fact.
Y.M. I suppose, then, there is no more merit in being brave
than in being a coward?
O.M. PERSONAL merit? No. A brave man does not CREATE his
bravery. He is entitled to no personal credit for possessing it.
It is born to him. A baby born with a billion dollars--where is
the personal merit in that? A baby born with nothing--where is
the personal demerit in that? The one is fawned upon, admired,
worshiped, by sycophants, the other is neglected and despised--
where is the sense in it?
Y.M. Sometimes a timid man sets himself the task of
conquering his cowardice and becoming brave--and succeeds. What
do you say to that?
O.M. That it shows the value of TRAINING IN RIGHT
DIRECTIONS OVER TRAINING IN WRONG ONES. Inestimably valuable is
training, influence, education, in right directions--TRAINING
ONE'S SELF-APPROBATION TO ELEVATE ITS IDEALS.
Y.M. But as to merit--the personal merit of the victorious
coward's project and achievement?
O.M. There isn't any. In the world's view he is a worthier
man than he was before, but HE didn't achieve the change--the
merit of it is not his.
Y.M. Whose, then?
O.M. His MAKE, and the influences which wrought upon it
from the outside.
Y.M. His make?
O.M. To start with, he was NOT utterly and completely a
coward, or the influences would have had nothing to work upon.
He was not afraid of a cow, though perhaps of a bull: not afraid
of a woman, but afraid of a man. There was something to build
upon. There was a SEED. No seed, no plant. Did he make that
seed himself, or was it born in him? It was no merit of HIS that
the seed was there.
Y.M. Well, anyway, the idea of CULTIVATING it, the
resolution to cultivate it, was meritorious, and he originated
O.M. He did nothing of the kind. It came whence ALL
impulses, good or bad, come--from OUTSIDE. If that timid man had
lived all his life in a community of human rabbits, had never
read of brave deeds, had never heard speak of them, had never
heard any one praise them nor express envy of the heroes that had
done them, he would have had no more idea of bravery than Adam
had of modesty, and it could never by any possibility have
occurred to him to RESOLVE to become brave. He COULD NOT
ORIGINATE THE IDEA--it had to come to him from the OUTSIDE. And
so, when he heard bravery extolled and cowardice derided, it woke
him up. He was ashamed. Perhaps his sweetheart turned up her
nose and said, "I am told that you are a coward!" It was not HE
that turned over the new leaf--she did it for him. HE must not
strut around in the merit of it--it is not his.
Y.M. But, anyway, he reared the plant after she watered the
O.M. No. OUTSIDE INFLUENCES reared it. At the command--
and trembling--he marched out into the field--with other soldiers
and in the daytime, not alone and in the dark. He had the
INFLUENCE OF EXAMPLE, he drew courage from his comrades' courage;
he was afraid, and wanted to run, but he did not dare; he was
AFRAID to run, with all those soldiers looking on. He was
progressing, you see--the moral fear of shame had risen superior
to the physical fear of harm. By the end of the campaign
experience will have taught him that not ALL who go into battle
get hurt--an outside influence which will be helpful to him; and
he will also have learned how sweet it is to be praised for
courage and be huzza'd at with tear-choked voices as the war-worn
regiment marches past the worshiping multitude with flags flying
and the drums beating. After that he will be as securely brave
as any veteran in the army--and there will not be a shade nor
suggestion of PERSONAL MERIT in it anywhere; it will all have
come from the OUTSIDE. The Victoria Cross breeds more heroes
Y.M. Hang it, where is the sense in his becoming brave if
he is to get no credit for it?
O.M. Your question will answer itself presently. It
involves an important detail of man's make which we have not yet
Y.M. What detail is that?
O.M. The impulse which moves a person to do things--the
only impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing.
Y.M. The ONLY one! Is there but one?
O.M. That is all. There is only one.
Y.M. Well, certainly that is a strange enough doctrine.
What is the sole impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing?
O.M. The impulse to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT--the NECESSITY
of contenting his own spirit and WINNING ITS APPROVAL.
Y.M. Oh, come, that won't do!
O.M. Why won't it?
Y.M. Because it puts him in the attitude of always looking
out for his own comfort and advantage; whereas an unselfish man
often does a thing solely for another person's good when it is a
positive disadvantage to himself.
O.M. It is a mistake. The act must do HIM good, FIRST;
otherwise he will not do it. He may THINK he is doing it solely
for the other person's sake, but it is not so; he is contenting
his own spirit first--the other's person's benefit has to always
take SECOND place.
Y.M. What a fantastic idea! What becomes of self-
sacrifice? Please answer me that.
O.M. What is self-sacrifice?
Y.M. The doing good to another person where no shadow nor
suggestion of benefit to one's self can result from it.