Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Co-operation and Nationality

By “A.E.” (George W. Russell)

(Irish author, 1867–1935)
WHEN steam first began to puff and wheels go round at so many revolutions per minute, the wild child humanity, who had hitherto developed his civilization in picturesque unconsciousness of where he was going, and without any set plan, was caught and put in harness. What are called business habits were invented to make the life of man run in harmony with the steam engine, and his movements rival the train in punctuality. The factory system was invented, and it was an instantaneous success. Men were clothed with cheapness and uniformity. Their minds grew numerously alike, cheap and uniform also. They were at their desks at nine o’clock, or at their looms at six. They adjusted themselves to the punctual wheels. The rapid piston acted as pacemaker, and in England, which started first in the modern race for wealth, it was an enormous advantage to have tireless machines of superhuman activity to make the pace, and nerve men, women and children to the fullest activity possible. Business methods had a long start in England, and irregularity and want of uniformity became after a while such exceptions that they were regarded as deadly sins. The grocer whose supplies of butter did not arrive week after week by the same train, at the same hour, and of the same quality, of the same color, the same saltness, and in the same kind of box, quarrelled with the wholesaler, who in his turn quarrelled with the producer. Only the most machine-like race could win custom. After a while every country felt it had to be drilled or become extinct. Some made themselves into machines to enter the English market, some to preserve their own markets. Even the indolent Oriental is getting keyed up, and in another fifty years the Bedouin of the desert will be at his desk and the wild horseman of Tartary will be oiling his engines.  1

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