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Introduction to the Normal Life

social, human, progress, questions, plans and faith

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INTRODUCTION TO THE NORMAL LIFE The general theme of the series of lectures intro duced by this course is Social Construction. I accept the faith which the phrase implies: the faith that we build the social structure; that it is not external or mechanical, but human, spiritual, influenced by our ideals, shaped by our actions. Pragmatist or meliorist, we who preach social con struction must insist on the fruitfulness of human effort directed toward social betterment. We cannot be pessimists, wringing our hands because progress is impossible; nor yet optimists, with idle or mischievous hands because progress is inevitable. Our faith, rather, with that of William James, is that progress is possible, but not inevitable; that it is dependent upon our efforts. We are the archi tects and builders of our own well-being and that of our posterity.

For this introduction to the series it has seemed to me appropriate that we should attempt—not a brilliant presentment of existing evils (we know what they are) and not a thrilling appeal to you to do something about them (the need for that is past in this community), but rather a comprehensive 5 outline picture, a sober, unimpassioned, matter-of fact interpretation of social plans and movements, from which we may see things in perspective, by means of which we may realize how little we have done as yet about some things, how few are the consecrated workers, how limited our vision, how inadequate our practical application of that ad mirable principle of cooperation so constantly on our lips, how provincial and fragmentary all our philanthropy, even the best of it, how unworthy to be called either charity or justice, if by those noble words we mean what our fathers meant, or what our sons will mean by those or better terms de scribing the better human relations which are to be.

There are several possible plans on which such a survey as this might be made. We might con sider the duties of society with respect to the moral, the mental, and the physical needs of man. We might select the more pressing of our social prob lems (poverty, sickness, inefficiency, crime, irregu lar employment) and examine the remedies that have been advocated for them. Or we might study

historically the forms of social work which have been devised by various peoples at different times, tracing their development, examining the principles on which they are based, and seeking to discover what lessons they have for us in the United States in the twentieth century.

Any of these plans would yield profitable results. I have chosen, however, another method of ap proach, hoping that we may get both unity and pro portion into our study, and perhaps see some old problems in a new light, if we take for our background the normal individual life, and, following it through from beginning to end, try to determine what are the social conditions and social provisions which are essential at each stage to securing it.

On this plan we shall interest ourselves in the positive rather than the negative aspect of life, in normal development rather than pathological aber rations, in healthy participation in organized human activities rather than in waste, pauperism, crim inality, and degeneracy. We shall never be very far from the abnormal and the subnormal, never quite free from the consciousness of that incessant warfare between beneficent germs and pathogenic germs of which the human body is the choicest battle field, and which has its analogy in spiritual struggle; never able to forget that a normal life is vouchsafed to any of us only as an ideal.

We shall never find ourselves in that home of the ideal, of which Bernard Shaw writes so eloquently,* where we escape the tyranny of the flesh; where there are no social questions, no political questions, no religious questions—best of all, perhaps, no sanitary questions; where we call our appearance beauty, our emotions love, our sentiments heroism, our aspirations virtue, just as we did on earth; but where there are no hard facts to contradict us, * Man and Superman.

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