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Security for a Failing World

by Stanwood Cobb

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Chapter 2


Is the Intelligence of Man Capable of Creating a Stable Civilization?

THE intellect of man, conquering the earth through the power of science, seemed but a few years ago to assure humanity a secure and ever-advancing civilization. World peace and world-wide technological progress indicated the early realization of prosperity and security for every individual.

How much all this now seems a dream of the past! Today there is no security anywhere, either political or economic; and prosperity is in such difficult hiding that the economists and statesmen of the world are unable to discover clues to its reappearance.

In the memory of living man there has never been a time so fraught with political strife and overturn. Internal disorders in more than half the countries of the world are aggravated by menaces of international strife. Europe is a house divided against itself, liable at any moment to another Armageddon more dreadful than the last. Asia is full of storm clouds. And between the Orient and Occident goes on a struggle never ending of Oriental revolt against Occidental imperialism.

Economically the world is in universal disaster. Everywhere are unemployment, poverty, and a breakdown of the normal processes of industrial and

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commercial life. National currencies have been almost universally depreciated. The gold standard has met with world-wide defeat. And at a time when the world imperatively needs a healthy international flow of goods, the rise of nationalistic tariffs opposes to international trade greater obstacles than have existed since the Middle Ages.


Why is it that man — with his superb intellect, his amazing scientific abilities, his powerful technological will that is able so to dominate nature--finds himself helpless today to support and maintain a stable civilization?

The futility of man in the face of world-wide catastrophes is due not to the fault of his intellect, but to the fault of his emotions. Man's intellect has been steeled to be a ready and efficient instrument of his will; but his emotions, far from being so obedient, have managed always to gain the ascendancy. It is they that rule man, who is himself seeking to rule the universe.

Furthermore, since no one can ever foresee how the emotions of man may flare forth and for what goals, so no one can prognosticate under the present organization of humanity what man will do with the very civilization which his intellect has built up.

It is like a child building a house of blocks. Creative power may go into the building; earnest, purposeful activity, and high intelligence. A structure

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finally emerges which is very pleasing. But now another child enters upon the scene. A quarrel ensues, and in the midst of violent emotions thereby aroused the house of blocks is knocked to pieces. The child intelligence is absolutely incapable of safeguarding and maintaining its creations against the perversities of emotional and untamed violence.

Even so do man's childish emotions jeopardize everything that man's mature intellect can build. Throughout the world hatreds, jealousies, distrusts, and unreasonable prejudices endanger at every moment the stability of modern civilization.

But it is not only the violent emotions which are ruining our modern civilization. There is also the persistent, stealthy vice of greed, which, like an acid, can eat its way through all substance. Individual' greed and national greed have succeeded in upsetting all the economic structure of humanity, until there is no security left even to the rich. No one sees clearly how to reconstruct the world. And no one has the power, even if the vision, to redirect the emotions and will of humanity to the extent of carrying out a sorely needed reformation which to succeed must become world-wide.


The future of mankind is a problem which interests not only sociologists but physical scientists. The immense age of this planet, now estimated at a billion years, is only the prelude, so astrophysicists tell

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us, to at least another billion years of human life. Prognostications upon such a tremendous scale lead naturally to the question: What will be the nature of human existence throughout this vast stretch of the future? What will the world be like a billion years from now?

A thousand million years of earth-history have passed by, and mankind, the highest expression of life upon the planet, with a cultural history of only a few thousand years, has but just today reached the point of being able to accumulate, organize, and perpetuate knowledge. There does not seem to be now any limit to man's capacity to go on doing this. However, it is not with the accumulation of knowledge that we need be most concerned, but with the use to which this knowledge may be put. How adequately and how safely shall we be able to employ these great stores of information when secured?

John C. Merriam, President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, asks this question and describes serious obstacles in the way of a wise and adequate use of the power which modern knowledge gives to man. "The future of mankind, in the social sense, depends not alone upon our capacity to accumulate and to organize. Ultimately, in handling our greatest and most critical affairs we must depend upon the capacity of individuals to understand and to utilize the materials thus brought together."[1]

    [1. "The Living Past" — Charles Scribner's Sons]

It is not only because of their limited capacities to

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operate the knowledge gained but especially because of their emotions and their innate tendency to individualism, that men find it difficult to utilize efficiently and nobly the knowledge which the scientists bring them.

"Independence," says Meriam, "is one of the most marked qualities of human beings. And this together with man's emotionality brings almost infinitely complex elements of disturbance."

There is a tremendous danger to political, industrial, and economic institutions when emotions blaze up in destructive or greedful ways, as we are now well aware.


The intellect can plan and create, but it is not in the vast majority of men a force capable of governing the emotions. On the contrary, the intellect with most of us serves chiefly as a tool or instrument with which to gain the things we want. Thus the intellect tends to become the servant of man's emotional nature rather than its ruler.

Those men who by the force of their intelligence can completely govern their emotional nature are so rare that they are called philosophers.

What then can govern the emotions? Only a master emotion. With some men greed plays this role of emotional domination; with others, ambition; with still others, fear. Also, all normal people experience love as a master emotion temporarily focusing and sublimating the other emotions.

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But the greatest of all master emotions is religion. This is the force which normally governs and directs the emotions of human beings, harnessing them into spiritual and cultural unities.

Religion is the one power that can habitually direct man's emotions and dedicate them to noble and worthy aims such as are capable of achieving permanent structures of civilization. Religion has proved its ability to do this in the past. It will prove its ability to do this again in the future.

Religion concerns itself chiefly with the emotional nature of man. It purifies the will and bends the intellect to the service of unselfish goals. Through religion man's desires become focused; and all his dispersive forces become rounded up, tamed, and subdued to constructive and lofty purposes.

Religion, even of the most primitive kind, has always been a unifying force, establishing a code of ethics and enforcing it strictly. In this way the raw passions even of primitive men have been forced to operate within certain definite channels. Emotional expression has been regulated so as to insure stability to the group life. Free as the life of the savage is supposed to be, it is directed by ethical codes resulting from the tribal religion to an extent far surpassing any restraints in more civilized societies.

As man developed from a state of savagery and built up intricate civilizations, he has had to exercise always an ethical control motivated by religion in order to insure stability to these civilizations.

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Today for the first time man has reached a point of consciously seeking to direct his planetary destiny; up to this time natural evolutionary currents have carried him forward. Now that he is seeking by his own purposive intellect to organize life individually and collectively into an ever progressive culture, he needs more than ever a directive force to control his emotional nature, since the greatest vision and efficacy of the human intellect becomes void of accomplishment before the disruptive forces of the human emotions.

When things have reached such a state as they are in today — decadent religious institutions proving unavailable to cope with the forces of selfishness that prevail upon the planet — what cure is available? One may easily deduce from the experiences of the past that there is no possible cure except a spiritual renaissance.

We face the need of a great spiritual message capable of sweeping men off their feet and carrying them on broad streams of enthusiasm to the ocean of universal love, harmony, and peace.


There is, it is true, a remarkable quality of idealism and fervor in the economic and social reconstruction which is at present going on in many countries; an idealism which resembles that of religion in the

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prevalence of motives of service and constructive effort for the benefit of human progress as lover against motives of profit and self-seeking.

Can the idealism of the new patriotism suffice to establish the perfect social, economic, and political organization for this country and for the world? Is there not also needed an acceptance of and adherence to these new ideals on the part of social and economic groups — powerful in intelligence, leadership, and economic resources — which must perforce sacrifice something of their position, power, and wealth if these new democratic ideals are universally to be carried out?

The pressure of necessity today, acting like the emergency pressure of war, compels a working unity and solidarity. Much can and will be accomplished by intelligent humanitarianism supported and directed by powerful leadership. But before the constructive work now going on in this country can be assured of stability and permanency, a new public conscience must become broadly operative among all classes and all economic groups. The motives of men must be changed. The situation calls not only for high intelligence and vision. It calls for sacrifice. This is a field of operation wherein religion not only is powerful, but is indispensable.

No force, no power can restore and stabilize world prosperity today but the awakening of man to the eternal realities and his obedience to the divine commands of unity, love, and unselfishness. This gospel has been preached before, but it needs to be

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preached again for today. And as if Destiny knew the situation which was to arrive in this Twentieth Century, it has been preparing already the cure for the disease. There exists — at the very moment of our present social, economic, and political cataclysm — a spiritual movement so dynamic, so powerful, that it is already affecting a miraculous universal change in the motives and conduct of man both individually and collectively.

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