Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Books
TAGS: Christianity; Civilization; Decline and renewal of religion; Interfaith dialogue; Introductory; Islam; Religion (general); Renaissance; Science; Stanwood Cobb
> add tags

Security for a Failing World

by Stanwood Cobb

start page single page chapter 2 next chapter

Chapter 1


The New Age of Plenty

A NEW and better order is in the making. Never within the memory of man have human thoughts and actions so universally turned toward the re-forming of the world; toward the creation of better and more stable institutions based on just and humane concepts.

It would seem that for the first time humanity is endeavoring with all its mind and soul to consciously advance its evolution upon this planet, so rich in potency for universal prosperity and happiness yet so indigent and miserable, in the main, because of the lack of a guiding ideal and an ethical statesmanship. Truly the enlightened rulers of the world, like the Athenians of old, are worshiping a god whom they begin dimly to perceive but cannot name — the god that is to further progress, justice, and universal prosperity.

Economists, sociologists, journalists, statesmen--all perceive the desperate need of a "planned society." And many perceive that it is not possible to plan for each individual country independently of the rest of the world. In other words, as Sir Edgar Saltus has stated, a world plan is imperative.

"But how is such a world plan possible?" queries an editorial writer in the New York Times. "Such a plan assumes a perfect planner, and where is the

[page 2]

person, or where are the persons, gifted with such super-human powers as to evolve a perfect plan for humanity?" Secondly, this editor points out, the effectiveness of any world plan depends upon absolute and undivided acceptance of, and obedience to, this plan. There can be no wavering of allegience to other competitive plans. And how can it be expected that any plan, even the best plan proposed, can succeed in so dominating world opinion?

There are, it is true, very intelligent planners at work in this country, endeavoring to evolve a new structure for humanity. Many of the ideas they are evolving and putting into practice seem good and destined to persist in whole or in part. On the other hand, many of their ideas seem questionable — certainly give no indication of omniscience. And when we come to the gravest problem of all — that of the unqualified adherence and unquestioned loyalty of all humanity to these or any plans proposed — we see that we are confronted with an insuperable obstacle to that "planned society" of which all forward — looking people are now dreaming.


"The problem of statesmanship is to mold. a policy leading toward a higher state of humanity," declared Secretary of Agriculture Wallace in a recent address before the Federal Council of Churches. "True statesmanship and true religion therefore

[page 3]

have much in common." And he went on to picture a nation controlled by spiritual principles, and denied the claims of those who contend that greed and profit seeking are the mainsprings of human conduct.

"But it will be impossible to enter into the still almost limitless possibilities of science and invention until we have acquired a new faith, a faith which is based on a richer concept of the potentialities of human nature than that of the economists, scientists, and business men of the nineteenth century.... The religious keynote, the economic keynote, the scientific keynote of the new age must be the overwhelming realization that mankind now has such mental and spiritual powers and such control over nature that the doctrine of the struggle for existence is definitely outmoded and replaced by the higher law of cooperation."

In general it is the function of government to execute and administer the existing order of things. But today governments the world over are being forced by the compelling power of circumstance to attempt to create some new order of things which will establish stability and security in the midst of this failing civilization.

The system of unlimited profit seeking and competition necessarily creates a struggle for existence as brutal in the economic word as is the biological struggle for existence in the jungle. It has seemed that this struggle for existence is a necessary or inevitable part of human evolution, as it is indeed in the lower forms of life.

[page 4]

To a certain extent this is true. Undoubtedly superior human beings, in whatever line of human enterprise, will rise to the top. But that men need to struggle selfishly and cruelly merely in order to gain an existence is no longer true, thanks to the efficacy of modern science and to the immense resources of our planet. When cooperation supercedes selfish and unlimited competition, there will be plenty for all.

This truth is evident, viewed from any standpoint, when we realize that today more food is being produced in this country, and more goods manufactured, than can be consumed by the populace. It takes no stretch of the imagination to conceive that a more cooperative organization of society can provide all the necessities and many comforts for the entire populace.

This is easy to state, but it is not easy to bring to pass. And why? Because the immensely selfish egoism which is a part of human nature intervenes. There are those who, for purposes of luxury and power, want more than their normal share of life's goods. And unfortunately those who have such selfish desires are apt also to be strongest in intelligence, will power, cunning, and ruthlessness.


The amazing paradox implied in the present world economic crisis is that the chief cause of the present economic depression — the power of machinery

[page 5]

to do the work of man — can be made the foundation of universal prosperity.

It is not possible that humanity properly organized can suffer economically from the magic productive power of technology whether employed in the manufacture of goods or in the raising of agricultural products. Human ingenuity and human labor applied to the production of the necessities, comforts, and luxuries of life — multiplied a thousand-fold by the advantages of machine power — can only be a blessing to the human race, provided results of such industrial and agricultural enterprise be properly distributed.

The above statement is axiomatic. The clue to world prosperity lies in the problem of distribution. This truth is so evident as to need no argument. But how to create and firmly establish the proper and necessary modes of distribution is another problem, calling for a different type of thinking than that which made multiple production possible. It calls for a new social conscience, a new type of cooperative, organized endeavor. This is the crux of the whole problem. Unless these requirements can be attained by humanity the machine will be a curse instead of a blessing, for it will simply increase the power of the few to exploit the many.

The difficulty in organizing humanity along new social and economic lines is due to the fact that humanity is made up of different types of individuals, some of whom are cooperative and unselfish by nature

[page 6]

while others are extremely individualistic, self-seeking, and exploitive.

In the animal world these two opposite types do not exist in some species. Some variety of animals and many varieties of insects live on a cooperative basis, the interests of the individual being merged in the interests of the group and the group serving as a means of protection and resource to the individual; while other predatory types of animals like the wolf and tiger are individualistic. But in humanity we find these two types mingled, "the predatory and the pacific, the individualist and the socialist, the self-sufficient and the associative."[1]

    [1. J. Arthur Thompson, "Ways of Living!']


Here is a grave problem which confronts any attempt to organize humanity along truly cooperative lines. Side by side we find individuals who are predatory by nature and individuals who are cooperative by nature. The existence of these two variant and opposite types in the same mass presents grave obstacles to the proper organization of humanity. Worse still is the fact that the predatory type is fiercer, more aggressive, more subtle, more unhampered by conscience or by strict sense of justice than is the cooperative type. When to these qualities are added the advantages of a keen intellect, a powerful physique, and a strong nervous organism we have a situation which is as difficult to manage for the interests

[page 7]

of the many as were the battles of the Middle Ages where physical giants of knighthood fully armored and riding armored steeds could easily prevail against masses of unarmored and poorly armed peasant infantry.

As for those intellectual leaders of humanity who are aware of the imperative need of a cooperative form of society, how are they going to succeed in sequestering the predatory type or in subordinating it to the general welfare while at the same time permitting necessary individual enterprise, invention, and progress?

The power of present government is not sufficient to accomplish this. The constant evasions of law on the part of the shrewd and powerful, the constant corruption of government through largess and bribery make democracy ineffectual to control the will of the exploitive type. And a dictatorship, while it may prevail for the moment, is only as effective as the life of the dictator; at his death all may be undone, since in a dictatorship everything hangs upon the will of one individual and not upon the development of the plebiscite.

We must search with desperate zeal for a power capable of solving this critical situation. Exploitation magnified a thousandfold by the potency of machinery will with its titanic force destroy humanity itself unless an immediate solution is found. We have seen that the solution cannot be found within the field of economics itself, and that only partial solution can be found within the field of

[page 8]

politics. Where shall we turn then but to the field of religion, which in its most potent periods is capable of exerting a force greater than all other forces that move upon the human heart and will?


Religion is strong enough to harness even the predatory to common ends. It operates in two ways: first, in raising human nature to higher levels so that a large proportion of the exploitive type are sublimated into types of voluntary service; secondly, in establishing an ethics so clear-cut and definite and final that the percentage of those who remain predatory are not able with all their subtlety and force of persuasion or aggressiveness to corrupt the standards and requirements of the age. Thus it is that religion, in its periods of greatest power, has always succeeded in organizing human groups into cooperative, gracious and successful forms of economic and social living. This successful organization has persisted as long as the dynamic power of religion was great enough to hold ethical standards strongly to the front and create as heroes in the eyes of communities the men of greatest service instead of the men of greatest exploitation.

This is just what is needed today, a renascence of religion, a clean breath sweeping from infinite heights to purify the world conscience; to show right as right and wrong as wrong; to remove indefiniteness and confusion from the consciousness of man;

[page 9]

to give an imperial divine authenticity to righteous modes of living, whether in the life of the individual or in the life of economic and political communities. There need to be heroes who stand for the right with all the power of their being and with the added power that comes to them from the Unseen.

There needs to be a growing moral conviction on the part of the populace; a clear understanding of what is socially, economically, and politically right and wrong; a burning fire of zeal; a steadfast allegiance to principles of divine truth and guidance; a faith in and obedience to those hero leaders who on the plane of unselfish service seek to guide humanity into successful ways of corporate living.

The populace must be deaf to the siren calls of iniquitous self-advancement and of greedy gain; rather must their ears be open to the voice of justice, of charity, of mutual consideration.


It is within the bounds of reason to aver that unless humanity speedily replaces egoistic, aggressive, and cruel qualities with cooperative and serviceable qualities (at least in the type of men who control affairs in all departments of human activity) civilization is doomed. For the forces of obstruction and destruction grow in geometric ratio with the progress of man's intelligence, his inventive capacity, and his science of control over the resources and powers of nature.

[page 10]

There must needs be a planned society, world wide in its scope, cooperative in its foundations and principles, scientific in its development and distribution of produced wealth, and non-exploitive in its administration.

Unless such a world state comes about, society will wreck itself in titanic struggles for supremacy on the part of this group or that, this nation or that. The battle of the possessed against the dispossessed, of nations rich in resources against those in need of them, of those countries who seek to maintain positions of advantage against those seeking to rise to power, — this immense world-wide contest cannot chronically persist. The means of destruction are too great, the scope of attack too vast to confine strife within such minor bounds as to injure only a part of humanity.

Today we all stand to sink or swim together. What happens in the Antipodes affects us no less than what happens next door. We are therefore compelled, for the first time in history, to think in world terms and to make plans that are universal in their scope.


Out of this very necessity — this "ANANKE" which compels events — will come tremendous progress and transformation. I do not apprehend that either humanity or Destiny will fail in the crisis. That which is necessary will be brought to pass.

[page 11]

Humanity will rise to new heights both of concept and of action. The creative force of gifted and truly patriotic souls, forging new folk-ways within each nation, will eventually flow together and coalesce as a world power of totally new type — a directive, constructive, conserving power that will build and not destroy, that will distribute and not preempt, that will stabilize and not endanger the structure of civilization.

With the enormous creative power of modern science fully available to agricultural and industrial production the world over, with improved and cheaper modes of locomotion, with the expansion of all means of international communications, and with the advancing coalescence of world cultures, we may reasonably look forward to an age of universal prosperity and happiness such as philosophers have dreamed and poets sung of.

We are only at the dawn of the power age. The application of electricity to the arts of life is in but its kindergarten stage, if we may take the word of the scientists.

And who knows what new universal and titanic power awaits discovery? Whether this be the power of the atom or an electric force to be derived from the atmosphere-there is destined to be such a discovery within the present century. All over the world scientists are striving to wrest this gigantic secret that would double, treble, expand to an unknown degree the wealth of the world.

Recent investigations point to the stratosphere as

[page 12]

the source of this new power. Scientists have discovered that the world is a huge dynamo, with the earth and its heavy atmosphere the negative field and the stratosphere the positive field. In that outer atmosphere, it is computed, there is kinetic electricity of 200 million amperes, enough to provide 160 million horsepower for every human being on earth.

"Science is on the verge," says Dr. Luther S.H. Gable, "of unleashing forces capable of lifting mankind to heights beyond the wildest dreams of a generation ago, or of plunging humanity into an orgy of destruction which might well depopulate leave barren the civilized world."

The next kind of power that will be discovered will be not only more universally available but also cheap beyond all present expectation. It will lessen the cost of transportation. Air travel will be so low in cost that trips around the world will be within means of the average person. Structural metal will be infinitely lowered in cost by the application of this new power to the production of aluminum alloys from the almost exhaustless supplies of aluminum clay in which the earth's crust abounds. Agriculture will be stimulated and enriched by cheap nitrogen fertilizer[2] obtained at little cost from the earth's atmosphere by means of this new power.

    [2. Nitrogen composes 70% of our atmosphere!]

Toil, as mankind has hitherto known it, will be a thing of the past. A small amount of labor per capita will produce goods enough to satisfy all ruin if the old competitive nationalistic system were human needs and desires. A new leisure will ensue

[page 13]

which will raise the dignity of the working man and make possible the complete democratization of culture.

But humanity, in order to utilize and profit by such an age of plenty, must undergo a spiritual transformation.


The History of power up to date has been a history of exploitation more than of service. The few have grown enormously rich out of all proportion to justice or expediency. The power already discovered has not been divided in proportionate blessings among the human family. If a vast new power were to be discovered while humanity is organized socially, economically, and politically on the old individualistic selfish basis, the process of human exploitation would be aggravated rather than diminished. Instead of a blessing, such a power would prove a curse; for it would engender class warfares, and disrupt rather than enhance the order and stability of civilization.

More dangerous still would such a power prove in the field of nationalistic rivalry and warfare. The power sources we already have on hand are so destructive as to menace the very existence of civilization. Added power would prove to be but added ruin if the old competitive nationalistic system were to continue — with its exploitation in the name of patriotism, its selfish monopolizing of earth's resources,

[page 14]

and its fanatical and unreasoning belligerancy.

Furthermore there is a distinct danger to civilization in the opportunities which added leisure would give for the satisfaction of greed, vanity, luxury-desires, and sensuality. The new age of plenty and of leisure will prove a temptation far too great for humanity to endure, unless there comes simultaneously with it a process of spiritualization to refine man's desires and habits.

What humanity desperately needs more than new sources of power, more than leisure or prosperity, is a new conscience. When that arrives, man's intelligence and man's will can forge a way to a general level of prosperity not only far greater than human hope has envisaged, but also eternally durable.

Philosophers, economists, statesmen — with a zeal enforced by necessity — are seeking today security for a failing world. The solution to their quest must be found chiefly in a new universal moral and spiritual consciousness of brotherhood applied in practical terms to the oganization of human society.

[page 15]

start page single page chapter 2 next chapter
Back to:   Books
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .