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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/746

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

author of these letters, and this alone, compels those who are advocates of metrological reform, to offer some reply to the propositions which he has advanced, and a brief analysis of them will now be undertaken, with the hope of showing that they are either fallacious or utterly inapplicable to the question under consideration.

As Mr. Spencer begins by declaring that the "advocates of the metric system allege that all opposition to it results from ignorant prejudice," which he very properly declares is far from true, it may be well to say that, in the opinion of the writer, there is relatively little of that sort of thing to contend with in the United States. What is far more dangerous as an obstacle to human progress, and often far more common, is what may be called "intelligent prejudice," meaning thereby an obstinate conservatism which makes people cling to what is or has been, merely because it is or has been, not being willing to take the trouble to do better, because already doing well, all the while knowing that doing better is not only the easier, but is more in harmony with existing conditions. Such conservatism is highly developed among English-speaking people on both sides of the Atlantic, and is likely to turn up in the most unexpected places. It is often a phase of ancestral or national pride, and finds its expression in the feeling that whatever pertains to one's own race or country is, on the whole, better than anything else of its kind. Those who are under its influence are adepts in finding ingenious reasons and excuses in defense of an attitude toward reform which they must know to be founded on neither logic nor fact. These people are numerous among opponents of reform in coinage, weights, and measures, and, as already noted, it is with this class that the most serious difficulty is encountered. "Ignorant prejudice" generally disappears when ignorance disappears, and fortunately in the present instance the system which it is proposed to substitute for that already in use is so extremely simple that it can be learned and understood in a few minutes, while certainly no one man has ever, in an entire lifetime, completely mastered the "customary weights and measures" in use in England and America.

It will be convenient to consider the objections offered by Mr. Spencer in the order in which he has presented them in the four separate letters which go to make up his article.

In the first he has reproduced in quotation a considerable part of the well-known argument of Sir John Herschel, written and widely published over thirty years ago. The inconsistency and utter worthlessness of this have been so long recognized that one has a curious feeling of fighting a straw man in attacking it at this time.