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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/471

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467
MORAL PROGRESS

MORAL PROGRESS
By F. STUART CHAPIN, Ph.D.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, SMITH COLLEGE

MORAL progress has two aspects: one, social and psychological; the other, individual and biological. The former appears to have a superficial, temporary and changeable basis, with an element of compulsion; the latter appears to be fundamental, permanent and spontaneous.

Moral conduct may be secured by the compulsion of tradition. Usages and customs exert a "steam-roller" effect in crushing out antisocial conduct. The preparation and selection of foods is almost entirely a matter of custom. Custom and style set the standards of what sort of attire is proper under given conditions. We have police ordinances which specifically prohibit indecent exposure in public places. In business relations, certain standards are recognized and some usages have received quite general acceptance. We have laws which punish felony and misdemeanor. To ignore this body of tradition is to invite social ostracism or even more summary punishment.

But most of us are subject to strange and inconsistent moral lapses. The loving father and generous husband is too often brutally unscrupulous and cruel in his business dealings. Unexpected disclosures frequently show how many of our "respected citizens" are patrons of houses of ill repute. Thus there is one code of morals in the family and another in business and outside life. Corrupt politicians are often model husbands and staunch friends, yet they feel no scruples at taking the public's money. They regard "graft" as legitimate gain. In a lesser degree, church members and moral leaders will not hesitate to cheat the transit corporation of a rightful carfare. Wealthy men will give large sums of money to charity with one hand, and with the other ruin a competitor by cut-throat methods, or solemnly dispose of worthless watered stock in a market of credulous buyers. "Gentlemen farmers" who want to liquidate a bad real estate investment will dump garbage and turn hogs into a stream which supplies a neighboring town with drinking water, in order to force the purchase of their land by the fever-threatened community. A flimsy pretext precipitates the holocaust of Europe. Thus moral conduct is often but a thin veneer which covers up unsuspected depths of primitive brutishness and crude impulse.

On the other hand, we all know certain men and women of our acquaintance who in nearly every situation seem to do the wise thing,