The Babe


He collected and refashioned a lot of opinions in fifteen years' time. In one way or another he connected them with the major mental processes and beliefs that I told you about in the last chapter and earlier. Transactions flowed between the general and the particular; usually the transactions were agreeable, comfortable, undisturbing.

Thus, you will recall that he had a compulsion to close, to finish what he was doing, a game, a book, to have the last word in an argument, to go to school every day without fail -- these were particular manifestations of the closure compulsion.

I wonder whether his music-making built up this closure-need; in music it is (or was) supremely, acutely important to come to an ending properly, decisively, on time, whether alone or ensemble.

But, notice, please, the connections with other general ideas, such as to dominate and control others -- that is why he had to have the last word, too; but again, he was affectionate and wanted to be accepted by others, another general trait -- and that's why he could not become too domineering, and had to try to be polite and inoffensive in getting the last word.

And as to finishing a book in some way, skipping over parts of it, reading for just the plot -- somehow being able to say he finished it - - reading and closure -- rather than domination and closure or obligingness and closure -- are the general processes playing important roles in his character, transacting with each other and with particulars to show how in many cases his reading took place.

Now his particular compulsion to close insofar as it took the form of attending school under all conditions of weather and health and mood: this connected with his belief in the school system as such, that schools should be compulsory and public and teach what should be learned -- and again we move to a more general belief -- because they are American Public Schools, patriotic, "Sweet Land of Liberty," (never mind the compulsion to attend), which now connects up as the "Land of Opportunity" with the Babe's general belief in achieving one success after another, taking on everything.

You may well smile at my awkward efforts to connect large theories of human behavior with the nitty-gritty of a boy's life, and in truth I do sometimes feel over my depth. Still, to show you that I am not incapable of providing detailed knowledge of our hero in a way that makes sense, I shall perform a trick that you can work upon yourself as well. I will procure a list of opinions on all sorts of issues facing the Babe's generation, indicate what the "average" American felt on each issue, and reveal what the Babe believed on the issue, comparing, then, his opinions with the typical opinions. If you have followed his development, you should be able to predict his opinions quite well, also.

In 1935, following their earlier study of 1924, Robert and Helen Lynd studied the people of "Middletown," actually Muncie, Indiana. They tried to get at the beliefs of a composite Middletowner, the "average American," to their mind. From their many interviews they compiled 186 statements of opinions that they considered to be typical of the people of the town. By way of comparison, I shall simply put all of these opinions before the Babe and discover whether he would have agreed with them. The list is very long; still, inasmuch as it runs the gamut of American issues and attitudes of the Thirties, I shall not apologize for calling it up before you.

Here, then, are Middletown's attitudes, and, alongside each of them, an indication of whether the Babe, living at the same time and at the end of his childhood, fifteen years of age, would agree or disagree with them. In some cases, the item is unclear or his own position is uncertain, and these are marked by a "U" for Uncertain instead of an "A" for Agree or a "D" for Disagree.

By and large Middletown believes [and the Babe for his own part believes]:

In being honest....A

In being kind....A

In being friendly, a "good neighbor," and a "good fellow."...A

In being loyal, and a "booster, not a knocker."...A

In being successful....A

In being an average man. "Practically all of us realize that we are common men, and we are prone to distrust and hate those whom we regard as uncommon."...D

In having character as more important than "having brains."...D

In being simple and unpretentious and never "putting on airs" or being a snob....D

In prizing all things that are common and "real" and "wholesome."...A

"There are beauties at your own doorstep comparable to those you find on long journeys."...U

In having "common sense."...A

In being "sound" and "steady."...A

In being a good sport and making friends with one's opponents. "It doesn't help to harbor grudges."...A

In being courageous and good-natured in the face of trouble and"making friends with one's luck."...A

In being, when in doubt, like other people...D

In adhering, when problems arise, to tried practices that have "worked" in the past...D

That "progress is the law of life," and therefore:

That evolution in society is "from the base and inferior to the beautiful and good."...A

That, since "progress means growth," increasing size indicates progress. In this connection Middletown tends to emphasize quantitative rather than qualitative changes, and absolute rather than relative numbers or size....A

That "the natural and orderly processes of progress" should be followed....U

That change is slow, and abrupt changes or the speeding up of changes through planning or revolution is unnatural....U

That "radicals" ("reds," "communists," "socialists," "atheists"-- the terms are fairly interchangeable in Middletown) want to interfere with things and "wreck American civilization." "We condemn agitators who masquerade under the ideals guaranteed by our Constitution. We demand the deportation of alien Communists and Anarchists."...D

That "in the end those who follow the middle course prove to be the wisest. It's better to stick close to the middle of the road, to move slowly, and to avoid extremes."...D

That evils are inevitably present at many points but will largely cure themselves. "In the end all things will mend."...D

That no one can solve all his problems, and consequently it is a good rule not to dwell on them too much and not to worry. "It's better to avoid worry and to expect that things will come out all right." "The pendulum will swing back soon."...D

That good will solves most problems....U

That optimism on our part helps the orderly forces making for progress. "The year 1936 will be a banner year because people believe it will be."...A

That within this process the individual must fend for himself and will in the long run get what he deserves, and therefore:

That character, honesty, and ability will tell. ...A

That one should be enterprising; one should try to get ahead of one's fellows, but not "in an underhand way."...A

That one should be practical and efficient....A

That one should be hard-working and persevering. "Hard work is the key to success." "Until a man has his family financially established, he should not go in for frills and isms."...A

That one should be thrifty and "deny oneself" reasonably. "If a man will not learn to save his own money, nobody will save it for him."...A

That a man owes it to himself, to his family, and to society to "succeed."...A

That "the school of hard knocks is a good teacher," and one should learn to "grin and bear" temporary setbacks. "It took an early defeat to turn many a man into a success." "After all, hardship never hurts anyone who has the stuff in him."...A

That social welfare, in Middletown and elsewhere, is the result of the two preceding factors working together -- the natural law of progress and the individual law of initiative, hard work, and thrift -- and therefore:...A

That any interference with either of the two is undesirable. "The Lord helps him who helps himself." "Congress," an editorial remarked sarcastically, "is now preparing for farm relief, while the wise farmer is out in the field relieving himself."...U

That society should not coddle the man who does not work hard and save, for if a man does not "get on" it is his own fault. "There is no such thing as a `youth problem.' It is up to every boy and girl to solve his own problem in his own way."...U

That "the strongest and best should survive, for that is the law of nature, after all."...U

That people should have community spirit....A

That they should be loyal, placing their family, their community, their state, and their nation first. "The best American foreign policy is any policy that places America first." "America first is merely common sense."...A

That "American ways" are better than "foreign ways."...A

That "big-city life" is inferior to Middletown life and undesirable. "Saturday-night crowds on Middletown streets," comments an editorial, "are radiantly clean as to person and clothes... Saturday-night shopping becomes a holiday affair after they have bathed and put on their best garments at home... [Middletown] is still a `Saturday-night town,' and if big cities call us `hicks' for that reason, let'em."...U

That most foreigners are "inferior." "There is something to this Japanese menace. Let's have no argument about it, but just send those Japs back where they came from."...U

That Negroes are inferior....D

That individual Jews may be all right but that as a race one doesn't care to mix too much with them....D

That Middletown (Chicago) will always grow bigger and better....A

That the fact that people live together in Middletown (Chicago) makes then a unit with common interests, and they should, therefore, all work together....A

That American business will always lead the world. "Here in the United States, as nowhere else in the world, the little business and the big business exist side by side and are a testimonial to the soundness of the American way of life."...A

That the small businessman is the backbone of American business. "In no country in the world are there so many opportunities open to the little fellow as in the United States... These small businesses are succeeding... because they meet a public need." "A wise [Middletown] banker once said: `I like to patronize a peanut stand because you only have one man to deal with and his only business is to sell peanuts.'"...A

That economic conditions are the result of a natural order which cannot be changed by man-made laws. "Henry Ford says that wages ought to be higher and goods cheaper. We agree with this, and let us add that we think it ought to be cooler in the summer and warmer in winter."...D

That depressions are regrettable but nevertheless a normal aspect of business. "Nothing can be done to stop depression. It's just like a person who feels good one day and rotten the next."...U

That business can run its own affairs best and the government should keep its hands off business. "All these big schemes for planning by experts brought to Washington won't work."...D

That every man for himself is the right and necessary law of the business world, "tempered, of course, with judgment and fair dealing."...D

That competition is what makes progress and has made the United States great....A

That the chance to grow rich is necessary to keep initiative alive. "Young folks today are seeking material advantage, which is just exactly what all of us have been seeking all our lives."...A

That "men don't work if they don't have to." "Work isn't fun. None of us would do a lick of work if we didn't have to."...U

That the poor-boy-to-president way is the American way to get ahead....A

That ordinarily any man willing to work can get a job....U

That a man "really gets what is coming to him in the United States."...A

That "any man who is willing to work hard and to be thrifty and improve his spare time can get to the top. That's the American way, and it's as true today as it ever was."...A

That it is a man's own fault if he is dependent in old age...D

That the reason wages are not higher is because industry cannot afford to pay them. "Employers want to pay as high wages as they can, and they can be counted on to do so just as soon as they are able."...U

That the rich are, by and large, more intelligent and industrious than the poor. "That's why they are where they are."...U

That the captains of industry are social benefactors because they create employment. "Where'd all our jobs be if it wasn't for them?"...A

That capital is simply the accumulated savings of these people with foresight....U

That if you "make it too easy" for the unemployed and people like that they will impose on you...D

That nobody is really starving in the depression...D

That capital and labor are partners and have basically the same interests. "It is a safe bet that if the average worker and employer could sit down calmly together and discuss their differences, a great deal more would be done to solve their difficulties than will be accomplished by politics or by extremists on either side."...A

That "the open shop is the American way."...A

That labor organization is unwise and un-American in that it takes away the worker's freedom and initiative, puts him under the control of outsiders, and seeks to point a gun at the head of business. "We wouldn't mind so much if our own people here would form their own unions without any of these outsiders coming in to stir up trouble."...U

That strikes are due to troublemakers leading American workers astray...D

That Middletown people should shop in Middletown. "Buy where you earn your money." ("Buy American")...A

That the family is a sacred institution and the fundamental institution of our society....U

That the monogamous family is the outcome of evolution from lower forms of life and is the final, divinely ordained form....A

That sex was "given" to man for purposes of procreation, not for personal enjoyment...D

That sexual relations before or outside of marriage are immoral...D

That "men should behave like men and women like women."...A

That women are better ("purer") than men...D

That a married woman's place is first of all in the home, and any other activities should be secondary to "making a good home for her husband and children."...U

That men are more practical and efficient than women....U

That most women cannot be expected to understand public problems as well as men...D

That men tend to be tactless in personal relations and women are "better at such things."...D

That everybody loves children, and a woman who does not want children is "unnatural."...D

That married people owe it to society to have children...D

That it is normal for parents to want their children to be "better off," to "have an easier time," than they themselves have had....A

That childhood should be a happy time, "for after that, one's problems and worries begin." "Everyone with a drop of humanitarian blood believes that children are entitled to every possible happiness."...A

That parents should "give up things for their children," but "should maintain discipline and not spoil them."...A

That it is pleasant and desirable to "do things as a family."...U

That fathers do not understand children as well as mothers do...D

That children should think on essential matters as their parents do....D

That young people are often rebellious ("have queer ideas") but they "get over these things and settle down."...D

That home ownership is a good thing for the family and also makes for good citizenship....A

That schools should teach the facts of past experience about which "sound, intelligent people agree."...A

That it is dangerous to acquaint children with points of view that question "the fundamentals."...D

That an education should be "practical," but at the same time, it is chiefly important as "broadening" one....A

That too much education and contact with books and big ideas unfits a person for practical life....D

That a college education is "a good thing."...A

But that a college man is no better than a non-college man and is likely to be less practical, and that college men must learn "life" to counteract their concentration on theory....U

That girls who do not plan to be teachers do not ordinarily need as much education as boys....D

That "you forget most of the things you learn in school."...D

"Looking back over the years, it seems to me that at least half of the friends of my school-day youth who have made good were dumb-bunnies... Anyway they could not pile up points for honors unless it was an honor to sit someplace between the middle and the foot of the class."...D

That schoolteachers are usually people who couldn't make good in business....D

That teaching school, particularly in the lower grades, is women's business....D

That schools nowadays go in for too many frills....D

That leisure is a fine thing, but work comes first....A

That "all of us hope we'll get to the place sometime where we can work less and have more time to play."...A

But that it is wrong for a man to retire when he is still able to work "What will he do with all his time?"...U

That having a hobby is "all very well if a person has time for that sort of thing and it doesn't interfere with his job."...A

That "red-blooded" physical sports are more normal recreations for a man than art, music, literature....D

That "culture and things like that" are more the business of women than of men....D

That leisure is something you spend with people and a person is "queer" who enjoys solitary leisure....D

That a person doesn't want to spend his leisure doing "heavy" things or things that remind him of the "unpleasant" side of life. "There are enough hard things in real life - books and plays should have a pleasant ending that leaves you feeling better."...D

But that leisure should be spent in wholesomely "worth-while" things and not be just idle and frivolous....A

That it is better to be appreciative than discriminating. "If a person knows too much or is too critical it makes him a kill-joy or a snob not able to enjoy the things most people enjoy."...D

That anything widely acclaimed is pretty apt to be good; it is safer to trust the taste and judgement of the common man in most things rather than that of the specialist....D

That Middletown (Chicago) wants to keep abreast of the good new things in the arts and literature, but it is not interested in anything freakish....D

That "being artistic does not justify being immoral."...A

That smoking and drinking are more appropriate leisure activities for men than for women....D

That it is more appropriate for well-to-do people to have automobiles and radios and to spend money on liquor than for poor people....D

That it is a good thing for everyone to enjoy the fine, simple pleasures of life....A

That "we folks out here dislike in our social life formality, society manners, delicate things, and the effete things of rich Eastern people."...A

That the American democratic form of government is the final and ideal form of government....A

That the Constitution should not be fundamentally changed....A

That Americans are the freest people in the world....A

That America will always be the land of opportunity and the greatest and richest country in the world....A

That England is the finest country in Europe....U

That Washington and Lincoln were the greatest Americans. (Edison is sometimes linked with these two as the third great American.)...A

That only unpatriotic dreamers would think of changing the form of government that was "good enough for" Washington and Lincoln....D

That socialism, communism, and fascism are disreputable and un-American....A

That socialists and communists believe in dividing up existing wealth on a per- capita basis. "This is unworkable because within a year a comparatively few able persons would have the money again."...D

That radicalism makes for the destruction of church and family, looseness of morals, and the stifling of individual initiative....D

That only foreigners and long-haired troublemakers are radicals....D

That the voters, in the main, really control the operation of the American government....A

That newspapers give citizens "the facts."...D

That the two-party system is the "American way."...A

That it does not pay to throw away one's vote on a minority party....A

That government ownership is inefficient and more costly than private enterprise...A

That the government should leave things to private initiative. "More business in government and less government in business." (Events since 1933 have been causing large numbers of people in the lower income brackets in Middletown to question this formerly widely-held assumption, though the upper income brackets hold to it as tenaciously as ever.)...A

That high tariffs are desirable. "Secretary Hull's tariff policy is putting the American producer in the city and in the country in competition with the peasant and serf in Europe and Asia."...A

That taxes should be kept down....U

That our government should leave Europe and the rest of the world alone....A

That the United States should have large military and naval defenses to protect itself, but should not mix in European wars....A

That pacifism is disreputable and un-American. "We're militaristic rather than pacifist out here - though of course we don't want wars."...A

That many public problems are too big for the voter to solve but that Congress can solve them....A

That "experts" just "gum up" the working of democracy....D

That national problems can be solved by "letting nature take its course" or by passing laws....A

That problems such as corruption in public office can be largely solved by electing better men to office....A

That local problems such as crime can be ameliorated by putting people in jail and by imposing heavier sentences....D

That, human nature being what it is, there will always be some graft in government but that despite this we are the best-governed nation in the world....A

That organizations such as the American Legion and D.A.R. represent a high order of Americanism....D

That because of "poor, weak human nature" there will always be some people too lazy to work, too spendthrift to save, too short-sighted to plan. "Doesn't the Bible prove this when it says, `The poor ye have always with you'?"...D

That charity will always be necessary. "For you wouldn't let a dog starve."...A

That in a real emergency anyone with any human feeling will "share his shirt with an unfortunate who needs it."...A

But that a "government dole" on a large scale is an entirely different thing from charity to an individual, and that "a paternalistic system which prescribes an exact method of aiding our unfortunate brothers and sisters is demoralizing."...U

That idleness and thriftlessness are only encouraged by making charity too easy....D

That it "undermines a man's character" for him to get what he doesn't earn....U

That it is a fine thing for rich people to be philanthropic....A

That recipients of charity should be grateful....A

That relief from public funds during the depression is a purely emergency matter to be abandoned as soon as possible, and that it is unthinkable for the United States to have anything resembling a permanent "dole."...A

That things like unemployment insurance are unnecessary because "in ordinary times any man willing to work can get a job"; and that they are demoralizing both to the recipient and to the businessman taxed to support them....D

That Christianity is the final form of religion and all other religions are inferior to it....D

But that what you believe is not so important as the kind of person you are....A

That nobody would want to live in a community without churches, and everybody should, therefore, support the churches....D

That churchgoing is sometimes a kind of a nuisance, one of the things you do as a duty, but that the habit of churchgoing is a good thing and makes people better....U

That there is not much difference any longer between the different Protestant denominations....A

But that Protestantism is superior to Catholicism....U

That having a Pope is un-American and a Catholic should not be elected President of the United States....D

That Jesus is the Son of God and what he said is true for all time....D

That Jesus was the most perfect man who ever lived....U

That God exists and runs the universe....U

That there is a "hereafter." "It is unthinkable that people should just die and that be the end."....D

That God cannot be expected to intercede in the small things of life, but that through faith and prayer one may rely upon His assistance in the most important concerns of life....D

That preachers are rather impractical people who wouldn't be likely to make really good in business....D

That I wouldn't want my son to go into the ministry....D

That preachers should stick to religion and not try to talk about business, public affairs, and other things "they don't know anything about."....D

Middletown is against the reverse of the things it is for. These need not be listed here, but they may be summarized by saying that Middletown is against:

Any strikingly different type of personality, especially the non-optimist, the non-joiner, the unfriendly person, and the pretentious person....D

Any striking innovations in art, ideas, literature, though it tolerates these more if they are spectacular, episodic intrusions from without than if they are practiced within Middletown (Chicago)....D

Any striking innovation in government, religion, education, the family....D

Centralized government, bureaucracy, large-scale planning by government. "It's impossible to plan on a large scale. There are too many factors involved. It is best to leave it to individuals, who are likely to take a more normal or more natural course."....D

Anything that curtails money making....D

Anybody who criticizes any fundamental institution....D

People engaged in thinking about or working for change: social planners, intellectuals, professors, highbrows, radicals, Russians, pacifists, anybody who knows too much....D

Foreigners, internationalists, and international bankers....D

People who are not patriots -- for city, state, and nation....D

Non-Protestants, Jews, Negroes -- as "not quite our sort."....D

People who stress the importance of sex, including those who favor the general dissemination of information about birth control....D

People who buy things, do things, live in ways not customary for one of that income level....D

Frills, notions, and anything fancy....D

People or things that are fragile or sensitive rather than robust....D

If you have no patience for discovering the pattern of agreement and disagreement, you may profit from my findings. In general the Babe goes only halfway in agreeing with the Middletown ideology. He agrees with specific attitudes in only 44% of the cases (N=82); he disagrees with 41% of them (N=77); and we are uncertain of the concordance in 15% (N=27) of the cases. The Babe emerges sounding almost like a Ciceronian republican. But his disagreements show him to be much more humanitarian, more avant-garde culturally, more stoic than Cicero, more radical than the Stoics and economists, and more energetic than the Middletowners when it comes down to action.

He has a strong belief in the American constitutional system. He is optimistic about the return of prosperity and the free enterprise system. He respects the ordinary man, believes in hard work and cooperation, and dislikes formal and effete behavior. Here he stand with the preponderance of Middletown opinion.

He respects brains, books, education more than Middletowners do. He has a decent regard for Jews, foreigners, blacks, and most other minorities, unlike the negative attitude that Middletowners typically possess. Also by contrast, he likes to have rapid and far-reaching change where needed, and accepts a positive governmental role in the economic and welfare systems. He is for the rights of children and women. He dislikes "dog eat dog" darwinism, is more charitable to the poor, and to people as they generally in reality behave.

He rejects chauvinism. He does not take his cues from conventional people or ideas or practices. He does not feel that he must be like other people in all respects. He tends to be leftist Protestant in his religious opinions. Thus he has many decided differences with typical Middletowners.

The Lynds did not base their statements upon a standardized questionnaire administered to a representative sample of the population. They might have used better methods. But we should remember that scientific polling was in its infancy then. In the balance, we may assume that their conclusions were well within range of the truth.

They claim that few Middletowners would be dissidents. The proportion of dissidents would be far larger in Chicago; maybe a majority of Chicagoans would have dissented from a quarter of the opinions, but even so that would leave the average Chicagoan 25% off from the Babe's opinions, more or less.

Anyhow, ideological differences could not make him a lone wolf. To the bonding formed of shared opinions had to be added bonds of intellectual interests, neighborhood, family, affection, sports, humor, and plain "brotherhood of man" humanism. If he were to be active in politics, of course, the force of political differences would subtract from and transform these other determinants of his company of friends. He would hang around with a different crowd.

Despite his differences with strongly Republican Middletowners, and because Chicagoans were on the whole more "liberal" regardless of party, he might have become a Republican, like the Dad earlier in time. He need not have become a Democrat. But now he was attracted by the forceful magnetism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and F.D.R.'s "New Deal."