From Henry George-for later leisured contemplation

The aggregate produce of the labour of a savage tribe is small, but each member is capable of an independent life.  He can build his own habitation, hew out or stitch together his own canoe, make his own clothing, manufacture his own weapons, snares, tools and ornaments.  He has all the knowledge of nature possessed by his tribe-knows what vegetable productions are fit for food, and where they may be found; knows the habits and resorts of beasts, birds, fishes and insects; can pilot himself by the sun or the stars, by the turning of blossoms or the mosses on the trees; is, in short, capable of supplying all his wants.  He may be cut off from his fellows and still live; and thus possesses an independent power which makes him a free contracting party in his relations to the community of which he is a member.

Compare with this savage the labourer in the lowest ranks of civilised society, whose life is spent in producing but one thing, or oftener but the infinitesimal part of one thing, out of the multiplicity of things that constitute the wealth of society and go to supply even the most primitive wants; who not only cannot make even the tools required for his work, but often works with tools that he does not own, and can never hope to own.  Compelled to even closer and more continuous labour than the savage, and gaining by it no more than the savage gets-the mere necessaries of life-he loses the independence of the savage.  He is not only unable to apply his own powers to the direct satisfaction of his own wants, but, without the concurrance of many others, he is unable to apply them indirectly to the satisfaction of his wants.  He is a mere link in an enormous chain of producers and consumers, helpless to separate himself, and helpless to move, except as they move.  The worse his position in society, the more dependent is he on society; the more utterly unable does he become to do anything for himself.  The very power of exerting his labour for the satisfaction of his wants passes from his own control, and may be taken away or restored by the actions of others, or by general causes over which he has no more influence than he has over the motions of the solar system.  The primeval curse comes to be looked upon as a boon, and men think, and talk, and clamour, and legislate as though monotonous, manual labour in itself were a good and not an evil, an end and not a means.  Under such circumstances, the man loses the essential quality of manhood-the godlike power of modifying and controlling conditions.  He becomes a slave, a machine, a commodity-a thing, in some respects, lower than the animal.

I am no sentimental admirer of the savage state.  I do not get my ideas of the untutored children of nature from Rousseau, or Chateaubriand, or Cooper.  I am conscious of its material and mental poverty, and its low and narrow range.  I believe that civilisation is not only the natural destiny of man, but the enfranchisement, elevation, and refinement of all his powers, and think that it is only in such moods as may lead him to envy the cud-chewing cattle, that a man who is free to the advantages of civilisation could look with regret upon the savage state.  But, nevertheless, I think no one who will open his eyes to the facts, can resist the conclusion   that there are in the heart of our civilisation large classes with whom the veriest savage could not afford to exchange.  It is my deliberate opinion that if, standing on the threshold of being, one were given the choice of entering life as a Terra del Fuegan, a black fellow of Australia, an Esquimaux in the Arctic Circle, or among the lowest classes in such a highly civilised country as Great Britain, he would make infinitely the better choice in selecting the lot of the savage.  For those classes who in the midst of wealth are condemned to want, suffer all the privations of the savage, without his sense of personal freedom; they are condemned to more than his narrowness and littleness, without opportunity forthe growth of his rude virtues; if their horizon is wider, it is but to reveal blessings that they cannot enjoy.

From Progress and Poverty (1879)


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