Cranky Notions

The discussion of egoism vs. altruism in Liberty has been very interesting. To me there is no such thing as altruism,—that is, the doing of anything wholly for the good of others. We do things for self-satisfaction. I wonder if there are any altruists who would go to hell (presuming there be a hell) in order that their neighbors should go to heaven (presuming there be a heaven)? There is no hope of reward in hell, and a true altruist must expect no reward for his acts. One who would undergo all the tortures of hell so that his neighbors could enjoy all the pleasures of heaven would be an altruist indeed.

I do not like controversy for the sake of controversy, but as a means of arriving at truth, and unless my controversy with Comrade Yarros is to that end I must decline its continuance. In the last number but one of Liberty he puts me in the wrong positions. In the first place he makes me satirical where I am humble, and in the second place he assumes that I do not know the difference between an employer and a monopolist. No headway can be made if these misrepresentations continue; I am too serious to practise satire while discussing with those from whom I expect to gain valuable information. The difference between us is clear. He says the eight-hour movement is a cure-nothing; I say it is a cure-something, but not a cure-all. I know by hard, practical experience with men who were mentally incapable of grasping the great social-economic problems that lie at the base of the labor movement that they can understand when you tell them their working time is too long for a day’s work; that by shortening their day’s work their pay will not be less, because that is as low now as it can get; and that by working a less number of hours they will have more time for enjoyment and self-improvement. With a very large class of laborers the reduction of the hours of toil is absolutely essential before any considerable improvement in their mental status can take place, and I assume that radical reformers are mentally far more highly developed than those who toil and drudge from ten to fifteen and eighteen hours a day. Of course it is understood that, when I say the eight-hours movement, it implies any movement looking at shortening of the day’s labor. With some men who even work ten or more hours a day it is not necessary to urge the shorter workday, because they are mentally capable of understanding more difficult subjects, and are otherwise so conditioned as to be able to understand principles looking to more lasting and greater good. I call the attention of Yarros and those besides him who oppose the short-day movement to the bakers’ and brewers’ struggle for a shorter day’s work and the results. I am of the opinion that no other movement could have been of so much benefit to them as has been the movement which resulted in reducing their work time from fifteen and eighteen hours a day to eleven and even ten in some towns. And this, too, in a comparatively short space of time. An improvement in their mental and physical status is already noticeable, and they are now preparing for further gains. It is not true, either, that these gains are not permanent; that is to say, as permanent as are any human conditions. For we must recognize the fact that no human condition is so permanent as to be everlasting. If I gain an advance in wages from $2 a day to $2.50 a day, and that advance continues even only a year, I have gained absolutely 50 cents a day for that year, and I am for all time to come just so much better off than if I had not had that additional 50 cents. So it is with shortening the working time. My employment brings me in every-day contact with mechanics who are certainly not below the great body of people in mental development, and they consider me a kind of mild lunatic when I propound my radical position on social-economic questions; and, mark you, I lose no opportunity to present fundamental principles. Now, I would be doing the radical movement a positive injury by teetotally and uncompromisingly opposing their efforts to better their condition by shortening their working time, because they would close their ears to my arguments and dub me a nuisance altogether. I believe every Anarchist has a right to carry on the movement as to him seems best. I choose to help those who strive for less hours of work, especially as it gives me an opportunity for propaganda. An old fellow hereabouts used to tell us of a man who was so straight that he leaned backwards, and warned us that that was an undignified attitude. To stand straight is enough; I don't want to lean backwards.

Radical Jack is asking the boys very pertinent questions, and I hope they will be answered. He, however, seems to have fallen into the notion of many others that Anarchists want to abolish all law at one sweep. This is not necessary. If the State would only remove those laws that stand in the way of free land, free money, and transportation, its other statutes would, in course of time, become useless and repeal themselves. Poverty is the cause of crime, and the laws that stand in the way of free production and exchange are the cause of poverty. Were these removed, the laws for the punishment of crime would not need to be exercised. Anarchy in trade and industry will lead to Anarchy in other avenues of human activities.

Joseph A. Labadie.