Axidava

The Pressure

Always the pressure is on us.

Like a low ceiling, it makes us forever stoop, often crawl, sometimes grovel.

Like an unseen power it hypnotizes us to go where we would not, to do what we hate, to say what we do not believe.

Like a magnet it draws us down, down with the innumerable feet that tread the broad way.

Like a formless fear it curtails our liberty, destroys our individuality, reduces us to the dead level of mediocrity.

Like a huge spiritual press it forces us into set, conventional, artificial shapes.

As by a wave, a heaving decuman, we are swept on to corporate crimes, follies, cruelties, stupidities, of which as individuals we would not have dreamed.

What is this pressure?

It is that gray, shadowy mass we call “They.” The ghost fingers of the many manipulate us in little things as in great affairs. “They” determine our clothing, our speech, our manners, our morality, our sins.

Scientifically we name this adumbration heredity and environment.

Against it the soul of each man is in unceasing struggle.

Most tragedies, from Æschylus to Ibsen, are descriptions of the desperate human unit striving hopelessly to free itself from this iron rim.

“They” poisoned Socrates, crucified Jesus, burnt Savonarola, persecuted Wagner.

It is this dull pressure, stolid, unintelligent, respectable, powerful, and brainless as the giants Fasolt and Fafner, that obstructs all reforms, resists the application of reason to art, to letters, to economics, to government, to the spiritual life of men.

Every ardent idealist impinges against it as against a wall of putty.

It blocks prison reform, perpetuates child labor, smites capital with blindness, and labor with folly, keeps us under the bondage of an absurd system of weights and measures, ridicules spelling reform, delivers city politics into the hands of the boss and his organization, impedes pure-food laws, makes big business seek to bribe, intimidate, and control judges and legislatures, hinders rational reform in education—and what not.

The pressure! Like a vise it grips the society woman; in her straining to keep up with others she has no time for her own life.

In Europe the idealist, hating war, knowing it to be monstrous stupidity and waste, and an utterly inconclusive method of settling anything, is yet coerced to take his place in the ranks and try to kill the clerks and peasants of another country against whom he has no quarrel in the world.

The pressure! Once it made men burn heretics and witches. Now it makes them lynch negroes.

It seems sometimes to our fancy as if it were a vast, immeasurable spirit of death (monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, qui lumen ademptum) that

“Doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus, and we petty men

Walk under his huge legs and peep about

To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”

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