- Gilman in Wilshire's:A Recovered Socialist Essay
On the inside front cover of her diary for 1900, Charlotte Perkins Gilman succinctly inscribed her agenda for the twentieth century: "Because God, manifesting himself in Society, calls for ever fuller and more perfect forms of expression; therefore I, as part of Society and part of God owe my whole service to the Social development."1 An ardent champion of socialism, Gilman published numerous works promoting its cause. In a promotional ad in the January 1903 issue of Wilshire's Magazine, published by the "millionaire socialist" Gaylord Wilshire, Gilman's name appeared alongside such "celebrated authors whose articles have appeared" in the magazine as Jack London, H. G. Wells, Hamlin Garland, Upton Sinclair, and George Bernard Shaw. Hitherto lost to scholarship, however, is her essay "Let Our Hearts Go Out," which appeared in the November 1901 issue of Wilshire's.2
Apart from our conscious efforts to promote socialization, it is most comforting to watch the unconscious development of humanity in the same direction.
The conscious efforts are laborious, slow, often painful, and frequently mistaken. It takes a wise head to help Nature, to anticipate events and hurry them.
This is not saying that we should not try—it is what we are here for. But we need to study more closely into the structure of that wonderful living tissue, society; to discover its laws and lines of growth, and add our efforts on those lines, and in careful adjustment to those laws. Natural social growth leads steadily toward Socialism, in that the increasing specialization of the members of society carries with it increasing interdependence and the consciousness thereof.
We feel each other more and more, feel our relations to each other and to society; and, following slowly, comes the perception of wider ranges in social condition and their effects. [End Page 54]
This may be noted clearly in the progress of penology. Once we recognized only the individual criminal, and met each separate offense with direct retaliation.
Now we recognize that certain social conditions tend to develop criminal tendencies in types and classes; and we are studying the bottom problem—how to prevent crime, not how to punish it.
The phenomena of illness, of poverty, of wealth and its accompanying pauperism, these and many others are being studies as "social questions," no longer as individual ones.
This shows the perfectly natural growth of that prime factor in our further uplifting—the social consciousness.
It is no question of "class consciousness,"3 though that is a long step higher than personal consciousness; but is the genuine progressive extension of human nerve-activity to the farthest limits of the social organism. This consciousness seems strangely slow in coming, from certain points of view. We wonder how these people can live in such apparent calm and content while they know that other people are living in conditions which cause not only enormous personal suffering to them, but constant deterioration to society.
There is a perfectly natural reason for this callousness, and one that takes care of itself—that will bring sensitiveness as inevitably as it now maintains insensitiveness. At present social conditions are such that most people suffer, suffer in varying degree, some horribly, some mildly, but generally suffer.
The moment you "let your heart go out," as our ph[r]ase is, to a wide range of human life, you receive sensations of pain. If you can make a physically comfortable environment for yourself and your family, and not think of the downtown East Side,5 you don't suffer much. If you do think of it—think of the heat, the dirt, the noise, the smells, the sights, the general absence of what does people most good and presence of what does most harm, why it hurts. And it hurts much more than can be alleviated by your most urgent efforts at remedy.
Only the life flung headlong in, the whole service, together with unshaken faith in one's methods, and a power to see one helped as bigger than a thousand unhelped—only that can lull the pain of social consciousness in our worst social conditions. Nature has...