In His Oatmeal

A Boston doctor who is an authority in a certain branch of science went not long ago to a convention of fellow-scientists in Europe. It was held in a country where such men are bossed around by the state and told what to think. Our Bostonian made a public speec in which he told them that science would never get anywhere that way; the only wy you can get results out of a thinker is to leave him alone.
The Germans, Russians and Italians didn’t like it. But there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t shoot the man or clamp him in jail, because he is an American citizen, and they couldn’t dispute him because he is only an authority, but. So all they could do was sit still and take it with a very bad grace.
Such a dose may be good for the Europe of today, but may it not be better for the American of tomorrow? For our world is growing bossier and bossier; the bosses are growing steadily less competent and more officious; and ignorant meddling is fraught with perils of disaster which are unlikely to have occurred to the minds of the meddlers for the interesting reason which follows :
In an age like ours, when certain forms of progress (mainly scientific) have been so extraordinary, people whose historical horizons are bounded by their own lifetimes fall into the error of supposing that progress is a part of the fixed order in human existence. It is, in fact, quite the reverse. The years in which progress in any form has been notable are very few –so few that they can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand –and many of these have been sundered by centuries of that misery which is born of ignorance.
That free activity of the human mind, unhampered by traditional theologies, unvexed by the interference of officious (and official) meddlers, which alone makes possible the conquest of knowledge which we term progress, such advance is a filament so fragile that while nothing in the history of man has been so difficult to effect and nothing in his history has been effected so seldom, yet at the same time nothing is so easy to destroy. The problem of civilization is to prevent lower mentalities from frustrating higher ones. This problem is acute under every known form of government, for if, under a dictatorship, the higher mentalities can be strangled by the arbitrary interference of the dictator, it is also true that in a democracy those minds in which the hope of progress is best fulfilled bound and smothered by legal enactments can be bound and smothered by legal enactments that originate from lower levels of political intelligence.
“Ninety per cent of a doctor’s work,” says a brilliant practicing physicians, “is to outwit his patients.” It is an unflattering expression of the view that average humanity has to be a got to do what is good for it without being aware that it is done. The doctor, at least in his own field, is a man at a higher level of knowledge obliged to deal with persons at a lower, and his blend of patience, tact, humor, good since and magnanimity is a working model for those who have this problem to meet in their own fields. The head-on collision is rarely a success. If skulls are used as battering rams the thicker skull wins. A superior mind wins by being superior, and its methods are much the same as those by which a wise woman manages a foolish man. A trained nurse who is also a mother tried to persuade her grown-up son to take some medicine that he needed. Being spend with overwork, he was irritable, and talked.
“All the same,” said she, “he got it.”
“Got it? How?”
“In his oatmeal.”
UNCLE DUDLEY
in the Boston Globe.