Sense of History: an unfinished draft of an undergraduate history textbook by Robert C. Binkley, 1939-40. This transcription is not yet fully corrected.

The World Network

The territorial-political structure of the world is only one of three great world organizations. There are also the market — from the village market to the world market, and intellectual organization, from its smallest cell of conversation in shop and street to its world net of cabled news and printed book distribution. Factory and bank, mine and railway, belong in a sense to a world of their own; so also do school and press, church and temple. And in these two latter worlds there is flow, — flow from person to person and from place to place, of tangible goods by water and rail, of intangible ideas through channels of language. Ten great languages reach three fourths of the world’s population. Some persons and places are relatively untouched by the flow of goods or the movement of ideas; others are extremely sensitive to them.

Each individual has a point of localised contact with politics, business and culture. There is a net of world relations and a connective tissue that runs from the individual to the world.

This loose jointed world organization is something that none can rule from the top; it is something from which few can escape at the bottom; it is something concerning which you will do well if you come to understand it.

And if you understand it, both in respect to the way in which changes take place through periods of time, and in the way in which effects are felt through distances, you may reach these conclusions:

First, as to periods and rates of change: the more predictable the situation, the less you can do to control it, but the better you can adapt yourself to it. You can predict more accurately the future of the general institution of marriage than the future of your own marriage; you can do more to influence the success or fail[p.013]ure of your marriage than you can to influence the future trend of the institution of marriage; knowing in advance what the institution of marriage is likely to be in your lifetime, you are in a position to adapt yourself to it if you will.

Second, as to geographic or social distances: The more distant the situation, the less you can do about it, and the less you need to adapt yourself to it. You can do little about the war in China and much about the snow on your sidewalk.

All hoping, fearing and deliberate action imply some reckoning of distances, and every man reckons his distance in his own way. Everyone must establish his complex balancing of loyalties; he must compute the terms of his accounting with the future. Somewhere man's balance is struck between minding his own business and being his brother's keeper, between living from hand to mouth and living for eternity. A man of well-ordered personality is in some measure sensitive to the destiny of the whole human race; he is also sensitive to the prospects of those beings who are nearer to him, better known to him, and upon whom his own deliberate action registers most directly. Few men can do much for humanity; almost all can do something for their wives and children. Happy the man whose calculation of distances commits him in appropriate degree to the sharing of the destinies of family, locality, country, and humanity, and all the other groups which reach him and fix him in the network of the world.