Read PEOPLE-MACHINES - CHAPTER II of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


The problem seems to be something like this.  One finds one has been born and put here whether or no, and that one is inextricably alive in a state of society in which men are coming to live in a kind of vast disease of being obliged to do everything together.

We are still old-fashioned enough to be born one at a time, but we are educated in litters and we do our work in the world in herds and gangs.  Even the upper classes do their work in gangs, and with overseers and little crowds called committees.  Our latest idea consists in putting parts of a great many different men together to make one great one-forming a committee to make a man of genius.

There is no denying that, in a way, a committee does things; but what becomes of the committee?

And the lower in the scale of life we go the more committees it takes to do the work of one man and the more impossible it becomes to find anything but parts of men to do things.  I put it frankly to the reader.  The chances are nine out of ten that when you meet a man nowadays and look at him hard or try to do something with him you find he is not a man at all but is some subsection of a committee.  You cannot even talk with such a man without selecting some subsection of some subject which interests him; and if you select any other subsection than his subsection he will think you a bore; and if you select his subsection he will think that you do not know anything.

And if you want to get anything done that is different, or that is the least bit interesting, and want to get some one to do it, how will you go about it?  You will find yourself being sent from one person to another; and before you know it you find yourself mixed up with nine or ten subdivisions of nine or ten committees; and after you have got your nine or ten subsections of nine or ten committees to get together to consider what it is you want done, they will tell you, after due deliberation, that it is not worth doing, or that you had better do it yourself.  Then every subsection of every committee will go home muttering under its breath to every other subsection that a man who wants slightly different and interesting things done in society is a public nuisance; and that the man who does not know what subsection he is in and what subsection of a man he was intended to be, and who tries to do things, carries dismay and anger on every side around him.  Drop into your pigeonhole and be filed away, O Gentle Reader!  Do you think you are a soul?  No; you are Series B. N, top row on the left.

In my morning paper the other day I read that in a factory whose long windows I often pass in the train, they have their machinery so perfected that it takes sixty-four machines to make one shoe.

Query-If it takes sixty-four machines run by sixty-four men who do nothing else to make one shoe, how many machines would it take, and how many shoes, to make one man?

Query-And when an employer in a shoe factory deals with his employee, can it really be said, after all, that he is dealing with him?  He is dealing with It-with Nine Hours a Day, of one sixty-fourth of a man.

The natural effect of crowds and of machines is to make a man feel that he is, and always was, and always will be, immemorially, unanimously, innumerably nobody.

Sometimes we are allowed a little faint numeral to dangle up over our oblivion.  Not long ago I saw a notice or letter in the West Bulletin-probably from a member of something-ending like this:  “...  I hope the readers of the Bulletin will ponder over this suggestion of Number 29,619.-Sincerely yours, No. 11, 175.”