The irritating criticism of Dreiser and others--that Americans cannot think--is partly supported by facts. The automatic tool, in the use of which a man repeats one motion over and over, has proved a powerful agent for fostering sub-normal intelligence--and strangely enough, really puts a premium on under-developed minds. The normal or highly-educated man does not perform mechanical tasks as expertly as the half-wit, so the latter flourishes and multiplies.
While these "single-track minds" are numerous, and are a serious menace where enlightened public opinion is necessary, their incapacity is usually apparent; they deceive no one. Infinitely more dangerous, in a negative way, is the host of perfectly good-hearted people who, seemingly engaged in occupations requiring intelligence, settle down to methods of working, and more important, habits of thinking no less mechanical than turning a screw every ten seconds. Clerks, at first fresh and alert, who allow their jobs to become mere routine with no spark of inquiry enlivening a high-sided rut; preachers and educators who discard their youthful enthusiasm and experimentation for dogma; engineers who reject commonsense in favor of half understood formulae; doctors who rely on the heroic remedies of former ages--such men may do no personal evil, but their influence in preventing progress, their reaction against change, due to inertia alone, is tremendous.
The "Youth" movement, which is widespread in Germany and is extending its influence to the rest of Europe and to America, is a revolt against intellectual complacence, and self-satisfied smugness. It has resulted in Germany in the "Wander-lovers", bands of young people who are walking about seeing their country at first hand, and interesting themselves in everything. In America, its evidences are chiefly oratory, intercollegiate conferences, and the springing up all over the land of student discussion societies and publications devoted to criticism. Apparently the revolution that Sir James Barrie advocated of Youth against its Betters has finally made a definite start.
Its beauty lies as much in the fact that it is a movement as in any inherent qualities. But "Youth" has turned against the ways of former generations; it declares itself capable and desirous of managing the world in a new and better way, and it demands a chance. The obvious answer is "Wait a few years and the reins are yours". In time, however, youth ceases to be youth and becomes fixed, obese, immobile. The best service the "Youth" movement can do is to preserve the youthful enthusiasm, youthful willingness to try, and youthful open-mindedness of its followers even after experience has hardened their intellects. Only thus can popular lethargy--where progress is concerned--be overcome, and intelligent, creative interest take its place.