Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
New Varieties of Sin (From Sin and Society)
By Edward Alsworth Ross
(American college professor, 18661951, a prominent advocate of academic freedom)
TODAY the sacrifice of life incidental to quick success rarely calls for the actual spilling of blood. How decent are the pale slayings of the quack, the adulterator, and the purveyor of polluted water, compared with the red slayings of the vulgar bandit or assassin! Even if there is blood-letting, the long-range, tentacular nature of modern homicide eliminates all personal collision. What an abyss between the knife-play of brawlers and the law-defying neglect to fence dangerous machinery in a mill, or to furnish cars with safety couplers! The providing of unsuspecting passengers with cork life-preservers secretly loaded with bars of iron to make up for their deficiency in weight of cork, is spiritually akin to the treachery of Joab, who, taking Amasa by the beard to kiss him, smote Amasa in the fifth rib; but it wears a very different aspect. The current methods of annexing the property of others are characterized by a pleasing indirectness and refinement. The furtive, apprehensive manner of the till-tapper or the porch-climber would jar disagreeably upon the tax-dodger swearing off his property, or the city official concealing a rake-off in his specifications for a public building. The work of the card-sharp and the thimblerigger shocks a type of man that will not stick at the massive artistic swindling of the contemporary promoter.
One might suppose that an exasperated public would sternly castigate these modern sins. But the fact is, the very qualities that lull the conscience of the sinner blind the eyes of the on-lookers. People are sentimental, and bastinado wrong-doing not according to its harmfulness, but according to the infamy that has come to attach to it. Undiscerning, they chastise with scorpions the old authentic sins, but spare the new. They do not see that boodling is treason, that blackmail is piracy, that embezzlement is theft, that speculation is gambling, that tax dodging is larceny, that railroad discrimination is treachery, that the factory labor of children is slavery, that deleterious adulteration is murder. It has not come home to them that the fraudulent promoter devours widows houses, that the monopolist grinds the faces of the poor, that mercenary editors and spellbinders put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. The cloven hoof hides in patent leather; and to-day, as in Hoseas time, the people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. The mob lynches the red-handed slayer, when it ought to keep a gallows Haman-high for the venal mine inspector, the seller of infected milk, the maintainer of a fire-trap theatre. The child-beater is forever blasted in reputation, but the exploiter of infant toil, or the concocter of a soothing syrup for the drugging of babies, stands a pillar of society. The petty shoplifter is more abhorred than the stealer of a franchise, and the wife-whipper is outcast long before the man who sends his over-insured ship to founder with its crew.