Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE EVANESCENCE [? DIMINUTION] OF EVIL.

[ocr errors]

All evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions. Does a shrub dwindle in poor soil, or become sickly when deprived of light, or die outright if removed to a cold climate? it is because the harmony between its organization and its circumstances has been destroyed. Those experiences of the farm-yard and the menagerie which show that pain, disease, and death, are entailed upon animals by certain kinds of treatment, may be similarly generalized. Every suffering incident to the human body, from a headache up to a fatal illness, from a burn or a sprain up to accidental loss of life, is similarly traceable to the having placed that body in a situation for which its powers did not fit it. Nor is the expression confined in its application to physical evil. Is the bachelor unhappy because his means will not permit him to marry? does the mother mourn over her lost child? does the emigrant lament leaving his fatherland? The explanation is still the same. No matter what the special nature of the evil, it is invariably referable to the one generic cause—want of congruity between the faculties and their spheres of action.

Equally true is it that evil perpetually tends to disappear. In virtue of an essential principle of life, this non-adaptation of an organism to its conditions is ever being rectified; and modification of one or both, continues until the adaptation is complete. Whatever possesses vitality, from the elementary cell up to man himself, inclusive, obeys this law. We see it illustrated in the acclimatization of plants, in the altered habits of domesticated animals, in the varying characteristics of our own race.

Accustomed to the brief arctic summer, the Siberian herbs and shrubs spring up, flower, and ripen their seeds, in the space of a few weeks. If exposed to the rigour of northern winters, animals of the temperate zone get thicker coats, and become white. The greyhound which, when first transported to the high plateaus of the Andes, fails in the chase from want of breath, acquires, in the course of generations, a more efficient pair of lungs.

Man exhibits the same adaptability. He alters in colour according to habitat-lives here upon rice and there upon whale oil-gets larger digestive organs if he habitually eats innutritious food-acquires the power of long fasting if his mode of life is irregular, and loses it when the supply of food is certain—attains acute vision, hearing, and scent, when his habits of life call for them, and gets these senses blunted when they are less needful. That such changes are towards fitness for surrounding circumstances no one can question. When he sees that the dweller in marshes lives in an atmosphere which is certain death to a stranger—when he sees that the Hindoo can lie down and sleep under a tropical sun, while his white master with closed blinds, and water sprinklings, and punkah, can hardly get a doze—when he sees that the Greenlander and the Neapolitan subsist comfortably on their respective foods—blubber and macaroni, but would be made miserable by an interchange of them when he sees that in other cases there is still this fitness to diet, to climate, and to modes of life, even the most sceptical must admit that some law of adaptation is at work. In the drunkard who needs an increasing quantity of spirits to intoxicate him, and in the opium eater who has to keep taking a larger dose to produce the usual effect, he may mark how the system gradually acquires power to resist what is noxious. Those who smoke, who take snuff, or who habitually use medicines, can furnish like illustrations.

This universal law of physical modification, is the law of mental modification also. The multitudinous differences of capacity and disposition which have, in course of time, grown up between the Indian, African, Mongolian, and Caucasian races, and between the various subdivisions of them, must all be ascribed to the acquirement in each case of fitness for sur rounding circumstances. Why all this divergence from the one original type? If adaptation of constitution to conditions is not the cause, what is the cause?

There are none, however, who can with anything like consistency combat this doctrine; for all vse arguments that presuppose its truth. They do this when they attribute differ.ences of national character to differences in social customs and arrangements; and again when they comment on the force of habit; and again when they discuss the probable influence of a proposed measure upon public morality; and again when they recommend practice as a means of acquiring increased aptitude; and again when they describe certain pursuits as elevating and others as degrading; and again when they talk of getting used to anything; and again when they teach that virtuous conduct eventually becomes pleasurable, or when they warn against the power of a long-encouraged vice.

We must adopt one of three propositions. We must either affirm that the human being is unaltered by the influences brought to bear on him—his circumstances; or that he tends to become unfitted to those circumstances; or that he tends to become fitted to them. If the first be true, then all schemes of education, of government, of social reform are useless. If the second be true, then the way to make a man virtuous is to accustom him to vicious practices, and vice versâ. Both of which propositions being absurd, we are impelled to admit the remaining one.

Keeping in mind these truths, that all evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions; and that

where this non-adaptation exists it is continually being diminished by the changing of constitution to suit conditions; we shall be prepared for comprehending the present position of the human race.

By the increase of population the state of existence we call social has been necessitated. Men living in this state suffer under numerous evils. By the hypothesis it follows that their characters are not completely adapted to such a state.

In what respect are they not so adapted ? what is the special qualification which the social state requires ?

It requires that each individual shall have such desires only, as may be fully satisfied without trenching upon the ability of other individuals to obtain like satisfactions. If the desires of each are not thus limited, then either all must have certain of their desires ungratitied; or some must get gratification for them at the expense of others. Both of which alternatives, necessitating pain, imply non-adaptation.

But why is not man adapted to the social state?

Simply because he yet partially retains the characteristics appropriate to an antecedent state. The respects in which he is not fitted to society, are the respects in which he is fitted for his original predatory life. His primitive circumstances required that he should sacrifice the welfare of other beings, to his own; his present circumstances require that he shall not do so; and in so far as his old attribute still clings to him, he is unfit for the social state. All sins of men against one another, from the cannibalism of the Fijian to the crimes and venalities we see around us; the felonies which fill our prisons, the trickeries of trade, the quarrellings of class with class and of nation with nation, have their causes comprehended under this generalization.

Man needed one moral constitution to fit him for his original state ; le needs another to fit him for his present state; and he has been, is, and will long continue to be, in process of adaptation. And the belief in human perfectibility merely

a

a

amounts to the belief that, in virtue of this process, man will eventually become completely suited to his mode of life.

Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity. Instead of civilization being artificial it is a part of nature; all of a piece with the devolopment of an embryo or the unfolding of a flower. The modifications mankind have undergone, and are still undergoing, result from a law underlying the whole organic creation; and provided the human race continues, and the constitution of things remains the same, those modifications must end in completeness. As surely as the tree becomes bulky when it stands alone, and slender if one of a group; as surely as a blacksmith's arm grows large, and the skin of a laborer's land thick; as surely as the eye tends to become long-sighted in the sailor, and short-sighted in the student; as surely as a clerk acquires rapidity in writing and calculation ; as surely as the musician learns to detect an error of a semitone amidst what seems to others a very babel of sounds; as surely as a passion grows by indulgence and diminishes when restrained; as surely as a disregarded conscience becomes inert, and one that is obeyed active; as surely as there is any meaning in such terms as habit, custom, practice ;—so surely must the human faculties be moulded into complete fitness for the social state; so surely must evil and immorality disappear; so surely must man become perfect.

[NOTE.—With the exception of small verbal improvements, I have let this chapter stand unaltered, though it is now clear to me that the conclusions drawn in it should be largely qualified. 1. Various races of mankind, inhabiting bad habitats, and obliged to lead miserable lives, cannot by any amount of adaptation be moulded into satisfactory types. 2. Astronomical and geological changes must continue hereaster to cause such changes of surface and climate as must entail migrations from habitats rendered unfit to fitter habitats ; and such migrations must entail modified modes of life, with consequent re-adaptations. 3. The rate of progress towards any adapted form must diminish with the approach to complete adaptation, since the force producing it must diminish ; so that, other causes apart, perfect adaptation can be reached only in infinite time.]

« PreviousContinue »