Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:31 am


The State is the actually existing realised moral life. For it is the unity of the universal essential Will with that of the individual, and this is "Morality."


A criminal is literally a person accused—accused, and in the modern sense of the word convicted, of being harmful to Society. But is he there in the dock, the patch-coated brawler or burglar, really harmful to Society? is he more harmful than the mild old gentleman in the wig who pronounces sentence upon him? That is the question. Certainly he has infringed the law: and the law is in a sense the consolidated public opinion of Society: but if no one were to break the law, public opinion would ossify, and Society would die. As a matter of fact Society keeps changing its opinion. How then are we to know when it is right and when it is wrong? The Outcast of one age is the Hero of another. In execration they nailed Roger Bacon's manuscripts out in the sun and rain, to rot crucified upon planks—his bones lie in an unknown and[Pg 144] unhonoured grave—yet to-day he is regarded as a pioneer of human thought. The hated Christian holding his ill-famed love-feasts in the darkness of the catacombs has climbed up to the throne of S. Peter and the world. The Jew moneylender whom Front-de-Boeuf could torture with impunity is become a Rothschild—guest of princes and instigator of commercial wars; and Shylock is now a highly respectable Railway Bondholder. And the Accepted of one age is the Criminal of the next. All the glories of Alexander do not condone in our eyes for his cruelty in crucifying the brave defenders of Tyre by thousands along the sea-shore; and if Solomon with his thousand wives and concubines were to appear in London to-morrow, even our most frivolous circles would be shocked, and Brigham Young by contrast seem a domestic model. The judge pronounces sentence on the prisoner now, but Society in its turn and in the lapse of years pronounces sentence on the judge. It holds in its hand a new canon, a new code of morals, and consigns its former representative and the law which he administered to a limbo of contempt.

It seems as if Society, as it progresses from point to point, forms ideals—just as the individual does. At any moment each person, consciously or unconsciously, has an ideal in his mind toward which he is working (hence the importance of literature). Similarly Society has an ideal in its mind. These ideals are tangents or vanishing points of the [Pg 145]direction in which Society is moving at the time. It does not reach its ideal, but it goes in that direction—then, after a time, the direction of its movement changes, and it has a new ideal.

When the ideal of Society is material gain or possession, as it is largely to-day, the object of its special condemnation is the thief—not the rich thief, for he is already in possession and therefore respectable, but the poor thief. There is nothing to show that the poor thief is really more immoral or unsocial than the respectable money-grubber; but it is very clear that the money-grubber has been floating with the great current of Society, while the poor man has been swimming against it, and so has been worsted. Or when, as to-day, Society rests on private property in land, its counter-ideal is the poacher. If you go in the company of the county squire-archy and listen to the after-dinner talk you will soon think the poacher a combination of all human and diabolic vices; yet I have known a good many poachers, and either have been very lucky in my specimens or singularly prejudiced in their favour, for I have generally found them very good fellows—but with just this one blemish that they invariably regard a landlord as an emissary of the evil one! The poacher is as much in the right, probably, as the landlord, but he is not right for the time. He is asserting a right (and an instinct) belonging to a past time—when for hunting purposes all land was held in common—or to a time in the future when such or similar rights shall be restored.[Pg 146] Cæsar says of the Suevi that they tilled the ground in common and had no private lands, and there is abundant evidence that all early human communities, before they entered on the stage of modern civilisation, were communistic in character. Some of the Pacific Islanders to-day are in the same condition. In those times private property was theft. Obviously the man who attempted to retain for himself land or goods, or who fenced off a portion of the common ground and—like the modern landlord—would allow no one to till it who did not pay him a tax—was a criminal of the deepest dye. Nevertheless the criminals pushed their way to the front, and have become the respectables of modern Society. And it is quite probable that in like manner the criminals of to-day will push to the front and become the respectables of a later age.

The ascetic and monastic ideal of early Christian and mediæval ages is now regarded as foolish, if not wicked; and poverty, which in many times and places has been held in honour as the only garb of honesty, is condemned as criminal and indecent. Nomadism—if accompanied by poverty—is criminal in modern Society. To-day the gipsy and the tramp are hunted down. To have no settled habitation, or worse still, no place to lay your head, are suspicious matters. We close even our outhouses and barns against the son of man, and so to us the son of man comes not. And yet—at one time and in one stage of human progress—the nomadic state is the rule; and the[Pg 147] settler is then the criminal. His crops are fired and his cattle driven off. What right has he to lay a limit to the hunting grounds, or to spoil the wild free life of the plains with his dirty agriculture?

As to the marriage relation and its attendant moralities, the forms are numerous and notorious enough. Public opinion seems to have varied through all phases and ideals, and yet there is no indication of finality. Modern investigations show that in primitive human societies the affinities admitted or barred in marriage are most various—the relation of brother and sister being even in cases allowed; in the present day such a bond as the last-mentioned would be considered inhuman and monstrous.[34] Polyandry prevails among one people or at one time, polygyny prevails among another people or at another time. In Central Africa to-day the chief offers you his wife as a mark of hospitality, in India the native Prince keeps her hidden even from his most intimate guest. Among the Japanese, public opinion holds young women—even of good birth—singularly free in their intercourse with men, till they are married; at Paris they are free after. In the Greek and Roman antiquity marriage seems, with[Pg 148] some brilliant exceptions, to have been a prosaic affair—mostly a matter of convenience and housekeeping—the woman an underling—little of the ideal attaching to the relationship of man and wife. The romance of love went elsewhere. The better class of free women or Hetairai were those who gave a spiritual charm to the passion. They were an educated and recognised body, and possibly in their best times exercised a healthy and discriminating influence upon the male youth. The respectful treatment of Theodota by Socrates and the advice which he gives her concerning her lovers: to keep the insolent from her door, and to rejoice greatly when the accepted succeed in anything honourable, indicates this. That their influence was at times immense the mere name of Aspasia is sufficient to show; and if Plato in the Symposium reports correctly the word of Diotima, her teaching on the subject of human and divine love was probably of the noblest and profoundest that has ever been given to the world.

With the influx of the North-men over Europe came a new ideal of the sexual relation, and the wife mounted more into equality with her husband than before. The romance of love, however, still went mainly outside marriage, and may, I believe, be traced in two chief forms—that of Chivalry, as an ideal devotion to simple Womanhood; and that of Minstrelsy, which took quite a different hue, individual and sentimental—the lover and his mistress (she in most cases the wife of another),[Pg 149] the serenade, secret amour, etc.—both of which forms of Chivalry and Minstrelsy contain in themselves something new and not quite familiar to antiquity.

Finally in modern times the monogamic union has risen to pre-eminence—the splendid ideal of an equal and life-long attachment between man and wife, fruitful of children in this life, and hopeful of continuance beyond—and has become the great theme of romantic literature, and the climax of a thousand novels and poems. Yet it is just here and to-day, when this ideal after centuries of struggle has established itself, and among the nations that are in the van of civilisation—that we find the doctrine of perfect liberty in the marriage relationship being most successfully preached, and that the communalisation of social life in the future seems likely to weaken the family bond and to relax the obligation of the marriage tie.

If the Greek age, splendid as it was in itself and in its fruits of human progress, did not hold marriage very high, it was partly because the ideal passion of that period, and one which more than all else inspired it, was that of comradeship, or male friendship carried over into the region of love. The two figures of Harmodius and Aristogiton stand at the entrance of Greek history as the type of this passion, bearing its fruit (as Plato throughout maintains is its nature) in united self-devotion to the country's good. The heroic Theban legion, the "sacred band," into which[Pg 150] no man might enter without his lover—and which was said to have remained unvanquished till it was annihilated at the battle of Chæronæa—proves to us how publicly this passion and its place in society were recognised; while its universality and the depth to which it had stirred the Greek mind are indicated by the fact that whole treatises on love, in its spiritual aspect, exist, in which no other form of the sentiment seems to be contemplated; and by the magnificent panorama of Greek statuary, which was obviously to a large extent inspired by it. In fact the most remarkable Society known to history, and its greatest men, cannot be properly considered or understood apart from this passion; yet the modern world scarcely recognises it, or if it recognises, does so chiefly to condemn it.[35]

Other instances might be quoted to show how differently moral questions are regarded in one age and another—as in the cases of Usury, Magic, Suicide, Infanticide, etc. On the whole we pride ourselves (and justly I believe) on the general advance in humanity; yet we know that to-day the merest savages can only shudder at a civilisation whose public opinion allows—as among us—the rich to wallow in their wealth, while the[Pg 151] poor are systematically starving; and it is certain that the vivisection of animals—which on the whole is approved by our educated classes (though not by the healthier sentiment of the uneducated)—would have been stigmatised as one of the most abominable crimes by the ancient Egyptians[36]—if, that is, they could have conceived such a practice possible at all.

But not only do the moral judgments of mankind thus vary from age to age and from race to race, but—what is equally remarkable—they vary to an extraordinary degree from class to class of the same society. If the landlord class regards the poacher as a criminal, the poacher, as already hinted, looks upon the landlord as a selfish ruffian who has the police on his side; if the respectable shareholder, politely and respectably subsisting on dividends, dismisses navvies and the frequenters of public-houses as disorderly persons, the navvy in return despises the shareholder as a sneaking thief. And it is not easy to see, after all, which is in the right. It is useless to dismiss these discrepancies by supposing that one class in the nation possesses a monopoly of morality and that the other classes simply rail at the virtue they cannot attain to, for this is obviously not the case. It is almost a commonplace, and certainly a fact that cannot be contested, that every class—however sinful or outcast in the eyes of others—contains within its ranks a large proportion of generous, noble,[Pg 152] self-sacrificing characters; so that the public opinion of one such class, however different from that of others, cannot at least be invalidated on the above ground. There are plenty of clergymen at this moment who are models of pastors—true shepherds of the people—though a large and increasing section of society persist in regarding priests as a kind of wolves in sheep's clothing. It is not uncommon to meet with professional thieves who are generous and open-handed to the last degree, and ready to part with their last penny to help a comrade in distress; with women living outside the bounds of conventional morality who are strongly religious in sentiment, and who regard atheists as really wicked people; with aristocrats who have as stern material in them as quarry-men; and even with bondholders and drawing-room loungers who are as capable of bravery and self-sacrifice as many a pitman or ironworker. Yet all these classes mentioned have their codes of morality, differing in greater or lesser degree from each other; and again the question forces itself upon us: Which of them all is the true and abiding code?

It may be said, with regard to this variation of codes within the same society, that, though various codes may exist at the same time, one only is really valid, namely, that which has embodied itself in the law—that the others have been rejected because they were unworthy. But, when we come to look into this matter of law, we see that the plea can hardly be maintained. Law [Pg 153]represents from age to age the code of the dominant or ruling class, slowly accumulated, no doubt, and slowly modified, but always added to and always administered by the ruling class. To-day the code of the dominant class may perhaps best be denoted by the word Respectability—and if we ask why this code has to a great extent overwhelmed the codes of the other classes and got the law on its side (so far that in the main it characterises those classes who do not conform to it as the criminal classes), the answer can only be: Because it is the code of the classes who are in power. Respectability is the code of those who have the wealth and the command, and as these have also the fluent pens and tongues, it is the standard of modern literature and the press. It is not necessarily a better standard than others, but it is the one that happens to be in the ascendant; it is the code of the classes that chiefly represent modern society; it is the code of the Bourgeoisie. It is different from the Feudal code of the past, of the knightly classes, and of Chivalry; it is different from the Democratic code of the future—of brotherhood and of equality; it is the code of the Commercial age—and its distinctive watchword is property.

The respectability of to-day is the respectability of property. There is nothing so respectable as being well-off. The Law confirms this: everything is on the side of the rich; justice is too expensive a thing for the poor man. Offences against the person hardly count for so much as[Pg 154] those against property. You may beat your wife within an inch of her life and only get three months; but if you steal a rabbit, you may be "sent" for years. So again, gambling by thousands on Change is respectable enough, but pitch and toss for half-pence in the streets is low, and must be dealt with by the police; while it is a mere commonplace to say that the high-class swindler is "received" in society from which a more honest but patch-coated brother would infallibly be rejected. As Walt Whitman has it, "There is plenty of glamour about the most damnable crimes and hoggish meannesses, special and general, of the feudal and dynastic world over there, with its personnel of lords and queens and courts, so well-dressed and handsome. But the people are ungrammatical, untidy, and their sins gaunt and ill-bred."

Thus we see that though there are, for instance in the England of to-day, a variety of classes and a variety of corresponding codes of public opinion and morality, one of these codes, namely that of the ruling class whose watchword is property, is strongly in the ascendant. And we may fairly suppose that in any nation from the time when it first becomes divided into well-marked classes this is or has been the case. In one age—the commercial age—the code of the commercial or money-loving class is dominant; in another—the military—the code of the warrior class is dominant; in another—the religious—the code of the priestly class; and so on. And even[Pg 155] before any question of division into classes arises, while races are yet in a rudimentary and tribal state, the utmost diversity of custom and public opinion marks the one from the other.

What, then, are we to conclude from all these variations (and the far greater number which I have not mentioned) of the respect or stigma attaching to the same actions, not only among different societies in different ages or parts of the world, but even at any one time among different classes of the same society? Must we conclude that there is no such thing as a permanent moral code valid for all time; or must we still suppose that there is such a thing—though society has hitherto sought for it in vain?

I think it is obvious that there is no such thing as a permanent moral code—at any rate as applying to actions. Probably the respect or stigma attaching to particular classes of actions arose from the fact that these classes of actions were—or were thought to be—beneficial or injurious to the society of the time; but it is also clear that this good or bad name once created clings to the action long after the action has ceased in the course of social progress to be beneficial in the one case, or injurious in the other; and indeed long after the thinkers of the race have discovered the discrepancy. And so in a short time arises a great confusion in the popular mind between what is really good or evil for the race and what is reputed to be so—the bolder spirits who try to separate the two having to atone for this [Pg 156]confusion by their own martyrdom. It is also pretty clear that the actions which are beneficial or injurious to the race must by the nature of the case vary almost indefinitely with the changing conditions of the life of the race—what is beneficial in one age or under one set of conditions being injurious in another age or under other circumstances—so that a permanent or ever-valid code of moral action is not a thing to be expected, at any rate by those who regard morality as a result of social experience, and as a matter of fact is not a thing that we find existing. And, indeed, of those who regard morals as intuitive, there are few who have thought about the matter who would be inclined to say that any act in itself can be either right or wrong. Though there is a superficial judgment of this kind, yet when the matter comes to be looked into, the more general consent seems to be that the rightness or wrongness is in the motive. To kill (it is said) is not wrong, but to do so with murderous intent is; to take money out of another person's purse is in itself neither moral nor immoral—all depends upon whether permission has been given, or on what the relations between the two persons are; and so on. Obviously there is no mere act which under given conditions may not be justified, and equally obvious there is no mere act which under given conditions may not become unjustifiable. To talk, therefore, about virtues and vices as permanent and distinct classes of actions is illusory: there is no such distinction, except so far as a superficial and transient public[Pg 157] opinion creates it. The theatre of morality is in the passions, and there are (it is said) virtuous and vicious passions—eternally distinct from each other.

Here, then, we have abandoned the search for a permanent moral code among the actions; on the understanding that we are more likely to find such a thing among the passions. And I think it would be generally admitted that this is a move in the right direction. There are difficulties however here, and the matter is not one which renders itself up at once. Though, vaguely speaking, some passions seem nobler and more dignified than others, we find it very difficult, in fact impossible, to draw any strict line which shall separate one class, the virtuous, from the other class, the vicious. On the whole we place Prudence, Generosity, Chastity, Reverence, Courage among the virtues—and their opposites, as Rashness, Miserliness, Incontinence, Arrogance, Timidity, among the vices; yet we do not seem able to say that Prudence is always better than Rashness, Chastity than Incontinence, or Reverence than Arrogance. There are situations in which the less honoured quality is the most in place; and if the extreme of this is undesirable, the extreme of its opposite is undesirable too. Courage, it is commonly said, must not be carried over into foolhardiness; Chastity must not go so far as the monks of the early Church took it; there is a limit to the indulgence of the instinct of Reverence. In fact the less dignified passions are necessary [Pg 158]sometimes as a counterbalance and set-off to the more dignified, and a character devoid of them would be very insipid; just as among the members of the body, the less honoured have their place as well as the more honoured, and could not well be discarded.

Hence a number of writers, abandoning the attempt to draw a fixed line between virtuous and vicious passions, have boldly maintained that vices have their place as well as virtues, and that the true salvation lies in the golden mean. The [Greek: epieikeia] and [Greek: sôphrosunê] of the Greeks seem to have pointed to the idea of a blend or harmonious adjustment of all the powers as the perfection of character. Plutarch says (Essay on Moral Virtue), "This, then, is the function of practical reason following nature, to prevent our passions either going too far or too short.... Thus setting bound to the emotional currents, it creates in the unreasoning part of the soul moral habits which are the mean between excess and deficiency."

The English word "gentleman" seems to have once conveyed a similar idea. And Emerson, among others, maintains that each vice is only the "excess or acridity of a virtue," and says "the first lesson of history is the good of evil."

According to this view rightness or wrongness cannot be predicated of the passions themselves, but should rather be applied to the use of them, and to the way they are proportioned to each other and to circumstances. As, farther back, we left[Pg 159] the region of actions to look for morality in the passions that lie behind action, so now we leave the region of the passions to look for it in the power that lies behind the passions and gives them their place. This is a farther move in the same direction as before, and possibly will bring us to a more satisfactory conclusion. There are still difficulties, however, the chief ones lying in the want of definiteness which necessarily attaches to our dealings with these remoter tracts of human nature; and in our own defective knowledge of these tracts.

For these reasons, and as the subject is a complex and difficult one, I would ask the reader to dwell for a few minutes longer on the considerations which show that it is really as impossible to draw a fixed line between moral and immoral passions as it is between moral and immoral actions, and which therefore force us, if we are to find any ground of morality at all, to look for it in some further region of our nature.

Plato in his allegory of the soul, in the Phædrus, though he apparently divides the passions which draw the human chariot into two classes, the heavenward and the earthward—figured by the white horse and the black horse respectively—does not recommend that the black horse should be destroyed or dismissed, but only that he (as well as the white horse) should be kept under due control by the charioteer. By which he seems to intend that there is a power in man which stands above and behind the passions,[Pg 160] and under whose control alone the human being can safely move. In fact, if the fiercer and so-called more earthly passions were removed, half the driving force would be gone from the chariot of the human soul. Hatred may be devilish at times—but, after all, the true value of it depends on what you hate, on the use to which the passion is put. Anger, though inhuman at one time, is magnificent at another. Obstinacy may be out of place in a drawing-room, but it is the latest virtue on a battle-field, when an important position has to be held against the full brunt of the enemy. And Lust, though maniacal and monstrous in its aberrations, cannot in the last resort be separated from its divine companion, Love. To let the more amiable passions have entire sway notoriously does not do: to turn your cheek, too literally, to the smiter, is (pace Tolstoi) only to encourage smiting; and when society becomes so altruistic that everybody runs to fetch the coal-scuttle, we feel sure that something has gone wrong. The white-washed heroes of our biographies, with their many virtues and no faults, do not please us. We have an impression that the man without faults is, to say the least, a vague, uninteresting being—a picture without light and shade—and the conventional semi-pious classification of character into good and bad qualities (as if the good might be kept and the bad thrown away) seems both inadequate and false.

What the student of human nature rather has to do is not to divide the virtues (so-called) from[Pg 161] the vices (so-called), not to separate the black horse and the white horse, but to find out what is the relation of the one to the other—to see the character as a whole, and the mutual interdependence of its different parts—to find out what that power is which constitutes it a unity, whose presence and control makes the man and all his actions "right," and in whose absence (if it is really possible for it to be entirely absent) the man and his actions must be "wrong."

What we call vices, faults, defects, appear often as a kind of limitation: cruelty, for instance, as a limitation of human sympathy, prejudice as a blindness, a want of discernment; but it is just these limitations—in one form or another—which are the necessary conditions of the appearance of a human being in the world. If we are to act or live at all we must act and live under limits. There must be channels along which the stream is forced to run, else it will spread and lose itself aimlessly in all directions—and turn no mill-wheels. One man is disagreeable and unconciliatory—the directions in which his sympathy goes out to others are few and limited—yet there are situations in life (and everyone must know them) when a man who is able and willing to make himself disagreeable is invaluable: when a Carlyle is worth any number of Balaams.

Sometimes again vices, etc., appear as a kind of raw material from which the other qualities have to be formed, and without which, in a sense, they could not exist. Sensuality, for instance, underlies[Pg 162] all art and the higher emotions. Timidity is the defect of the sensitive imaginative temperament. Bluntness, stupid candor, and want of tact are indispensable in the formation of certain types of Reformers. But what would you have? Would you have a rabbit with the horns of a cow, or a donkey with the disposition of a spaniel? The reformer has not to extirpate his brusqueness and aggressiveness, but to see that he makes good use of these qualities; and the man has not to abolish his sensuality, but to humanise it.

And so on. Lecky, in his "History of Morals," shows how in society certain defects necessarily accompany certain excellences of character. "Had the Irish peasants been less chaste they would have been more prosperous," in his blunt assertion, which he supports by the contention that their early marriages (which render the said virtue possible) "are the most conspicuous proofs of the national improvidence, and one of the most fatal obstacles to industrial prosperity." Similarly he says that the gambling table fosters a moral nerve and calmness "scarcely exhibited in equal perfection in any other sphere"—a fact which Bret Harte has finely illustrated in his character of Mr. John Oakhurst in the "Outcasts of Poker Flat;" also that "the promotion of industrial veracity is probably the single form in which the growth of manufactures exercises a favorable influence upon morals;" while, on the other hand, "Trust in Providence, content and resignation in extreme poverty and suffering, the most genuine[Pg 163] amiability, and the most sincere readiness to assist their brethren, an adherence to their religious opinions which no persecutions and no bribes can shake, a capacity for heroic, transcendent, and prolonged self-sacrifice, may be found in some nations, in men who are habitual liars and habitual cheats." Again he points out that thriftiness and forethought—which, in an industrial civilisation like ours, are looked upon as duties "of the very highest order"—have at other times (when the teaching was "take no thought for the morrow") been regarded as quite the reverse, and concludes with the general remark that as society advances there is some loss for every gain that is made, and with the special indictment against "civilisation" that it is not favorable to the production of "self-sacrifice, enthusiasm, reverence, or chastity."

The point of all which is that the so-called vices and defects—whether we regard them as limitations or whether we regard them as raw materials of character, whether we regard them in the individual solely or whether we regard them in their relation to society—are necessary elements of human life, elements without which the so-called virtues could not exist; and that therefore it is quite impossible to separate vices and virtues into distinct classes with the latent idea involved that one class may be retained and the other in course of time got rid of. Defects and bad qualities will not be treated so—they clamour for their rights and will not be denied; they effect a [Pg 164]lodgment in us, and we have to put up with them. Like the grain of sand in the oyster, we are forced to make pearls of them.

These are the precipices and chasms which give form to the mountain. Who wants a mountain sprawling indifferently out on all sides, without angle or break, like the oceanic tide-wave of which one cannot say whether it is a hill or a plain? And if you want to grow a lily, chastely white and filling the air with its fragrance, will you not bury the bulb of it deep in the dirt to begin with?

Acknowledging, then, that it is impossible to hold permanently to any line of distinction between good and bad passions, there remains no course for us but to accept both, and to make use of them—redeeming them, both good and bad, from their narrowness and limitation by so doing—to make use of them in the service of humanity. For as dirt is only matter in the wrong place, so evil in man consists only in actions or passions which are uncontrolled by the human within him, and undedicated to its service. The evil consists not in the actions or passions themselves, but in the fact that they are inhumanly used. The most unblemished virtue erected into a barrier between one self and a suffering brother or sister—the whitest marble image, howsoever lovely, set up in the Holy Place of the temple of Man, where the spirit alone should dwell—becomes blasphemy and a pollution.

Wherein exactly this human service consists[Pg 165] is another question. It may be, and, as the reader would gather, probably is, a matter which at the last eludes definition. But though it may elude exact statement, that is no reason why approximations should not be made to the statement of it; nor is its ultimate elusiveness of intellectual definition any proof that it may not become a real and vital force within the man, and underlying inspiration of his actions. To take the two considerations in order. In the first place, as we saw from the beginning, the experience of society is continually leading it to classify actions into beneficial and harmful, good and bad; and thus moral codes are formed which eat their way from the outside into the individual man and become part of him. These codes may be looked upon as approximations in each age to a statement of human service; but, as we have seen, they are by the nature of the case very imperfect; and since the very conditions of the problem are continually changing, it seems obvious that a final and absolute solution of it by this method is impossible. The second way in which man works towards a solution is by the expansion and growth of his own consciousness, and is ultimately by far the most important—though the two methods have doubtless continually to be corrected by each other. In fact, as man actually forms a part of society externally, so he comes to know and feel himself a part of society through his inner nature. Gradually, and in the lapse of ages, through the development of his sympathetic relation with his[Pg 166] fellows, the individual man enters into a wider and wider circle of life; the joys and sorrows, the experiences, of his fellows become his own joys and sorrows, his own experiences; he passes into a life which is larger than his own individual life; forces flow in upon him which determine his actions, not for results which return to him directly, but for results which can only return to him indirectly and through others; at last the ground of humanity, as it were, reveals itself within him, the region of human equality—and his actions come to flow directly from the very same source which regulates and inspires the whole movement of society. At this point the problem is solved. The growth has taken place from within; it is not of the nature of an external compulsion, but of an inward compunction. By actual consciousness the man has taken on an ever-enlarging life, and at last the life of humanity, which has no fixed form, no ever-valid code; but is itself the true life, surpassing definition, yet inspiring all actions and passions, all codes and forms, and determining at last their place.

It is the gradual growth of this supreme life in each individual which is the great and indeed the only hope of Society—it is that for which Society exists: a life which so far from dwarfing individuality enhances immensely its power, causing the individual to move with the weight of the universe behind him—and exalting what were once his little peculiarities and defects into the splendid manifestations of his humanity.

To return then for a moment to the practical bearing of this on the question before us, we see that so soon as we have abandoned all codes of morals there remains nothing for us but to put all our qualities and defects to human use, and to redeem them by so doing. Our defects are our entrances into life, and the gateway of all our dealings with others. Think what it is to be plain and homely. The very word suggests an endearment, and a liberty of access denied to the faultlessly handsome. Our very evil passions, so called, are not things to be ashamed of, but things to look straight in the face and to see what they are good for—for a use can be found for them, that is certain. The man should see that he is worthy of his passion, as the mountain should rear its crest conformable to the height of the precipice which bounds it. Is it women? let him see that he is a magnanimous lover. Is it ambition? let him take care that it be a grand one. Is it laziness? let it redeem him from the folly of unrest, to become heaven-reflecting, like a lake among the hills. Is it closefistedness? let it become the nurse of a true economy.

The more complicated, pronounced, or awkward the defect is the finer will be the result when it has been thoroughly worked up. Love of approbation is difficult to deal with. Through sloughs of duplicity, of concealment, of vanity, it leads its victim. It sucks his sturdy self-life, and leaves him flattened and bloodless. Yet once mastered, once fairly torn out, cudgeled, and left[Pg 168] bleeding on the road (for this probably has to be done with every vice or virtue some time or other), it will rise up and follow you, carrying a magic key round its neck, meek and serviceable now, instead of dangerous and demoniac as before.

Deceit is difficult to deal with. In some sense it is the worst fault that can be. It seems to disorganise and ultimately to destroy the character. Yet I am bold to say that this defect has its uses. Severely examined perhaps it will be found that no one can live a day free from it. And beyond that—is not "a noble dissimulation" part and parcel of the very greatest characters: like Socrates, "the white soul in a satyr form"? When the divine has descended among men has it not always, like Moses, worn a veil before its face? and what is Nature herself but one long and organised system of deception?

Veracity has an opposite effect. It knits all the elements of a man's character—rendering him solid rather than fluid; yet carried out too literally and pragmatically it condenses and solidifies the character overmuch, making the man woodeny and angular. And even of that essential Truth (truth to the inward and ideal perfection) which more than anything else perhaps constitutes a man—it is to be remembered that even here there must be a limitation. No man can in act or externally be quite true to the ideal—though in spirit he may be. If he is to live in this world and be mortal, it must be by virtue of some partiality, some defect.

And so again—since there is an analogy between the Individual and Society—may we not conclude that as the individual has ultimately to recognise his so-called evil passions and find a place and a use for them, society also has to recognise its so-called criminals and discern their place and use? The artist does not omit shadows from his canvas; and the wise statesman will not try to abolish the criminal from society—lest haply he be found to have abolished the driving force from his social machine.[37]

From what has now been said it is quite clear that in general we call a man a criminal, not because he violates any eternal code of morality—for there exists no such thing—but because he violates the ruling code of his time, and this depends largely on the ideal of the time. The Spartans appear to have permitted theft because they thought that thieving habits in the community fostered military dexterity and discouraged the accumulation of private wealth. They looked upon the latter as a great evil. But to-day the accumulation of private wealth is our great good and the thief is looked upon as the evil. When however we find, as the historians of to-day teach us, that society is now probably passing through a parenthetical stage of private property from a stage of communism in the past to a stage of more highly developed communism in the future,[Pg 170] it becomes clear that the thief (and the poacher before-mentioned) is that person who is protesting against the too-exclusive domination of a passing ideal. Whatever should we do without him? He is keeping open for us, as Hinton I think expresses it, the path to a regenerate society, and is more useful to that end than many a platform orator. He it is that makes Care to sit upon the Crupper of Wealth, and so, in course of time, causes the burden and bother of private property to become so intolerable that society gladly casts it down on common ground. Vast as is the machinery of Law, and multifarious the ways in which it seeks to crush the thief, it has signally failed, and fails ever more and more. The thief will win. He will get what he wants, but (as usual in human life!) in a way and in a form very different from what he expected.

And when we regard the thief in himself, we cannot say that we find him less human than other classes of society. The sentiment of large bodies of thieves is highly communistic among themselves; and if they thus represent a survival from an earlier age, they might also be looked upon as the precursors of a better age in the future. They have their pals in every town, with runs and refuges always open, and are lavish and generous to a degree to their own kind. And if they look upon the rich as their natural enemies and fair prey, a view which it might be difficult to gainsay, many of them at any rate are animated by a good[Pg 171] deal of the Robin Hood spirit, and are really helpful to the poor.

I need not I think quote that famous passage from Lecky in which he shows how the prostitute, through centuries of suffering and ill-fame, has borne the curse and contempt of Society in order that her more fortunate sister might rejoice in the achievement of a pure marriage. The ideal of a monogamic union has been established in a sense directly by the slur cast upon the free woman. If, however, as many people think, a certain latitude in sexual relations is not only admissible but, in the long run, and within bounds, desirable, it becomes clear that the prostitute is that person who against heavy odds, and at the cost of a real degradation to herself, has clung to a tradition which, in itself good, might otherwise have perished in the face of our devotion to the splendid ideal of the exclusive marriage. There has been a time in history when the prostitute (if the word can properly be used in this connection) has been glorified, consecrated to the temple-service and honoured of men and gods (the hierodouloi of the Greeks, the kodeshoth and kodeshim of the Bible, etc.) There has also been a time when she has been scouted and reviled. In the future there will come a time when, as free companion, really free from the curse of modern commercialism, and sacred and respected once more, she will again be accepted by society and take her place with the rest.

And so with other cases. On looking back[Pg 172] into history we find that almost every human impulse has at some age been held in esteem and allowed full play; thus man came to recognise its beauty and value. But then, lest it should come (as it surely would) to tyrannise over the rest, it has been dethroned, and so in a later age the same quality is scouted and banned. Last of all it has to find its perfect human use and to take its place with the rest. Up to the age of Civilisation (according to writers on primitive Society) the early tribes of mankind, though limited each in their habits, were essentially democratical in structure. In fact, nothing had occurred to make them otherwise. Each member stood on a footing of equality with the rest; individual men had not in their hands an arbitrary power over others; and the tribal life and standard ruled supreme. And when, in the future and on a much higher plane, the true Democracy comes, this equality which has so long been in abeyance will be restored, not only among men but also, in a sense, among all the passions and qualities of manhood: none will be allowed to tyrannise over others, but all will have to be subject to the supreme life of humanity. The chariot of Man instead of two horses will have a thousand; but they will all be under control of the charioteer. Meanwhile it may not be extravagant to suppose that all through the Civilisation-period the so-called criminals are keeping open the possibility of a return to this state of society. They are preserving, in a rough and unattractive husk[Pg 173] it may be, the precious seed of a life which is to come in the future; and are as necessary and integral a part of society in the long run as the most respected and most honoured of its members at present.

The upshot then of it all is that "morals" as a permanent code of action have to be discarded. There exists no such permanent code. One age, one race, one class, one family, may have a code which the users of it consider valid, but only they consider it valid, and then only for a time. The Decalogue may have been a rough and useful ready-reckoner for the Israelites; but to us it admits of so many exceptions and interpretations that it is practically worthless. "Thou shalt not steal." Exactly; but who is to decide, as we saw at the outset, in what "stealing" consists? The question is too complicated to admit of an answer. And when we have caught our half-starved tramp "sneaking" a loaf, and are ready to condemn him, lo! Lycurgus pats him on the back, and the modern philosopher tells him that he is keeping open the path to a regenerate society! If the tramp had also been a philosopher, he would perhaps have done the same act not merely for his own benefit but for that of society, he would have committed a crime in order to save mankind.

There is nothing left but Humanity. Since there is no ever-valid code of morals we must sadly confess that there is no means of proving ourselves right and our neighbours wrong. In[Pg 174] fact the very act of thinking whether we are right (which implies a sundering of ourselves, even in thought, from others) itself introduces the element of wrongness; and if we are ever to be "right" at all, it must be at some moment when we fail to notice it—when we have forgotten our apartness from others and have entered into the great region of human equality. Equality—in that region all human defects are redeemed; they all find their place. To love your neighbour as yourself is the whole law and the prophets; to feel that you are "equal" with others, that their lives are as your life, that your life is as theirs—even in what trifling degree we may experience such things—is to enter into another life which includes both sides; it is to pass beyond the sphere of moral distinctions, and to trouble oneself no more with them. Between lovers there are no duties and no rights; and in the life of humanity, there is only an instinctive mutual service expressing itself in whatever way may be best at the time. Nothing is forbidden, there is nothing which may not serve. The law of Equality is perfectly flexible, is adaptable to all times and places, finds a place for all the elements of character, justifies and redeems them all without exception; and to live by it is perfect freedom. Yet not a law: but rather as said, a new life, transcending the individual life, working through it from within, lifting the self into another sphere, beyond corruption, far over the world of Sorrow.

The effort to make a distinction between acting[Pg 175] for self and acting for one's neighbor is the basis of "morals." As long as a man feels an ultimate antagonism between himself and society, as long as he tries to hold his own life as a thing apart from that of others, so long must the question arise whether he will act for self or for those others. Hence flow a long array of terms—distinctions of right and wrong, duty, selfishness, self-renunciation, altruism, etc. But when he discovers that there is no ultimate antagonism between himself and society; when he finds that the gratification of every desire which he has or can have may be rendered social, or beneficial to his fellows, by being used at the right time and place, and on the other hand that every demand made upon him by society will and must gratify some portion of his nature, some desire of his heart—why, all the distinctions collapse again; they do not hold water any more. A larger life descends upon him, which includes both sides, and prompts actions in accordance with an unwritten and unimagined law. Such actions will sometimes be accounted "selfish" by the world; sometimes they will be accounted "unselfish"; but they are neither, or—if you like—both; and he who does them concerns himself not with the names that may be given to them. The law of Equality includes all the moral codes, and is the standpoint which they cannot reach, but which they all aim at.

Judged by this final standard then, it may doubtless fairly be said—since we all fall short[Pg 176] of it—that we are all criminals, and deserve a good hiding; and even that some of us are greater criminals than others. Only of this real criminality the actual moral and legal codes afford but ineffectual tests. I may be a far worse or more self-included ("idiotic" or brutal) man than you, but the mere fact that I have violated the laws and been clapped into prison does not prove it. There may be, probably is, a real and eternal difference represented by the words Right and Wrong, but no statement that we can make will ever quite avail to define it. One use, however, of all these laws and codes in the past, imperfect though they were, may have been to gradually excite the consciousness in the individual of his opposition to society, and so prepare the way for a true reconcilement. As Paul says, "I had not known sin, but by the law," and, if we had not been cudgeled and bruised for centuries by this rough bludgeon of social convention, we should not now be so sensitive as we are to the effect of our actions upon our neighbours, nor so ready for a social life in the future which shall be superior to law.

Of course, the ultimate reconcilement of the individual with society—of the unit Man with the mass-Man—involves the subordination of the desires, their subjection to the true self. And this is a most important point. It is no easy lapse that is here suggested, from morality into a mere jungle of human passion, but a toilsome and long ascent—involving for a time at any rate a [Pg 177]determined self-control—into ascendancy over the passions; it involves the complete mastery, one by one, of them all, and the recognition and allowance of them only because they are mastered. And it is just this training and subjection of the passions—as of winged horses which are to draw the human chariot—which necessarily forms such a long and painful process of human evolution. The old moral codes are a part of this process; but they go on the plan of extinguishing some of the passions—seeing that it is sometimes easier to shoot a restive horse than to ride him. We however do not want to be lords of dead carrion, but of living powers; and every steed that we can add to our chariot makes our progress through creation so much the more splendid, providing Phoebus indeed hold the reins, and not the incapable Phaeton.

And by becoming thus one with the social self, the individual, instead of being crushed, is made far vaster, far grander than before. The renunciation (if it must be so called) which he has to accept in abandoning merely individual ends is immediately compensated by the far more vivid life he now enters into. For every force of his nature can now be utilised. Planting himself out by contrast he stands all the firmer because he has a left foot as well as a right, and when he acts, he acts not half-heartedly as one afraid, but, as it were, with the whole weight of Humanity behind him. In abandoning his exclusive individuality he becomes for the first time a real[Pg 178] and living individual; and in accepting as his own the life of others he becomes aware of a life in himself that has no limit and no end. That the self of any one man is capable of an infinite gradation from the most petty and exclusive existence to the most magnificent and inclusive seems almost a truism. The one extreme is disease and death, the other is life everlasting. When the tongue for example—which is a member of the body—regards itself as a purely separate existence for itself alone, it makes a mistake, it suffers an illusion, and descends into its pettiest life. What is the consequence? Thinking that it exists apart from the other members, it selects food just such as shall gratify its most local self, it endeavours just to titillate its own sense of taste; and living and acting thus, ere long it ruins that very sense of taste, poisons the system with improper food, and brings about disease and death. Yet, if healthy, how does the tongue act? Why, it does not run counter to its own sense of taste, or stultify itself. It does not talk about sacrificing its own inclinations for the good of the body and the other members; but it just acts as being one in interest with them and they with it. For the tongue is a muscle, and therefore what feeds it feeds all the other muscles; and the membrane of the tongue is a prolongation of the membrane of the stomach, and that is how the tongue knows what the stomach will like; and the tongue is nerves and blood, and so the tongue may act for nerves and blood all over the body, and so on.[Pg 179] Therefore the tongue may enter into a wider life than that represented by the mere local sense of taste, and experiences more pleasure often in the drinking of a glass of water which the whole body wants, than in the daintiest sweetmeat which is for itself alone.

Exactly so man in a healthy state does not act for himself alone, practically cannot do so. Nor does he talk cant about "serving his neighbors," etc. But he simply acts for them as well as for himself, because they are part and parcel of his life—bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh; and in doing so he enters into a wider life, finds a more perfect pleasure, and becomes more really a man than ever before. Every man contains in himself the elements of all the rest of humanity. They lie in the background; but they are there. In the front he has his own special faculty developed—his individual façade, with its projects, plans and purposes: but behind sleeps the Demos-life with far vaster projects and purposes. Some time or other to every man must come the consciousness of this vaster life.

The true Democracy, wherein this larger life will rule society from within—obviating the need of an external government—and in which all characters and qualities will be recognised and have their freedom, waits (a hidden but necessary result of evolution) in the constitution of human nature itself. In the pre-Civilisation period these vexed questions of "morals" practically did not exist; simply because in that period the individual[Pg 180] was one with his tribe and moved (unconsciously) by the larger life of his tribe. And in the post-Civilisation period, when the true Democracy is realised, they will not exist, because then the man will know himself a part of humanity at large, and will be consciously moved by forces belonging to these vaster regions of his being. The moral codes and questionings belong to Civilisation, they are part of the forward effort, the struggle, the suffering, and the temporary alienation from true life, which that term implies.[38]



[34] Yet there is no doubt that lasting and passionate love may exist between two persons thus nearly related. The danger to the health of the offspring from occasional in-breeding of the kind appears to arise chiefly from the accentuation of infirmities common to the two parents. In a state of society free from the diseases of the civilisation-period, such a danger would be greatly reduced.

[35] Modern writers fixing their regard on the physical side of this love (necessary no doubt here, as elsewhere, to define and corroborate the spiritual) have entered their protest as against the mere obscenity into which the thing fell—for instance in the days of Martial—but have missed the profound significance of the heroic attachment itself. It is, however, with the ideals that we are just now concerned and not with their disintegration.

[36] In the later Egyptian centuries vivisection apparently became an approved practice.

[37] The derivation of the word "wicked" seems uncertain. May it be suggested that it is connected with "wick" or "quick," meaning alive?

[38] For further on the same subject see the last chapter, infra, on "The New Morality."
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:33 am


"Creation's incessant unrest, exfoliation."

-- Whitman.

I think it may perhaps be agreed, once for all, that the human mind is incapable of really defining even the smallest fact of nature. The simplest thing, or event, baffles us at the last. It is like trying to look at the front and back of a mirror at the same time. The utmost squinting avails not. The ego and the non-ego dance eluding through creation. To catch them both in any mortal object and pin them there, surpasses our powers. And yet they are there. Montaigne quotes somewhere the words of S. Augustine: Modus quo corporibus adhaerent spiritus ... omnino mirus est, nec comprehendi ab homine potest; et hoc ipse homo est. "The manner whereby spirits adhere to bodies is altogether wonderful, and cannot be conceived of by men; and yet this is man." Man himself contains, or rather is, the reconcilement of this and numberless other contradictions. We actually every day perform and exhibit miracles which the mental part of us is utterly powerless[Pg 182] to grapple with. Yet the solution, the intelligent solution and understanding of them is in us; only it involves a higher order of consciousness than we usually deal with—a consciousness possibly which includes and transcends the ego and the non-ego, and so can envisage both at the same time and equally—a fourth-dimensional consciousness to whose gaze the interiors of solid bodies are exposed like mere surfaces—a consciousness to whose perception some usual antitheses like cause and effect, matter and spirit, past and future, simply do not exist. I say these higher orders of consciousness are in us waiting for their evolution; and, until they evolve, we are powerless really to understand anything of the world around us.

Meanwhile, since we must have formulæ and generalisations to think by, we are fain to accept our local views, and look on the world from this side or from that. Sometimes we are idealists, sometimes we are materialists; sometimes we believe in mechanics, sometimes in human or spiritual forces. The science of the last fifty years has, as pointed out in a preceding paper, looked at things more from the mechanical than the distinctively human side—from the point of view of the non-ego, rather than of the ego. Reacting from an extreme tendency towards a subjective view of phenomena, which characterised the older speculations, and fearing to be swayed by a kind of partiality towards himself, the modern scientist has endeavoured to remove the human and [Pg 183]conscious element from his observations of Nature. And he has done valuable work in this way—but of course has been betrayed into a corresponding narrowness.

In fact the main scientific doctrine of the day, Evolution, is obviously suffering from this treatment, and the following remarks are merely a few notes by way of suggestion of some things which may be said on its more specially human side. For since each man is a part of nature, and in that sense a part also of the evolution-process, his own subjective experience ought at least to throw some light on the conditions under which evolution takes place, and to contribute something towards an understanding of the problem.

If the question is: What is the cause of Variation among animals? some approximation towards an answer ought to be got by each person asking himself, "Why do I vary?" Why—he might say—am I a different person from what I was ten years ago, or when I was a boy? Why have I varied in one direction and my brothers and sisters from the same nest in other directions? Though my individual consciousness only covers the small ground of my own life, and does not extend back to that of my father or forward to that of my son, still the intimate knowledge that I have of the forces acting on me during that short period may help me to an understanding of the forces that bring about the modification of men and animals at large, and the discovery of some[Pg 184] laws of my own growth may reveal to me the laws of race-growth.

In answer to such a question, it would speedily appear that there were two general causes determining direction of change or growth in the individual, which might be conveniently distinguished from each other—an external and an internal. In the first place the supposed person might say, "External conditions forced me along these lines. My father was a town artisan, but he apprenticed me to a farmer. I grew up a farmer's boy, and became an agricultural type as you see. I did not particularly care for farming, sometimes indeed I would have been glad to be out of it; but practically I succumbed to circumstances, and here I am." But in the second place he might answer thus:—"My father was himself a farmer; I was early used to the craft, and should no doubt have grown up in it, had I not hated it like poison. I loved music, broke away from home, joined a band, got on the musical staff of a small theatre, and am now a professional musician. My frame is comparatively slight, and my hands are of the nervous type, as you see. Of course, I have some of the old agricultural stock left in me, but I feel that that is dying out." The one cause would be a change of external conditions, forcing the man to accommodate himself to them; the other would be a change of internal conditions, an inward growth, expressing itself first in the form of an intense desire, and compelling the man to change himself and [Pg 185]probably also his environment in obedience to it. Two such general sets of causes, I say, could be roughly distinguished from each other; and probably indeed are recognised less or more distinctly by everyone as acting to modify his life. Nor can the life of a man at any time be said to be ruled by one of these forces alone. No man is modified by external conditions alone, without any play or reaction of inner needs and desires and growth from within; nor is any man transformed in obedience to an inner expansion without sundry lets and hindrances from without. The two forces are in constant play upon one another; but in some ways that would appear to be the more important which proceeds from the Man (or creature) himself, since this is obviously vital and organic to him, and therefore the most consistent and reliable factor in his modification, while the external force—arising from various and remote causes—must rather be regarded as discontinuous and accidental.

I propose, therefore, in these few pages to consider especially this inner force producing modification in man and animals—to try and find out of what nature it is, what is the law, and what are the limits of its action—premising always, as already suggested, that this distinction between "inner" and "outer," which is convenient and easy to handle on certain planes of thought, may ultimately, and in the last resort, prove very difficult or even impossible to maintain.

It is often said by Biologists that function precedes[Pg 186] organisation—that is, man fights with his fellows before he makes weapons to fight with; the rudimentary animal digests food (as in the case of the amoeba) before it acquires a stomach or organ of digestion; it sees or is sensitive to light before it grows an eye; in society letters are carried by private hands before an organised postal system is created. Such facts properly considered are of vital importance. They show us, as it were by a sign-post, the direction of creation. They show how any new thing or modification of an old thing may come into being. They may be supplemented by a second statement—namely that desire precedes function. That is, man desires to injure his fellow before he actually fights with him; he experiences the wish to communicate with distant friends before ever he thinks of sending such a thing as a letter; the amoeba craves for food first, and circumvents its prey afterwards. Desire, or inward change, comes first, action follows, and organisation or outward structure is the result.

In man this "order of creation," if it may so be called, i.e., from within outwards, is very marked. Whenever a man creates anything new he pursues it; when he builds a house, for instance, or composes a poem or piece of music, or designs an Alpine tunnel, or whatever it may be. The order seems to be: first, a feeling—a dim want or desire; then the feeling becomes conscious of itself, takes shape in thought; the thought becomes more defined and issues in a distinct plan;[Pg 187] the plan is committed to paper, models are made, etc.; and finally the actual work is begun and completed. The process appears as a movement from within outwards—the earliest and most authentic discernible source of the movement being a feeling—(though there may lie something behind that). Even in ordinary action the same order is manifest; for, though of course every action is not preceded by desire—since we know that actions soon become habitual and more or less unconscious—still a vast number of them are immediately so preceded; and in the case of any action that is new, either to the individual or to the race, its inception is generally accompanied by effort so painful that it would not be exerted unless the desire were very strong. The difficulty which a man experiences in learning any new art, and the records of the many failures, struggles, oppositions, persecutions, etc., which have attended every new invention or innovation of any kind in human history, afford plenty of evidence of this last point. Certainly the effort that accompanies a new action is not always faced so much from sheer desire of the new thing itself as from fear perhaps of something else—as it may be contended that monkeys did not take to climbing trees because they loved trees, but because they feared the beasts below, or that the giraffe did not stretch its neck because it particularly desired to feed on leaves, as because it could not get food any other way—but still, even in these cases the desire may be said to exist, though[Pg 188] it is secondary—being founded upon another and more elementary desire—the desire namely of escaping pain or obtaining food. In either case a desire of some kind is a precedent condition of the new action. And so as we know of no case of a new action coming into play without being preceded by desire, we seem to be justified in supposing that all our actions when they were first initiated (in our forefathers, if not in ourselves) were so preceded. If this is so, then, since function is always preceded by desire, and organisation is preceded by function, organisation must necessarily be preceded by desire. And if this is the order of creation in man, should we not reasonably look in this direction for the key to the variation of animals and the order of creation in general?[39]

If a farmer's son is occasionally born who hates farming and loves music, and who ultimately through the force of his desire (driving him into oppositions and difficulties and penurious struggles) transforms himself into a musician, is it not also likely that occasionally an animal is born who hates the customs of his tribe, and at last (also through struggles) transforms himself into something else? Even if he does not succeed (the animal) in entirely transforming himself, he likely transmits the desire in some degree to[Pg 189] his descendants, and the transformation is thus carried on and completed later. For everywhere among the animals there is desire, of some kind or another, obviously acting; and if in man, by our own experience, desire is the precursor and first expression of growth, is there any reason why it should not also be so among animals? Lamarck gives the instance—among others—of a gasteropod; how the need or desire of touching bodies in front of it as it crawled along would result in the formation of tentacles. The gasteropod, he says, would keep making efforts to feel with the front of its head, and the determination of consciousness that way would be accompanied by a supply of nervous and other fluids, which would nourish the part and cause growth there—the form of the growth continuing in the same way to be determined by need—till at last two or more tentacles would appear. True, the inward determinations of consciousness may not be so vivid and varied in animals as they are in men; but they are persistent, and by the very cumulative force of habit which is so strong in animals, must at length penetrate down through function into organisation and external form. Who shall say that the lark, by the mere love of soaring and singing in the face of the sun, has not altered the shape of its wings, or that the forms of the shark or of the gazelle are not the long-stored results of character leaning always in certain directions, as much as the forms of the miser or the libertine are among men?

Such modification as this is very different from the "survival of the fittest" of the Darwinian evolution theory. We may fairly suppose that both kinds of modification take place; but the latter is a sort of easy success won by an external accident of birth—a success of the kind that would readily be lost again; while the former is the uphill fight of a nature that has grown inwardly and wins expression for itself in spite of external obstacles—an expression which therefore is likely to be permanent. If the progenitors of man took to going upright on two legs instead of on all fours, merely because a few of them by chance were born with a talent for that position, which enabled them to escape the fanged and pursuing beasts, then when this danger was removed they might have plumped down again into the old attitude; but if the change was part and parcel of a true evolution, the fulfilment of a positive desire for the upright position, a true unfolding of a higher form latent within—an organic growth of the creature itself, then, though the moment of the evolution of this particular faculty might be determined by the fanged beasts, the fact of such evolution could not be determined by them. Besides, are we to suppose that Man, the lord and ruler of the animals, came merely by way of escape from the animals? Do lords and rulers generally come so? Was it fear that made him a man? Were it not likelier that in that case he would have turned into a worm? He would have escaped better perhaps that way. Is it not rather probable[Pg 191] that it was some nobler power that worked transforming—some dim desire and prevision of a more perfect form, the desire itself being the first consciousness of the urge of growth in that direction—that prompted him to push in the one direction rather than the other when he had to hold his own against the tigers? In fact is it not thus to-day, when a man has to meet danger, that the ideal which he has within him determines how he shall meet that danger, and others like it, and so ultimately determines the whole attitude and carriage of his body?

On the whole then, judging from man himself (and it seems most cautious and scientific to derive our main evidence from the being that we are best acquainted with), it certainly seems to me that, though the external conditions are a very important factor in Variation, the central explanation of this phenomenon should be sought in an inner law of Growth—a law of expansion more or less common to all animate nature. Partly because, as said before, the unfolding of the creature from its own needs and inward nature is an organic process, and likely to be persistent, while its modification by external causes must be more or less fortuitous and accidental and sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another; partly also because the movement from within outwards seems to be most like the law of creation in general. Under this view the external conditions would be considered a secondary—though important cause of modification; and regarded rather as[Pg 192] the influences that give form and detail to the great primal impulse of growth from within; while the creature's own ingenuity and good luck would occupy the ground between the two—as the means whereby the external conditions in each individual case would be turned to account to satisfy the inner needs, or the inner life would be accommodated to the external conditions.

If we take the external view of Variation—which is the one most favoured by modern science—modification or race-growth appears as an unconscious or accretive process, similar to the formation of a coral reef. There is no line of growth native in the race itself, but at any moment it is supposed to have an equal tendency to vary in any direction. Surrounding conditions act selectively; and by a process of weeding out certain types survive; small successive modifications are thus accumulated; and gradually and in the lapse of ages a more pliable and differentiated creature, and more adaptable to a variety of conditions, is produced—in whom however mind is incidental, and has played but small part in the creature's evolution. This in the main is the Darwinian-evolution theory.

If we take the internal view, growth is from the first eminently conscious. Every change begins in the mental region—is felt first as a desire gradually taking form into thought, passes down into the bodily region, expresses itself in action (more or less dependent on conditions), and finally solidifies itself in organisation and structure.[Pg 193] The process is not accretive, but exfoliatory—a continual movement from within outwards. When the desire or mental condition, which at first was painfully conscious, has overcome opposition and established itself in altered bodily structure, it has done its work, and becomes unconscious—the bodily function continuing for a long period to act automatically, till finally it is thrown off to make room for some later development. Thus race-growth or Variation is a process by which change begins in the mental region, passes into the bodily region where it becomes organised, and finally is thrown off like a husk. This may be called the theory of Exfoliation.

To illustrate our meaning. Let us take the development of an eye. In the amoeba there is a dim pervasive sensitiveness to light over the whole body, but there is no eye, nothing that we should call vision. Still this vague sensitiveness is of use to the amoeba. The shadow of its prey falling upon the creature and exciting a sensation hardly yet differentiated from touch helps to guide its movements. On this dim sensation it relies to some extent; its attention is directed towards it. Gradually, and in some descendant form, there comes to be a point on the body on which this attention is most specially concentrated. The faculty is localised; and from that moment a change is effected there, a differentiation and a special structure; everything that favours sensitiveness is encouraged at that place, everything that dulls it is removed; and before[Pg 194] long—there is a rudimentary eye. To-day we use our perfected eyes, and are hardly conscious that we are doing so; but every power of vision that we have was thus won for us by some lowlier creature, step by step, with effort and with concentration. Or to take an illustration from society. To-day society is ill at ease; a dim feeling of discontent pervades all ranks and classes. A new sense of justice, of fraternity, has descended among us, which is not satisfied with mere chatter of demand and supply. For a long time this new sentiment or desire remains vague and unformed, but at last it resolves itself into shape; it takes intellectual form, books are written, plans formed; then after a time definite new organisations, for the distinct purpose of expressing these ideas, begin to exist in the body of the old society; and before so very long the whole outer structure of society will have been reorganised by them. After a few centuries the ideas for whose realisation we now fight and struggle with an intense consciousness will have become commonplace, accepted institutions, more or less effete and ready to succumb before fresh mental births taking place from within.

The modern evolution theory would maintain that among many amoebas and descendant forms, one would at last by chance be born having the usual sensitiveness localised in a particular spot, and, surviving by force of this advantage, would transmit this "eye" to its posterity; or that in the progress of society, new economic conditions[Pg 195] having arisen, that people would prosper best which most effectually and rapidly adapted itself to them. But though there is doubtless truth in this view, yet it seems, when all has been said, to be inadequate and even feeble; it omits at least one half of the problem. If we look at ourselves, as already pointed out, we see the two forces—the inner and the outer—acting and re-acting on each other. May it not be so in animals? Lamarck, poorly off, blind, derided, was a true poet. "Animals vary from low and primitive types chiefly by dint of wishing"—and the world laughed and still laughs. But it was his deep sympathy even with the worms and insects (which he studied till he could discern them with his mortal eyes no longer) that led Lamarck to see the human nature and the human laws that moved within them; and as his outward sight grew dim there arose before him the inward vision of the true relationship which binds together all living creatures—which was indeed a vision of divine things, and as different from the mere mechanism-theory of the survival of the fittest as the sight of the starry heavens is different from a governess's lesson on the use of the globes.

On the theory of Exfoliation, which was practically Lamarck's theory, there is a force at work throughout creation, ever urging each type onward into new and newer forms. This force appears first in consciousness in the form of desire. Within each shape of life sleep needs and wants without number, from the lowest and simplest to the most[Pg 196] complex and ideal. As each new desire or ideal is evolved, it brings the creature into conflict with its surroundings, then gaining its satisfaction externalises itself in the structure of the creature, and leaves the way open for the birth of a new ideal. If then we would find a key to the understanding of the expansion and growth of all animate creation, such a key may exist in the nature of desire itself and the comprehension of its real meaning. It is not certain that it can be found here; but it may be.

What then is desire in Man? Here we come back again, as suggested at the outset, to Man himself. Though we see pretty clearly that desire is at work in the animals, and that it is the same in kind as exists in man, still, among the animals it is but dim and inchoate, while in man it is developed and luminous; in ourselves, too, we know it immediately, while in the animals only by inference. For both reasons, therefore, if we want to know the nature of desire—even to know its nature among animals—we should study it in Man. What then is this desire in Man, which seems to be the instigation and origin of all his growth and development? At first it seems a hydra-headed senseless thing without rhyme or reason; but the more one regards it the more clearly one sees that even in its lowest forms it is steadily building up and liberating all the functions of the human being. In its most perfect form—as in what we call Love—it is the sum and solution of human activities, that in which they converge,[Pg 197] for which they all exist, and without which they would be considered useless. The more you look into this matter, the plainer it becomes. The lesser desires—the self-preservation desires—hunger, thirst, the desire of power—exist, but when they are satisfied they empty themselves into this one; they find their interpretation in it. The other desires are nothing by themselves—the most absorbing, avarice, ambition, desire of knowledge, taken alone, stultify themselves—but love perpetuates itself; it is a flame which uses all the rest as its fuel. And this Love, which is the culmination of desire, does it not appear to us as a worship of and desire for the human form? In our bodies a desire for the bodily human form; in our interior selves a perception and worship of an ideal human form, the revelation of a Splendour dwelling in others, which—clouded and dimmed as it inevitably may come to be—remains after all one of the most real, perhaps the most real, of the facts of existence? Desire, therefore—as it exists in man, look at it how you will—as it unfolds and its ultimate aim becomes clearer and clearer to itself, is seen to be the desire and longing for the deliverance and expression of the real human Being. May it not, must it not, be the same thing in animals and all through creation? Beginning in the most elementary and dim shapes, does it not grow through all the stages of organic life clearer and more and more powerful, till at last it attains to self-consciousness in humanity and[Pg 198] becomes avowedly the leading factor in our development?

The desire which runs through creation is one desire. Rudimentary at first and hardly conscious of itself, throwing out a tentacle here, a foot there, developing an eye, a claw, a nostril, a wing, it seeks in innumerable shapes and with ever partial success to realise the image it has dimly conceived. The animal kingdom is the gymnasium, the school, the antechamber, of humanity; to walk through a zoological garden is to see the inchoate types of man, perched on branches, or browsing grass, or boring holes in the ground; it is to witness a grand rehearsal of some stupendous part, whose character we do not even yet fully see or understand. From such half-conscious beginnings the desire grows, its aim becomes clearer, till in the higher animals—the horse, the dog, the elephant, the bird, and many others—it becomes a marked and unmistakable force drawing them close to man, uniting them to him in a kind of acknowledged kinship, and as obviously at work modifying their structure as can be. Finally in man himself it becomes an absorbing power; love becomes a conscious worship of the divine form; generation itself is the means whereby, in time, the supreme object of desire is realised. When at last the perfect Man appears, the key to all nature is found, every creature falls into its place and finds its Interpreter, and the purpose of creation is at last made manifest.

The Theory of Exfoliation then differs from[Pg 199] that very specialised form of Evolution which has been adopted by modern science, in this particular among others: that it fixes the attention on that which appears last in order of Time, as the most important in order of causation, rather than on that which appears first; and recalls to us the fact that often in any succession of phenomena, that which is first in order of precedence and importance is the last to be externalised. Thus in the growth of a plant we find leaf after leaf appearing, petal within petal—a continual exfoliation of husks, sepals, petals, stamens and what-not; but the object of all this movement, and that which in a sense sets it all in motion, namely the seed, is the very last thing of all to be manifested. Or when a volcano breaks out—first of all we have a cracking and upheaval of superficial layers of ground, then of layers below these, then the outflow of lava, and last of all the uprush of the inner fires and forces which set it all agoing. What appears first in time, or in the outer world is—in the case of the building of a house, the making of bricks; in the case of the flower, the outermost bracts; in the case of a volcano, the stirring of the surface of the ground; and in the case of Life on the Earth, the appearance of protoplasms and primordial cells. The bricks are not the cause of the house (if indeed the word "cause" should be used here at all) but rather the house—or the conception of the house—is the cause of the bricks; and the cells are not the origin of Man, but Man is the original[Pg 200] of the cells. The rationale of sea-anemones and mud-fish and flying foxes and elephants has to be looked for in man: he alone underlies them. And man is not a vertebrate because his ancestors were vertebrate; but the animals are vertebrate, because or in so far as they are forerunners and offshoots of Man.

It has been frequently said that great material changes are succeeded by intellectual and finally by moral revolutions—as the conquests of Alexander passed on into the literary expansion of the Alexandrian schools and thence into the establishment of Christianity, or as the mechanical developments of our own time have been followed by immense literary and scientific activities, and are obviously passing over now into a great social regeneration; but a reconsideration of the matter might, I take it, lead us not so much to look on the later changes as caused by the earlier, as to look on the earlier as the indications and first outward and visible signs of the coming of the later. When a man feels in himself the upheaval of a new moral fact, he sees plainly enough that that fact cannot come into the actual world all at once—not without first a destruction of the existing order of society—such a destruction as makes him feel satanic; then an intellectual revolution; and lastly only, a new order embodying the new impulse. When this new impulse has thoroughly materialised itself, then after a time will come another inward birth, and similar changes will be passed through again. So it might be said that the work of each[Pg 201] age is not to build on the past, but to rise out of the past and throw it off; only of course in such matters where all forms of thought are inadequate it is hard to say that one way of looking at the subject is truer than another. As before, we should endeavour to look at the thing from different sides.

We are obliged to use images to think by—e.g. the opening of a flower or the accretive growth of a coral reef—and possibly it would save a good deal of trouble if we did not disguise by long words the truth that all our theories in science and philosophy are simply metaphors of this kind—but the fact still lies behind and below them.

Perhaps, if we are to use the word Cause at all, we should do well to use it in the old sense in which the final cause and the efficient cause are one (the eidos of Aristotle)—to use it not so much to link phenomena or externals to each other as to link each phenomenon in a group to the thought or feeling which underlies that group. The notes in the Dead March in Saul, for instance. We cannot say that one note is the cause of another, but we might say that each note stands in a causal subordination to the feeling which inspired the piece—which is the origin of the piece and the result of its performance—the alpha and omega of it. Similarly, the ground floor in a house is not the cause of the first floor, nor the first floor of the second floor, nor that of the roof; but these actualities and the whole house itself stand in strict relationship to a mental something which is[Pg 202] not in the same plane with them at all, nor an actuality in the same sense.

According to this view the notion that one configuration of atoms or bodies determines the next configuration turns out to be illusive. Both configurations are determined by a third something which does not belong to quite the same order of existence as the said atoms or bodies. Chance "laws" of succession may doubtless be found among physical events, and are valuable for practical purposes, but at any moment—owing to their superficiality—they may fail. Thus, an insect observing the expansion of the petals of a chrysanthemum might frame a law of their order of succession in size and colour, which would be valid for a time, but would fail entirely when the stamens appeared. Or, to take another illustration, physical science acts like a man trying to find direct causal relations between the various leaves of a tree, without first finding the relations of these to the branches and trunk—and so solving the problem indirectly. It deals only with the surface of the world of Man.

In thinking about such matters, Music, as Schopenhauer shows, is wonderfully illustrative, because in creating music man recognises that he is creating a world of his own—apart from and not to be confused with that other world of Nature (in which he does not recognise any of his handiwork). Supposing a non-musical person were to examine and analyse the score of a Beethoven symphony, he would be in the same [Pg 203]position as a man examining and analysing Nature by purely scientific or intellectual methods. He would discover the recurrence of certain groups among the notes, he would establish laws of their sequences, would make all kinds of curious generalisations about them, and point out some remarkable exceptions, would even very likely be able to predict a bar or two over the page; his treatise would be very learned, and from a certain point of view interesting also, but how far would he be from any real understanding of his subject? Let him change his method: let him train his ear, let him hear the symphony performed, over and over, till he understands its meaning and knows it by heart; and then he will know at any rate something of why each note is there, he will see its fitness and feel in himself the "law" of its occurrence, and possibly in some new case will be able to predict several bars over the page! The symphony is not understood by examination and comparison of the notes alone, but by experience of their relation to deepest feelings; and Nature is not explained by laws, but by its becoming—or rather being felt to be—the body of Man; marvellous interpreter and symbol of his inward being.

There is a kind of knowledge or consciousness in us—as of our bodily parts, or affections, or deep-seated mental beliefs—which forms the base of our more obvious and self-conscious thought. This systemic knowledge grows even while the brain sleeps. It is not by any means absolute or [Pg 204]infallible, but it affords, at any moment in man's history, the axiomatic ground on which his thought-structures, scientific and other, are built. Thus the axioms of Euclid are part of our present systemic knowledge, and afford the ground of all our geometry structures. But as the systemic consciousness grows, the ground shifts and the structures reared upon it fall. All our modern science, for instance, is founded on the acceptation of mechanical cause and effect as a basic fact of consciousness; but when that base gives way the entire structure will cave in, and a new edifice will have to be reared. Similarly, when the human form becomes distinctly visible to us in the animals—as an unavoidable part of our consciousness—this consciousness will form a new base or axiom for all our thought on the subject, and the theory of evolution, as hitherto conceived by science, will be entirely transformed.

Thus, although the experimental investigatory coral-reef accretion method of modern science is very valuable within its range, it must not be forgotten that the human mind does not progress more than temporarily by this method—that its progression is a matter of growth from within, and involves a continual breaking away of the bases of all thought-structures; so that, while this latter—i.e., the progression of the systemic consciousness of man—is necessary and continuous, the rise and fall of his thought-systems is accidental, so to speak, and discontinuous.

It is then finally in Man—in our own deepest[Pg 205] and most vital experience—that we have to look for the key and explanation of the changes that we see going on around us in external Nature, as we call it; and our understanding of the latter, and of History, must ever depend from point to point on the exfoliation of new facts in the individual consciousness. Round the ultimate disclosure of the essential Man all creation (hitherto groaning and travailing towards that perfect birth) ranges itself, as it were, like some vast flower, in concentric cycles; rank beyond rank; first all social life and history, then the animal kingdom, then the vegetable and mineral worlds. And if the outer circles have been the first in fact to show themselves, it is by this last disclosure that light is ultimately thrown on the whole plan; and, as in the myth of the Eden-garden, with the appearance of the perfected human form that the work of creation definitely completes itself.



[39] This does not, of course, preclude the action of external conditions, or imply that organisation is determined by desire alone. In fact organisation may be regarded as the expression of desire acting under conditions—as in the cases of the monkey and giraffe above.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:34 am


"Whatever is off the hinges of custom is believed to be also off the hinges of reason; though how unreasonably, for the most part, God knows.


Every human being grows up inside a sheath of custom, which enfolds it as the swathing clothes enfold the infant. The sacred customs of its early home, how fixed and immutable they appear to the child! It surely thinks that all the world in all times has proceeded on the same lines which bound its tiny life. It regards a breach of these rules (some of them at least) as a wild step in the dark, leading to unknown dangers.

Nevertheless its mental eyes have hardly opened ere it perceives, not without a shock, that whereas in the family dining-room the meat always precedes the pudding, below-stairs and in the cottage the pudding has a way of coming before the meat; that, whereas its father puts the manure on the top of his seed-potatoes in spring, his neighbor invariably places his potatoes on top of the manure. All its confidence in the sanctity[Pg 207] of its home life and the truth of things is upset. Surely there must be a right and a wrong way of eating one's dinner or of setting potatoes, and surely, if any one, "father" or "mother" must know what is right. The elders have always said (and indeed it seems only reasonable) that by this time of day everything has been so thoroughly worked over that the best methods of ordering our life—food, dress, domestic practices, social habits, etc., have long ago been determined. If so, why these divergencies in the simplest and most obvious matters?

And then other things give way. The sacred seeming-universal customs in which we were bred turn out to be only the practices of a small and narrow class or caste; or they prove to be confined to a very limited locality, and must be left behind when we set out on our travels; or they belong to the tenets of a feeble religious sect; or they are just the products of one age in history and no other. And the question forces itself upon us, Are there really no natural boundaries? has not our life anywhere been founded on reason and necessity, but only on arbitrary habit? What is more important than food, yet in what human matter is there more unaccountable divergence of practice? The Highlander flourishes on oatmeal, which the Sheffield ironworker would rather starve than eat; the fat snail which the Roman country gentleman once so prized now crawls unmolested in the Gloucestershire peasant's garden; rabbits are taboo in Germany; frogs are unspeakable[Pg 208] in England; sauer-kraut is detested in France; many races and gangs of people are quite certain they would die if deprived of meat, others think spirits of some kind a necessity, while to others again both these things are an abomination. Every country district has its local practices in food, and the peasants look with the greatest suspicion on any new dish, and can rarely be induced to adopt it. Though it has been abundantly proved that many of the British fungi are excellent eating, such is the force of custom that the mushroom alone is ever publicly recognised, while curiously enough it is said that in some other countries where the claims of other agarics are allowed the mushroom itself is not used! Finally, I feel myself (and the gentle reader probably feels the same) that I would rather die than subsist on insects, such is the deep-seated disgust we experience towards this class of food. Yet it is notorious that many races of respectable people adopt a diet of this sort, and only lately a book has been published giving details of the excellent provender of the kind that we habitually overlook—tasty morsels of caterpillars and beetles, and so forth! And indeed, when one comes to think of it, what can it be but prejudice which causes one to eat the periwinkle and reject the land-snail, or to prize the lively prawn and proscribe the cheerful grasshopper?

It is useless to say that these local and other divergencies are rooted in the necessities of the localities and times in which they occur. They[Pg 209] are nothing of the kind. For the most part they are mere customs, perhaps grown originally out of some necessity, but now perpetuated from simple habit and inherent human laziness. This can perhaps best be illustrated by going below the human to the kingdom of the animals. If customs are strong among men they are far stronger among animals. The sheep lives on grass, the cat lives on mice and other animal food. And it is generally assumed that the respective diets are the most "natural" in each case, and those on which the animals in question will readiest thrive, and indeed that they could not well live on any other. But nothing of the kind. For cats can be bred up to live on oatmeal and milk with next to no meat; and a sheep has been known to get on very comfortably on a diet of port wine and mutton chops! Dogs, whose "natural" food in the wild state is of the animal kind, are undoubtedly much healthier (at any rate in the domestic state) when kept on farinaceous substances with little or no meat, and indeed they take so kindly to a vegetable diet that they sometimes become perfect nuisances in a garden—eating strawberries, gooseberries, peas, etc., freely off the beds when they have once learned the habit. Any one, in fact, who has kept many pets knows what an astonishing variety of food they may be made to adopt, though each animal in the wild state has the most intensely narrow prejudices on the subject, and will perish rather than overstep the customs of its tribe. Thus pheasants[Pg 210] will eat fern-roots in winter when snow covers the ground, but the grouse "don't eat fern-roots," and die in consequence. A wolf of an inquiring turn of mind would probably find strawberries and peas as good food as a dog does, but it is practically certain that any ordinary member of the genus would perish in a garden full of the same if deprived of his customary bones.

All this seems to indicate what an immensely important part mere custom plays in the life of men and animals. The main part of the power which man acquires over the animals depends upon his establishing habits in them which, once established, they never think of violating: and the almost insuperable nature of this force in animals throws back light on the part it plays in human life.

Of course, I am not contending in the above remarks upon food that there is no physiological difference between a dog and a sheep in the matter of their digestive organs, and that the one is not by the nature of its body more fitted for one kind of food than the other; but rather that we should not neglect the importance of mere habit in such matters. Custom changed first; the change of physiological structure followed slowly after. What happened was probably something like this. Some time in the far back past a group of animals, driven perhaps by necessity, took to hunting in packs in the woods; it developed a modified physical structure in consequence, and special habits which in the course of time became[Pg 211] deeply fixed in the race. Another group saved its life by taking to grazing. Grass is poor food; but it was the only chance this group had, and in time it got so accustomed to eating grass that it could not imagine any other form of diet, and at first would refuse even oysters when placed in its way! Another group saw an opening in trees; it developed a long neck and became the giraffe. But the fact that the giraffe lives on leaves, and the sheep on grass, and the wolf on animal matter, and that custom is in each so strong that at first the creature will refuse any other kind of diet, does not of itself prove that that diet is the best or most physiologically suitable for it. In other words, it is an assumption to suppose that "adaptation to environment" is the sole or even the main factor in the constitution of well-marked varieties or genera; for this is to neglect (among other things) the force of mere use or wont, which has about the same import in race-growth that momentum has in dynamics; and causes the race, once started in any direction, to maintain its line of movement—and often in despite of its environment—even for thousands of years.

Returning to man we see him enveloped in a myriad customs—local customs, class customs, race customs, family customs, religious customs; customs in food, customs in clothing, customs in furniture, form of habitation, industrial production, art, social and municipal and national life, etc.; and the question arises, Where is the grain of necessity which underlies it all? How much[Pg 212] in each case is due to a real fitness in nature, and how much to mere otiose habit! The first thing that meets my eye in glancing out of the window is a tile on a neighboring roof. Why are tiles made S-shaped in some localities and flat in others? Surely the conditions of wind and rain are much the same in all places. Perhaps far back there was a reason, but now nothing remains but—custom. Why do we sit on chairs instead of on the floor, as the Japanese do, or on cushions like the Turk? It is a custom, and perhaps it suits with our other customs. The more we look into our life and consider the immense variety of habit in every department of it—even under conditions to all appearances exactly similar—the more are we impressed by the absence of any very serious necessity in the forms we ourselves are accustomed to. Each race, each class, each section of the population, each unit even, vaunts its own habits of life as superior to the rest, as the only true and legitimate forms; and peoples and classes will go to war with each other in assertion of their own special beliefs and practices; but the question that rather presses upon the ingenuous and inquiring mind is, whether any of us have got hold of much true life at all?—whether we are not rather mere multitudinous varieties of caddis-worms shuffled up in the cast-off skins and clothes and débris of those who have gone before us, and with very little vitality of our own perceptible within? How many times a day do we perform an action that is authentic[Pg 213] and not a mere mechanical piece of repetition? Indeed, if our various actions and practices were authentic and flowing from the true necessity, perhaps we shouldn't quarrel with each other over them so often as we do.

And then to come to the subject of morals. These also are customs—divergent to the last degree among different races, at different times, or in different localities; customs for which it is often difficult to find any ground in reason or the "fitness of things." Thieving is supposed to be discountenanced among us, yet our present-day trade-morality sanctions it in a thousand different forms; and the respectable usurer (who can hardly be said to be other than a thief) takes a high place at the table of life. To hunt the earth for game has from time immemorial been considered the natural birthright and privilege of man, until the landlord class (whom wicked Socialists now denounce!) invented the crime of poaching and hanged men for it. As to marriage customs, in different times and among different peoples, they have been simply innumerable. And here the sense of inviolability in each case is most powerful. The severest penalties, the most stringent public opinion, biting deep down into the individual conscience, enforce the various codes of various times and places; yet they all contradict each other. Polygamy in one country, polyandry in the next; brother and sister marriage allowed at one time, marriage with your mother's cousin forbidden at another;[Pg 214] prostitution sacred in the temples of antiquity, trampled under foot in the gutters of our great cities of to-day; monogamy respectable in one land, a mark of class-inferiority in another; celibacy scorned by some sections of people, accepted as the highest state by others; and so on.

What are we to conclude from all this? Is it possible, once we have fairly faced the immense variety of human life in every department of arts, manners, and morals—a variety, too, existing in a vast number of cases under conditions to all intents and purposes quite similar—is it possible ever again to suppose that the particular practices which we are accustomed to are very much better (or, indeed, very much worse) than the particular practices which others are accustomed to? We have been born, as I said at first, into a sheath of custom which enfolds us with our swaddling-clothes. When we begin to grow to manhood we see what sort of a thing it is which surrounds us. It is an old husk now. It does not bear looking into; it is rotten, it is inconsistent, it is thoroughly indefensible; yet very likely we have to accept it. The caddis-worm has grown to its tube and cannot leave it. A little spark of vitality amid a heap of dead matter, all it can do is to make its dwelling a little more convenient in shape for itself, or (like the coral insect) to prolong its growth in the most favourable direction for those that come after. The class, the caste, the locality, the age in which we were born has determined our form of life, and in that form very[Pg 215] likely we must remain. But a change has come over our minds. The vauntings of earlier days we abandon. We, at any rate, are no better than anybody else, and at best, alas! are only half alive.

If these, then, are our conclusions, is it not with justice that children and early races keep so rigidly to the narrow path that custom has made for them? Have they not an instinctive feeling that to forsake custom would be to launch out on a trackless sea where life would cease to have any special purpose or direction, and morality would be utterly gulfed? Custom for them is the line of their growth; it is the coral-branch from the end of which the next insect builds; it is the hardening bark of the tree-twig which determines the direction of the growing shoot. It may be merely arbitrary, this custom, but that they do not know; its appearance of finality and necessity may be quite illusive; but the illusion is necessary for life, and the arbitrariness is just what makes one life different from another. Till he grows to manhood, the human being, he cannot do without it.

And when he grows to manhood, what then? Why he dies, and so becomes alive. The caddis-fly leaves his tube behind and soars into the upper air; the creature abandons its barnacle existence on the rock and swims at large in the sea. For it is just when we die to custom that, for the first time, we rise into the true life of humanity; it is just when we abandon all prejudice of our own[Pg 216] superiority over others, and become convinced of our entire indefensibleness, that the world opens out with comrade faces in all directions; and when we perceive how entirely arbitrary is the setting of our own life, that the whole structure collapses on which our apartness from others rests, and we pass easily and at once into the great ocean of freedom and equality.

This is, as it were, a new departure for man, for which even to-day the old world, overlaid with myriad customs now brought into obvious and open conflict with each other, is evidently preparing. The period of human infancy is coming to an end. Now comes the time of manhood and true vitality.

Possibly this is a law of history, that when man has run through every variety of custom a time comes for him to be freed from it—that is, he uses it indifferently according to his requirements, and is no longer a slave to it; all human practices find their use, and none are forbidden. At this point, whenever reached, "morals" come to an end and humanity takes its place—that is to say, there is no longer any code of action, but the one object of all action is the deliverance of the human being and the establishment of equality between oneself and another, the entry into a new life, which new life when entered into is glad and perfect, because there is no more any effort or strain in it; but it is the recognition of oneself in others, eternally.

Far as custom has carried man from man,[Pg 217] yet when at last in the ever-branching series the complete human being is produced, it knows at once its kinship with all the other forms. "I have passed my spirit in determination and compassion round the whole earth, and found only equals and lovers." More, it knows its kinship with the animals. It sees that it is only habit, an illusion of difference, that divides; and it perceives after all that it is the same human creature that flies in the air, and swims in the sea, or walks biped upon the land.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:36 am


In bringing before you this subject of a Rational and Humane Science you will perhaps forgive me if I dwell for a few moments on some points of personal history in relation to it. After reading mathematics for some four years at Cambridge, it happened to me for the next ten years or so to be engaged in the study of the physical sciences, and in lectures on these subjects. Naturally, during the earlier part of this period I accepted the current methods and conclusions without any question. But as time went on I became aware of a certain dissatisfaction; I felt that many of the laws of Science, enounced as universal truths, were of very limited application only, that many of the conclusions, so strongly insisted on, were of quite doubtful validity; and at last this increasing dissatisfaction culminated in a rather violent attack or criticism of Modern Science which I wrote and published about the year 1884.[40]

Now, looking back, at this interval of time, though I admit that my attack was somewhat hasty and crude in detail, I feel that in its main contention it was thoroughly justified, and I do not feel the least inclined to withdraw it.

What was that main contention? It was as follows. Modern Science is an attempt (and no doubt it would accept this definition of itself) to survey and classify the phenomena of the world in the pure dry light of the intellect, uncoloured by feeling; and so far is an effort to separate the intellectual in man from the merely perceptive, the emotional, the moral, and so forth. It was in this very fact that my criticism lay; for I contended that such a separation was in the long run quite impossible.

But before proceeding to defend this position, let me admit at once that this attempt of Modern Science to get rid of human feeling and to look at everything in the dry light of the intellect was in some respects a very grand one. When you consider what the Old-time Science was, with its fancies and prejudices, its dragons pasturing upon the sun and moon in eclipses, its immolations of hundreds of human beings to appease some god of pestilence or earthquake, its panics, its superstitions, and its incapability of regarding anything except from the point of view of that thing's influence on man's own comfort and his little hopes and fears, it was indeed a grand advance to try and see facts, uncoloured and for themselves alone. It was an effort of Man as it were to rise above[Pg 221] himself, to which I accord the fullest credit and honour.

And yet, during the time spoken of, it kept growing on me: first, that the attempt was an impossible one; secondly, that the Science so-called was not a true Science; and thirdly, that in its pretence to an intellectual exactitude which it did not really possess, this Modern Science was leading to a narrow-mindedness and a dogmatism as bad as the old.

There is in fact (so I think) a fallacy in the attempt. But how shall I describe it? Our relations to the world may, quite roughly speaking, be divided into three groups—those that are sensuous and perceptional, those that are purely intellectual, and those that are of an emotional and moral order. Take any object of Nature—a bird, for instance. We may look upon the bird as an object of sense-perceptions—its form, its colour, its song, and so forth. Some people attain to extraordinary skill and quickness in this department, recognising in a moment the note or even the flight of a songster. Then again we may look upon the bird from the intellectual side—we may study it in relation to its surroundings—the form of its wings, the length of its leg, the character of its beak, and their adaptation to its habits, to its locality, to its food, and so forth. Thus we may get a whole series of purely intellectual results—relations of the bird to the world in which it lives. This is the special field of the present-day Science. But, again, we may regard the bird in its emotional and moral[Pg 222] relations to us. One man at the sight of it may be affected with admiration of its beauty, with tenderness towards it, or sympathy; another may be stimulated to wonder whether he can kill it, or whether it is good to eat! Modern Science is indifferent to what this last set of relations may be; it does not concern itself much with the first; but it takes the middle term, the purely intellectual, and seeks to abstract that from the others, to study the bird, or whatever the object may be, in the one aspect only. But can that really be done? The answer is, of course, No.

To show my general meaning, and why I consider the claim an impossible one, let us imagine a little cell—one of the myriads which constitute the human body—professing in the same sort of way to stand outside the body and explain the laws of the other cells and the body at large. It is obvious that the little cell, swept along in the currents of the body and swayed by its emotions, in close proximity and contact with some portions of the organism, and far remote from others, cannot possibly pretend to any such impartial judgment. It is obvious not only that it would not have all the clues of the problem at its command, but that its own needs and experiences would prejudice it frightfully in the interpretation of such clues as it had. Yet man is such a little cell in the body of Nature, or, if you like, in the body of the Society of which he forms a part.

There is, however, one way, it seems to me,[Pg 223] in which a cell in the human body might come to an adequate understanding of the body; and that would be rather through experience than through direct reasoning. It is conceivable that there might be some cell in the body which, through the nerves, etc., was in actual touch and sympathetic relationship with every other cell. Then it certainly would have the materials of the required solution. Every change in other parts of the body would register itself in this particular cell; and its little brain (if it had one), without exactly making any great effort, would reflect sympathetically the structure of the whole body—would become, in fact, a mirror of it. This will perhaps give you the key to my notion of what a true Science might be.

But before proceeding to that, I want to go a little more in detail into the fallacy of the absolute intellectual view of Science. I say, first, that a complete summary of any object or process in Nature is impossible; secondly, that such summary as we do make is, and must inevitably and necessarily be, coloured by the underlying feeling with which we approach that phase of Nature.

To take the first point. You say, Why is a complete summary not possible? A watch or other machine may be completely described and defined; why should not (with a little more knowledge) a fir-tree, or the human eye, or the solar system, be completely described and defined?

And this brings us to what may be called the[Pg 224] Machine-view of Science. It is curious (and yet I think it will presently be seen that it is quite what might have been expected) that during this century or so, in which Machinery has played such an important part in our daily and social life, mechanical ideas have come to colour all our conceptions of Science and the Universe. Modern Science holds it as a kind of ideal (even though finding it at times difficult to realise) to reduce everything to mechanical action, and to show each process of Nature intelligible in the same sense as a Machine is intelligible. Yet this conception, this ideal, involves a complete fallacy. For the moment you come to think of it, you see that no part of Nature really even resembles a machine.

What is a machine in the ordinary sense? It is an aggregation of parts put together to fulfil certain definite actions and no others. A sewing-machine fulfils the purpose of sewing, a watch fulfils that of keeping time, and they fulfil those purposes only. All their parts subserve those actions, and in that sense may be completely described—as far as just their mechanical action is concerned—the same by a thousand mechanicians. But I make bold to say that no object in Nature fulfils just one action, or series of actions, and no others. On the contrary, every object fulfils an endless series of actions.

Let us take the Human Eye. And I choose this as an instance most adverse to my position, for there is no doubt that the Human Eye is one[Pg 225] of the most highly specialised objects in creation. Helmholtz, as you know, is said to have remarked concerning it that if an Optician had sent him an instrument so defective he should have returned it with his compliments. Helmholtz was a great man, and I will not do him the injustice to suppose that he did not know what he was saying. He knew that, regarded as a machine for focussing rays of light, the eye was decidedly defective; but then he knew well enough, doubtless, why it was defective—namely, because it is by no means merely such a machine, but a great deal more.

The Eye, in fact, not only fulfils the action of focussing rays of light—like an Opera Glass or a Telescope—but it might be compared to another instrument, a Photographic Camera, in respect of the fact that it forms a picture of the outer world which it throws on a sensitive plate at the back—the Retina. But then, again, it is unlike any of these "machines," in the fact that it was never made by any Optician, human or divine, for any one definite purpose. On the contrary, as we know, it has grown, it has evolved; it has come down to us over the centuries, and over thousands and thousands of centuries, from dim beginnings in the lowliest organisms who first conceived the faculty of Sight, continually modified, continually shapen by small increments in various directions, in accordance with the myriad needs of a myriad creatures, living, some of them in water, some of them in air, requiring some of them to see at[Pg 226] close quarters, some at great distances, some by one kind of light, some by another, and so forth. So that to-day it not only contains a great range of inherited, yet latent, faculties, but it is actually, in its complex structure, an epitome and partial record of its own extraordinary history.

As an instance of this last point, let me remind you that Sight was originally a differentiation of Touch. The light, the shadows, falling on the sensitive general surface of a primitive organism provoke a tactile irritation. In the course of evolution this sense specialises itself at some point of the surface into what we call Sight. Now, to-day, when the little picture formed by the fore-part of the Human Eye falls upon the Retina at the back, it falls upon a screen formed by the myriad congregated finger-tips, so to speak, of the optic nerve—the rods and cones, so-called—which cover like a mosaic the whole ground of the Retina, and feel with their sensitive points the images of the objects in the outer world. And so Sight is still Touch—it is the power of feeling or touching at a distance—as one sometimes in fact becomes aware in looking at things.

But then again on and beyond all these things—beyond the focussing and photographing of rays, beyond the latent adaptations to the needs of innumerable creatures, and the epitomising of ages of evolution—the Human Eye has faculties even more far-reaching perhaps and wonderful. It is the marvellous organ of human Expression. By the dilatations and contractions of the iris, by[Pg 227] the altering convexities of the lens and the eyeball, and in a hundred other ways, it manages somehow to convey intelligence of Command, Control, Power, of Pity, Love, Sympathy, and all those myriad emotions which flit through the human mind—an endless series—a perfect encyclopædia. It is difficult even to imagine the eye without this power of language. And what other functions it may have it is not necessary to inquire. Highly specialised though it is, it is already obvious enough that to call it a Machine for focussing rays of light is monstrously and ludicrously inadequate—even as it would be to call the Heart (the very centre of emotion and life, and the symbol of human love and courage) a common Pump.

Nature is an infinitude, and can at no point be circumscribed by the human intellect. Nor obviously is there any sense in taking one little portion of Nature and isolating it from the rest, and then describing it exhaustively as if it really were so isolated. A thousand mechanicians will agree, as I have said, in their description of a machine, because in fact they will agree to view the machine just in the one aspect of its particular action; but ask a thousand people to describe one and the same face—or, better still, get a thousand portrait-painters, skilled in their art, to paint portraits of the same face—and you know perfectly well that all the likenesses will be different. And why will they be different? Simply because every face, however rude, has infinite sides, infinite aspects,[Pg 228] and each painter selects what he paints from his own point of view. And the same is true of every object and process in Nature.

Then if these things are true (you ask again) how is it that scientific men do arrive at definite conclusions, and do agree with each other so far as they do?

It is, and obviously must be, by the method of isolation; by the method of selecting certain aspects of the problems presented to them, and ignoring others. For since all the relations of any phenomenon of Nature cannot possibly be compassed, the only way must be to ignore some and concentrate attention on others; and when there is a kind of tacit agreement as to which aspects shall be passed over and which considered, there is naturally an agreement in the results. Thus by this method, waiving all other aspects of the problem, the Eye may be described and defined as an optical instrument, the Heart as a common Pump, and the Solar System as a neat illustration of certain mechanical laws discovered by Galileo and Newton.

On the subject of the Solar System and Astronomy I will dwell for a few moments, as here—in this great example of the perfection of Modern Science—we have again a case apparently most adverse to my contention. The generalisations by which Newton established the nature of the planetary orbits has been a wonder to succeeding generations; the positions of the planets can be foretold, eclipses can be calculated with[Pg 229] amazing accuracy. Yet every tyro in Mathematics knows that the equations which give these results can only be solved by what is called "neglecting small quantities"—that is, the problems cannot be solved in their entirety, but by leaving out certain terms and elements, which do not appear important, a solution can be approached. And naturally it has been an important point to show that these small quantities may be safely neglected. In the case, for instance, of the orbits of the planets round the sun, and of the moon round the earth, it was for a long time taken as proved that the small variations in the shape and position of each elliptic orbit would never be accompanied by any permanent increase or diminution in its size—that is, that the mean distances of the planets from the sun, and of the moon from the earth, would always remain within certain limits. Of late years however Professor George Darwin, taking up one of these poor little neglected quantities in the theory of the moon, found that it indicated after all very vast and very permanent, though of course very slow, changes in her mean distance from the earth; so that now it appears probable that the Moon's true orbit, instead of being a limited ellipse, is a continually though gradually enlarging Spiral, which may some day carry the Moon to a great distance from the earth. If an eclipse were calculated for twenty years in advance on the Elliptic theory or the Spiral theory, it would probably—so slow would be the divergence—make no perceptible difference; but in a hundred[Pg 230] centuries the two theories would lead to results utterly different.

Thus the certitude of Astronomy as a Science arises largely from the fact that our times are so brief compared with Celestial periods. The proper periods of Celestial changes are to be reckoned by thousands, perhaps millions, of years; but we, ignoring that aspect of the problem, fix our observations on one little point of time, and are quite satisfied with the result!

As another illustration of my meaning, consider the Fixed Stars, so-called. These stars in their groups and clusters, which we know so well by sight, have remained apparently in the very same, or nearly the same, relative positions during all the 2,000 or 3,000 years that we have any record of the shapes of the Constellations. Yet now by minute telescopic and spectroscopic examination we know that they are moving, and have been moving all the time, in various differing directions with great velocities, amounting to miles per second. Nevertheless, so great are the spaces concerned, so great the times, that all this long period has not sufficed to bring them into any greatly changed attitude with regard to each other! What would you think of an intelligent foreigner who, coming to England to study the game of cricket, remained on the cricket field for a quarter of a minute—during which time the players would have hardly changed their positions—and having noted a few points, went away and wrote a volume on the laws of the game? And what are we to think of[Pg 231] poor little Man who, having noted the stars for a few centuries, is so sure that he understands their movements, and that he is versed in all the "ordinances of heaven."

Thus it would appear that every Nature-problem is so enormously complex that it can only be got at by what we have called the Method of Ignorance. Let us take a practical Science problem like that of Vaccination. The question here, put in its simplest terms, seems to be, Whether Vaccination, with calf or human lymph, prevents or alleviates Smallpox; and if it does, whether it does so without engendering other evils at least as great. At first sight this may appear to you a very simple question, and easy to solve; but the moment you come to think about it, you see its extreme complexity. In the first place, it is obvious that in a question like this, individual cases afford no test. It is obvious that the fact that A. is vaccinated and has not taken small-pox proves nothing, for there is nothing to show that he would have taken it if he had not been vaccinated. And when you have got people vaccinated by the hundred and the thousand, you still are not certain; for these people may belong to a certain class, or a certain locality, or may have certain habits and conditions of life, which may account for their comparative immunity, and these causes must be eliminated before any definite conclusion can be reached. Thus it is not till the great mass of the population is vaccinated that we can expect reliable statistics. But the introduction of a [Pg 232]practice of this kind on so great a scale necessarily takes a long period of years, and meanwhile changes are taking place in the habits of the people, Sanitation is being improved, customs of Diet are altering, possibly (as so often happens in the history of an epidemic) the disease, having run its course, is beginning spontaneously to decline. And thus another series of possible causes has to be discussed.

Then, supposing the question, notwithstanding all these difficulties, to be so far settled in favour of the present system—there still arises that whole other series of difficulties with regard to the possibility of the spread of other diseases by the practice, and with regard to the extent of such spread, before we can arrive at any finale. This series of questions is almost as complex as the other; and it includes that great element of uncertainty—the question what interval of time may elapse between inoculation with a disease and its actual appearance. For if in several cases children break out with erysipelas immediately after vaccination, of course there is a certain presumption that vaccination has been the cause; but if the erysipelas only appears some years after, its connection with the operation may, though real, be impossible to trace.

The matter standing thus, it seems to us almost a mystery how it was that the medical authorities of the early days of Jennerism were so cocksure of their conclusions—until we remember that in arriving at those conclusions they practically[Pg 233] ignored all these other points that I have mentioned, like changes of Sanitation, spontaneous decline of Small-pox, the spread of other diseases, etc., and simply limited themselves to one small aspect of the problem. But now, after this interval of time, when the neglected facts and aspects have meanwhile forced themselves on our attention, how remarkable is the change of attitude as evidenced by the finding of the late Royal Commission! (1896).

From all this do not understand me to deride Science—for I have no intention of doing that; on the contrary, I think the debt we owe to modern investigation quite incalculable; but I only wish to warn you how complex all these problems are, how impossible that notion of settling even one of them by a cut-and-dried intellectual formula.

But you will ask (for this is the second point I mentioned some little time back) how people's emotions and feelings come in to colour their scientific conclusions? And the answer is—very simply, namely by directing their choice as to what aspects of the problem they will ignore and what aspects they will envisage; by determining their point of view, in fact. To return to that illustration of several portrait-painters painting the same face; just as each painter is led by his feeling, his sympathies, his general temperament, to select certain points in the face and to pass over others, so each group of scientific men in each generation is led by its sympathies, its [Pg 234]idiosyncrasies, to envisage certain aspects of the problems of the day and to ignore others.

The whole history of Science illustrates this. We are all familiar with the way in which the predilections of religious feeling in the time of Copernicus and Galileo retarded the progress of astronomical Science. As long as people believed that a divine drama of redemption had been enacted on this earth alone, they naturally concluded that this earth was the centre of the universe, and refused to look at facts which contradicted their conclusion. When Galileo turned his newly-made telescope on Jupiter and saw it circled by its satellites, he saw in this an image of the Copernican system and of the planets circling round the central Sun; but when he asked others to share his observation and his inference, they would not. "O, my dear Kepler," he writes in a letter to his fellow astronomer, "how I wish we could have one hearty laugh together. Here at Padua is the principal Professor of Philosophy, whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass; but he pertinaciously refuses to do so. What shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly!"

And though we laugh at the folly of those before us, we do the same things ourselves to-day. Take the science of Political Economy. A revolution has taken place in that, almost comparable to the change from the geocentric to the heliocentric view in Astronomy. During the distinctively[Pg 235] commercial period of the last 100 years, the leading students of social science, being themselves filled with the spirit of the time, have been fain to look upon the acquisition of private wealth as the one absorbing motive of human nature; and so it has come about that the economists, from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, have founded their science on self-seeking and competition, as the base of their analysis. To-day another series of economists coming to the front—their minds preoccupied with the great facts of Community of life and Co-operation—have discovered that Society is in the main an illustration of these latter principles, and have evolved a quite new phase of the science. It is not that Society has changed so much during this period, as that the altered point of view of the students of Society has caused them simply to fix their attention on a different aspect of the problem and a different range of facts.

I have alluded already to the way in which the prevalent use of Machinery in practical life has affected our mental outlook on the world. It is curious that during this mechanical age of the last 100 years or so, we have not only come to regard Society in a mechanical light, as a concourse of separate individuals bound together by a mere cash-nexus, but have extended the same idea to the universe at large, which we look upon as a concourse of separate atoms, associated together by gravitation, or possibly by mere mutual impact. Yet it is certain that both these views[Pg 236] are false, since the individuals who compose Society are not separate from each other; and the theory that the universe, in its ultimate analysis, is composed of a vast number of discrete atoms is simply unthinkable.

When we come to a practical and modern question like Medicine, the influence of the spirit in which it is approached on the course of the science is very easy to see. For if the science of Medicine is approached (as it perhaps mostly is to-day) in a spirit of combined Fear and Self-indulgence—fear for one's own personal safety, combined with a kind of anxiety to continue living in the indulgence of habits known to be unhealthy—if it is approached in this uncomfortable and contradictory state of mind, it is pretty obvious that its course will be similarly uncomfortable: that it will consist for the most part in a search for drugs which shall, without effort on our part, palliate the effects of our misconduct; in the discovery, as in a kind of nightmare, that the air round us is full of billions of microbes; in a terrified study of these messengers of disease, and in a frantic effort to ward them off by inoculations, vaccinations, vivisections, and so forth, without end.

If, on the other hand, the science is approached from quite a different side—from that of the love of Health, and the desire to make life lovely, beautiful and clean; if the student is filled not only with this, but with a great belief in the essential power of Man, and his command in creation, to[Pg 237] control not only all these little microbes whose name is Legion, but through his mind all the processes of his body; then it is obvious enough that a whole series of different facts will arise before his eyes and become the subject of his study—facts of sanitation, of the laws of cleanly life, diet, clothing and so forth, methods of control, and the details and practice of the influence of the mental upon the physical part of man—facts quite equally real with the others, equally important, equally numerous perhaps and complex, but forming a totally different range of science.

In conclusion, you begin to see doubtless that I do not believe in a science of mere Formulas, which can be poured from one brain to another like water in a pot. I believe in something more organic to Humanity—which shall combine Sense, Intellect and Soul; which shall include the keenest training of the Senses, the exactest use of the Brain, and the subordination of both of these to the finest and most generous attitude of Man towards Nature.

To come to quite practical aspects, I think that Physical Science, and for that matter Natural History too, ought to be founded on the closest observation and actual intimacy with Nature. It is notorious that in many respects the perceptions, the Nature-intuitions, of savage races far outdo those of civilised man. We have let that side go slack, and too often the man of science when he comes out of his study is a mere baby[Pg 238] in the external world. I look back with a kind of shame when I think that I studied the mathematical side of Astronomy for three or four years at Cambridge and absolutely at the time hardly knew one star from another in the sky. But such are the methods of teaching that have been in use. They ought however to be reversed, and practical acquaintance with the facts should come a long way first, and then be succeeded by inductive and deductive reasoning when the difficulties of the subject have forced themselves on the student's mind.

Then in Natural History and Botany I think that we have hitherto not only neglected the perceptive side, but also what may be called the intuitive and emotional aspects. If any one will attend to the subject, I believe they will perceive that there are dormant in the mind the finest intuitions and instincts of relationship to the various animals and plants—intuitions which have played a far more important part in the life of barbaric races than they do to-day.[41] Primitive peoples have a remarkable instinct of the medicinal and dietetic uses of herbs and plants—an instinct which we also find well developed among animals—and I believe that this kind of knowledge would grow largely if, so to speak, it were given a chance.[Pg 239] The formal classification of animals and plants—which now forms the main part of these sciences—would then come in simply as an aid and an auxiliary to the more direct and human study.

Again, let us take the science of Physiology. At present this is mainly carried on by means of Dissection or Vivisection. But both these methods are unsatisfactory. Dissection, because it amounts to studying the organisation of a living creature by the examination of its dead carcase; and Vivisection, because it is not only open to a similar objection, but because it necessarily violates the highest relation of man to the animal he is studying. There is, I believe, another method—a method which has been known in the East for centuries, though little regarded in the West—which may perhaps be called the method of Health. It consists in rendering the body, by proper habits of life, pure and healthy, till it becomes, as it were, transparent to the inner eye, and then projecting the consciousness inward so as to become almost as sensible of the structure and function of the various internal organs, as it usually is of the outer surface of the body. Of course this is a process which cannot be effectuated at once, and which may need help and corroboration by external methods of study, but I believe it is one which will lead to considerable results. There is no doubt that many of the Yogis of India attain to great skill in it.

Similarly, from what we have already said[Pg 240] about Political Economy, it is obvious that satisfactory results in that science must depend immensely on the high degree of social instinct and feeling with which the student approaches it, and on the thoroughness of his acquaintance with the actual life of a people; and that the development of these factors is fully as important a part of the science as that which consists in the logical ordering and arrangement of the material obtained.

I need not, I think, go any further into detail of new methods in each Science. You remember what I said at the beginning about the Cell studying the Body of which it formed a part. We may imagine, if we like, three stages in this process. In the first stage the Cell regards the other cells and the Body simply from the point of view of how they affect it, and its comfort and safety. This might be taken to correspond to the Old-time Science. In the second stage the Cell, with its tiny experience of the other cells and the small part of the body in which it is placed, becomes highly intellectual, and professes to lay down the laws of the structure of the body generally. This corresponds to the attitude of Modern Science. In the third stage the Cell, growing and evolving, and coming daily into closer sympathetic relationship with all parts of the body, begins to find its true relation to the other cells, not to use them, but to fulfil its part in the whole. Gradually drawing all the threads together and coming more and more, so to say, into a central position,[Pg 241] it at last in its little brain spontaneously and inevitably reflects the whole, and becomes the mirror of it. This would answer to what we have called a really rational and humane Science.

Man has to find and to feel his true relation to other creatures and to the whole of which he is a part, and has to use his brain to further this. Science is, as we all know, the search for Unity. That is its ideal. It unites innumerable phenomena under one law; and then it unites many laws under one higher; always seeking for the ultimate complete integration. But (is it not obvious?) Man cannot find that unity of the Whole until he feels his unity with the Whole. To found a Science of one-ness on the murderous Warfare and insane Competition of men with each other, and on the Slaughter and Vivisection of animals—the search for unity on the practice of disunity—is an absurdity, which can only in the long run reveal itself as such.

I do not know whether it seems obvious to you, but it does to me, that Man will never find in theory the unity of outer Nature till he reaches in practice the unity of his own. When he has learnt to harmonise in himself all his powers, bodily and mental, his desires, faculties, needs, and bring them into perfect co-operation—when he has found the true hierarchy of himself—then somehow I think that Nature round him will reflect this order, and range itself in clear and intelligible harmony about him.

But I can say no more. I have dragged you[Pg 242] by the neck, as it were, through a recondite and difficult subject; and even so I do not feel that I have by any means done justice to it. But it is possible, perhaps, that I have cast the germ of an idea among you, which, if you think over it at leisure, may develop into something of value.



[40] Afterwards reprinted in a modified form, as "Modern Science—a Criticism", in the first edition (1889) of the present book.

[41] Elisée Reclus, in his remarkable paper, La Grande Famille, points out the wide-reaching Friendship, and free alliance for various purposes, of primitive man with the animals, existing long before the so-called "domestication" of the latter. See Humane Review, January, 1906.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:37 am


The tendency of the Evolution Theory, as it penetrates human thought, is to rub out lines—the old lines of formal classification. We no longer now put in a class apart those animals which have horns or cloven hooves, because we find that continuous descent and close kinship weave relations which are not bounded by horns or hooves. And, for a not dissimilar reason, modern thought, based on the theory of evolution, is tending to rub out the hard and fast lines between moral Right and Wrong—the old formal classifications of actions as some in their nature good, and some in their nature bad.

The Eastern, or at least Indian, thought and religion rubbed out these lines long ago. Its philosophy indeed was founded on a theory of Evolution—the continuous evolution or emanation of the Many from the One. It could not therefore regard any class of beings or creatures as essentially bad, or any class of actions as essentially wrong, since all sprang from a common Root. The only essential evil was ignorance (avidya)—that is, the fact of the[Pg 244] being or creature not knowing or perceiving its emanation from, or kinship with, the One—and of course any action done under this condition of avidya, however outwardly correct, was essentially wrong; while on the other hand all actions done by beings fully realising and conscious of their union with the One were necessarily right.

Of this attitude towards Right and Wrong there are abundant instances in the Upanishads. The choice of the path does not lie between Good and Bad, as in the Pilgrim's Progress, but it lies above and in a region transcending them both. "By the serenity of his thoughts a man blots out all actions, whether good or bad."[42] "He does not distress himself with the thought, Why did I not do what is good? Why did I do what is bad?"[43] All religions indeed, by the very fact of their being religions, have indicated a sphere above morality, to which their followers shall and must aspire. What else is St. Paul's reiterated charge to escape from the dominion of sin and law, into the glorious liberty of the children of God? And in all ages the great mystics—those who stand near the fountain-sources of evolution and emanation—have seen and said the same. Says Spinoza:—"With regard to good and evil, these terms indicate nothing positive in things considered in themselves, nor are they anything else than modes of thought, or notions[Pg 245] which we form from the comparison of one thing with another. For one and the same thing may at the same time be both good and evil, or indifferent."[44]

Here indeed, in these pregnant words, we come upon the very root of the matter. A thing, an action, may be called good or bad in respect to a certain purpose or object; but in itself, No. Wine may be good for the encouragement of sociability, but may be bad for the liver. The Sabbath-day may be pronounced a beneficial institution from some points of view, but not from others. A scrupulous respect for private property may certainly be a help to settled social life; but the practice of thieving—as recommended by Plato—may be very useful to check the lust of private riches. To speak of wine as in its nature good or bad is manifestly absurd; and the same of a pious respect for private property or the Sabbath-day. These things are good under certain conditions or for certain purposes, and bad under other conditions or for other purposes. But of course it belongs and goes with the brute externalising tendency of the mind, to stereotype the actual material thing—which should be only the vehicle of the spirit—and give it a character and a cult as good or bad. The Sabbath ceases to be made for man, and man is made for the Sabbath. Law, Custom, Pharisaism, and Self-righteousness spring up and usurp the sphere of morality, and all the histories of savage[Pg 246] and civilised nations, with their endless fetishes and taboos and superstitions and ceremonies, and caste-marks and phylacteries, and petty regulations and proprieties,—including bitter scorn and persecution of those who do not fulfil them,—are but illustrations of this process.

All the prophets and saviours of the world have been for the Spirit as against the letter—and the teachings of all religions have in their turn become literalised and fossilised! Perhaps there has been no greater anti-literal than Jesus of Nazareth, and yet perhaps no religion has become more a thing of forms and dogmas than that which passes under his name. Even his counsels of Gentleness and Love—which one would indeed have thought might escape this process—have been corrupted into mere prescriptions of morality, such as those of Non-resistance, and of philanthropic Altruism.

It seems strange indeed that so great a man as Tolstoy should have lent himself to this process—to the pinning down of the excellent spirit of Christ (who by the way was man enough to drive the money-changers out of the Temple) to a mere formula, as one might pin a dragon-fly to a labelled card—Thou shalt not use Violence: thou shalt not Resist! And all the while to cleave to a formula only means to admit the evil in some other shape which the formula does not meet—to forswear the stick only means to resort to rebuke and sarcasm in self-defence, which may inflict more pain and a deeper scar, and in some[Pg 247] cases more injury, than the stick; or if self-defence in any shape is quite forsworn then that only means to resign and abandon one's place in the world completely.

And the same of the somewhat spooney Altruism, which was at one time much recommended as the maxim of conduct. For all the while it is notorious that the specially altruistic people are as a rule painfully dull and uninteresting, and afford far less life and charm to those around them than many who are frankly egotistic; and so by following a formula of Altruism it seems they wreck the very work they set before themselves to do—namely, that of making the world brighter!

Against these weaknesses of Christianity Nietzsche was a healthy reaction. It was he insisted on the terms "good" and "bad" being restored to their proper use, as terms of relation—"good" for what? "bad" for what? But his reaction against maudlin altruism and non-resistance led him towards a pitfall in the opposite direction, towards the erection of the worship of Force almost into a formula, Thou shalt use Violence, thou shalt Resist. His contempt for the feeble and the spooney and the knock-kneed and the humbug is very delightful and entertaining, and, as I say, healthy in the sense of reaction; but one does not get a very clear idea what the strength which Nietzsche glorifies is for, or whither it is going to lead. His blonde beasts and his laughing lions may represent the Will to Power; but Nietzsche seems to have felt, himself, that this[Pg 248] latter alone would not suffice, and so he passed on to his discovery or invention of the Beyond-man,—i.e. of a childlike being who, without argument, affirms and creates, and before whom institutions and conventions dissolve, as it were of their own accord.[45] This was a stroke of genius; but even so it leaves doubtful what the relation of such Beyond-men to each other may be, and whether, if they have no common source of life, their actions will not utterly cancel and destroy each other.

The truth is that Nietzsche never really penetrated to the realisation of that farther state of consciousness in which the deep underlying unity of man with Nature and his fellows is perceived and felt. He saw apparently that there is a life and an inspiration of life beyond all technical good and evil. But for some reason—partly because of the natural difficulty of the subject, partly perhaps because the Eastern outlook was uncongenial to his mind—he never found the solution which he needed; and his outline of the Superman remains cloudy and uncertain, vague and variously interpreted by followers and critics.

The question arises, What do we need? We are to-day, in this matter, in a somewhat parlous state. The old codes of Morality are moribund; the Ten Commandments command only a very[Pg 249] qualified assent; the Christian religion as a real inspiration of practical life and conduct is dead; the social conventions and Mrs. Grundy remain, feebly galling and officious. What are we to do? Are we to bolster up the old codes, in which we have largely ceased to believe, merely in order to have a code?—or are we to let them go?

Of course, if we have decided what the final purpose or life of Man is, then we may say that what is good for that purpose is finally "good," and what is bad for that purpose is finally "evil." The Eastern philosophy, as I have said, deciding that the final purpose of Man is identification with Brahm, declares all actions to be evil (even the most saintly) which are done by the self as separate from Brahm; and all actions as good which are done in the condition of vidya or conscious union. But here, though a final good and evil are allowed and acknowledged, as existing respectively in the conditions of vidya or avidya, those conditions altogether escape any external rule or classification.

Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, taking up this subject not long ago in a criticism[46] of Mr. Orage's little book on Nietzsche, said that all this talk about "beyond good and evil" was nonsense; that we must have some code; and that in effect, any code, even a bad one, was better than none. And one sees what he means. It is perfectly true, in a sense, that the harness, the shafts, and the[Pg 250] blinkers keep a large part of the world on the beaten road and out of the ditch, and that folk are always to be found who, rather than use their higher faculties, will rely on these external guides; but to encourage this kind of salvation by blinkers seems the very reverse of what ought to be done; and one might even ask whether salvation by such means is salvation at all—whether the ditch were not better!

Besides, what can we do? It is not so much that we are deliberately abandoning the codes as that they are abandoning us. With the gradual infiltration of new ideas, of Eastern thought, of Darwinian philosophy, of customs and creeds of races other than our own, with Bernard Shaw lecturing on the futility of the Ten Commandments, and so forth, it is not difficult to see that in a short while it will be impossible to rehabilitate any of the ancient codes or to give them a sanction and a sense of awe in the public mind. If with Gilbert Chesterton we should succeed in bolstering up such a thing for a time—well, it will only be for a time.

And the question is, whether the time has not really come for us to stand up—like sensible men and women—and do without rules; whether we cannot trust ourselves at last to throw aside the blinkers. The question is whether we cannot realise that solid and central life which underlies and yet surpasses all rules. For truly, if we cannot do this, our state is pitiable—having ceased to[Pg 251] believe in the letter of Morality, and yet unable to find its spirit!

It is here, then, that the New Morality comes in, as more or less clearly understood and expressed by the progressive sections to-day. Modern Socialism, in effect, taking up a position in its way somewhat similar to that of Eastern philosophy, says: Morality in its essence is not a code, but simply the realisation of the Common Life;[47] and that is a thing which is not foreign and alien to humanity, but very germane and natural to it—a thing so natural that without doubt it would be more in evidence than it is, did not the institutions and teachings of Western civilisation tend all along to deny and disguise it. To liberate this instinct of the Common Life, freeing it from hard and cramping rules, and to let it take its own form or forms—grafted on and varied of course by the personal and selective element of Affection and Sympathy—is the hope that lies before the world to-day for the solution of all sorts of moral and social problems.

And the more this position is thought over, the more, I believe, will it commend itself. The sense of organic unity, of the common welfare, the instinct of Humanity, or of general helpfulness, are things which run in all directions through the very fibre of our individual and social life—just as they do through that of the gregarious animals.[Pg 252] In a thousand ways: through heredity and the fact that common ancestral blood flows in our veins—though we be only strangers that pass in the street; through psychology, and the similarity of structure and concatenation in our minds; through social linkage, and the necessity of each and all to the others' economic welfare; through personal affection and the ties of the heart; and through the mystic and religious sense which, diving deep below personalities, perceives the vast flood of universal being—in these and many other ways does this Common Life compel us to recognise itself as a fact—perhaps the most fundamental fact of existence.

To teach this simple foundational fact and what flows from it to every child—not only as a theory, but as a practical habit and inspiration of conduct—is not really difficult, but easy. Children, having this sense woven into their very being, grow up in the spirit and practical habitude of it, and from the beginning possess the inspiration of what we call Morality—far more effectually indeed than copy-book maxims can provide. Respect for truth, consideration towards parents and elders, respect for the reasonable properties, dignities, conveniences of others, as well as for one's own needs and dignities, become perfectly natural and habitual. And that this is no mere hypothesis the example of Japan has lately shown where every young thing is brought up so far drenched in the sentiment of community that to give one's life for one's country is looked upon[Pg 253] as a privilege.[48] The general lines, I say, of morality would be secure, and much more secure than they now are, if we could only bring the children up in an educational and practical atmosphere of that solidarity which as a matter of fact is demanded to-day by socialism and the economic movement generally.

And on this ground-work, as I have hinted, Personal Affection and Sympathy would build a superstructure of their own; they would outline a society as much more beautiful, powerful and closely knit than the present one founded on the Cash-nexus, as, say, the Athenian society of the time of Pericles was superior to that of the Lapithæ who first bitted and bridled the horse.

While the general Life, equal, pervasive, and in a sense undifferentiated, is a great fact which has to be acknowledged; so this personal Love and Affection, choosing, selecting, and giving outline and form to that life, is equally a fact, equally undeniable, equally sacred—and one which has to be taken in conjunction with the other.

I say equally sacred: because there has been a tendency (no doubt due to certain causes) to look upon personal affection, in its various phases from slight inclinations of sympathy to the stronger compulsions of passion, as something rather [Pg 254]dubious in character, at best an amiable weakness not to be encouraged. Tolstoy, in one of his writings, figures the case of a little household in days of famine not really having bread enough for their own wants. Then a stranger child comes to the door and pleads for food. Tolstoy suggests that the mother ought to take the scanty crust from her own child to feed the stranger withal, or at least to share the food equally between the two children. But such a conclusion seems to me doubtful.

Whatever "ought" may mean in such a connexion, we know pretty well that such never will be the rule of human life, we may almost say never can be; perhaps we should be equally justified in saying, never "ought" to be. For obviously there must be preferences, selections. Our affections, our affinities, our sympathies, our passions, are not given us for nothing. It is not for nothing that every individual person, every tree, every animal has a shape, a shape of its own. If it were not so the world would be infinitely, inconceivably, dull. Yet to ask that a mother should in all cases treat strange children exactly the same as her own, that a man from the oceanic multitude should single out no special or privileged friends, but should love all alike, is to ask that these folk in their mental and moral nature should become as jellyfish—of no distinct shape or satisfaction to themselves or any one else. Profound and indispensable as is the Law of Equality—the law, namely, that there is a[Pg 255] region within all beings where they touch to a common and equal life—the other law, that of Individual predilection, is equally indispensable. Try to reduce all to the one motive of the general interest, and you might have a perfect morality, but a morality woodeny, hard and dull, without form and feature. Try to dispense with this, and to found society on individual affection and love, and on individual initiative, without morals, and you would have a flighty, unstable thing, without consistency or backbone.

My contention, then, is that our hope for the future society lies in its embodiment of these two great principles jointly: (1) the recognition of the Common Life as providing the foundation-element of general morality, and (2) the recognition of Individual Affection and Expression—and to a much greater degree than hitherto—as building up the higher groupings and finer forms of the structure. And in proportion as (1) provides a solider basis of morals than we have hitherto had, so will it be possible to give to (2) a width of scope and freedom of action hitherto untried or untrusted. Conjointly with the strengthening of these principles of Solidarity and Affection in society must of course come the strengthening of Individuality—the right and the desire of every being to preserve and develop its own proper shape, and so to add to the richness and interest of life—and this involves the right of Resistance, and (once more) the relegation of the formula of non-resistance into the background.

These considerations, however, are leading us too far afield, and away from the special subject of our paper. I mention them chiefly in order to show that while we are considering Morality as a foundation-element of Society, it must never be lost sight of that it is not the only element, and that it would be comparatively senseless and useless unless grafted on and complemented and completed by the others.

The method of the New Morality, then, will be to minimise formulæ, and (except as illustrations) to use them sparely; and to bring children up—and so indirectly all citizens—in such conditions of abounding life and health that their sympathies, overflowing naturally to those around, will cause them to realise in the strongest way their organic part in the great whole of society—and this not as an intellectual theory, so much as an abiding consciousness and foundation-fact of their own existence. Make this the basis of all teaching. Make them realise—by all sorts of habit and example—that to injure or deceive others is to injure themselves—that to help others somehow satisfies and fortifies their own inner life. Let them learn, as they grow up, to regard all human beings, of whatever race or class, as ends in themselves—never to be looked upon as mere things or chattels to be made use of. Let them also learn to look upon the animals in the same light—as beings, they too, who are climbing the great ladder of creation—beings with whom also we humans have a common spirit and interest.[Pg 257] And let them learn to respect themselves as worthy and indispensable members of this great Body. Thus will be established a true Morality—a morality far more searching, more considerate of others, more adaptive and more genuine than that of the present day—a morality, we may say, of common-sense.

For it may indeed be said that Morality—taking a downright and almost physiological view of it—is simply abundance of life. That is, that when a man has so abounding and vital an inner nature that his sympathies and activities overflow the margin of his own petty days and personal advantage, he is by that fact entering the domain of morality. Before that time and while limited to the personal organism, the creative life in each being is either non-moral like that of the animals, or simply selfish like that of the immature man; but when it overflows this limit it necessarily becomes social, and moves to the support and consideration of the neighbour. Having formerly found its complete activity in the sustentation of the personal self it now spreads its helpful energies into the lives of the other selves around. Altruism, in fact, in its healthy forms, is the overflow of abounding vitality. It is a morality without a code, and happily free from limiting formulæ.[49]

And if it be again said that a morality of this kind, which rests on a principle and a mental attitude only, is a danger, let us pause for a moment to consider how much more dangerous is one which rests on formulæ. If morality without a code is a serious matter, how much more serious is one which is nailed up within a code! For looking back on history it would sometimes seem that the black-and-white, the this-thing-right-and-that-thing-wrong morality has been the most wicked thing in the world. It has been an excuse for all the most devilish deeds and persecutions imaginable. A formula of the Sabbath-day, a formula about Witchcraft, a formula of Marriage (regardless of the real human relation), a formula concerning Theft (regardless of the dire need of the thief)—and burnings, hangings, torturings without mercy! The terrible thing about this Right-and-Wrong morality is not only that it leads to these dreadful reprisals; but that it brands upon the victim as well as upon the oppressor the fatuous notions that a certain thing is right or wrong, and that what one has to do is to save oneself—two notions both of which are directly contrary to true Morality. A boy tells a verbal lie—perhaps through fear, perhaps through inadvertence. He has broken a formula and is immediately caned. Moral: he will keep to verbal truth afterwards—however mean or insidious it may be—and be pharisaically self-satisfied; but he will never realise that the importance of truth and lies rests not in the words,[Pg 259] but in the confidence and mutual trust which they either create or destroy. The peculiarly English worship of Duty is open to the same objection. "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds," and splendid as is the conception and practice of Duty, as a self-oblivious inspiration and enthusiasm, it becomes a truly revolting thing when it takes the all-too-common form "I have done my Duty, I'm all right!" "I am going to do my Duty, whatever becomes of you." Can anything be imagined more disintegrating to society, more certain to split it up into a dustheap of self-regarding units, than a formula of this kind? "It is my painful Duty to condemn you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead," says the Judge to the wretched girl who, in a frenzy of despair, has drowned her baby. What he really means is that while he perfectly recognises the monstrosity of the Law which he has sworn to administer, and the soul-killing effect on the girl which his sentence may have, yet in order to save himself from the risk or the wrong of breaking that Law, he is willing and ready to pronounce that sentence. "It is my duty to burn you," says the Inquisitor to the heretic; and the implication is really, "I am afraid that if I do not burn you I shall get burnt myself, in the next world."

The sooner an end can be made of this sort of morality, the better—which under the cloak of public advantage or benefit is only thinking about self-promotion and self-interest, either in this[Pg 260] world or the next, and which truly is calculated not to further human solidarity but to destroy it. It runs and trickles through all of modern society, poisoning the well-springs of affection, this morality which, having paid its domestic servants their regular wages, is quite satisfied with itself, and expects them to do their duty in return, but is silent about their real needs and welfare; which treats its wage-workers as simple machines for the grinding out of profits, and lifts its eyebrows in serene surprise when they retaliate against such treatment; which can only regard a criminal as a person who has broken a formula, and in return must be punished according to a formula; and a pig as an animal for which you provide reasonable provender and a stye, and which in return you are entitled to eat. Pharisaical, self-centred and self-interested, materialistic to the last degree, and really senseless in its outlook, this current morality is indeed, and very seriously, a public peril.

Thou shalt not steal: an empty feat,
When it's so lucrative to cheat.

Keep within the code, within the letter; always speak the nominal truth (whoever may suffer thereby); keep up the accepted formulæ of marriage and the sex-relation (though hearts may be bleeding and perishing); pay every respect to property, and so forth; and you may have the gratification of being looked upon as a bulwark of society. But none the less it is probable[Pg 261] that you are undermining and corrupting that society to the core. Your outlook is merely on the surface, while you are condoning deep-seated ill.

Of course the New Morality—to look within, to feel and refer to the needs of others almost as instinctively as to one's own, to refuse to regard any thing as in itself good or bad, and to look upon all beings, oneself included, as ends in themselves and not as a means of personal self-advancement and glorification—while it is the more natural, is also the more difficult in a sense, as providing no set pattern or rule. But surely the time has arrived for its adoption. It is the morality which must underlie the freer, more varied forms of the society of the future; and it is the only escape from the corruption of the old order.

To take particular examples. Truth, in word or act, is—we all feel—very important, very fundamental. It is the basis of the common understanding of which I have spoken. It is the basis of the expression of oneself, and of the recognition of others. Any one who is deeply imbued with the consciousness of the common life will necessarily have a deep respect for the Truth; he will also have a deep respect for the Life, the Property, the good Name, the Affections, and so forth, of others, as well as for his own similar attributes. He will not be able to say, as a formula: I will never deceive another (tell a lie); I will never take the life of others, man or animal (kill); and so on, because he knows[Pg 262] there are situations in which that very Life arising within him, or even his own absolute necessity, will demand such actions, will compel him to the performance of them; but all the same he will in his ordinary existence carry out the principle which underlies these formulæ, and much more thoroughly, probably, than the formulæ themselves would demand.

Similarly about such matters as sexual morality. There are outcries against Lady-Godiva-shows and living statuary—apparently because folk are afraid of such things rousing the passions. No doubt the things may act that way. But why, we may ask, should people be afraid of rousing passions which, after all, are the great driving forces of human life? Clearly it is because they think the other forces which should guide these passions or give them a helpful and useful direction are too weak. And in this last respect they are right. The guiding and inhibiting forces in our present society are feeble—because they consist only in a few conventional formulæ, which are rapidly being undermined. We are generating steam in a boiler which is already cankered with rust. The cure is not to cut off the passions, or to be weakly afraid of them, but to find a new, sound, healthy engine of general morality and common-sense within which they will work. And this is what in the future we must try to do.

This morality, this organic, vital, almost physiological morality of the common life—which[Pg 263] means a quick response of each unit to the needs of the other units, and much the same in the body politic as health means in the physical body—must underlie and be the basis of the societies of the future. It will mean the liberation of a thousand and one instincts, desires and capacities which since our childhood's days have lain buried within us, concealed and ignored because we have thought them wrong or unworthy, when really all they have wanted has been recognition and the opportunity to become healthy by recognition—by the process in fact of balancing against each other, and against opposing and complementary elements, and so finding their places in the Whole. On this new Morality of acceptance and recognition and wide-reaching redemption, it will be possible, as I have already said, to graft not only a stronger expression of individuality all round, but also a higher and more varied and more gracious life of personal affection—which now alas! lies like a thing wounded and half dead. Its establishment will, I take it, mean the oncoming of a society which will liberate personal affection and love—will liberate forces hitherto artificially crippled because their liberation would tear our current morality of formulæ to mere rags and tatters. It means, I take it, the oncoming of a society whose main motive will no longer be the struggle for Bread (since that is ruled out by the enormous growth of our wealth-producing powers), but the desire for the satisfaction of the Heart—thus preparing no doubt new[Pg 264] and unforeseen difficulties and sufferings, yet filling life with such beautiful things that the motives of greed and the mean pursuit of money, which now weigh upon the world, will be like an evil nightmare of the Past from which the dawn delivers us.



[42] Maitrayana-Brahmana-Upanishad, vi. 34, 4.

[43] Taittiriyaka-Up, ii. 9, etc.

[44] Spinoza's Ethic, part iv.

[45] It must be remembered that Nietzsche supposes three stages of the spirit—(1) the Camel, (2) the Lion, and (3) the Child. And the Beyond-man properly corresponds to the last stage.

[46] Daily News, December 29, 1906.

[47] I need hardly say that this does not mean, as Nietzsche so often and sardonically suggests, the realisation of the common-place life, but something very different.

[48] Many Japanese committed suicide on account of not being allowed to join in the Russian War. See also Lafcadio Hearn's description of the habitual dignity and courtesy of the youth of Japan.—Life and Letters, vol. i, pp. 12, 113.

[49] This morality, indeed, may be said to be implicit in much of the teaching of Christ; yet, curiously enough, it has never been seriously adopted by the Churches. And as to the regard for animals as ends in themselves, the Roman Catholic Church, I believe, positively repudiates any such attitude.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:39 am


As the author's attacks in the body of this book upon the Civilisation peoples have sometimes been regarded as extreme and unjustified, it has been thought appropriate, here in the Appendix, to collect a few notes from reliable authorities on the characteristics and customs of pre-civilised men—not so much of course with the object of proving the latter always superior to the former, as of bringing to light the many admirable virtues of the early peoples, which a cheap modern civilisation has neglected or somewhat contemptuously ignored.

No one would deny that there are many cases of primitive folk—folk unclean and ignorant and absurdly superstitious—who can hardly be said to command our admiration. On the other hand there are a vast number of cases of an opposite sort—cases which present to us the realisation of some remarkable human characteristic or social capacity well worthy of consideration or even of imitation. If our Civilisation is ever to move on to some form better than the present, it is these latter cases which ought to be of assistance; for they not only direct our attention to human possibilities, but by showing what has been realised in the past assure us that such ideals are by no means unattainable now.

It is therefore with a view to cases of this kind that the following Appendix has been framed.

E. C.

Civilisation does not Engross all the Virtues.

Quotations from Herman Melville's Typee, pp. 225, etc. (John Murray, 1861.)

"Civilisation does not engross all the virtues of humanity: she has not even her full share of them. They flourish in greater abundance and attain greater strength among many barbarous people. The hospitality of the wild Arab, the courage of the North American Indian, and the faithful friendships of some of the Polynesian nations, far surpass anything of a similar kind among the polished communities of Europe. If truth and justice, and the better principles of our nature, cannot exist unless enforced by the statute-book, how are we to account for the social condition of the Typees? So pure and upright were they in all the relations of life, that entering their valley, as I did, under the most erroneous impressions of their character, I was soon led to exclaim in amazement: 'Are these the ferocious savages, the bloodthirsty cannibals of whom I have heard such frightful tales! They deal more kindly with each other, and are more humane, than many who study essays on virtue and benevolence, and who repeat every night that beautiful prayer breathed first by the lips of the divine and gentle Jesus.' I will frankly declare, that after passing a few weeks in this valley of the Marquesas, I formed a higher estimate of human nature than I had ever before entertained. But alas! since then I have been one of the crew of a man-of-war, and the pent-up wickedness of five hundred men has nearly overturned all my previous theories.

* * * * * *

"How little do some of these poor islanders comprehend, when they look around them, that no inconsiderable part[Pg 269] of their disasters originate in certain tea-party excitements, under the influence of which benevolent-looking gentlemen in white cravats solicit alms, and old ladies in spectacles, and young ladies in sober russet low gowns, contribute sixpences towards the creation of a fund, the object of which is to ameliorate the spiritual condition of the Polynesians, but whose end has almost invariably been to accomplish their temporal destruction!

"Let the savages be civilised, but civilise them with benefits, and not with evils; and let heathenism be destroyed, but not by destroying the heathen. The Anglo-Saxon hive have extirpated Paganism from the greater part of the North American continent; but with it they have likewise extirpated the greater portion of the Red race. Civilisation is gradually sweeping from the earth the lingering vestiges of Paganism, and at the same time the shrinking forms of its unhappy worshippers.

"Among the islands of Polynesia, no sooner are the images overturned, the temples demolished, and the idolaters converted into nominal Christians, than disease, vice, and premature death make their appearance. The depopulated land is then recruited from the rapacious hordes of enlightened individuals who settle themselves within its borders, and clamorously announce the progress of the Truth. Neat villas, trim gardens, shaven lawns, spires, and cupolas arise, while the poor savage soon finds himself an interloper in the country of his fathers, and that too on the very site of the hut where he was born.

* * * * * *

"During my whole stay on the island I never witnessed a single quarrel, nor any thing that in the slightest degree approached even to a dispute. The natives appeared to form one household, whose members were bound together by the ties of strong affection. The love of kindred I[Pg 270] did not so much perceive, for it seemed blended in the general love; and where all were treated as brothers and sisters, it was hard to tell who were actually related to each other by blood.

"Let it not be supposed that I have overdrawn this picture. I have not done so. Nor let it be urged that the hostility of this tribe to foreigners, and the hereditary feuds they carry on against their fellow-islanders beyond the mountains, are facts which contradict me. Not so: these apparent discrepancies are easily reconciled. By many a legendary tale of violence and wrong, as well as by events which have passed before their eyes, these people have been taught to look upon white men with abhorrence. The cruel invasion of their country by Porter has alone furnished them with ample provocation; and I can sympathize in the spirit which prompts the Typee warrior to guard all the passes to his valley with the point of his levelled spear, and, standing upon the beach, with his back turned upon his green home, to hold at bay the intruding European."

Influences of "Civilisation"

From R. L. Stevenson's In the South Seas, p. 43. (Chatto and Windus, 1908.)

[It is asked] "Was not the Polynesian always unchaste? Doubtless he was so always: doubtless he is more so since the coming of his remarkably chaste visitors from Europe. Take the Hawaiian account of Cook: I have no doubt it is entirely fair. Take Krusenstern's candid, almost innocent description of a Russian man-of-war at the Marquesas; consider the disgraceful history of missions in Hawaii itself ... add the practice of whaling fleets to call at the Marquesas and carry off a complement of[Pg 271] women for the cruise ... and bear in mind how it was the custom of the adventurers, and we may almost say the business of the missionaries, to deride and infract even the most salutary tapus (taboos)."

Captain Cook at Owyhee in 1799

From his Life and Voyages, p. 379. (George Newnes, 1904.)

"In the progress of the intercourse which was maintained between our voyagers and the natives, the quiet and inoffensive behaviour of the latter took away every apprehension of danger, so that the English trusted themselves among them at all times and in all situations. The instances of kindness and civility which our people experienced from them were so numerous that they could not easily be recounted. A society of priests, in particular, displayed a generosity and munificence of which no equal example had hitherto been given: for they furnished a constant supply of hogs and vegetables to our navigators, without ever demanding a return, or even hinting at it in the most distant manner." Of the island of Wateeoo (p. 309), "the inhabitants are very numerous, and many of the young men were perfect models in shape."

Natives of Tahiti

From Havelock Ellis' Sex in relation to Society, p. 148. (1910.)

"The example of Tahiti is instructive as regards the prevalence of chastity among peoples of what we generally consider low grades of civilisation. An early explorer,[Pg 272] J. R. Forster (Observations made on a voyage round the World, 1778), speaks of the fine climate and the beauty of the females, as inviting powerfully to the enjoyments and pleasures of love. Yet he is over and over again impelled to set down facts which bear testimony to the virtues of these people. Though rather effeminate in build they are athletic, he says. Moreover in their wars they fight with great bravery and valour. They are, for the rest, hospitable. He remarks that they treat their married women with great respect, and that women generally are nearly the equals of men, both in intelligence and social position; he gives a charming description of the women. 'In short their character,' he concludes, 'is as amiable as that of any nation that ever came unimproved out of the hands of Nature'[!]"...

"When Cook," continues Ellis, "who visited Tahiti many times, was among this 'benevolent, humane' people, he noted their esteem for chastity, and found that not only were betrothed girls strictly guarded before marriage, but that men also who had refrained from sexual intercourse for some time before marriage were believed to pass at death immediately into the abode of the blessed."

Radack—one of the Caroline Islands

From Chamisso's Reise um die Welt, p. 183. (Leipzig.)

"Thus we made acquaintance with a people who have endeared themselves to me more than any others of the children of Earth. The very weaknesses of the Radack folk removed mistrust on our side; their very gentleness and goodness caused them to be trustful towards us, the all-powerful strangers; we became declared friends. I found among them simple, unsophisticated manners, charm,[Pg 273] natural grace, and the pleasant bloom of modesty. In the matter, certainly, of strength and manly independence the O-Waihier [Owyhees] are greatly their superiors. My friend, Kadu, who, though not belonging to this island-group, attached himself to us, was one of the finest characters I have ever met and one of the most dear to me of human beings; and he afterwards became my instructor with regard to Radack and the Caroline Islands."

Adaptation of Early Peoples to Surroundings

The Dinkas (Central Africa): from Grogan's Cape to Cairo, p. 278. (Hurst & Blackett, 1900.)

"Every one in Dinka-land carries a long spear, or pointed fish-spear, and a club made of a heavy purple wood, while the more important gentlemen wear enormous ivory bracelets round their upper arm; strict nudity is the fashion, and a marabout feather in the hair is the essence of chic. They are all beautifully built, having broad shoulders, small waist, good hips, and well-shaped legs. The stature of some is colossal. It was most curious to see how these Dinkas, living as they do in the marshes, approximate to the type of the waterbird. They have much the same walk as a heron, picking their feet up very high and thrusting them well forward; while their feet are enormous. Their colossal height is indeed a great advantage in the reed grown country in which they live. The favourite pose of a Dinka (on one foot, with the other foot resting on the knee) is in reality the favourite pose of a water bird.... They are the complete antithesis of the pigmy, as the country in which they live is the complete antithesis of the dense forest which is the home of the dwarfs.... Our camp was near a large village[Pg 274] where there were at least 1,500 head of cattle, besides sheep and goats, and the chief brought me a fine fat bull-calf—which settled the nervous question of food for two days.... The rambling village with its groups of figures and long lines of home-coming cattle, dimly seen in the smoke of a hundred fires as I approached at sunset, was very picturesque."

The Pigmies: from Cape to Cairo, pp. 144 and 161.

"The pigmies have no settled villages, nor do they cultivate anything. They live the life of the brute in the forests, perpetually wandering in search of honey or in pursuit of elephant; when they succeed in killing anything, they throw up a few grass shelters and remain there till all the meat is either eaten or dried. They depend upon the other natives for the necessary grain, which they either steal or barter for elephant meat or honey. All their knives, spearheads and arrow-heads they likewise purchase from other people, but they make their own bows and arrows. So well are these made that they are held in great esteem by the surrounding people." ... "An hour later I met an elderly pigmy in the forest and managed to induce him to talk. He was a splendid little fellow, full of self-confidence, and gave me most concise information, stating that the white man with many belongings had passed near by two days before, and had then gone down to the lake-shore, where he was camped at that moment. These people must have a wonderful code of signs and signals, as despite their isolated and nomadic existence they always know exactly what is happening everywhere. He was a typical pigmy as found on the volcanoes—squat, gnarled, proud, and easy of carriage. His beard hung down over his chest, and his thighs and chest were covered with wiry hair. He carried the usual pigmy bow made of two pieces of cane spliced together[Pg 275] with grass, and with a string made of a single strand of a rush that grows in the forests. The pigmies are splendid examples of the adaptability of Nature to her surroundings; the combination of strength and conciseness enabling them to move with astonishing rapidity in the pig-runs that form the only pathway through the impenetrable growth, and to endure the fatigue of elephant-hunting."

Natives in Ruanda (near Lake Kivu): Cape to Cairo, p. 118.

"Society in Ruanda is divided into two castes, the Watusi and the Wahutu. The Watusi are the descendants of a great wave of Galla invasion that reached even to Tanganyika. They still retain their pastoral instincts, and refuse to do any other work than the tending of cattle; and so great is their affection for their beasts, that rather than sever company they will become slaves, and do the menial work of their beloved cattle for the benefit of their conquerors. This is all the more remarkable when one takes into account their inherent pride of race and contempt for other peoples, even for the white man.... Many signs of superior civilisation, observable in the peoples with whom the Watusi have come into contact, are traceable to this Galla influence.

"The hills are terraced, thus increasing the area of cultivation, and obviating the denudation of fertile slopes by torrential rains. In many cases irrigation is carried out on a sufficiently extensive scale, and the swamps are drained by ditches. Artificial reservoirs are built with side troughs for watering cattle. The fields are in many cases fenced in by planted hedges of euphorbia and thorn, and similar fences are planted along the narrow parts of the main cattle tracks, to prevent the beasts from straying or trampling down the cultivation.

"There is also an exceptional diversity of plants cultivated, such as hungry rice, maize, red and white millet, several kinds of beans, peas, bananas, and the edible arum. Some of the higher growing beans are even trained on sticks planted for the purpose. Pumpkins and sweet potatoes are also common; and the Watusi own and tend enormous herds of cattle, goats and sheep. Owing to the magnificent pasturage the milk is of excellent quality, and they make large quantities of butter. They are exceedingly clever with their beasts, and have many calls which the cattle understand. At milking time they light smoke-fires to keep the flies from irritating the beasts.... They are tall slightly built men of graceful nonchalant carriage, and their features are delicate and refined. I noticed many faces that, bleached and set in a white collar, would have been conspicuous for character in a London drawing-room. The legal type was especially pronounced." ...

"The Wahutu are their absolute antithesis. They are the aborigines of the country, and any pristine originality or character has been effectually stamped out of them. Hewers of wood and drawers of water, they do all the hard work, and unquestioning in abject servility give up the proceeds on demand. Their numerical proportion to the Watusi must be at least a hundred to one, yet they defer to them without protest; and in spite of the obvious hatred in which they hold their over lords, there seems to be no friction."

Natives of the Andaman Islands

The following extracts, about the Andaman-islanders of the Bay of Bengal, the Bushmen of South Africa, and the Eskimo tribes of Northern latitudes, are specially [Pg 277]interesting because they deal with peoples whose present-day culture is undoubtedly on a par with, and in all probability directly inherited from, the peoples of a long-past Stone Age. Thus we get indirectly a glimpse of what the culture of the Stone Ages was—both in its material acquisitions and its grade of social and psychological evolution.

From In the Andamans and Nicobars, p. 184, by C. Boden Kloss. (Murray, 1903.)

"The Andaman Islands are inhabited by people of pure Negrito blood, members of perhaps the most ancient race remaining on the earth, and standing closest to the primitive human type.... It would be impossible to find anywhere a race of purer descent than the Andamanese, for ever since they peopled the islands in the Stone Age, they have remained secluded from the outer world.... In stature they are far below the average height; but although they have been called dwarfs and pygmies, these words must not be understood to imply anything in the nature of a monstrosity. Their reputation for hideousness, like their poisoned arrows and cannibalism, has long been a fallacy which, though widely popular, should now be exploded. The average heights of the men and women are found to be 4 feet 10¾ inches, and 4 feet 7¼ inches respectively, and their figures, which are proportionately built, are very symmetrical and graceful. Although not to be described as muscular, they are of good development, the men being agile, yet sturdy, with broad chests and square shoulders."

From E. H. Man on The Aborigines of the Andaman Islands, p. 14. (Trübner, 1883.)

"No idiots, maniacs or lunatics have ever yet been observed among them, and this is not because those so[Pg 278] afflicted are killed or confined by their fellows, for the greatest care and attention are invariably paid to the sick, aged and helpless."

Mr. Man also remarks (Journ. Anthrop. Inst. XII, 92): "It has been observed with regret by all interested in the race, that intercourse with the alien population has, generally speaking, prejudicially affected their morals; and that the candour, veracity, and self-reliance they manifest in their savage and untutored state are, when they become associated with foreigners, to a great extent lost, and habits of untruthfulness, dependence and sloth engendered."

The Bushmen

Extract from F. C. Selous' African Nature-Notes, pp. 344 and 347. (1908.)

"When I met with the first Bushmen I ever saw, on the banks of the Orange River in 1872, I was a very young man, and, regarding them with some repugnance, wrote in my diary that they appeared to be removed by a very few steps from the brute creation. That was a very foolish and ignorant remark to make, and I have since found out that though Bushmen may possibly be to-day in the same backward state of material development and knowledge as once were the palæolithic ancestors of the most highly cultured European races in prehistoric times, yet fundamentally there is very little difference between the natures of primitive and civilised men, so that it is quite possible for a member of one of the more cultured races to live for a time quite happily and contentedly amongst beings who are often described as degraded savages, and from whom he is separated by thousands of years in all that is implied by the word 'civilisation.' I have hunted a great deal with Bushmen, and during 1884 I lived amongst these[Pg 279] people continuously for several months together. On many and many a night I have slept in their encampments without even any Kafir attendants, and though I was entirely in their power I always felt perfectly safe among them. As most of the men spoke Sechwana I was able to converse with them, and found them very intelligent, good-natured companions, full of knowledge concerning the habits of all the wild animals inhabiting the country in which they lived.... I have never seen their women and children ill-treated by them, and I have seen both the men and the women show affection for their children."

Elsewhere Selous speaks of "John"—a member of the close-related Korana clan—who was in his service, as "of a pale yellow-brown colour, beautifully proportioned, with small delicately made hands and feet."

From preface by Henry Balfour to the book Bushmen Paintings Copied, by Helen Tongue.

"It is certain that the designs representing animals, etc., which are painted upon the walls of their caves and rock-shelters, frequently exhibit a realism and freedom in treatment which are quite remarkable in the art of so primitive a people. The skill with which many of the characteristic South African animals are portrayed testifies not only to unusual artistic efficiency, but also to a close observance of and an intimate acquaintanceship with the habits and peculiarities of the animals themselves.... The paintings are remarkable not only for the realism exhibited by so many, but also for a freedom from the limitation to delineation in profile which characterises for the most part the drawings of primitive peoples, especially where animals are concerned. Attitudes of a kind difficult to render were ventured upon without hesitation, and an appreciation even of the rudiments of perspective is occasionally to be noted."

Note from the same book, by S. Bleek, daughter of the well-known Dr. Bleek, of the Grey Library at Cape Town (1870).

"Bushmen are called liars and thieves all over the Colony, but all those who stayed with us were truthful and very honest. On no occasion did they steal even a pocket-knife lost in the garden, or fruit from the trees. They might have taken sheep from hostile farmers, but they would never rob a friend or neighbour. They were cleanly in their habits, and most particular about manners.... As a people they were grateful and revengeful, independent in spirit, excellent fighters—who preferred death to captivity.... Captives were sometimes made servants, but not often well-treated, nor did they take to a settled life easily. Even kind masters found their longing for freedom hard to conquer."

The Nechilli Eskimo

From Amundsen's North West Passage, vol. i, p. 294. (Constable, 1908.)

"We were suddenly brought face to face here with a people from the Stone Age: we were abruptly carried back several thousand years in the advance of human progress, to people who as yet knew no other method of procuring fire than by rubbing two pieces of wood together, and who with great difficulty managed to get their food just lukewarm, over the seal-oil flame on a stone slab, while we cooked our food in a moment with our modern cooking apparatus. We came here, with our most ingenious and most recent inventions in the way of firearms, to people who still used lances, bows and arrows of reindeer horn.... However, we should be wrong if from the[Pg 281] weapons, implements, and domestic appliances of these people we were to argue that they were of low intelligence. Their implements, apparently so very primitive, proved to be as well adapted to their existing requirements and conditions as experience and the skilful tests of many centuries could have made them."

Ugpi, an Eskimo

From Amundsen vol. i, p. 190.

"Ugpi or Uglen (the 'Owl') as we always called him, attracted immediate attention by his appearance. With his long black hair hanging over his shoulders, his dark eyes and frank honest expression, he would have been good-looking if his broad face and large mouth had not spoilt his beauty from a European standpoint. There was something serious, almost dreamy, about him. Honesty and truthfulness are unmistakably impressed on his features, and I would never have hesitated for a moment to entrust him with anything. During his association with us he became an exceptionally clever hunter both for birds and reindeer. He was about thirty years old and was married to Kabloka, a very small girl of seventeen."

Eskimo and Civilisation

From Amundsen vol. ii, p. 48.

"During the voyage of the Gjoa, we came into contact with ten different Eskimo tribes in all ... and I must state it as my firm conviction that the Eskimo living absolutely isolated from civilisation of any kind are undoubtedly[Pg 282] the happiest, healthiest, most honorable and most contented among them. It must therefore be the bounden duty of civilised nations who come into contact with the Eskimo to safeguard them against contaminating influences, and by laws and stringent regulations protect them against the many perils and evils of so-called civilisation. Unless this is done they will inevitably be ruined.... My sincerest wish for our friends the Nechilli Eskimo is that Civilisation may never reach them."

High Standard of Tribal Morality among the Aleoutes

Witnessed to by the Russian missionary, Veniaminoff. See Mutual Aid, pp. 99 and 100, by P. Kropotkin.

The high standard of the tribal morality of the Eskimos has often been mentioned in general literature. Nevertheless the following remarks upon the manners of the Aleoutes—nearly akin to the Eskimos—will better illustrate savage morality as a whole. They were written, after a ten years' stay among the Aleoutes, by a most remarkable man—the Russian missionary, Veniaminoff. I sum them up, mostly in his own words:—

Endurability (he wrote) is their chief feature. It is simply colossal. Not only do they bathe every morning in the frozen sea, and stand naked on the beach, inhaling the icy wind, but their endurability, even when at hard work on insufficient food, surpasses all that can be imagined. During a protracted scarcity of food, the Aleoute cares first for his children; he gives them all he has, and himself fasts. They are not inclined to stealing; that was remarked even by the first Russian immigrants. Not that they never steal; every Aleoute would confess having sometime[Pg 283] stolen something, but it is always a trifle; the whole is so childish. The attachment of the parents to their children is touching, though it is never expressed in words or pettings. The Aleoute is with difficulty moved to make a promise, but once he has made it he will keep it whatever may happen. (An Aleoute made Veniaminoff a gift of dried fish, but it was forgotten on the beach in the hurry of the departure. He took it home. The next occasion to send it to the missionary was in January; and in November and December there was a great scarcity of food in the Aleoute encampment. But the fish was never touched by the starving people, and in January it was sent to its destination.)

Home Life of the Eskimo

By Villialm Stefansson. From Harper's Monthly, October, 1908.

Stefansson lived for thirteen months in the household of a Chief, Ovaynak, on the Mackenzie River, and knew his subject well. He says:—

"With their absolute equality of the sexes and perfect freedom of separation, a permanent union of uncongenial persons is well-nigh inconceivable. But if a couple find each other congenial enough to remain married a year or two, divorce becomes exceedingly improbable, and is much rarer among the middle-aged than among us. People of the age of twenty-five and over are usually very fond of each other, and the family—when once it becomes settled—appears to be on a higher level of affection and mutual consideration than is common among us. In an Eskimo home I have never heard an unpleasant word between a[Pg 284] man and his wife, never seen a child punished, nor an old person treated inconsiderately. Yet the household affairs are carried on in an orderly way, and the good behaviour of the children is remarked by practically every traveller.

"These charming qualities of the Eskimo home may be largely due to their equable disposition and the general fitness of their character for the communal relations; but it seems reasonable to give a portion of the credit to their remarkable social organisation; for they live under conditions for which some of our best men are striving—conditions that with our idealists are even yet merely dreams."

Religious Beliefs among the Eskimos

From Rasmussen's People of the Polar North, pp. 125 and 127. (1908.)

"Their religious opinions do not lead them to any sort of worship of the supernatural, but consist—if they are to be formulated in a creed—of a list of commandments and rules of conduct controlling their relations with unknown forces hostile to man."

"A wise and independent thinking Eskimo, Otag the Magician, said to me of death: 'You ask, but I know nothing of death; I am only acquainted with life. I can only say what I believe: either death is the end of life, or else it is the transition into another mode of life. In neither case is there anything to fear. Nevertheless I do not want to die, because I consider that it is good to live.' This calm way of envisaging death is not unusual; I have seen many pagan Eskimos go to meet certain death without a trace of fear."

Periodical Distributions to Obviate Accumulations of Wealth

From Kropotkin's Mutual Aid, p. 97. (Heinemann, 1908.)

"(The Eskimos) have an original means for obviating the inconveniences arising from a personal accumulation of wealth—which would soon destroy their tribal unity. When a man has grown rich he convokes the folk of his clan to a great festival, and after much eating, distributes among them all his fortune. On the Yukon river Dall saw an Aleoute family distributing in this way ten guns, ten full fur dresses, two hundred strings of beads, numerous blankets, ten wolf furs, two hundred beavers and five hundred zibellines. After that they took off their festival dresses, and putting on old ragged furs, addressed a few words to their kinsfolk, saying that, though they are now poorer than any one of them, they have won their friendship.[50] Like distributions of wealth appear to be a regular habit with the Eskimos, and to take place at a certain season, after an exhibition of all that has been obtained during the year. In my (Kropotkin) opinion, these distributions reveal a very old institution, contemporaneous with the first apparition of personal wealth; they must have been a means for re-establishing equality among the members of the clan, after it had been disturbed by the enrichment of the few. The periodical redistribution of land and the periodical abandonment of all debts, which took place in historical times with so many different races (Semites, Aryans, etc.), must have been a survival of that old custom."

The Samoyedes

From Icebound on the Kolguev, p. 384, by A. Trevor-Battye. (Constable, 1895.)

"Family affection among the Samoyeds is very strongly developed. It would be impossible to find greater evidence of this among any people. Another extremely marked character among them is family order. All everyday offices and occupations are carried out by a well-defined method and subdivision of labour. I never saw a single instance of anything approaching a family quarrel.... They are very handy sailors, patient and successful hunters and fishermen, and admirable workmen with such tools as they understand. No man can repair a damaged boat more quickly than a Samoyed, and from the roughest drift-wood (such as an English carpenter would throw on the fire), they fashion bows, arrows, sleighs, spoons, drinking-cups, bullet-moulds, and a variety of articles of everyday use."

The Belle of Kolguev

From Icebound on the Kolguev, p. 130.

"Her sister-in-law Ustynia was really, if you accept the type, a pretty girl.... Her eyes were bright, and a pleasant smile played about her lips. When she laughed—and these people are always laughing—she betrayed the most perfectly beautiful teeth it is possible to imagine. Indeed all these people, even old Uano, had most wonderful teeth—white, regular and perfectly shaped. On her fingers Ustynia wore heavy rings of white and yellow metal, and her hands, like those of all Samoyeds, were faultless in[Pg 287] shape and extraordinarily supple. If you add to this a dress reaching to the knees, formed of young reindeer skin, worked in many stripes of white and brown, the skirt banded with scarlet cloth and dogskin fur, and foot and leg coverings of soft patterned skin reaching above the knee—there you have Ustynia, the belle of Kolguev."

The Todas

Quoted from The Todas, by W. H. Rivers (1906).

These people live on a very lofty and isolated plateau of the Nilgiri Hills in South India; and are especially interesting to us because till 1812 "they were absolutely unknown to Europeans," and developed their own customs untouched by Western civilisation. "They are a purely pastoral people, limiting their activities almost entirely to the care of their buffaloes and to the complicated ritual which has grown up in association with these animals." (p. 6) ... They have a completely organised and definite system of polyandry. When a woman marries a man, it is understood that she becomes the wife of his brothers at the same time. When a boy is married to a girl, not only are his brothers usually regarded as also the husbands of the girl, but any brother born later will similarly be regarded as sharing his older brother's rights." (p. 515.)

"The men are strong and very agile; the agility being most in evidence when they have to catch their infuriated buffaloes at the funeral ceremonies. They stand fatigue well, and often travel great distances.... In going from one part of the hills to another a Toda always travels as nearly as possible in a straight line, ignoring altogether the influence of gravity, and mounting the steepest hills with no apparent effort. In all my work with the men[Pg 288] it seemed to me they were extremely intelligent. They grasped readily the points of any enquiry on which I entered, and often showed a marked appreciation of complicated questions.... I can only record my impression, after several months' intercourse with the Todas, that they were just as intelligent as one would have found any average body of educated Europeans.... The characteristic note in their demeanour is their absolute belief in their own superiority over the surrounding races. They are grave and dignified, and yet thoroughly cheerful and well-disposed towards all." (pp. 18-23.)


The Pelew Islands: from J. G. Wood (vol. America, p. 447). See Captain H. Wilson, who was wrecked there in 1783.

"The inhabitants are of a dark copper colour, well-made, tall, and remarkable for their stately gait. They employ the tattoo in rather a curious manner, pricking the patterns thickly on their legs from the ankles to a few inches above the knees, so that they look as if their legs were darker in colour than the rest of their bodies. They are cleanly in their habits, bathing frequently and rubbing themselves with coco-nut oil, so as to give a soft and glossy appearance to the skin.... The men wear no clothing, not even the king himself having the least vestige of raiment, the tattoo being supposed to answer the purposes of dress.... In spite, however, of the absence of dress, the deportment of the sexes towards each other is perfectly modest. For example, the men and women will not bathe at the same spot, nor even go near a bathing place of the opposite sex unless it be deserted."

Natives of the Amazon Region

Alfred Russell Wallace, in his Travels on the Amazon (1853), speaks most warmly about the aborigines of that district—both as to their grace of form, their quickness of hand, and their goodnatured inoffensive disposition. He says (chap. xvii): "Their figures are generally superb; and I have never felt so much pleasure in gazing at the finest statue as at these living illustrations of the human form." In his My Life, vol. ii, p. 288, he says: "Their whole aspect and manner were different (from the semi-civilised tribes); they walked with the free step of the independent forest-dweller ... original and self-sustaining as the wild animals of the forest ... living their own lives in their own way, as they had done for countless generations before America was discovered. The true denizen of the Amazonian forests, like the forest itself, is unique and not to be forgotten."

From The Putumayo, or Devil's Paradise. By W. E. Hardenburg (1912).

"The Huitotos are a well-formed race, and although small, are stout and strong, with a broad chest and a prominent bust; but their limbs, especially the lower, are but little developed.... That repugnant sight, a protruding abdomen, so common among the 'whites' and half-breeds on the Amazon, is very rare among these aborigines.... Notwithstanding some defects it is not rare to find among these women many who are really beautiful—so magnificent are their figures, and so free and graceful their movements." (p. 152).

"Unions are considered binding among the Huitotos, and it is very rarely that serious disagreements arise between[Pg 290] husband and wife. The women are naturally chaste, and it was not till the advent of the rubber collectors that they began to lose this primitive virtue—so generally met with among people not yet in contact with white men" (p. 154).

[N.B.—These were some of the people so villainously tortured—men, women and children—for the collection of rubber, by commercial scoundrels, whose atrocities were exposed by Roger Casement and others. E.C.]

Fine Figures and Features of the Dyaks

Quotations from Beccar's In the Forests of Borneo, pp. 325 and 329. (Constable 1904.)

"On the morning of October 19, as previously arranged, Ladja, with eight other Dyaks, came to the fort duly equipped for the journey. Ladja was a handsome young man, tall like most of his companions, slender, and beautifully made. His profile was nearly regular, the nose perfectly straight, but the cheek bones rather too prominent and the chin rather pointed. His complexion was very light." ... "Our Arno boatmen in Florence always pole where the river is shallow, and use their poles exactly as the Dyaks do theirs, only they certainly cannot compare with the latter in the length of the journeys thus performed with their light canoes. Ours literally flew over the water handled with incomparable dexterity by my six young savages. There is to my mind no lighter and more pleasant mode of progression, and certainly no kind of work displays so well the elegant movements and perfect proportions of these young Dyaks, who, practically unencumbered with clothing, are truly splendid specimens of humanity."

From Ida Pfeiffer's book Meine zweite Weltreise, vol. i, p. 116. (Vienna, 1856.)

"I must confess that I would gladly have journeyed longer among the free Dayaks. I found them wonderfully honourable, gentle and modest; indeed in these respects I put them above any people that I have as yet become acquainted with. I could leave all my things about, and go away for hours together, and never was the least thing missing. They begged me occasionally for many an object they saw, but immediately gave way when I explained that I needed it myself. They were never over-pressing or tiresome. It will be said, in denial of this, that the beheading of corpses and preservation of skulls does not look exactly like gentleness; but it must be remembered that this sad custom is chiefly the result of rude and ignorant superstition. I stick to my opinion, and as a further proof, would cite their domestic and thoroughly patriarchal mode of life, their morals and manners, the love that they have for their children, and the respect their children show to them."

A Rodiya Boy

Ernst Haeckel in his Visit to Ceylon, describes the devotion to him of his Rodiya serving-boy at Belligam near Galle. The keeper of the rest-house there was an old man whom Haeckel, from his likeness to a well-known head, called by the name of Socrates. And Haeckel continues: "It really seemed as though I should be pursued by the familiar aspects of classical antiquity from the first moment of my arrival at my idyllic home. For as Socrates led me up the steps of the open central hall of the rest-house, I saw before me, with uplifted arms in an attitude[Pg 292] of prayer, a beautiful naked brown figure, which could be nothing else than the famous statue of the 'Youth Adoring.' How surprised I was when the graceful bronze statue suddenly came to life, and dropping his arms fell on his knees, and after raising his black eyes imploringly to mine bowed his handsome face so low at my feet that his long black hair fell on the floor! Socrates informed me that this boy was a Pariah, a member of the lowest caste, the Rodiyas, who had lost his parents at an early age. He was told off to my exclusive service, and in answer to the question what I was to call my new body-servant, the old man informed me that his name was Gamameda. Of course I immediately thought of Ganymede, for the favorite of Jove himself could not have been more finely made, or have had limbs more beautifully proportioned and moulded.

"Among the many beautiful figures which move in the foreground of my memories of the Paradise of Ceylon, Ganymede remains one of my dearest favorites. Not only did he fulfil his duties with the greatest attention and conscientiousness, but he developed a personal attachment and devotion to me which touched me deeply. The poor boy, as a miserable outcast of the Rodiya caste, had been from his birth the object of the deepest contempt of his fellow-men, and subjected to every sort of brutality and ill-treatment. He was evidently as much surprised as delighted to find me willing to be kind to him from the first.... I owe many beautiful and valuable contributions to my museum to Ganymede's unfailing zeal and dexterity. With the keen eye, the neat hand, and the supple agility of the Cinghalese youth, he could catch a fluttering moth or a gliding fish with equal promptitude; and his nimbleness was really amazing when, out hunting, he climbed the tall trees like a cat, or scrambled through the densest jungle to recover the prize I had killed." (p. 200.)

Second Sight

Native "diviners" in South Africa, from The Spiritualism of the Zulu, by C. H. Bull, of Durban.

"Many years ago I was riding transport between Durban and the Umzimkulu. I checked my loads at Durban and found them correct with the waybill, but when I reached my destination I discovered that I was one case short, for which I had to pay. On my return to my farm, I mentioned the fact to my brother, who proposed, more in the spirit of fun than anything else, that we should visit a diviner, and endeavour to discover what had become of it. I consented, and together we repaired to a native diviner. He immediately informed us of the object of our visit, although, so far as I can tell, it was morally impossible for him to have known it through any ordinary channels, and then he went on speaking as though in a dream: 'I see a waggon loaded with cases climbing up the Umgwababa Hill; there has been a lot of rain and the roads are slippery. Half way up the hill the rains have washed a gully; into this the waggon lurches, displacing a small case, which falls to the ground, but the driver, who is busy urging his team up the hill, does not notice it. Now the waggon has passed out of sight, but I see a Kaffir coming up the hill. When he reaches the spot where the case is lying, he stops for a few moments to examine it, and then proceeds to the top of the hill, where he stands for a few moments shading his eyes with his hand, as though looking beyond. Now he returns to where the case is lying, and lifting it up, crosses the road, and pushing his way through some tall tambootie grass, he reaches a large indonie tree; under the tree there is a stunted clump of wild bananas. He places the case in the centre of the clump, and after concealing it[Pg 294] with some of the dry leaves, he goes on his way. The case is still there.'

"Though wholly incredulous of the truth of the vision, I sent two 'boys' to the spot indicated, and they returned bringing with them the lost case, having found it exactly where the diviner said that he saw it."

The Zulus

The Zulus: Quotations from General Sir W. Butler's Naboth's Vineyard, p. 263 (given in Blyden's African Life and Customs, p. 43).

"In all the sad history of South Africa few things are sadder than the Zulu question. Where the Zulu came (in those days), no lock or key were necessary. No man who knew the Zulu—not even the white colonist, whose rage was largely the result of his being unable to get servile labour from him—could say that he had not found the Zulu honest, truthful, faithful; that the white wife and child had not been entirely safe from insult or harm at the hands of this black man; or that money and property were not immeasurably more secure in Zulu charge than in that of Europeans or Asiatics."

From Blyden's African Life and Customs, p. 37.

"There are to-day hundreds of so-called civilised Africans who are coming back to themselves. They have grasped the principles underlying the European social and economic order and reject them as not equal to their own as means of making adequate provision for the normal needs of all members of society both present and future—from birth all through life to death. They have discovered all the[Pg 295] waste places, all the nakedness of the European system, both by reading and travel. The great wealth can no longer dazzle them, or conceal from their view the vast masses of the population living under what they once supposed to be the ideal system—who are of no earthly use to themselves or to others.... Under the African system of communal property and co-operative effort, every member of a community has a home and a sufficiency of food and clothing and other necessaries of life—and for life; and his children after him have the same advantages. In this system there is no workhouse and no necessity for such an arrangement."


From Wallace's Malay Archipelago, p. 336. (1894 edition.)

"This motley, ignorant, bloodthirsty, thievish population (Papuans, Javanese, Chinese, etc.), live here without the shadow of a government, with no police, no courts, and no lawyers; yet they do not cut each other's throats; do not plunder each other day and night; do not fall into the anarchy such a state of things might be supposed to lead to. It is very extraordinary! It puts strange thoughts into one's head about the mountain-load of government under which people exist in Europe, and suggests the idea that we may be over-governed. Think of the hundred Acts of Parliament annually enacted to prevent us, the people of England, from cutting each other's throats, or from doing to our neighbours as we would not be done by. Think of the thousands of lawyers and barristers whose whole lives are spent in telling us what the hundred Acts of Parliament mean, and one would be led to infer that if Dobbo has too little law England has too much."

Society without Government

From Morley's Rousseau, vol. ii, p. 227, note. (Eversley edition, 1910.)

"Jefferson, who was American minister in France from 1784 to 1789, and absorbed a great many of the ideas then afloat, writes in words that seem as if they were borrowed from Rousseau: 'I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians), which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments. Among the former public opinion is in the state of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretence of government, they have divided the nation into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate; this is a true picture of Europe.'" (From Tucker's Life of Jefferson, vol. i, p. 255.)

Security without Government

From Tafilet, p. 353. By W. B. Harris. (Blackwood, 1895.)

"The Moors have a proverb, and it is a very true one, that safety and security can only be found in the districts where there is no government—that is to say, where the government is a tribal one."

Degradation through "Civilisation"

From The Spiritualism of the Zulu. By C. H. Bull, of Durban.

"Thirty-two years ago, I lived for some time in a district in Natal, then thickly populated with natives, still [Pg 297]conforming to the primitive customs of their race, yet honest, manly and intelligent people, with very definite ideas in regard to moral questions. After an absence of thirty years, just prior to my sailing for England, I again visited the district and was amazed to observe the change which had taken place in the people; their habits, characters and physique. Sordid poverty, dressed in mean rags or tawdry finery, suggestive of service to vice, had displaced the old dignity, born of conscious physical strength and symmetry of form, which once, though attired only in the trappings that simple art could devise from the rough products of nature, was characteristic; whilst drunkenness, dishonesty and immorality sought shelter under the meagre cloaks of the religion dispensed by the different sections of belief, established in the little iron, or wattle and daub churches, which everywhere disfigured the country side. The change was complete and deplorable, nor were the natives unconscious of their degradation, or without regret for the passing of the old days."


From Waitz's Anthropologie der Naturvölker, vol. ii, p. 281. (Leipzig, 1860.)

"One finds that the fate of Slaves among the ruder peoples is much happier than among the civilised; indeed it seems to grow worse and worse in proportion to the civilisation of the ruling folk. Strange and incredible as at first sight this seems, the following facts establish it beyond doubt. And indeed it is not difficult to explain. The chief reason is that with the increase of merely material culture, Time and Labour-force are more and more prized, and consequently always more violently and[Pg 298] unscrupulously exploited, while on the contrary among primitive people in general a lesser value is placed on these things."

The Fraud of Western Civilisation

Extract from "A Letter to a Chinese Gentleman," by Leo Tolstoy. (Published in Saturday Review, December 1, 1906.)

"Amongst all these Western nations there unceasingly proceeds a strife between the destitute exasperated working people and the government and wealthy, a strife which is restrained only by coercion on the part of deceived men who constitute the army; a similar strife is continually waging between the different states demanding endlessly increasing armaments, a strife which is any moment ready to plunge into the greatest catastrophes. But however dreadful this state of things may be, it does not constitute the essence of the calamity of the Western nations. Their chief and fundamental calamity is that the whole life of these nations who are unable to furnish themselves with food is entirely based on the necessity of procuring means of sustenance by violence and cunning from other nations, who like China, India, Russia and others still preserve a rational agricultural life.

"Constitutions, protective tariffs, standing armies, all this together has rendered the Western nations what they are—people who have abandoned agriculture and become unused to it, occupied in towns and factories in the production of articles for the most part unnecessary, people who with their armies are adapted only to every kind of violence and robbery. However brilliant their position may appear at first sight it is a desperate one, and they must inevitably perish if they do not change the whole structure of their[Pg 299] life founded as it now is on deceit and the plunder and pillage of the agricultural nations."

From O'Brien's White Shadows in the South Seas. (New York, 1919.)

"A hundred years ago there were 160,000 Marquesans in these [South Sea] Islands. To-day their total number does not reach 2,100." O'Brien describes the bad effects of Christianity on these "savages." For he says the so-called superstitions of these races had a great vitalising influence. Their dancing, their tattooing, their religious rites, their chanting and their warfare gave them a zest in life. But "to-day all Polynesians from Hawaii to Tahiti are dying because of the suppression of the play-instinct that had its expression in most of their customs and occupations." And they are now "nothing but joyless machines" and "tired of life."

Failure of Our Civilisation

For a searching comparison between our social conditions and those of the many savage communities visited by him—and much to the general advantage of the latter—see A. R. Wallace's Malay Archipelago (1st ed. 1869), pp. 456, 7 (ed. 1894). And he ends the book by saying:

"Until there is a more general recognition of this failure of our civilisation—resulting mainly from our neglect to train and develop more thoroughly the sympathetic feelings and moral faculties of our nature, and to allow them a larger share of influence in our legislation, our commerce, and our whole social organisation—we shall never, as regards the whole community, attain to any real or important superiority over the better class of savages. This is the lesson I have been taught by my observations of uncivilised man.

"I now bid my readers—Farewell!"



[50] Dall, Alaska and its Resources, Cambridge, U.S., 1870.
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