Sunday, 21 September 2014

EVOLUTION AND SOCIOLOGY

(By Dr. Fauset Macdonald.)
 At the Seventh Congress of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Sydney, 1898.
 ——
At Chicago, during the great World's Fair in 1893, a congress of evolutionists was held; and with a view to facilitate matters the following questions had been some time previous to the date of meeting sent to most of the prominent evolutionists of Europe and the United States, with the request that answers should be sent in as briefly as possible :
 1. Can the doctrine of evolution, in its sociological aspects offer wise suggestions for the solution of the grave social problems of our time ? and
 2. What should be the next step of society in view of those suggestions ?
 Some two hundred replies were received ; and, as you may imagine, they furnished most interesting matter for study ; and, I may say of some of them, for amusement also. However, what surprised me very much was the apparent ignorance of the evolutionists themselves, upon what might be called up-to-date theories of evolution. One and all of them, without a single exception, stood by the "struggle for existence," "survival of the fittest," "tooth and claw," or "natural selection," as the one and only principle of evolution. As a result it happened that the "wise (?) suggestions for the solution of the grave social problems of our time" were either, as those of Mr. Alfred Wallace, reserved, or misleading, or pernicious in the extreme, as when they urged with all effrontery the remorseless commercial axiom of the day, that since "survival of the fittest" is the law of nature the weak among men as among animals must go to the wall.
 In the face of such terrible thoughts, which have unfortunately written themselves in the best blood of this 19th century, no apology is needed, I am sure, to review critically, if briefly, the origin and development of the evolution theory.
 This century came into existence in all the sunrise glory of song of perhaps the greatest poets that ever lived ; for they were essentially the poets of Hope— Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Landor, Burns. But a blighting influence soon followed in the shape of Malthus, who turned the thoughts of men to pessimism and despair, when he convinced the most potent thinkers of his time that population has a tendency to out-grow its food supply. We now know that the greater the population among men the greater is the food supply ; that, as a matter of fact, population is only limited by our ignorance ; and, that the more of us there are the wiser we become ! But the damage was done before these truths were realised ; for Charles Darwin, then a student, had become a convert to Malthusianism. Darwin went out into the world reading into everything he saw the necessity for struggle among animals ; and ultimately arrived at his completed conception of survival of the fittest by a process of natural selection. Darwin states in the "Origin of Species" that the struggle for life is greatest among members of the same species. This, however, is a fallacy, as will presently be proved beyond all doubt.
 The idea of struggle for life which thus originated with Malthus,and was adopt by Darwin, received particular emphasis from Huxley, and was finally developed and elaborated into the so called synthetic philosophy of Herbert Spencer. And now American millionaires swear by Spencer and call him friend, shielded as they are by his philosophy in their struggle for monopoly which they misname a struggle for life.
 Just in the same spirit that Darwin went out to see the world in the Beagle, impressed by the works of Malthus, in 1860 Pierre Kropotkin, then a young enthusiastic explorer, went travelling in Siberia full of Darwin's then newly-published book the "Origin of Species," prepared to see every where the struggle for life among animals. But he saw something else ; and his heart lept for joy as with a flash of genius he realised that the struggle for life is only a half-truth not even that. On every hand he saw the animals, with which Siberia teems, not only not fighting, but actually assisting each other in a thousand ways ! He saw herds of deer which would pass signals of common danger for miles ; he saw the bulls of wild cattle herds form rings round the cows and calves showing a solid front of horns to an enemy. Birds were seen on every hand flocking together on utmost terms of friendship, assisting each other in building nests, or catching fish, by common effort. Crows parliaments were observed with their watchful sentinels posted on convenient trees. The humble bees, and humbler ants, in their myriad forms of mutual work all spoke to Kropotkin of a deep underlying principle of mutual aid— a principle which he has so ably proclaimed and proved to exist, beyond the shadow of a doubt, universally, throughout the animal world. As a friend and disciple of Kropotkin it has given me unbounded pleasure to verify to my own complete satisfaction the truth of his magnificent discovery that associated animals have survived in the great struggle, while those of more pronouncedly individualistic instincts, however strong, have gone to the wall, and are still continuing to go that way. Rabbits, kangaroos, pigeons, sparrows, rats, are familiar examples of progressive survivors, while eagles and the great solitary prowlers of desert and jungle, strong as they are and howsoever magnificent, are going, and will soon be gone altogether. Lest I may not have said enough to convince on this point, let me mention how monkeys cross a river by forming a suspension bridge, by clasping each other, and swinging from tree to tree ; and, again, how beavers cut down trees by common effort, float them down stream, and make dams and houses so mathematically correct in proportion as to astonish architects and engineers. Nor have the beavers specialists among them ; nor authoritarians of any sort ; no bosses, nor gangers— they work in harmonious fellowship, in terms of strict equality. There are no lazy ones among the beavers. They love work — so much so that a beaver in captivity has been known to build a dam of boots, shoes, bushes and sundries when the opportunity offered.
  I have watched prairie-dogs for days in the Rocky Mountains, but never saw a fight, only play, or strict attention to duties of sentry. Who has not seen cockatoos rob by concerted action ? And, lastly, man is the most social of animals. Through being so he has risen to the top, and keeps there. Yet the despised worm patiently waits for him, and will doubtless survive him in the long run unless he gives more attention to the problem of how to preserve the species than he has hitherto done.
 My reason for thus rapidly touching upon the history of the philosophy of evolution was mainly to show that there has been a dual principle at work in the development of the animal world including man. First, we have the struggle for life, which is the basic principle of all individual rights. No one questions the right of an individual to self-preservation — but men do not so readily grant to individuals their natural right of preserving their individuality. All tyrannies of the past have been encroachments upon the rights of the individual. He was denied the privilege of thinking for himself, and of speaking his thoughts ; and he is still denied the right of acting as he thinks best to a very grave extent.
 In the name of social rights the individual has been crushed and kept down in all ages to the detriment of the race. But again the individual has reacted against his cruel environment. All revolutions of the past bear evidence of his power to obtain justice when his consciousness of wrong has once been aroused. I can conceive the existence of no ethical principle apart from the desire to preserve and develop individuality. We have in this conception a touchstone to test the spuriousness or otherwise of all the great questions of the day, such as those concerning government, the equal rights of men and women, the equality of all, compulsory education, et cetera.
 The truth is, if we respect the right of the individual to live a complete life, instead of recognising his bare right to existence only (sometimes not only that) there is no room for authority in any shape or form on this our planetary home. The ethics of freedom, the only true ethics of life, forbid compulsion of any kind, as in consistent with the best interests of men, and in so far as it infringes one of the fundamental laws of social evolution.
 It naturally follows that any association of individuals should only exist upon terms of absolute freedom. The principle of society is an economic one as that of individualism is ethical. If society does not exist for the mutual benefit, and equal rights of all individuals composing it, it has no rights of existence at all and must be looked upon as immoral.
 Instinctively the animals in their long history of development have felt this ; as one can trace in studying the species of termites. Their earlier colonies show more or less inclination to the use of authority. Political government of a Socialistic nature has in the process of evolution of the termites given place to a completely autonomous or anarchical form of society. It is well known also that the intelligence of advance termites is greater than that of the less free societies. They harvest grain, keep milkers, and build most beautifully.
Although it is of the utmost importance to bear in mind the part association of animals plays in evolution of the animal kingdom, it must not be overlooked that associations are strong only from an economic point of view. The moment they use their strength for any other purpose they must be ruled out of bounds ; and individuals have a right to protest, and rebel, against their authority.
 Purity of principles can alone make pure society : and so it happens in offering suggestions as an evolutionist to those engaged in social reform, I urge the great necessity for recognition of the ethical principle of individual freedom and the economic demand for associations of men for mutual assistance.
 If the associations of men were maintained pure by operations of the law of freedom, what a beautiful process of action and reaction for mutual advance one can conceive. One year of freedom in the world would be worth centuries of authority. For there is plenty of everything and to spare for all : the supply of earth is unlimited.
 In answer, then, to the first question proposed— viz.: Can the doctrine of evolution in its sociological aspects offer wise suggestions for the solution of the grave social problems of our time, a consideration of the principles of evolution will give, as an ideal for sociologists to work for, this final conclusion— that society can only truly exist when it is composed of free individuals freely associated.
 In answer to the second question — viz.; What is the next step society should take in view of those suggestions from evolution ? I would say, abolish all institutions of authority, and trust implicitly to the honour and ability now spoiling for want of use in the hearts and brains of all men and women. When have volunteers for any service failed if called upon by the spirit of honour, freely to help? See how the life-boats are rushed by willing hands at the call of rescue ! Do not men, women and children save life at the risk of their own every day ! Men will do for honour and love that what they never would or could for money.
   In conclusion, I for one believe that if the call were only made to-morrow, every bit of essential work in the world would be cheerfully, and with enthusiasm, performed by countless bands of social volunteers.
   Before the slave when he breaks his chain,
   Before the free man tremble not !

 Worker 12 February 1898,

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