Immagini della pagina

units of communities and states. For, as families and communities are just as really organisms as are the individual men and women, whose soundness depends upon the healthy activity of every organ, so there is a survival, first of families, then of communities and rival civilizations, in proportion to their unity and soundness in every part. For on account of the close bonds of family and social life, and in connection with the development of articulate speech, a new kind of heredity, so to speak, arises, of vast importance for both good and evil. This mental and moral heredity, overleaping all boundaries of blood and natural kinship, spreads light and good influence or an immoral contagion through the community. And thus, in sheer self-defence, society passes laws setting limits to the oppression of the poor and weak, lest, degraded and brutalized, they become breeding centres of physical and moral disease in the community. The positive lesson that the surest mode of self-defence is the elevation of these submerged classes, we are just beginning to learn and apply.

By the ever-increasing acceleration of the development the gap between man and the lower animal widens with wonderful rapidity. Of course it is only in man, and higher man, that these last and highest results of mammalian structure appear. But that, far removed as they are, they are the results of mammalian and vertebrate characteristics cannot, I think, be well denied. And this is only one of innumerably possible illustrations of the fact that all our most highly prized institutions are rooted far back in our ancestry, often ineradicably in the very organs of our bodies. And thus evolution, which many view only from its radical

side-and it has a radical side-is really the conservative bulwark of all that is essentially worth possessing in the past.

But every factor in man's development tends toward intellectual and spiritual development. Man's vast increase of brain; his finely balanced body; his upright gait; setting his hands free from the work of locomotion that they might become the skilful servants of the mind; finally, articulate speech and social, and, above all, family, life, all tended in this same direction.

And this makes the great difficulty in assigning man his proper place in our systems of classification. Our zoological classifications depend upon anatomical characteristics; and anatomically man belongs among the order primates. But mental and moral values cannot be expressed in terms of anatomy, any more than we can speak of an idea of so many horse-power, and hence worth three or four ancestral dollars. Hence, while from the zoological standpoint man is a primate, and while he is very probably descended from one of these, he has gradually risen above them mentally and spiritually, so that he stands as far above them as they above the lowest worm. And this leads us to the consideration of man, not merely as a mammal, but as "Anthropos," Homo sapiens, although he often degenerates into "Simia destructor."

From what has just been said man's pre-eminence cannot consist in any anatomical characteristic, even of the brain-much less of thumb, forefinger, hand, or foot. But man's mental and moral characteristics (even though germs of these may be present in the animal), whether differing in degree or kind from theirs, raise his life to a totally different plane. He lives in

an environment of which the lower animal is as unconscious and ignorant as we of a fourth dimension of space. He has the knowledge of abstract truth and goodness, of certain standards outside of mere appetite and desire, and feels and acknowledges, however dimly, the requirement and the ability to conform his life to these standards. He alone can say "I ought," and answer "I can and will." And hence man alone actually lives in an environment of the laws of reason, responsibility, and personality. Whatever germs of these higher powers the animal possesses are means to material ends, to the physical life of the animal. In man the long and slow evolution has ended in revolution, the material and physical have been dethroned, and truth and goodness reign supreme as ends in themselves.

But, you may object, this definition of man may be true ideally, certainly it is not true actually. Where are the high ideals of truth and goodness in the savage? and are these the supreme ends of even the average American of to-day? But allowing all weight to this objection, does it not remain true that a being who never says "I ought," who acknowledges and manifests no responsibility, to whom goodness does not appeal, and in whom these feelings cannot be awakened, is either not yet or no longer man? But far more than this, if the character of the individual is to be judged by his tendency more than his present condition, by the way in which he is going more than his momentary position, is not the race to be judged and defined by a tendency, gradually though very slowly becoming realized, and a goal, toward which it looks and which it is surely attaining, rather than by its

present realization? As we rise higher in the animal kingdom the characteristics of the successive higher groups are more and more slow of attainment and difficult of realization, just because of their grander possibilities. And this is true and important above all in the case of man. His possibilities are beyond our powers of conception, for, if you will, man is yet only larval man.

We have followed the sequence of functions to its culmination in a mind completely dominated by righteousness and unselfishness, however far above our present attainments this goal may be. We have found that all attempts to reverse this sequence end in death or degeneration. Failure to advance, especially in higher forms, results in extinction or retrogression. We cannot stand still. Each higher step is longer and more important than any preceding; each last step is essential to life. Righteousness in the will is the last step essential to man's progress. And if a sound mind in a sound body is important or necessary, a sound will, resolutely set on right, is absolutely essential. Failure to attain this is ruin.

And man can to a great extent place himself so that his surroundings shall aid him to take this last, essential, upward step. He does this by the choice of his associates. If he associates himself with men who are tending upward, he will rise ever higher. If he choose the opposite kind of associates he must sink into ever deeper degradation; he has thereby chosen death. For his associates, once chosen, make him like themselves. And thus natural selection makes for the survival of those men who resolutely choose life. And thoughtless or careless

failure to choose is ruin. The man has preferred degradation; it is only right that he should have it to satiety.

But man is not, and never can be, pure' spirit. He may "let the ape and tiger die," but he must always retain the animal with its natural appetites. Moreover, his higher mental capacities increase their power. Memory recalls past gratifications as it never does to the animal; imagination paints before him vivid pictures of similar future enjoyments, and mental keenness and strength of will tell him that they can all be his. But if he yields himself a slave to these appetites, if he seeks to be an animal rather than a spiritual being, he becomes not an animal but a brute; and the only genuine brute is a degenerate man. And thus after conquering the world man's very structure compels him to join battle with himself. For here, as everywhere else, to attempt to go backward to a plane of life once passed is to surely degenerate. The time when the prize of pre-eminence could be won by mere physical superiority was passed before man had a history. Physical superiority must be maintained, and every advance in art and science, considered here as ministering to man's physical comfort, is advantageous just so far as these allow man freedom and aid to pursue the mental and moral line which is the only true path left open to him. But when even these are allowed to minister only to the animal, or to tempt to luxurious ease and indifference to any higher aims, in a word, in so far as they fail to minister to mental and moral advancement, they are in great danger of becoming, if they have not already become, a curse rather than a blessing. And we all know that this has been proven

« IndietroContinua »