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THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
MATTHEW Arnold, in a well -remembered line, describes a bird in Kensington Gardens “deep in its unknown day’s employ.” But, peace to the poet, its employ is all too certain. Its day is spent in struggling to get a living; and a very hard day it is. It awoke at daybreak and set out to catch its morning meal; but another bird was awake before it, and it lost its chance. With fifty other breakfastless birds, it had to bide its time, to scour the country; to prospect the trees, the grass, the ground; to lie in ambush; to attack and be defeated; to hope and be forestalled. At every meal the same programme is gone through, and every day. As the seasons change the pressure becomes more keen. Its supplies are exhausted, and it has to take wing for hundreds and thousands of miles to find new hunting-ground. This is how birds live, and this is how birds are made. They are the children of Struggle. Beak and limb, claw and wing, shape, strength, all down to the last detail, are the expressions of their mode of life.
This is how the early savage lived, and this is how he was made. The first practical problem in the Ascent of Man was to get him started on his upward path. It was not enough for Nature to equip him with a body, and plant his foot on the lowest rung of the ladder. She must introduce into her economy some great principle which should secure, not for him alone but for every living thing, that they should work upward toward the top. The inertia of things is such that without compulsion they will never move. And so admirably has this compulsion been applied that its forces are hidden in the very nature of life itself—the very act of living contains within it the principles of progress. An animal cannot be without becoming.
The first great principle into the hands of which this mighty charge was given is the Struggle for Life. It is one of the chief keys for unlocking the mystery of Man’s Ascent, and so important in all development that Mr. Darwin assigns it the supreme rank among the factors in Evolution. “Unless,” he says “it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole economy of Nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood.” How, under the pressures of this great necessity to work for a living, the Ascent of Man has gone on, we have now to inquire. Though not to the extent that is usually supposed, yet in part under this stimulus, he has slowly emerged from the brute-existence, and, entering a path where the possibilities of development are infinite, has been pushed on from stage to stage, without premeditation, or design, or thought on his part, until he arrived at that further height where, to the unconscious compulsions of a lower environment, there were added those high incitements of conscious ideals which completed the work of creating him a Man.
Start with a comparatively unevolved savage, and see what the Struggle for Life will do for him. When we meet him first he is sitting, we shall suppose, in the sun. Let us also suppose—and it requires no imagination to suppose it—that he has no wish to do anything else than sit in the sun, and that he is perfectly contented, and perfectly happy. Nature around him, visible and invisible, is as still as he is, as inert apparently, as unconcerned. Neither molests the other; they have no connection with each other. Yet it is not so. That savage is the victim of a conspiracy. Nature has designs upon him, wants to do something to him. That something is to move him. Why does it wish to move him? Because movement is work, and work is exercise, and exercise may mean a further evolution of the part of him that is exercised. How does it set about moving him? By moving itself. Everything else being in motion, it is impossible for him to resist. The sun moves away to the west and he must move or freeze with cold. As the sun continues to move, twilight falls and wild animals move from their lairs and he must move or be eaten. The food he ate in the morning has dissolved and moved away to nourish the cells of his body, and more food must soon be moved to take its place or he must starve. So he starts up, he works, he seeks food, shelter, safety; and those movements make marks in his body, brace muscles, stimulate nerves, quicken intelligence, create habits, and he becomes more able and more willing to repeat these movements and so becomes a stronger and a higher man. Multiply these movements and you multiply him. Make him do things he has never done before, and he will become what he never was before. Let the earth move round in its orbit till the sun is far away and the winter snows begin to fall. He must either move away, and move away very fast, to find the sun again; or he must chase, and also very fast, some thick-furred animal, and kill it, and clothe himself with its skin. Thus from a man he has become a hunter, a different kind of a man, a further man. He did not wish to become a hunter; he had to become a hunter. All that he wished was to sit in the sun and be let alone, and but for a Nature around him which would not rest, or let him alone, he would have sat on there till he died. The universe has to be so ordered that that which Man would not have done alone he should be compelled to do. In other words it was necessary to introduce into Nature, and into Human Nature, some such principle as the Struggle for Life. For the first law of Evolution is simply the first law of motion. “Every body continues in a state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled by impressed forces to change that state.” Nature supplied that savage with the impressed forces, with something which he was compelled to respond to. Without that, he would have continued for ever as he was.
Apart from the initial appetite, Hunger, the stimulus of Environment—that which necessitates Man to struggle for life—is two-fold. The first is inorganic nature, including heat and cold, climate and weather, earth, air, water—the material world. The second is the world of life, comprehending all plants and animals, and especially those animals against whom primitive Man has always to struggle most—other primitive Men. All that Man is, all the arts of life, all the gifts of civilization, all the happiness and joy and progress of the world, owe much of their existence to that double war.
Follow it a little further. Go back to a time when Man was just emerging from the purely animal state, when he was in the condition described by Mr. Darwin, “a tailed quadruped probably arboreal in its habits,” and when in his glimmering consciousness mind was feeling about for its first uses in snatching some novel success in the Struggle for Life. This hypothetical creature, so far as bodily structure was concerned, was presumably not very vigorous. Had he been more vigorous he might never have evolved at all; as it was, he fled for refuge not to his body but to a stratagem of the Mind. When threatened by a comrade, or pressed by an alien-species, he called in a simple foreign aid to help him in the Struggle—the branch of a tree. Whether the discovery was an accident; whether the idea was caught from the falling of a bough, or a blow from a branch waving in the wind, is of no consequence. This broken branch became the first weapon. It was the father of all clubs. The day this discovery was made, the Struggle for Life took a new departure. Hitherto animals fought with some specialized part of their own bodies—tooth, limb, claw. Now they took possession of the armoury of material Nature.
This invention of the club was soon followed by another change. To use a club effectively, or to keep a good look-out for enemies or for food, a man must stand erect. This alters the centre of gravity of the body, and as the act becomes a habit, subsidiary changes slowly take place in other parts. In time the erect position becomes confirmed. Man owes what Burns calls his “heaven-erected face” to the Struggle for Life. How recent this change is, how new the attitude still is to him, is seen from the simple fact that even yet he has not attained the power of retaining the erect position long. Most men sit down when they can, and so unnatural is the standing position, so unstable the equilibrium, that when slightly sick or faint, Man cannot stand at all.
Possibly both the erect position and the Club had another origin, but the detail is immaterial. This “hairy-tailed quadruped, arboreal in its habits,” must sometimes have wandered or been driven into places where trees were few and far between. It is conceivable that an animal, accustomed to get along mainly by grasping something, should have picked up a branch and held it in its hand, partly to use as a crutch, partly as a weapon, and partly to raise itself from the ground in order to keep a better look-out in crossing treeless spaces. An Orang-outang may now be seen in the Zoological gardens in Java which promenades about its bower continually with the help of a stick, and seems to prefer the erect position so long as the stick or any support is at hand.
The next stage after the invention of anything is to improve upon it, or to make a further use of it. Both these things now happened. One day the stick, wrenched rapidly from the tree, happened to be left with a jagged end. The properties of the point were discovered. Now there were two classes of weapons in the world—the blunt stick and the pointed stick—that is to say, the Club and the Spear.
In using these weapons at first, neither probably was allowed to leave the hand. But already their owners had learned to hurl down branches from the tree-tops and bombard their enemies with nuts and fruits. Hence they came to throw their clubs and spears, and so missiles were introduced. Under this new use the primitive weapons themselves received a further specialization. From the heavy bludgeon would arise on the one hand the shaped war-club, and on the other the short throwing club, or waddy. The spear would pass into the throwing assegai, or the ponderous weapon such as the South Sea Islanders use to-day. From the natural point of a torn branch to the sharpening of a point deliberately is the next improvement. From rubbing the point against the sharp edge of a large stone, to picking up a sharp-edged small stone and using it as a knife, is but a step. So, by the mere necessities of the Struggle for Life, development went on. Man became a tool-using animal, and the foundations of the Arts were laid. Next, the man who threw his missile furthest, had the best chance in the Struggle for Life. To throw to still greater distances, and with greater precision, he sought out mechanical aids—the bow, the boomerang, the throwing-stick, and the sling. Then instead of using his own strength he borrowed strength from nature, mixed different kinds of dust together and invented gunpowder. All our modern weapons of precision, from the rifle to the long range gun, are evolutions from the missiles of the savage. These suggestions are not mere fancies; in savage tribes existing in the world to-day these different stages in Evolution may still be seen.
After weapons of offence came weapons of defence. At first the fighting savage sheltered himself at the back of a tree. Then when he wished to pass to another tree he tore off part of the bark, took it with him, and made the first shield. Where the trees were without suitable bark, he would plait his shield from canes, grasses, and the midribs of the leaves, or construct them from frameworks of wood and skins. In times of peace these hollow shields, lying idly about the huts, would find new uses—baskets, cradles, and, in an evolved form, coracles or boats. In leisure hours also, new virtues discovered themselves in the earlier implements of war and of the chase. The twang of his bow suggested memories that were pleasant to his ear; he kept on twanging it, and so made music. Because two bows twanged better than one, he twanged two bows; then he made himself a two-stringed bow from the first, and ended with a “ten-stringed instrument.” By and by came the harp; later, the violin. The whistling of the wind in a hollow reed prepared the way for the flute; a conch-shell, broken at the helix, gave him the trumpet. Two flints struck together yielded fire.
Trifling, almost puerile, as these beginnings look to us now, remember they were once the serious realities of life. The club and spear of the savage are toys to us to-day; but we forget that the rude shafts of wood which adorn our halls were all the world to early Man, and represented the highest expression and daily instrument of his evolution. These primitive weapons are the pathetic expression of the world’s first Struggle. As the earliest contribution of mankind to solve its still fundamental difficulty —the problem of Nutrition—they are of enduring interest to the human race. So far from being, as one might suppose, mere implements of destruction, they are implements of self-preservation; they entered the world not from hate of Man but for love of life. Why was the spear invented, and the sling, and the bow? In the first instance because Man needed the bird and the deer for food. Why from implements of the chase did they change into implements of war? Because other men wanted the bird and the deer, and the first possessor, as populations multiplied, must protect his food-supply. The parent of all industries is Hunger: the creator of civilization in its earlier forms is the Struggle for Life.
By hollowing a pit in the ground, planting his spear, or a pointed stake, upright in the centre, and covering the mouth with boughs, Man could trap even the largest game. When the climate became cold, he stripped off the skin and became the possessor of clothes. With a stone for a hammer, he broke open molluscs on the shore, or speared or trapped the fish in the shoals. Digging for roots with his pointed stick in time suggested agriculture. From imitating the way wild fruits and grains were sown by Nature he became a gardener and grew crops. To possess a crop means to possess an estate, and to possess an estate is to give up wandering and begin that more settled life in which all the arts of industry must increase. Catching the young of wild animals and keeping them, first as playthings, then for supplies of meat or milk, or in the case of the dog for helping in the chase, he perceived the value of domestic animals. So Man slowly passed from the animal to the savage, so his mind was tamed, and strengthened, and brightened, and heightened; so the sense of power grew strong, and so virtus, which is to say virtue, was born.
In struggling with Nature, early Man not only found material satisfactions: he found himself. It was this that made him, body, mind, character, and disposition; and it was this largely that gave to the world different kinds of men, different kinds of bodies, minds, characters, and dispositions. The first moral and intellectual diversifiers of men are to be sought for in geography and geology—in the factors which determine the circumstances in which men severally conduct their Struggle for Life. If the land had been all the same the Struggle for Life had been all the same, and if the Struggle for Life had been all the same, life itself had been all the same. But to no two sets of men is the world ever quite the same. The theatre of struggle varies with every degree of latitude, with every change of altitude, with every variation of soil. In most countries three separate regions are found—a maritime region, an agricultural region, a pastoral region. In the first, the belt along the shore, the people are fishermen; in the second, the lowlands and alluvial plains, the people are farmers; in the third, the highlands and plateaux, they are shepherds. As men are nothing but expressions of their environments, as the kind of life depends on how men get their living, each set of men becomes changed in different ways. The fisherman’s life is a precarious life; he becomes hardy, resolute, self-reliant. The farmer’s life is a settled life; he becomes tame, he loves home, he feeds on grains and fruits which take the heat out of his blood and make him domestic and quiet. The shepherd is a wanderer; he is much alone; the monotonies of grass make him dull and moody; the mountains awe him: the protector of his flock, he is a man of war. So arise types of men, types of industries; and by and bye, by exogamous marriage, blends of these types, and further blends of infinite variety. “It is so ordered by Nature, that by so striving to live they develop their physical structure; they obtain faint glimmerings of reason; they think and deliberate; they become Man. In the same way, the primeval men have no other object than to keep the clan alive. It is so ordered by Nature that in striving to preserve the existence of the clan, they not only acquire the arts of agriculture, domestication, and navigation; they not only discover fire, and its uses in cooking, in war, and in metallurgy; they not only detect the hidden properties of plants, and apply them to save their own lives from disease, and to destroy their enemies in battle; they not only learn to manipulate Nature and to distribute water by machinery; but they also, by means of the life-long battle, are developed into moral beings.”7575Winwood Reade, Martyrdom of Man, p. 464. Nature being “everything that is,” and Man being in every direction immersed in it and dependent on it, can never escape its continuous discipline. Some environment there must always be; and some change of environment, no matter how minute, there must always be; and some change, no matter how imperceptible, must be always wrought in him.
We now see, perhaps, more clearly why Evolution at the dawn of life entered into league with so strange an ally as Want. The Evolution of Mankind was too great a thing to entrust to any uncertain hand. The advantage of attaching human progress to the Struggle for Life is that you can always depend upon it. Hunger never fails. All other human appetites have their periods of activity and stagnation; passions wax and wane; emotions are casual and capricious. But the continuous discharge of the function of Nutrition is interrupted only by the final interruption—Death. Death means, in fact, little more than an interference with the function of Nutrition; it means that the Struggle for Life having broken down, there can be no more life, no further evolution. Hence, it has been ordained that Life and Struggle, Health and Struggle, Growth and Struggle, Progress and Struggle, shall be linked together; that whatever the chances of misdirection, the apparent losses, the mysterious accompaniments of strife and pain, the Ascent of Man should be bound up with living. When it is remembered that, at a later day, Morality and Struggle, and even Religion and Struggle, are bound so closely that it is impossible to conceive of them apart, the tremendous value of this principle and the necessity for providing it with indestructible foundations, will be perceived.
This association of the Struggle for Life with the physiological function of Nutrition must be continually borne in mind. For the essential nature of the principle has been greatly obscured by the very name which Mr. Darwin gave to it. Probably no other was possible; but the effect has been that men have emphasized the almost ethical substantive ‘Struggle’ and ignored the biological term ‘Life.’ A secondary implication of the process has thus been elevated into the prime one; and this, exaggerated by the imagination, has led to Nature being conceived of as a vast murderous machine for the annihilation of the majority and the survival of the few. But the Struggle for Life, in the first instance, is simply living itself; at the best, it is living under a healthily normal maximum of pressure; at the worst, under an abnormal maximum. As we have seen, initially, it is but another name for the discharge of the supreme physiological function of Nutrition. If life is to go on at all, this function must be discharged and continuously discharged. The primary characteristic of protoplasm, the physical basis of all life, is Hunger, and this has dictated the first law of being—“Thou shalt eat.” What distinguishes scientifically the organic from the inorganic, the animal from the stone? That the animal eats, the stone does not. Almost all achievement in the early history of the living world has been due to Hunger. For millenniums nearly the whole task of Evolution was to perfect the means of satisfying it, and in so doing to perfect life itself. The lowest forms of life are little more than animated stomachs, and in higher groups the nutritive system is the first to be developed, the first to function, and the last to cease its work. Almost wholly, indeed, in the earlier vicissitude of the race, and largely in the more ordered course of later times, Hunger rules the life and work and destiny of men; and so profoundly does this mysterious deity still dominate the round of even the highest life that the noblest occupations which engage the human mind must be interrupted two or three times a day to do it homage.
Whatever Man came ultimately to wish and to achieve for himself, it was essential at first that such arrangements should be made for him. The machinery for his development had not only to be put into Nature, but he had to be placed in the machine and held there, and brought back there as often as he tried to evade it. To say that man evolved himself, nevertheless, is as absurd as to say that a newspaper prints itself. To say even that the machinery evolved him is as preposterous as to say of a poem that the printing-press made it. The ultimate problem is, Who made the machine? and Who thought the poem that was to be printed?
If you say that you do not unreservedly approve of the machine, that it lacerates as well as binds, the difficulty is more real. But it is a principle in the study of history to suspend judgment both of the meaning and of the value of a policy until the chain of sequences it sets in motion should be worked out to its last fulfilment. When the full tale of the Struggle for Life is told, when the record of its victories is closed, when the balance of its gains and losses has been struck, and especially when it is proved that there actually have been losses, it will be time to pass judgment on its moral value. Of course this principle cuts both ways; it warns off a favourable as well as an unfavourable verdict on the beneficence of the system of things. But Evolution is a study in history, and its results are largely known. And it would be affectation to deny that on the whole these results are good, and appear the worthier the more we penetrate into their inner meaning. Men forget when they denounce the Struggle for Life, that it is to be judged not only on the ground of sentiment but of reason, that not its local or surface effects only, but its permanent influence on the order of the world, must be taken into account.
Even on the lower ranges of Nature the unfavourable implications of the Struggle for Life have probably been exaggerated. While it is essential to an understanding of the course of evolution to retain in the imagination a vivid sense of the Struggle itself, we must beware of over-colouring the representation, or flooding it with accompaniments of emotion borrowed from our own sensations. The word Struggle at all in this connection is little more than a metaphor. When it is said that an animal struggles, all that is really meant is that it lives. An animal, that is to say, does not, in addition to all its other activities, have to employ a vast number of special activities, to the exercise of which the term Struggle is to be applied. It is Life itself which is the Struggle: and the whole Life, and the whole of the activities and powers which make up Life are involved in it. To speak of Struggle in the sense of some special and separate struggle, to conceive of battle, or even a series of battles, is misleading, where all is struggle and where all is battle. Especially must we beware of reading into it our personal ideas with regard to accompaniments of pain. The probabilities are that the Struggle for Life in the lower creation is, to say the least, less painful than it looks. Whether we regard the dulness of the states of consciousness among lower animals, or the fact that the condition of danger must become habitual, or that death when it comes is sudden, and unaccompanied by that anticipation which gives it its chief dread to Man, we must assume that whatever the Struggle for Life subjectively means to the lower animals, it can never approach in terror what it means to us. And as to putting any moral content into it, until a late stage in the world’s development, that is not to be thought of. Judged of even by later standards there is much to relieve one’s first unfavourable impression. With exceptions, the fight is a fair fight. As a rule there is no hate in it, but only Hunger. It is seldom prolonged, and seldom wanton. As to the manner of death, it is generally sudden. As to the fact of death, all animals must die. As to the meaning of an existence prematurely closed, it is better to be to be eaten than not to be at all. And, as to the last result, it is better to be eaten out of the world and, dying, help another to live, than pollute the world by lingering decay. The most, after all, that can be done with life is to give it to others. Till Nature taught her creatures of their own free will to offer the sacrifice, is it strange that she took it by force?
There are those indeed who frown upon Science for predicating a Struggle for Life in Nature at all, lest the facts should impugn the beneficence of the universe. But Science did not invent the Struggle for Life. It is there. What Science has really done is to show not only its meaning but its great moral purpose. There are others, again, like Mill, who, seeing the facts, but not seeing that moral purpose, impugn natural theology for still believing in the beneficence of that purpose. Neither attitude, probably, is quite worthy of the names with which these conclusions are associated. Much more reasonable are the verdicts of the two men who are first responsible for bringing the facts before the world, Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace and Mr. Darwin. “When we reflect,” says Mr. Darwin, “on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.” And in much stronger language Mr. Wallace: “On the whole, the popular idea of the struggle for existence entailing misery and pain on the animal world is the very reverse of the truth. What it really brings about is the maximum of life and of the enjoyment of life, with the minimum of suffering and pain. Given the necessity of death and reproduction, and without these there could have been no progressive development of the organic world—and it is difficult even to imagine a system by which a greater balance of happiness could have been secured.”7676Darwinism, pp. 30–40.
We may safely leave Nature here to look after her own ethic. That a price, a price in pain, and assuredly sometimes a very terrible price, has been paid for the evolution of the world, after all is said, is certain. There may be difference of opinion as to the amount of this price, but on one point there can be no dispute—that even at the highest estimate the thing which was bought with it was none too dear. For that thing was nothing less than the present progress of the world. The Struggle for Life has been a victorious struggle; it has succeeded in its stupendous task; and there is nothing of order or beauty or perfection in living Nature that does not owe something to its having been carried on. The first duty of those who demur to the cost of progress is to make sure that they comprehend in all its richness the infinity of the gift this sacrifice has purchased for humanity. The end of the Struggle for Life is not battle; it is not even victory, it is evolution. The result is not wounds, it is health. Nature is a vast and complicated system of devices to keep things changing, adjusting, and, as it seems, progressing. The Struggle for Life is a species of necessitated aspiration, the vis a tergo which keeps living things in motion. It does not follow, of course, that that motion should be upward; that is dependent on other considerations. But the point to mark is, that without the struggle for food and the pressure of want, without the conflict with foes and the challenge of climate, the world would be left to stagnation. Change, adventure, temptation, vicissitude even to the verge of calamity, these are the life of the world.
There is another side to this principle from which its higher significance becomes still more apparent. It follows from the Struggle for Life that those animals which struggle most successfully will prosper, while the less successful will disappear—hence the well-known principle of Natural Selection or the Survival of the Fittest. Waiving the discussion of this law in general, and the. varying meanings which “fitness” assumes as we rise in the scale of being, observe the role it plays in Nature. The object of the Survival of the Fittest is to produce fitness. And it does so both negatively and positively. In the first place it produces fitness by killing off the unfit. Without the rigorous weeding out of the imperfect the progress of the world had not been possible. If fit and unfit indiscriminately had been allowed to live and reproduce their kind, every improvement which any individual might acquire would be degraded to the common level in the course of a few generations. Progress can only start by one or two individuals shooting ahead of their species; and their life-gain can only be conserved by their being shut off from their species—or by their species being shut off from them. Unless shut off from their species their acquisition will either be neutralized in the course of time by the swamping effect of inter-breeding with the common herd, or so diluted as to involve no real advance. The only chance for Evolution, then, is either to carry off these improved editions into “physiological isolation,” or to remove the unimproved editions by wholesale death.. The first of these alternatives is only occasionally possible; the second always. Hence the death of the unevolved, or of the unadapted in reference to some new and higher relation with environment, is essential to the perpetuation of a useful variation. Although Natural Selection by no means invariably works in the direction of progress,—in parasites it has consummated almost utter degeneration,—no progress can take place without it. It is only when one considers the working of the Struggle for Life on the large scale, and realizes its necessity to the Evolution of the world as a whole, that one can even begin to discuss its ethical or teleological meanings. To make a fit world, the unfit at every stage must be made to disappear; and if any self-acting law can bring this about, though its bearing upon this or that individual case may seem unjust, its necessity for the world as a whole is vindicated. If more of any given species are born into the world than can possibly find food, and if a given number must die, that number must be singled out upon some principle; and we cannot quarrel with the principle in Physical Nature which condemns to death the worst. By placing the death-penalty upon the slightest shortcoming, Natural Selection so discourages imperfection as practically to eliminate it from the world. The fact that any given animal is alive at all is almost a token of its perfectness. Nothing living can be wholly a failure. For the moment that it fails, it ceases to live. Something more fit, were it even by a hairbreadth, secures its place; so that all existing lives must, with reference to their environment, be the best possible lives. Natural Selection is the means employed in Nature to bring about perfect health, perfect wholeness, perfect adaptation, and in the long run the Ascent of all living things.
This being so, the Law of the Struggle for Life is elevated to a unique place in Nature as a first necessity of progress. It involves that every living thing in Nature shall live its best, that every resource shall be called out to its utmost, that every individual faculty shall be kept in the most perfect order and work up to its fullest strength. So far from being a drag on life, it is the one thing which not only makes life go on at all, but which in the very act perfects it. The result may sometimes involve the dethroning of a species, or its entire extinction: it may lead in the case of others to degeneration; but in the end it must result in the gradual perfecting of organisms upon the whole, and the steady advance of the final type. In fixing the eye on the murderous side of this Struggle, it is therefore well to remember to what it leads. There could be no higher end in the universe than to make a perfect world, and no more perfect law than that which at the same moment eliminates the unfit and establishes the fit. Too frequently the moralist’s attention is diverted to the negative side, to what seems the quite immoral spectacle of the massacre of the innocent, the rout and murder of the unfit. But in earlier Nature there is no such word as innocent; and no ethical meaning at that stage can attach itself to the term ‘unfit.’ Fitness in the stormy days of the world’s animal youth was necessarily fighting-fitness; no higher end was present anywhere than simply to gain for life a footing in the world, and perfect it up to the highest physical form. The creature which did that fulfilled its destiny, and no higher destiny was possible or conceivable. The Survival of the Fittest, of course, does not mean the survival of the strongest. It means the Survival of the Adapted—the survival of the most fitted to the circumstances which surround it. A fish survives in water when a leaking ironclad goes to the bottom, not because it is stronger but because it is better adapted to the element in which it lives. A Texas bull is stronger than a mosquito, but in an autumn drought the bull dies, the mosquito lives. Fitness to survive is simply fittedness, and has nothing to do with strength or courage, or intelligence or cunning as such, but only with adjustments as fit or unfit to the world around. A prize-fighter is stronger than a cripple; but in the environment of modern life the cripple is cared for by the people, is judged fit to live by a moral world, while the pugilist, handicapped by his very health, has to conduct his own struggle for existence. Physical fitness here is actually a disqualification; what was once unfitness is now fitness to survive. As we rise in the scale, the physical fitness of the early world changes to fitness of a different quality, and this law becomes the guardian of a moral order. In one era the race is to the swift, in another the meek inherit the earth. In a material world social survival depends on wealth, health, power; in a moral world the fittest are the weak, the pitiable, the poor. Thus there comes a time when this very law, in securing survival for those who would otherwise sink and fall, is the minister of moral ends.
When we pass from the animal and the savage states to watch the working of the Struggle for Life in later times, the impression deepens that, after all, the “gladiatorial theory” of existence has much to say for itself. To trace its progress further is denied us for the present, but observe before we close what it connotes in modern life. Its lineal descendants are two in number, and they have but to be named to show the enormous place this factor has been given to play in the world’s destiny. The first is War, the second is Industry. These in all their forms and ramifications are simply the primitive Struggle continued on the social and political plane. War is not a casual thing like a thunderstorm, nor a specific thing like a battle. It is that ancient Struggle for Life carried over from the animal kingdom, which, in the later as in the earlier world, has been so perfect an instrument of evolution. Along with Industry, and for a time before it, War was the foster-mother of civilization. The patron of the heroic virtues, the purifier of societies, the solidifier of states, the military form of this Struggle—despite the awful balance on the other side—stands out on every page of history as the maker and educator of the human race. Industry is but the same Struggle in another disguise. The industrial conflict of to-day is the old attempt of primitive Man to get the most out of Nature—to grow foods, to find clothes, to raise fuel, to gain wealth. Owing to the ever-increasing number of the Strugglers the supplies fall short of the demands, with the result of perpetuating on the industrial plane, and often in hard and degrading forms, the primitive Struggle for Life. When society wonders at its labour troubles it forgets that Industry is a stage but one or two removes from the purely animal Struggle. And when morality impugns the Struggle for Life, it forgets that nearly the whole later fabric of civilization is its creation.
But one has only to look at these further phases of the Struggle to observe the most important fact of all—the change that passes over the principle as time goes on. Examine it on the higher levels as carefully as we have examined it on the lower, and though the crueler elements persist with fatal and appalling vigour, there are whole regions, and daily enlarging regions, where every animal feature is discredited, discouraged, or driven away. Already, with the social tragedy still at its height around us, the amelioration in many directions makes constant progress; and partly through the rise of opposing forces, and partly through the very civilization which it has helped to create, the maligner power must disappear. The Struggle for Life, as life’s dynamic, can never wholly cease. In the keenness of its energies, the splendour of its stimulus, its bracing effect on character, its wholesome tensions throughout the whole range of action, it must remain with us to the end. But in the virulence of its animal qualities it must surely pass away. There are those who, without reflecting on this qualitative change, would govern Society by the merely animal Struggle; those who claim for this the sanction of Nature, and lay down the principle of selfishness as the eternally working law. The eternal law, as we shall presently see, is unselfishness. But even the selfishness of early Nature loses its sting with time; the self that is in it becomes a higher self; and the world in which it acts is so much a better world that if self gave full rein to the animal it would be instantly extinguished.
The amelioration of the Struggle for Life is the most certain prophecy of Science. If this universe is a moral universe, it was a necessity that sooner or later this conflict should abate, that in the course of Evolution this particular change should come, that there should be put into the very machinery of Nature that which should bring it about. And what do we find? We find the Animal side of the Struggle for Life attacked in such directions, and with such weapons, that its defeat is sure. These weapons are in the armoury of Nature; they have been there from the beginning; and they are now engaged upon the enemy so hotly and so openly that we can discover what some of them are. The first is one which has begun to mine the Struggle for Life at its roots. Essentially, as we have seen, the Struggle for Life is the attempt to solve the fundamental problem of all life—Nutrition. If that could be solved apart from the Struggle for Life, its occupation would be gone. Now, it is more than probable that that problem will be otherwise solved. It will be solved by science. At the present moment Chemistry is devoting itself to the experiment of manufacturing nutrition, and with an enthusiasm which only immediate hope begets. It is not the visionaries who have dared to prophesy here. In a hundred laboratories the problem is being practically worked out, and, as one of the highest authorities assures us, “The time is not far distant when the artificial preparation of articles of food will be accomplished.”7777Prof. Remsen, M’Clure’s Magazine, Jan., 1894. Already, through the labours of other sciences, the Struggle for Food has been made infinitely easier than it was; but when the immediate quest succeeds, and the food of Man is made direct from the elements, the Struggle in all its coarser forms will practically be abolished. Civilization cannot ease the whole burden at once; the Struggle for Life will go on, but it will be the Struggle with its fangs drawn.
But there is a higher hope than Science. Attacked from below by Man’s intellect, the final blow will be struck from a deeper source. It is impossible to conceive that the Ascent of Man should always depend upon his appetites, that in God’s world there should be nothing better to attract him than food and raiment, that he should take no single step towards a higher life except when driven to it. As there comes a time in a child’s life when coercion gives place to free and conscious choice, the day comes to the world when the aspirations of the spirit begin to compete with, to neutralize, and to supplant the compulsions of the body. Against that day, in the heart of humanity, Nature had made full provision. For there, prepared by a profounder chemistry than that which was to relieve the strain on the physical side, had gathered through the ages a force in whose presence the energies of the Animal Struggle are as naught. Beside the Struggle for the Life of Others the Struggle for Life is but a passing phase. As old, as deeply sunk in Nature, this further force was destined from the first to replace the Struggle for Life, and to build a nobler superstructure on the foundations which it laid. To establish these foundations was all that the Animal Struggle was ever designed to do. It has laid them well; yet it is only when the Struggle for Life stands projected against the larger influence with which all through history—and in an infinitely profound sense through moral history —it has been allied, that at once its worth and its ignominy are seen.
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