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.

Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:15 am

Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays
by Edward Carpenter
First Edition, June 1889; Second Edition, December 1890;
Third Edition, November 1893; Fourth Edition, July 1895;
Fifth Edition, September 1897; Sixth Edition, October 1900;
Seventh Edition, July 1902; Eighth Edition, March 1903;
Ninth Edition, January 1906; Tenth Edition, January 1908;
Eleventh Edition, October 1910; Twelfth Edition, Dec. 1912;
Thirteenth Edition, Aug. 1914; Fourteenth Edition, June 1916;
Fifteenth Edition, Sept. 1917; Complete Edition, Jan. 1921




Table of Contents:

• Preface To Complete Edition
• Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure
• Modern Science: A Criticism
• The Science of the Future: A Forecast
• Defence of Criminals: A Criticism of Morality
• Exfoliation: Lamarck versus Darwin
• Custom

The two following chapters—though not part of the original work—are included in the present edition because they form continuations or expansions of the chapters which criticise modern Science and modern Morality respectively. The chapter entitled "A Rational and Humane Science" is in fact a reprint of an address given before the Humanitarian League in London in 1896. It was first included in the present volume in 1906. The chapter entitled "The New Morality" is, with slight alterations, a reprint of an article which appeared in the Albany Review in September, 1907, under the title "Morality under Socialism"; and it now appears in the present book for the first time.

• A Rational and Humane Science
• The New Morality
• Appendix—being Notes on Some of the Characteristics and Customs of Pre-Civilised Peoples
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:17 am


In looking over this volume, first published in 1889, with a view to a final Edition, I am glad to note that after all there is not much in it requiring alteration. Considering that the original issue took place more than 30 years ago, I had thought that the great changes in scientific and philosophic thought which have taken place during that period would probably have rendered "out of date" a good deal of the book.

As a matter of fact, the first paper—that on Civilisation—was given as a lecture before the Fabian Society, in 1888; and I shall not easily forget the furious attacks which were made upon it on that occasion. The book—published as a whole in 1889—came in for a very similar reception from the press-critics. They slated it to the top of their bent—except in those not unfrequent cases when they ignored it as almost beneath notice. The whole trend of the thought of the time was against its conclusions; and it is perhaps worth while to recall these facts in[Pg 8] order to measure how far we have travelled in these 30 years. For to-day (I think we may say) these conclusions are generally admitted as correct; and the views which seemed so hazarded and precarious at the earlier date are now fairly accepted and established.

The word Civilisation has undoubtedly during this period suffered an ominous change of color. It is no longer an easy term denoting all that is ideal and delightful in social life, but on the contrary, carries with it a sense of doubt and of criticism, as of something that is by no means accepted yet, but is rather on its trial—if not actually condemned!

I am sorry to note, however, that the suggestion made more than once in the course of my book—namely that the term (Civilisation) should properly be given an historical instead of ideal value, as applicable to a certain period only in the history of each people, has not yet been generally taken up. Yet a paper by some more competent person than myself on the definite marks and signs of the civilisation-period in History—their first appearance in the course of human progress and evolution, and their probable disappearance again at a later stage—would be greatly interesting and instructive.

My little essay on this subject was written at the time of its composition with a good deal of imaginative élan; and is of course open to criticism on that side, as being mainly enthusiastic in character and only slenderly supported by exact data,[Pg 9] proofs, historical illustrations, analogies, and so forth. But to largely alter or amend the essay without seriously crippling it would be impossible; and though the form may be hurried or inadequate, yet as far as the actual contents and conclusions are concerned I still adhere to them absolutely, and believe that time will show them to be fully justified.

With regard to my views on Modern Science the last quarter of a century has curiously corroborated them. For while on the one hand—as expected—the progress in actual discovery and application of observed facts has been enormous, the theories on the other hand about all these things have receded more and more into the background, and have passed almost out of sight. While knowing, for instance, infinitely more about electrical actions and adaptations than we did, we seem to be if anything further off than ever from any valid theory of what Electricity is. The same with regard to Heat and Light, to Astronomical, Biological and Geological "laws," and so forth. On such matters Modern Science is on the verge of confessing itself bankrupt, but not wishing to do that, it keeps a discreet silence.

The Atom, which I ventured (to the disgust of my scientific friends) to make fun of 30 years ago, has now exploded of itself as thoroughly as a German "coal-box"; and the fixed Chemical Elements of older days have of late dissolved into protean vapours and emanations, ions and electrons, impossible to follow through their [Pg 10]endless transformations. As to the numerous "Laws of Nature" which in the nineteenth century we were just about to establish for all eternity, it is only with the greatest difficulty that any of these can now be discovered—most of them having got secreted away into the darkness of ancient text-books: where they lead forlorn and sightless existences, like the fish in the caves of Kentucky.

Here again—in my chapters on Science—though some expressions remain which are now out of date, I have thought it best to leave them as originally written: the meanings and general conclusions being still valid and as they were. It will be seen that the general drift of these chapters is to point the moral that the true field of science is to be found in Life, and that the best way to know things is to experience their meaning and to identify oneself with them through Action. From a study on these principles will ultimately emerge a Science truly humane and creative, masterful, and capable of building a true home for men—instead of the feverish, spectral and self-deluding thing which has usurped the name up to now.

Something the same will happen with the conception of Morality. The abstract codes on this subject, which have wrought so much havoc by their fatal intrusion on the field of human Life, are rapidly fading away. These ghosts, like the ghosts of Nature's "Laws," are receiving their quietus. And the general outline which was [Pg 11]suggested in "The Defence of Criminals" has now been traced more positively in the chapter on "The New Morality" inserted at the end of the present volume. Morality has at last to become truly human, and the real expression of our organic need. Man has to be liberated from the cramps and suppressions and fixations which have hitherto paralysed him in the moral field. He has to emerge from the swathing bands of his pupal stage into the free air of heaven, and to become in the highest sense self-determining and creative.

Thus three things, (1) the realisation of a new order of Society, in closest touch with Nature, and in which the diseases of class-domination and Parasitism will have finally ceased; (2) the realisation of a Science which will no longer be a mere thing of the brain, but a part of Actual Life; and (3) the realisation of a Morality which will signalise and express the vital and organic unity of man with his fellows—these three things will become the heralds of a new era of humanity—an era which will possibly prefer not to call itself by the name of Civilisation.

In order to corroborate and confirm the first paper in the book an Appendix has now been added containing notes and data on the life and customs of many "uncivilised" peoples; for much of which Appendix I am indebted to the assistance of my widely-read and resourceful friend, E. Bertram Lloyd.

E. C.

December, 1920.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:17 am


The friendly and flowing savage, who is he? Is he waiting
for civilisation, or is he past it, and mastering it?


We find ourselves to-day in the midst of a somewhat peculiar state of society, which we call Civilisation, but which even to the most optimistic among us does not seem altogether desirable. Some of us, indeed, are inclined to think that it is a kind of disease which the various races of man have to pass through—as children pass through measles or whooping cough; but if it is a disease, there is this serious consideration to be made, that while History tells us of many nations that have been attacked by it, of many that have succumbed to it, and of some that are still in the throes of it, we know of no single case in which a nation has fairly recovered from and passed through it to a more normal and healthy condition. In other words the development of human society has never yet (that we know of) passed beyond a certain definite[Pg 16] and apparently final stage in the process we call Civilisation; at that stage it has always succumbed or been arrested.

Of course it may at first sound extravagant to use the word disease in connection with Civilisation at all, but a little thought should show that the association is not ill-grounded. To take the matter on its physical side first, I find that in Mullhall's Dictionary of Statistics (1884) the number of accredited doctors and surgeons in the United Kingdom is put at over 23,000. If the extent of the national sickness is such that we require 23,000 medical men to attend to us, it must surely be rather serious! And they do not cure us. Wherever we look to-day, in mansion or in slum, we see the features and hear the complaints of ill-health; the difficulty is really to find a healthy person. The state of the modern civilised man in this respect—our coughs, colds, mufflers, dread of a waft of chill air, &c.—is anything but creditable, and it seems to be the fact that, notwithstanding all our libraries of medical science, our knowledges, arts, and appliances of life, we are actually less capable of taking care of ourselves than the animals are. Indeed, talking of animals, we are—as Shelley I think points out—fast depraving the domestic breeds. The cow, the horse, the sheep, and even the confiding pussy-cat, are becoming ever more and more subject to disease, and are liable to ills which in their wilder state they knew not of. And finally the savage races of the earth do not escape the baneful influence. Wherever[Pg 17] Civilisation touches them, they die like flies from the small-pox, drink, and worse evils it brings along with it, and often its mere contact is sufficient to destroy whole races.

But the word Disease is applicable to our social as well as to our physical condition. For as in the body disease arises from the loss of the physical unity which constitutes Health, and so takes the form of warfare or discord between the various parts, or of the abnormal development of individual organs, or the consumption of the system by predatory germs and growths; so in our modern life we find the unity gone which constitutes true society, and in its place warfare of classes and individuals, abnormal development of some to the detriment of others, and consumption of the organism by masses of social parasites. If the word disease is applicable anywhere, I should say it is—both in its direct and its derived sense—to the civilised societies of to-day.

Again, mentally, is not our condition most unsatisfactory? I am not alluding to the number and importance of the lunatic asylums which cover our land, nor to the fact that maladies of the brain and nervous system are now so common; but to the strange sense of mental unrest which marks our populations, and which amply justifies Ruskin's cutting epigram: that our two objects in life are, "Whatever we have—to get more; and wherever we are—to go somewhere else." This sense of unrest, of disease, penetrates down even into the deepest regions of man's being—into[Pg 18] his moral nature—disclosing itself there, as it has done in all nations notably at the time of their full civilisation, as the sense of Sin.[1] All down the Christian centuries we find this strange sense of inward strife and discord developed, in marked contrast to the naive insouciance of the pagan and primitive world; and, what is strangest, we even find people glorying in this consciousness—which, while it may be the harbinger of better things to come, is and can be in itself only the evidence of loss of unity, and therefore of ill-health, in the very centre of human life.

Of course we are aware with regard to Civilisation that the word is sometimes used in a kind of ideal sense, as to indicate a state of future culture towards which we are tending—the implied assumption being that a sufficiently long course of top hats and telephones will in the end bring us to this ideal condition; while any little drawbacks in the process, such as we have just pointed out, are explained as being merely accidental and temporary. Men sometimes speak of civilising and ennobling influences as if the two terms were interchangeable, and of course if they like to use the word Civilisation in this sense they have a right to; but whether the actual tendencies of modern life taken in the mass are ennobling (except in a quite indirect way hereafter to be dwelt upon) is, to say the least, a doubtful question.[Pg 19] Any one who would get an idea of the glorious being that is as a matter of fact being turned out by the present process should read Mr. Kay Robinson's article in the Nineteenth Century for May, 1883, in which he prophesies (quite solemnly and in the name of science) that the human being of the future will be a toothless, bald, toeless creature with flaccid muscles and limbs almost incapable of locomotion!

Perhaps it is safer on the whole not to use the word Civilisation in such ideal sense, but to limit its use (as is done to-day by all writers on primitive society) to a definite historical stage through which the various nations pass, and in which we actually find ourselves at the present time. Though there is of course a difficulty in marking the commencement of any period of historical evolution very definitely, yet all students of this subject agree that the growth of property and the ideas and institutions flowing from it did at a certain point bring about such a change in the structure of human society that the new stage might fairly be distinguished from the earlier stages of Savagery and Barbarism by a separate term. The growth of Wealth, it is shown, and with it the conception of Private Property, brought on certain very definite new forms of social life; it destroyed the ancient system of society based upon the gens, that is, a society of equals founded upon blood-relationship, and introduced a society of classes founded upon differences of material possession; it destroyed the ancient system of mother-right and inheritance[Pg 20] through the female line, and turned the woman into the property of the man; it brought with it private ownership of land, and so created a class of landless aliens, and a whole system of rent, mortgage, interest, etc.; it introduced slavery, serfdom and wage-labour, which are only various forms of the dominance of one class over another; and to rivet these authorities it created the State and the policeman. Every race that we know, that has become what we call civilised, has passed through these changes; and though the details may vary and have varied a little, the main order of change has been practically the same in all cases. We are justified therefore in calling Civilisation a historical stage, whose commencement dates roughly from the division of society into classes founded on property and the adoption of class-government. Lewis Morgan in his Ancient Society adds the invention of writing and the consequent adoption of written History and written Law; Engels in his Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats points out the importance of the appearance of the Merchant, even in his most primitive form, as a mark of the civilisation-period; while the French writers of the last century made a good point in inventing the term nations policées (policemanised nations) as a substitute for civilised nations; for perhaps there is no better or more universal mark of the period we are considering, and of its social degradation, than the appearance of the crawling phenomenon in question. [Imagine the[Pg 21] rage of any decent North American Indians if they had been told they required policemen to keep them in order!]

If we take this historical definition of Civilisation, we shall see that our English Civilisation began hardly more than a thousand years ago, and even so the remains of the more primitive society lasted long after that. In the case of Rome—if we reckon from the later times of the early kings down to the fall of Rome—we have again about a thousand years. The Jewish civilisation from David and Solomon downwards lasted—with breaks—somewhat over a thousand years; the Greek civilisation less; the series of Egyptian civilisations which we can now distinguish lasted altogether very much longer; but the important points to see are, first, that the process has been quite similar in character in these various (and numerous other) cases,[2] quite as similar in fact as the course of the same disease in various persons; and secondly that in no case, as said before, has any nation come through and passed beyond this stage; but that in most cases it has succumbed soon after the main symptoms had been developed.

But it will be said, It may be true that Civilisation regarded as a stage of human history presents some features of disease; but is there any reason for supposing that disease in some form or other was any less present in the previous stage—that of Barbarism? To which I reply, I think there is[Pg 22] good reason. Without committing ourselves to the unlikely theory that the "noble savage" was an ideal human being physically or in any other respect, and while certain that in many points he was decidedly inferior to the civilised man, I think we must allow him the superiority in some directions; and one of these was his comparative freedom from disease. Lewis Morgan, who grew up among the Iroquois Indians, and who probably knew the North American natives as well as any white man has ever done, says (in his Ancient Society, p. 45), "Barbarism ends with the production of grand Barbarians." And though there are no native races on the earth to-day who are actually in the latest and most advanced stage of Barbarism;[3] yet, if we take the most advanced tribes that we know of—such as the said Iroquois Indians of twenty or thirty years ago, some of the Kaffir tribes round Lake Nyassa in Africa, now (and possibly for a few years more) comparatively untouched by civilisation, or the tribes along the river Uaupes, thirty or forty years back, of Wallace's Travels on the Amazon—all tribes in what Morgan would call the middle stage of Barbarism—we undoubtedly in each case discover a fine and (which is our point here) healthy people. Captain Cook in his first Voyage says of the natives of Otaheite, "We saw no critical disease during our stay upon the island, and but few instances of sickness, which were accidental fits of the colic;" and, later on,[Pg 23] of the New Zealanders, "They enjoy perfect and uninterrupted health. In all our visits to their towns, where young and old, men and women, crowded about us ... we never saw a single person who appeared to have any bodily complaint, nor among the numbers we have seen naked did we once perceive the slightest eruption upon the skin, or any marks that an eruption had left behind." These are pretty strong words. Of course diseases exist among such peoples, even where they have never been in contact with civilisation, but I think we may say that among the higher types of savages they are rarer, and nothing like so various and so prevalent as they are in our modern life; while the power of recovery from wounds (which are of course the most frequent form of disablement) is generally admitted to be something astonishing. Speaking of the Kaffirs, J. G. Wood says, "Their state of health enables them to survive injuries which would be almost instantly fatal to any civilised European." Mr. Frank Oates in his Diary[4] mentions the case of a man who was condemned to death by the king. He was hacked down with axes, and left for dead. "What must have been intended for the coup de grâce was a cut in the back of the head, which had chipped a large piece out of the skull, and must have been meant to cut the spinal cord where it joins the brain. It had, however, been made a little higher than this, but had left such a wound as I should have thought that no one could have[Pg 24] survived ... when I held the lanthorn to investigate the wound I started back in amazement to see a hole at the base of the skull, perhaps two inches long and an inch and a half wide, and I will not venture to say how deep, but the depth too must have been an affair of inches. Of course this hole penetrated into the substance of the brain, and probably for some distance. I dare say a mouse could have sat in it." Yet the man was not so much disconcerted. Like Old King Cole, "He asked for a pipe and a drink of brandy," and ultimately made a perfect recovery! Of course it might be said that such a story only proves the lowness of organisation of the brains of savages; but to the Kaffirs at any rate this would not apply; they are a quick-witted race, with large brains, and exceedingly acute in argument, as Colenso found to his cost. Another point which indicates superabundant health is the amazing animal spirits of these native races! The shouting, singing, dancing kept up nights long among the Kaffirs are exhausting merely to witness, while the graver North American Indian exhibits a corresponding power of life in his eagerness for battle or his stoic resistance of pain.[5]

Similarly when we come to consider the social[Pg 25] life of the wilder races—however rudimentary and undeveloped it may be—the almost universal testimony of students and travelers is that within its limits it is more harmonious and compact than that of the civilised nations. The members of the tribe are not organically at warfare with each other; society is not divided into classes which prey upon each other; nor is it consumed by parasites. There is more true social unity, less of disease. Though the customs of each tribe are rigid, absurd, and often frightfully cruel,[6] and though all outsiders are liable to be regarded as enemies, yet within those limits the members live peacefully together—their pursuits, their work, are undertaken in common, thieving and violence are rare, social feeling and community of interest are strong. "In their own bands Indians are perfectly honest. In all my intercourse with them I have heard of not over half-a-dozen cases of such theft. But this wonderfully exceptional honesty extends no further than to the members of his immediate band. To all outside of it, the Indian is not only one of the most arrant thieves in the world, but this quality or faculty is held in the highest estimation." (Dodge, p. 64.) If a man set out on a journey (this among the Kaffirs) "he need not trouble himself about provisions, for he is sure to fall in with some hut, or perhaps a village, and is equally sure of obtaining both food and shelter."[7] "I have lived,"[Pg 26] says A. R. Wallace in his Malay Archipelago vol. ii. p. 460, "with communities in South America and the East, who have no laws or law courts, but the public opinion of the village ... yet each man scrupulously respects the rights of his fellows, and any infraction of those rights rarely takes place. In such a community all are nearly equal. There are none of those wide distinctions of education and ignorance, wealth and poverty, master and servant, which are the product of our civilisation." Indeed this community of life in the early societies, this absence of division into classes, and of the contrast between rich and poor, is now admitted on all sides as a marked feature of difference between the conditions of the primitive and of civilised man.[8]

Lastly, with regard to the mental condition of the Barbarian, probably no one will be found to dispute the contention that he is more easy-minded and that his consciousness of Sin is less developed than in his civilised brother. Our unrest is the penalty we pay for our wider life. The missionary retires routed from the savage in whom he can awake no sense of his supreme wickedness. An American lady had a servant, a negro-woman, who on one occasion asked leave of absence for the next morning, saying she wished to attend the Holy Communion? "I have no objection," said the mistress, "to grant you leave; but do you think you ought to attend Communion? You know you have never said you were sorry about[Pg 27] that goose you stole last week." "Lor' missus," replied the woman, "do ye think I'd let an old goose stand betwixt me and my Blessed Lord and Master?" But joking apart, and however necessary for man's ultimate evolution may be the temporary development of this consciousness of Sin, we cannot help seeing that the condition of the mind in which it is absent is the most distinctively healthy; nor can it be concealed that some of the greatest works of Art have been produced by people like the earlier Greeks, in whom it was absent; and could not possibly have been produced where it was strongly developed.

Though, as already said, the latest stage of Barbarism, i.e., that just preceding Civilisation, is unrepresented on the earth to-day, yet we have in the Homeric and other dawn-literature of the various nations indirect records of this stage; and these records assure us of a condition of man very similar to, though somewhat more developed than, the condition of the existing races I have mentioned above. Besides this, we have in the numerous traditions of the Golden Age,[9] legends of the Fall, etc., a curious fact which suggests to us that a great number of races in advancing towards Civilisation were conscious at some point or other of having lost a primitive condition of ease and contentment, and that they embodied this consciousness, with poetical adornment and licence, in imaginative legends of the earlier Paradise. Some people indeed, seeing the universality of these[Pg 28] stories, and the remarkable fragments of wisdom embedded in them and other extremely ancient myths and writings, have supposed that there really was a general pre-historic Eden-garden or Atlantis; but the necessities of the case hardly seem to compel this supposition. That each human soul, however, bears within itself some kind of reminiscence of a more harmonious and perfect state of being, which it has at some time experienced, seems to me a conclusion difficult to avoid; and this by itself might give rise to manifold traditions and myths.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:18 am


However all this may be, the question immediately before us—having established the more healthy, though more limited, condition of the pre-civilisation peoples—is, why this lapse or fall? What is the meaning of this manifold and intensified manifestation of Disease—physical, social, intellectual, and moral? What is its place and part in the great whole of human evolution?

And this involves us in a digression, which must occupy a few pages, on the nature of Health.

When we come to analyse the conception of Disease, physical or mental, in society or in the individual, it evidently means, as already hinted once or twice, loss of unity. Health, therefore, should mean unity, and it is curious that the history of the word entirely corroborates this idea. As is well known, the words health, whole, holy,[Pg 29] are from the same stock; and they indicate to us the fact that far back in the past those who created this group of words had a conception of the meaning of Health very different from ours, and which they embodied unconsciously in the word itself and its strange relatives.

These are, for instance, and among others: heal, hallow, hale, holy, whole, wholesome; German heilig, Heiland (the Saviour); Latin salus (as in salutation, salvation); Greek kalos; also compare hail! a salutation, and, less certainly connected, the root hal, to breathe, as in inhale, exhale—French haleine—Italian and French alma and âme (the soul); compare the Latin spiritus, spirit or breath, and Sanskrit âtman, breath or soul.

Wholeness, holiness ... "if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." ... "thy faith hath made thee whole."

The idea seems to be a positive one—a condition of the body in which it is an entirety, a unity—a central force maintaining that condition; and disease being the break-up—or break-down—of that entirety into multiplicity.

The peculiarity about our modern conception of Health is that it seems to be a purely negative one. So impressed are we by the myriad presence of Disease—so numerous its dangers, so sudden and unforetellable its attacks—that we have come to look upon health as the mere absence of the same. As a solitary spy picks his way through a hostile camp at night, sees the enemy sitting round[Pg 30] his fires, and trembles at the crackling of a twig beneath his feet—so the traveller through this world, comforter in one hand and physic-bottle in the other, must pick his way, fearful lest at any time he disturb the sleeping legions of death—thrice blessed if by any means, steering now to the right and now to the left, and thinking only of his personal safety, he pass by without discovery to the other side.

Health with us is a negative thing. It is a neutralisation of opposing dangers. It is to be neither rheumatic nor gouty, consumptive nor bilious, to be untroubled by head-ache, back-ache, heart-ache, or any of the "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to." These are the realities. Health is the mere negation of them.

The modern notion, and which has evidently in a very subtle way penetrated the whole thought of to-day, is that the essential fact of life is the existence of innumerable external forces, which, by a very delicate balance and difficult to maintain, concur to produce Man—who in consequence may at any moment be destroyed again by the non-concurrence of those forces. The older notion apparently is that the essential fact of life is Man himself; and that the external forces, so-called, are in some way subsidiary to this fact—that they may aid his expression or manifestation, or that they may hinder it, but that they can neither create nor annihilate the Man. Probably both ways of looking at the subject are important; there is a man that can be destroyed, and there is a man that[Pg 31] cannot be destroyed. The old words, soul and body, indicate this contrast; but like all words they are subject to the defect that they are an attempt to draw a line where no line can ultimately be drawn; they mark a contrast where, in fact, there is only continuity—for between the little mortal man who dwells here and now, and the divine and universal Man who also forms a part of our consciousness, is there not a perfect gradation of being, and where (if anywhere) is there a gulf fixed? Together they form a unit, and each is necessary to the other: the first cannot do without the second, and the second cannot get along at all without the first. To use the words of Angelus Silesius (quoted by Schopenhauer), "Ich weiss dass ohne mich Gott nicht ein Nu kann leben."

According then to the elder conception, and perhaps according to an elder experience, man, to be really healthy, must be a unit, an entirety—his more external and momentary self standing in some kind of filial relation to his more universal and incorruptible part—so that not only the remotest and outermost regions of the body, and all the assimilative, secretive, and other processes belonging thereto, but even the thoughts and passions of the mind itself, stand in direct and clear relationship to it, the final and absolute transparency of the mortal creature. And thus this divinity in each creature, being that which constitutes it and causes it to cohere together, was conceived of as that creature's saviour, healer—healer of wounds of body and wounds of heart—the Man within the man,[Pg 32] whom it was not only possible to know, but whom to know and be united with was the alone salvation. This, I take it, was the law of health—and of holiness—as accepted at some elder time of human history, and by us seen as thro' a glass darkly.

And the condition of disease, and of sin, under the same view, was the reverse of this. Enfeeblement, obscuration, duplicity—the central radiation blocked; lesser and insubordinate centres establishing and asserting themselves as against it; division, discord, possession by devils.

Thus in the body, the establishment of an insubordinate centre—a boil, a tumor, the introduction and spread of a germ with innumerable progeny throughout the system, the enlargement out of all reason of an existing organ—means disease. In the mind, disease begins when any passion asserts itself as an independent centre of thought and action. The condition of health in the mind is loyalty to the divine Man within it.[10] But if loyalty to money become an independent centre of life, or greed of knowledge, or of fame, or of drink; jealousy, lust, the love of approbation; or mere following after any so-called virtue for itself—purity, humility, consistency, or what not—these may grow to seriously endanger the other. They are, or should be, subordinates; and though[Pg 33] over a long period their insubordination may be a necessary condition of human progress, yet during all such time they are at war with each other and with the central Will; the man is torn and tormented, and is not happy.

And when I speak thus separately of the mind and body, it must be remembered, as already said, that there is no strict line between them; but probably every affection or passion of the mind has its correlative in the condition of the body—though this latter may or may not be easily observable. Gluttony is a fever of the digestive apparatus. What is a taint in the mind is also a taint in the body. The stomach has started the original idea of becoming itself the centre of the human system. The sexual organs may start a similar idea. Here are distinct threats, menaces made against the central authority—against the Man himself. For the man must rule or disappear; it is impossible to imagine a man presided over by a Stomach—a walking Stomach, using hands, feet, and all other members merely to carry it from place to place, and serve its assimilative mania. We call such a one an Hog. [And thus in the theory of Evolution we see the place of the hog, and all other animals, as fore-runners or off-shoots of special faculties in Man, and why the true man, and rightly, has authority over all animals, and can alone give them their place in creation.]

So of the Brain, or any other organ; for the Man is no organ, resides in no organ, but is the[Pg 34] central life ruling and radiating among all organs, and assigning them their arts to play.

Disease then, in body or mind, is from this point of view the break-up of its unity, its entirety, into multiplicity. It is the abeyance of a central power, and the growth of insubordinate centres—life in each creature being conceived of as a continual exercise of energy or conquest, by which external or antagonistic forces (and organisms) are brought into subjection and compelled into the service of the creature, or are thrown off as harmful to it. Thus, by way of illustration, we find that plants or animals, when in good health, have a remarkable power of throwing off the attacks of any parasites which incline to infest them; while those that are weakly are very soon eaten up by the same. A rose-tree, for instance, brought indoors, will soon fall a prey to the aphis—though when hardened out of doors the pest makes next to no impression on it. In dry seasons when the young turnip plants in the fields are weakly from want of water the entire crop is sometimes destroyed by the turnip fly, which then multiplies enormously; but if a shower or two of rain come before much damage is done the plant will then grow vigorously, its tissues become more robust and resist the attacks of the fly, which in its turn dies. Late investigations seem to show that one of the functions of the white corpuscles in the blood is to devour disease-germs and bacteria present in the circulation—thus absorbing these organisms into subjection to the central life of the body—and that with this object[Pg 35] they congregate in numbers toward any part of the body which is wounded or diseased. Or to take an example from society, it is clear enough that if our social life were really vivid and healthy, such parasitic products as the idle shareholder and the policeman above-mentioned would simply be impossible. The material on which they prey would not exist, and they would either perish or be transmuted into useful forms. It seems obvious in fact that life in any organism can only be maintained by some such processes as these—by which parasitic or infesting organisms are either thrown off or absorbed into subjection. To define the nature of the power which thus works towards and creates the distinctive unity of each organism may be difficult, is probably at present impossible, but that some such power exists we can hardly refuse to admit. Probably it is more a subject of the growth of our consciousness, than an object of external scientific investigation.

In this view, Death is simply the loosening and termination of the action of this power—over certain regions of the organism; a process by which, when these superficial parts become hardened and osseous, as in old age, or irreparably damaged, as in cases of accident, the inward being sloughs them off, and passes into other spheres. In the case of man there may be noble and there may be ignoble death, as there may be noble and ignoble life. The inward self, unable to maintain authority over the forces committed to its charge, declining from its high prerogative, swarmed over by parasites,[Pg 36] and fallen partially into the clutch of obscene foes, may at last with shame and torment be driven forth from the temple in which it ought to have been supreme. Or, having fulfilled a holy and wholesome time, having radiated divine life and love through all the channels of body and mind, and as a perfect workman uses his tools, so having with perfect mastery and nonchalance used all the materials committed to it, it may quietly and peacefully lay these down, and unchanged (absolutely unchanged to all but material eyes) pass on to other spheres appointed.

And now a few words on the medical aspect of the subject. If we accept any theory (even remotely similar to that just indicated) to the effect that Health is a positive thing, and not a mere negation of disease, it becomes pretty clear that no mere investigation of the latter will enable us to find out what the former is, or bring us nearer to it. You might as well try to create the ebb and flow of the tides by an organised system of mops.

Turn your back upon the Sun and go forth into the wildernesses of space till you come to those limits where the rays of light, faint with distance, fall dim upon the confines of eternal darkness—and phantoms and shadows in the half-light are the product of the wavering conflict betwixt day and night—investigate these shadows, describe them, classify them, record the changes which take place in them, erect in vast libraries these records into a monument of human industry and[Pg 37] research; so shall you be at the end as near to a knowledge and understanding of the sun itself—which all this time you have left behind you, and on which you have turned your back—as the investigators of disease are to a knowledge and understanding of what health is. The solar rays illumine the outer world and give to it its unity and entirety; so in the inner world of each individual possibly is there another Sun, which illumines and gives unity to the man, and whose warmth and light would permeate his system. Wait upon the shining forth of this inward sun, give free access and welcome to its rays of love, and free passage for them into the common world around you, and it may be you will get to know more about health than all the books of medicine contain, or can tell you.

Or to take the former simile: it is the central force of the Moon which acting on the great ocean makes all its waters one, and causes them to rise and fall in timely consent. But take your moon away; hey! now the tide is flowing too far down this estuary! Station your thousands with mops, but it breaks through in channel and runlet! Block it here, but it overflows in a neighboring bay! Appoint an army of swabs there, but to what end? The infinitest care along the fringe of this great sea can never do, with all imaginable dirt and confusion, what the central power does easily, and with unerring grace and providence.

And so of the great (the vast and wonderful) ocean which ebbs and flows within a man—take[Pg 38] away the central guide—and not 20,000 doctors, each with 20,000 books to consult and 20,000 phials of different contents to administer, could meet the myriad cases of disease which would ensue, or bolster up into "wholeness" the being from whom the single radiant unity had departed.

Probably there has never been an age, nor any country (except Yankee-land?) in which disease has been so generally prevalent as in England to-day; and certainly there has never (with the same exception) been an age or country in which doctors have so swarmed, or in which medical science has been so powerful, in apparatus, in learning, in authority, and in actual organisation and number of adherents. How reconcile this contradiction—if indeed a contradiction it be?

But the fact is that medical science does not contradict disease—any more than laws abolish crime. Medical science—and doubtless for very good reasons—makes a fetish of disease, and dances around it. It is (as a rule) only seen where disease is; it writes enormous tomes on disease; it induces disease in animals (and even men) for the purpose of studying it; it knows, to a marvelous extent, the symptoms of disease, its nature, its causes, its goings out and its comings in; its eyes are perpetually fixed on disease, till disease (for it) becomes the main fact of the world and the main object of its worship. Even what is so gracefully called Hygiene does not get beyond this negative attitude. And the world still waits for its Healer, who shall tell us—diseased and suffering[Pg 39] as we are—what health is, where it is to be found, whence it flows; and who having touched this wonderful power within himself shall not rest till he has proclaimed and imparted it to men.

No, medical science does not, in the main, contradict disease. The same cause (infidelity and decay of the central life in men) which creates disease and makes men liable to it, creates students and a science of the subject. The Moon[11] having gone from over the waters, the good people rush forth with their mops; and the untimely inundations, and the mops and the mess and the pother, are all due to the same cause.

As to the lodgment of disease, it is clear that this would take place easily in a disorganised system—just as a seditious adventurer would easily effect a landing, and would find insubordinate materials ready at hand for his use, in a land where the central government was weak. And as to the treatment of a disease so introduced there are obviously two methods: one is to reinforce the central power till it is sufficiently strong of itself to eject the insubordinate elements and restore order; the other is to attack the malady from outside and if possible destroy it—(as by doses and decoctions)—independently of the inner vitality, and leaving that as it was before. The first method would seem the best, most durable and effective; but it is difficult and slow. It consists in the adoption[Pg 40] of a healthy life, bodily and mental, and will be spoken of later on. The second may be characterised as the medical method, and is valuable, or rather I should be inclined to say, will be valuable, when it has found its place, which is to be subsidiary to the first. It is too often, however, regarded as superior in importance, and in this way, though easy of application, has come perhaps to be productive of more harm than good. The disease may be broken down for the time being, but, the roots of it not being destroyed, it soon springs up again in the same or a new form, and the patient is as badly off as ever.

The great positive force of Health, and the power which it has to expel disease from its neighborhood is a thing realised, I believe, by few persons. But it has been realised on earth, and will be realised again when the more squalid elements of our present-day civilisation have passed away.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:18 am


The result then of our digression is to show that Health—in body or mind—means unity, integration as opposed to disintegration. In the animals we find this physical unity existing to a remarkable degree. An almost unerring instinct and selective power rules their actions and organisation. Thus a cat before it has fallen (say before it has become a very wheezy fireside pussy!) is in a sense perfect. The wonderful consent of its limbs as it runs or[Pg 41] leaps, the adaptation of its muscles, the exactness and inevitableness of its instincts, physical and affectional; its senses of sight and smell, its cleanliness, nicety as to food, motherly tact, the expression of its whole body when enraged, or when watching for prey—all these things are so to speak absolute and instantaneous—and fill one with admiration. The creature is "whole" or in one piece: there is no mentionable conflict or division within it.[12]

Similarly with the other animals, and even with the early man himself. And so it would appear returning to our subject—that, if we accept the doctrine of Evolution, there is a progression of animated beings—which, though not perfect, possess in the main the attribute of Health—from the lowest forms up to a healthy and instinctive though certainly limited man. During all this stage the central law is in the ascendant, and the physical frame of each creature is the fairly clean vehicle of its expression—varying of course in complexity and degree according to the point of unfoldment which has been reached. And when thus in the long process of development the inner Man (which has lain hidden or dormant within the animal) at last appears, and the creature consequently takes on the outer frame and faculties of the human being, which are only as they are because of the[Pg 42] inner man which they represent; when it has passed through stage after stage of animal life, throwing out tentative types and likenesses of what is to come, and going through innumerable preliminary exercises in special forms and faculties, till at last it begins to be able to wear the full majesty of manhood itself—then it would seem that that long process of development is drawing to a close, and that the goal of creation must be within measurable distance.

But then, at that very moment, and when the goal is, so to speak, in sight, occurs this failure of "wholeness" of which we have spoken, this partial break-up of the unity of human nature—and man, instead of going forward any longer in the same line as before, to all appearance falls.

What is the meaning of this loss of unity? What is the cause and purpose of this fall and centuries-long exile from the earlier Paradise?

There can be but one answer. It is self-knowledge—(which involves in a sense the abandonment of self). Man has to become conscious of his destiny—to lay hold of and realise his own freedom and blessedness—to transfer his consciousness from the outer and mortal part of him to the inner and undying.

The cat cannot do this. Though perfect in its degree, its interior unfoldment is yet incomplete. The human soul within it has not yet come forward and declared itself; some sheathing leaves have yet to open before the divine flower-bud can be clearly seen. And when at last (speaking as a[Pg 43] fool) the cat becomes a man—when the human soul within the creature has climbed itself forward and found expression, transforming the outer frame in the process into that of humanity—(which is the meaning I suppose of the evolution theory)—then the creature, though perfect and radiant in the form of Man, still lacks one thing. It lacks the knowledge of itself; it lacks its own identity, and the realisation of the manhood to which as a fact it has attained.

In the animals consciousness has never returned upon itself. It radiates easily outwards; and the creature obeys without let or hesitation, and with little if any self-consciousness, the law of its being. And when man first appears on the earth, and even up to the threshold of what we call civilisation, there is much to show that he should in this respect still be classed with the animals. Though vastly superior to them in attainments, physical and mental, in power over nature, capacity of progress, and adaptability, he still in these earlier stages was like an animal in the unconscious instinctive nature of his action; and on the other hand, though his moral and intellectual structures were far less complete than those of the modern man—as was a necessary result of the absence of self-knowledge—he actually lived more in harmony with himself and with nature,[13] than does his[Pg 44] descendant; his impulses, both physical and social, were clearer and more unhesitating; and his unconsciousness of inner discord and sin a great contrast to our modern condition of everlasting strife and perplexity.

If then to this stage belongs some degree of human perfection and felicity, yet there remains a much vaster height to be scaled. The human soul which has wandered darkling for so many thousands of years, from its tiny spark-like germ in some low form of life to its full splendor and dignity in man, has yet to come to the knowledge of its wonderful heritage, has yet to become finally individualised and free, to know itself immortal, to resume and interpret all its past lives, and to enter in triumph into the kingdom which it has won.

It has in fact to face the frightful struggle of self-consciousness, or the disentanglement of the[Pg 45] true self from the fleeting and perishable self. The animals and man, unfallen, are healthy and free from care, but unaware of what they are; to attain self-knowledge man must fall; he must become less than his true self; he must endure imperfection; division and strife must enter his nature. To realise the perfect Life, to know what, how wonderful it is—to understand that all blessedness and freedom consists in its possession—he must for the moment suffer divorce from it; the unity, the repose of his nature must be broken up, crime, disease and unrest must enter in, and by contrast he must attain to knowledge.

Curious that at the very dawn of the Greek and with it the European civilisation we have the mystic words "Know Thyself" inscribed on the temple of the Delphic Apollo; and that first among the legends of the Semitic race stands that of Adam and Eve eating of the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil! To the animal there is no such knowledge, to the early man there was no such knowledge, and to the perfected man of the future there will be no such knowledge. It is a temporary perversion, indicating the disunion of the present-day man—the disunion of the outer self from the inner—the horrible dual self-consciousness—which is the means ultimately of a more perfect and conscious union than could ever have been realised without it—the death that is swallowed up in victory. "For the first man is of the earth, earthy; but the second man is the Lord from heaven."

[Pg 46]

In order then, at this point in his Evolution, to advance any farther, Man must first fall; in order to know, he must lose. In order to realise what Health is, how splendid and glorious a possession, he must go through all the long negative experience of Disease; in order to know the perfect social life, to understand what power and happiness to mankind are involved in their true relation to each other, he must learn the misery and suffering which come from mere individualism and greed; and in order to find his true Manhood, to discover what a wonderful power it is, he must first lose it—he must become a prey and a slave to his own passions and desires—whirled away like Phaethon by the horses which he cannot control.

This moment of divorce, then, this parenthesis in human progress, covers the ground of all History; and the whole of Civilisation, and all crime and disease, are only the materials of its immense purpose—themselves destined to pass away as they arose, but to leave their fruits eternal.

Accordingly we find that it has been the work of Civilisation—founded as we have seen on Property—in every way to disintegrate and corrupt man—literally to corrupt—to break up the unity of his nature. It begins with the abandonment of the primitive life and the growth of the sense of shame (as in the myth of Adam and Eve). From this follows the disownment of the sacredness of sex. Sexual acts cease to be a part of religious worship; love and desire—the inner and the outer love—hitherto undifferentiated, now become[Pg 47] two separate things. (This no doubt a necessary stage in order for the development of the consciousness of love, but in itself only painful and abnormal.) It culminates and comes to an end, as to-day, in a complete divorce between the spiritual reality and the bodily fulfilment—in a vast system of commercial love, bought and sold, in the brothel and in the palace. It begins with the forsaking of the hardy nature-life, and it ends with a society broken down and prostrate, hardly recognisable as human, amid every form of luxury, poverty and disease. He who had been the free child of Nature denies his sonship; he disowns the very breasts that suckled him. He deliberately turns his back upon the light of the sun, and hides himself away in boxes with breathing holes (which he calls houses), living ever more and more in darkness and asphyxia, and only coming forth perhaps once a day to blink at the bright god, or to run back again at the first breath of the free wind for fear of catching cold! He muffles himself in the cast-off furs of the beasts, every century swathing himself in more and more layers, more and more fearfully and wonderfully fashioned, till he ceases to be recognisable as the Man that was once the crown of the animals, and presents a more ludicrous spectacle than the monkey that sits on his own barrel organ. He ceases to a great extent to use his muscles, his feet become partially degenerate, his teeth wholly, his digestion so enervated that he has to cook his food and make pulps of all his victuals, and his whole system so obviously on[Pg 48] the decline that at last in the end of time a Kay Robinson arises and prophesies as aforesaid, that he will before long become wholly toothless, bald and toeless.

And so with this denial of Nature comes every form of disease; first delicatesse, daintiness, luxury; then unbalance, enervation, huge susceptibility to pain. With the shutting of himself away from the all-healing Power, man inevitably weakens his whole manhood; the central bond is loosened, and he falls a prey to his own organs. He who before was unaware of the existence of these latter, now becomes only too conscious of them (and this—is it not the very object of the process?); the stomach, the liver and the spleen start out into painful distinctness before him, the heart loses its equable beat, the lungs their continuity with the universal air, and the brain becomes hot and fevered; each organ in turn asserts itself abnormally and becomes a seat of disorder, every corner and cranny of the body becomes the scene and symbol of disease, and Man gazes aghast at his own kingdom—whose extent he had never suspected before—now all ablaze in wild revolt against him. And then—all going with this period of his development—sweep vast epidemic trains over the face of the earth, plagues and fevers and lunacies and world-wide festering sores, followed by armies, ever growing, of doctors—they too with their retinues of books and bottles, vaccinations and vivisections, and grinning death's-heads in the rear—a mad crew,[Pg 49] knowing not what they do, yet all unconsciously, doubtless, fulfilling the great age-long destiny of humanity.

In all this the influence of Property is apparent enough. It is evident that the growth of property through the increase of man's powers of production reacts on the man in three ways: to draw him away namely, (1) from Nature, (2) from his true Self, (3) from his Fellows. In the first place it draws him away from Nature. That is, that as man's power over materials increases he creates for himself a sphere and an environment of his own, in some sense apart and different from the great elemental world of the winds and the waves, the woods and the mountains, in which he has hitherto lived. He creates what we call the artificial life, of houses and cities, and, shutting himself up in these, shuts Nature out. As a growing boy at a certain point, and partly in order to assert his independence, wrests himself away from the tender care of his mother, and even displays—just for the time being—a spirit of opposition to her, so the growing Man finding out his own powers uses them—for the time—even to do despite to Nature, and to create himself a world in which she shall have no part. In the second place the growth of property draws man away from his true Self. This is clear enough. As his power over materials and his possessions increases, man finds the means of gratifying his senses at will. Instead of being guided any longer by that continent and "whole"[Pg 50] instinct which characterises the animals, his chief motive is now to use his powers to gratify this or that sense or desire. These become abnormally magnified, and the man soon places his main good in their satisfaction; and abandons his true Self for his organs, the whole for the parts. Property draws the man outwards, stimulating the external part of his being, and for a time mastering him, overpowers the central Will, and brings about his disintegration and corruption. Lastly, Property by thus stimulating the external and selfish nature in Man, draws him away from his Fellows. In the anxiety to possess things for himself, in order to gratify his own bumps, he is necessarily brought into conflict with his neighbor and comes to regard him as an enemy. For the true Self of man consists in his organic relation with the whole body of his fellows; and when the man abandons his true Self he abandons also his true relation to his fellows. The mass-Man must rule in each unit-man, else the unit-man will drop off and die. But when the outer man tries to separate himself from the inner, the unit-man from the mass-Man, then the reign of individuality begins—a false and impossible individuality of course, but the only means of coming to the consciousness of the true individuality. With the advent of a Civilisation then founded on Property the unity of the old tribal society is broken up. The ties of blood relationship which were the foundation of the gentile system and the guarantees of the old fraternity and equality become dissolved in favor of powers[Pg 51] and authorities founded on mere possession. The growth of Wealth disintegrates the ancient Society; the temptations of power, of possession, etc., which accompany it, wrench the individual from his moorings; personal greed rules; "each man for himself" becomes the universal motto; the hand of every man is raised against his brother, and at last society itself becomes an organisation by which the rich fatten upon the vitals of the poor, the strong upon the murder of the weak. [It is interesting in this connection to find that Lewis Morgan makes the invention of a written alphabet and the growth of the conception of private property the main characteristics of the civilisation-period as distinguished from the periods of savagery and barbarism which preceded it; for the invention of writing marks perhaps better than anything else could do the period when Man becomes self-conscious—when he records his own doings and thoughts, and so commences History proper; and the growth of private property marks the period when he begins to sunder himself from his fellows, when therefore the conception of sin (or separation) first enters in, and with it all the long period of moral perplexity, and the denial of that community of life between himself and his fellows which is really of the essence of man's being.]

And then arises the institution of Government.

Hitherto this had not existed except in a quite rudimentary form. The early communities troubled themselves little about individual ownership, and what government they had was for the most part[Pg 52] essentially democratic—as being merely a choice of leaders among blood-relations and social equals. But when the delusion that man can exist for himself alone—his outer and, as it were, accidental self apart from the great inner and cosmical self by which he is one with his fellows—when this delusion takes possession of him, it is not long before it finds expression in some system of private property. The old community of life and enjoyment passes away, and each man tries to grab the utmost he can, and to retire into his own lair for its consumption. Private accumulations arise; the natural flow of the bounties of life is dammed back, and artificial barriers of Law have to be constructed in order to preserve the unequal levels. Outrage and Fraud follow in the wake of the desire of possession; force has to be used by the possessors in order to maintain the law-barriers against the non-possessors; classes are formed; and finally the formal Government arises, mainly as the expression of such force; and preserves itself, as best it can, until such time as the inequalities which it upholds become too glaring, and the pent social waters gathering head burst through once more and regain their natural levels.

Thus Morgan in his "Ancient Society" points out over and over again that the civilised state rests upon territorial and property marks and qualifications, and not upon a personal basis as did the ancient gens, or the tribe; and that the civilised government correspondingly takes on quite a different character and function from the[Pg 53] simple organisation of the gens. He says (p. 124), "Monarchy is incompatible with gentilism." Also with regard to the relation of Property to Civilisation and Government he makes the following pregnant remarks (p. 505): "It is impossible to over-estimate the influence of property in the civilisation of mankind. It was the power that brought the Aryan and Semitic nations out of barbarism into civilisation. The growth of the idea of property in the human mind commenced in feebleness and ended in becoming its master passion. Governments and Laws are instituted with primary reference to its creation, protection and enjoyment. It introduced human slavery as an instrument in its production; and after the experience of several thousand years it caused the abolition of slavery upon the discovery that a freeman was a better property-making machine." And in another passage on the same subject, "The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy is the next higher plane. It will be a revival in a higher form of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes."

The institution of Government is in fact the evidence in social life that man has lost his inner and central control, and therefore must resort to an outward one. Losing touch with the inward Man—who is his true guide—he declines upon an external law, which must always be false. If each man remained in organic adhesion to the[Pg 54] general body of his fellows, no serious dis-harmony could occur; but it is when this vital unity of the body politic becomes weak that it has to be preserved by artificial means, and thus it is that with the decay of the primitive and instinctive social life there springs up a form of government which is no longer the democratic expression of the life of the whole people; but a kind of outside authority and compulsion thrust upon them by a ruling class or caste.

Perhaps the sincerest, and often though not always the earliest, form of Government is Monarchy. The sentiment of human unity having been already partly but not quite lost, the people choose—in order to hold society together—a man to rule over them who has this sentiment in a high degree. He represents the true Man and therefore the people. This is often a time of extensive warfare and the formation of nations. And it is interesting in this connection to note that the quite early "Kings" or leaders of each nation just prior to the civilisation period were generally associated with the highest religious functions, as in the case of the Roman rex, the Greek basileus, the early Egyptian Kings, Moses among the Israelites, and Druid leaders of the Britons, and so on.

Later, and as the central authority gets more and more shadowy in each man, and the external attraction of Property greater, so it does in Society. The temporal and spiritual powers part company. The king—who at first represented the Divine Spirit or soul of society, recedes into the [Pg 55]background, and his nobles of high degree (who may be compared to the nobler, more generous, qualities of the mind) begin to take his place. This is the Aristocracy and the Feudal Age—the Timocracy of Plato; and is marked by the appearance of large private tenures of land, and the growth of slavery and serfdom—the slavery thus outwardly appearing in society being the symbol of the inward enslavement of the man.

Then comes the Commercial Age—the Oligarchy or Plutocracy of Plato. Honour quite gives place to material wealth; the rulers rule not by personal or hereditary, but by property qualifications. Parliaments and Constitutions and general Palaver are the order of the day. Wage-slavery, usury, mortgages, and other abominations, indicate the advance of the mortal process. In the individual man gain is the end of existence; industry and scientific cunning are his topmost virtues.

Last of all the break-up is complete. The individual loses all memory and tradition of his heavenly guide and counterpart; his nobler passions fail for want of a leader to whom to dedicate themselves; his industry and his intellect serve but to minister to his little swarming desires. This is the era of anarchy—the democracy of Carlyle; the rule of the rabble, and mob-law; caucuses and cackle, competition and universal greed, breaking out in cancerous tyrannies and plutocracies—a mere chaos and confusion of society. For just as we saw in the human body, when the inner and positive force of Health has departed[Pg 56] from it, that it falls a prey to parasites which overspread and devour it; so, when the central inspiration departs out of social life, does it writhe with the mere maggots of individual greed, and at length fall under the dominion of the most monstrous egotist who has been bred from its corruption.

Thus we have briefly sketched the progress of the symptoms of the "disease," which, as said before, runs much (though not quite) the same course in the various nations which it attacks. And if this last stage were really the end of all, and the true Democracy, there were indeed little left to hope for. No words of Carlyle could blast that black enough. But this is no true Democracy. Here in this "each for himself" is no rule of the Demos in every man, nor anything resembling it. Here is no solidarity such as existed in the ancient tribes and primæval society, but only disintegration and a dust-heap. The true Democracy has yet to come. Here in this present stage is only the final denial of all outward and class government, in preparation for the restoration of the inner and true authority. Here in this stage the task of civilisation comes to an end; the purport and object of all these centuries is fulfilled; the bitter experience that mankind had to pass through is completed; and out of this Death and all the torture and unrest which accompanies it, comes at last the Resurrection. Man has sounded the depths of alienation from his own divine spirit, he has drunk the dregs of the cup of[Pg 57] suffering, he has literally descended into Hell; henceforth he turns, both in the individual and in society, and mounts deliberately and consciously back again towards the unity which he has lost.[14]

And the false democracy parts aside for the disclosure of the true Democracy which has been formed beneath it—which is not an external government at all, but an inward rule—the rule of the mass-Man in each unit-man. For no outward government can be anything but a make-shift—a temporary hard chrysalis-sheath to hold the grub together while the new life is forming inside—a device of the civilisation-period. Farther than this it cannot go, since no true life can rely upon[Pg 58] an external support, and, when the true life of society comes, all its forms will be fluid and spontaneous and voluntary.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:18 am


And now, by way of a glimpse into the future—after this long digression what is the route that man will take?

This is a subject that I hardly dare tackle. "The morning wind ever blows," says Thoreau, "the poem of creation is uninterrupted—but few are the ears that hear it." And how can we, gulfed as we are in this present whirlpool, conceive rightly the glory which awaits us? No limits that our present knowledge puts need alarm us; the impossibilities will yield very easily when the time comes; and the anatomical difficulty as to how and where the wings are to grow will vanish when they are felt sprouting!

It can hardly be doubted that the tendency will be—indeed is already showing itself—towards a return to nature and community of human life. This is the way back to the lost Eden, or rather forward to the new Eden, of which the old was only a figure. Man has to undo the wrappings and the mummydom of centuries, by which he has shut himself from the light of the sun and lain in seeming death, preparing silently his glorious resurrection—for all the world like the funny old chrysalis that he is. He has to emerge from houses[Pg 59] and all his other hiding places wherein so long ago ashamed (as at the voice of God in the garden) he concealed himself—and Nature must once more become his home, as it is the home of the animals and the angels.

As it is written in the old magical formula: "Man clothes himself to descend, unclothes himself to ascend." Over his spiritual or wind-like body he puts on a material or earthy body; over his earth-body he puts on the skins of animals and other garments; then he hides this body in a house behind curtains and stone walls—which become to it as secondary skins and prolongations of itself. So that between the man and his true life there grows a dense and impenetrable hedge; and, what with the cares and anxieties connected with his earth-body and all its skins, he soon loses the knowledge that he is a Man at all; his true self slumbers in a deep and agelong swoon.

But the instinct of all who desire to deliver the divine imago within them, is, in something more than the literal sense, towards unclothing. And the process of evolution or exfoliation itself is nothing but a continual unclothing of Nature, by which the perfect human Form which is at the root of it comes nearer and nearer to its manifestation.

Thus, in order to restore the Health which he has lost, man has in the future to tend in this direction. Life indoors and in houses has to become a fraction only, instead of the principal part of existence as it is now. Garments similarly have to be simplified.[Pg 60] How far this process may go it is not necessary now to enquire. It is sufficiently obvious that our domestic life and clothing may be at once greatly reduced in complexity, and with the greatest advantage—made subsidiary instead of being erected into the fetishes which they are. And everyone may feel assured that each gain in this direction is a gain in true life—whether it be the head that goes uncovered to the air of heaven, or the feet that press bare the magnetic earth, or the elementary raiment that allows through its meshes the light itself to reach the vital organs. The life of the open air, familiarity with the winds and waves, clean and pure food, the companionship of the animals—the very wrestling with the great Mother for his food—all these things will tend to restore that relationship which man has so long disowned; and the consequent instreaming of energy into his system will carry him to perfections of health and radiance of being at present unsuspected.

Of course, it will be said that many of these things are difficult to realise in our country, that an indoor life, with all its concomitants, is forced upon us by the climate. But if this is to some small—though very small—extent true, it forms no reason why we should not still take advantage of every opportunity to push in the direction indicated. It must be remembered, too, that our climate is greatly of our own creation. If the atmosphere of many of our great towns and of the lands for miles in their neighbourhood is devitalised and deadly—so that in cold weather it grants to the poor mortal[Pg 61] no compensating power of resistance, but compels him at peril of his life to swathe himself in greatcoats and mufflers—the blame is none but ours. It is we who have covered the lands with a pall of smoke, and are walking to our own funerals under it.

That this climate, however, at its best may not be suited to the highest developments of human life is quite possible. Because Britain has been the scene of some of the greatest episodes of Civilisation, it does not follow that she will keep the lead in the period that is to follow; and the Higher Communities of the future will perhaps take their rise in warmer lands, where life is richer and fuller, more spontaneous and more generous, than it can be here.

Another point in this connection is the food question. For the restoration of the central vigour when lost or degenerate, a diet consisting mainly of fruits and grains is most adapted. Animal food often gives for the time being a lot of nervous energy—and may be useful for special purposes; but the energy is of a spasmodic feverish kind; the food has a tendency to inflame the subsidiary centres, and so to diminish the central control. Those who live mainly on animal food are specially liable to disease—and not only physically; for their minds also fall more easily a prey to desires and sorrows. In times therefore of grief or mental trouble of any kind, as well as in times of bodily sickness, immediate recourse should be had to the more elementary diet. The body[Pg 62] under this diet endures work with less fatigue, is less susceptible to pain, and to cold; and heals its wounds with extraordinary celerity; all of which facts point in the same direction. It may be noted, too, that foods of the seed kind—by which I mean all manner of fruits, nuts, tubers, grains, eggs, etc. (and I may include milk in its various forms of butter, cheese, curds, and so forth), not only contain by their nature the elements of life in their most condensed forms, but have the additional advantage that they can be appropriated without injury to any living creature—for even the cabbage may inaudibly scream when torn up by the roots and boiled, but the strawberry plant asks us to take of its fruit, and paints it red expressly that we may see and devour it! Both of which considerations must convince us that this kind of food is most fitted to develop the kernel of man's life.

Which all means cleanness. The unity of our nature being restored, the instinct of bodily cleanness, both within and without, which is such a marked characteristic of the animals, will again characterise mankind—only now instead of a blind instinct it will be a conscious, joyous one; dirt being only disorder and obstruction. And thus the whole human being, mind and body, becoming clean and radiant from its inmost centre to its farthest circumference—"transfigured"—the distinction between the words spiritual and material disappears. In the words of Whitman, "objects gross and the unseen soul are one."

[Pg 63]

But this return to Nature, and identification in some sort with the great cosmos, does not involve a denial or depreciation of human life and interests. It is not uncommonly supposed that there is some kind of antagonism between Man and Nature, and that to recommend a life closer to the latter means mere asceticism and eremitism; and unfortunately this antagonism does exist to-day, though it certainly will not exist for ever. To-day it is unfortunately perfectly true that Man is the only animal who, instead of adorning and beautifying, makes Nature hideous by his presence. The fox and the squirrel may make their homes in the wood and add to its beauty in so doing; but when Alderman Smith plants his villa there, the gods pack up their trunks and depart; they can bear it no longer. The Bushmen can hide themselves and become indistinguishable on a slope of bare rock; they twine their naked little yellow bodies together, and look like a heap of dead sticks; but when the chimney-pot hat and frock-coat appear, the birds fly screaming from the trees. This was the great glory of the Greeks that they accepted and perfected Nature; as the Parthenon sprang out of the limestone terraces of the Acropolis, carrying the natural lines of the rock by gradations scarce perceptible into the finished and human beauty of frieze and pediment, and as, above, it was open for the blue air of heaven to descend into it for a habitation; so throughout in all their best work and life did they stand in this close relation to the earth and the sky and to all instinctive[Pg 64] and elemental things, admitting no gulf between themselves and them, but only perfecting their expressiveness and beauty. And some day we shall again understand this which, in the very sunrise of true Art, the Greeks so well understood. Possibly some day we shall again build our houses or dwelling places so simple and elemental in character that they will fit in the nooks of the hills or along the banks of the streams or by the edges of the woods without disturbing the harmony of the landscape or the songs of the birds. Then the great temples, beautiful on every height, or by the shores of the rivers and the lakes, will be the storehouses of all precious and lovely things. There men, women and children will come to share in the great and wonderful common life, the gardens around will be sacred to the unharmed and welcome animals; there all store and all facilities of books and music and art for every one, there a meeting place for social life and intercourse, there dances and games and feasts. Every village, every little settlement, will have such hall or halls. No need for private accumulations. Gladly will each man, and more gladly still each woman, take his or her treasures, except what are immediately or necessarily in use, to the common centre, where their value will be increased a hundred and a thousand fold by the greater number of those who can enjoy them, and where far more perfectly and with far less toil they can be tended than if scattered abroad in private hands. At one stroke half the labour and all the anxiety of domestic caretaking[Pg 65] will be annihilated. The private dwelling places, no longer costly and labyrinthine in proportion to the value and number of the treasures they contain, will need no longer to have doors and windows jealously closed against fellow men or mother nature. The sun and air will have access to them, the indwellers will have unfettered egress. Neither man nor woman will be tied in slavery to the lodge which they inhabit; and in becoming once more a part of nature, the human habitation will at length cease to be what it is now for at least half the human race—a prison.

Men often ask about the new Architecture—what, and of what sort, it is going to be. But to such a question there can be no answer till a new understanding of life has entered into people's minds, and then the answer will be clear enough. For as the Greek Temples and the Gothic Cathedrals were built by people who themselves lived but frugally as we should think, and were ready to dedicate their best work and chief treasure to the gods and the common life; and as to-day when we must needs have for ourselves spacious and luxurious villas, we seem to be unable to design a decent church or public building; so it will not be till we once more find our main interest and life in the life of the community and the gods that a new spirit will inspire our architecture. Then when our Temples and Common Halls are not designed to glorify an individual architect or patron, but are built for the use of free men and women, to front the sky and the sea and the sun, to spring[Pg 66] out of the earth, companionable with the trees and the rocks, not alien in spirit from the sunlit globe itself or the depth of the starry night—then I say their form and structure will quickly determine themselves, and men will have no difficulty in making them beautiful. And similarly with the homes or dwelling places of the people. Various as these may be for the various wants of men, whether for a single individual or for a family, or for groups of individuals or families, whether to the last degree simple, or whether more or less ornate and complex, still the new conception, the new needs of life, will necessarily dominate them and give them form by a law unfolding from within.

In such new human life then—its fields, its farms, its workshops, its cities—always the work of man perfecting and beautifying the lands, aiding the efforts of the sun and soil, giving voice to the desire of the mute earth—in such new communal life near to nature, so far from any asceticism or inhospitality, we are fain to see far more humanity and sociability than ever before: an infinite helpfulness and sympathy, as between the children of a common mother. Mutual help and combination will then have become spontaneous and instinctive: each man contributing to the service of his neighbor as inevitably and naturally as the right hand goes to help the left in the human body—and for precisely the same reason. Every man—think of it!—will do the work which he likes, which he desires to do, which is obviously before him to do, and which he knows will be useful,[Pg 67] without thought of wages or reward; and the reward will come to him as inevitably and naturally as in the human body the blood flows to the member which is exerting itself. All the endless burden of the adjustments of labour and wages, of the war of duty and distaste, of want and weariness, will be thrown aside—all the huge waste of work done against the grain will be avoided; out of the endless variety of human nature will spring a perfectly natural and infinite variety of occupations, all mutually contributive; Society at last will be free and the human being after long ages will have attained to deliverance.

This is the Communism which Civilisation has always hated, as it hated Christ. Yet it is inevitable; for the cosmical man, the instinctive elemental man accepting and crowning nature, necessarily fulfils the universal law of nature. As to External Government and Law, they will disappear; for they are only the travesties and transitory substitutes of Inward Government and Order. Society in its final state is neither a Monarchy, nor an Aristocracy nor a Democracy, nor an Anarchy, and yet in another sense it is all of these. It is an Anarchy because there is no outward rule, but only an inward and invisible spirit of life; it is a Democracy because it is the rule of the Mass-man, or Demos, in each unit man; it is an Aristocracy because there are degrees and ranks of such inward power in all men; and it is a Monarchy because all these ranks and powers merge in a perfect unity and central control at last. And so it appears that the outer[Pg 68] forms of government which belong to the Civilisation-period are only the expression in separate external symbols of the facts of the true inner life of society.

And just as thus the various external forms of government during the Civilisation-period find their justification and interpretation in the ensuing period, so will it be with the mechanical and other products of the present time; they will be taken up, and find their proper place and use in the time to come. They will not be refused; but they will have to be brought into subjection. Our locomotives, machinery, telegraphic and postal systems; our houses, furniture, clothes, books, our fearful and wonderful cookery, strong drinks, teas, tobaccos; our medical and surgical appliances; high-faluting sciences and philosophies, and all other engines hitherto of human bewilderment, have simply to be reduced to abject subjection to the real man. All these appliances, and a thousand others such as we hardly dream of, will come in to perfect his power and increase his freedom; but they will not be the objects of a mere fetish-worship as now. Man will use them, instead of their using him. His real life will lie in a region far beyond them. But in thus for a moment denying and "mastering" the products of Civilisation, will he for the first time discover their true value, and reap from them an enjoyment unknown before.

The same with the moral powers. As said before, the knowledge of good and evil at a certain[Pg 69] point passes away, or becomes absorbed into a higher knowledge. The perception of Sin goes with a certain weakness in the man. As long as there is conflict and division within him, so long does he seem to perceive conflicting and opposing principles in the world without. As long as the objects of the outer world excite emotions in him which pass beyond his control, so long do those objects stand as the signals of evil—of disorder and sin. Not that the objects are bad in themselves, or even the emotions which they excite, but that all through this period these things serve to the man as indications of his weakness. But when the central power is restored in man and all things are reduced to his service, it is impossible for him to see badness in anything. The bodily is no longer antagonistic to the spiritual love, but is absorbed into it. All his passions take their places perfectly naturally, and become, when the occasions arise, the vehicles of his expression. Vices under existing conditions are vices simply because of the inordinate and disturbing influence they exercise, but will cease again to be vices when the man regains his proper command. Thus Socrates having a clean soul in a clean body could drink his boon companions under the table and then go out himself to take the morning air—what was a blemish and defect in them being simply an added power of enjoyment to himself!

The point of difference throughout (being the transference of the centre of gravity of life and consciousness from the partial to the universal man) is[Pg 70] symbolised by the gradual resumption of more universal conditions. That is to say that during the civilisation-period, the body being systematically wrapped in clothes, the head alone represents man—the little finnikin, intellectual, self-conscious man in contra-distinction to the cosmical man represented by the entirety of the bodily organs. The body has to be delivered from its swathings in order that the cosmical consciousness may once more reside in the human breast. We have to become "all face" again—as the savage said of himself.[15]

Where the cosmic self is, there is no more self-consciousness. The body and what is ordinarily called the self are felt to be only parts of the true self, and the ordinary distinctions of inner and outer, egotism and altruism, etc., lose a good deal of their value. Thought no longer returns upon the local self as the chief object of regard, but consciousness is continually radiant from it, filling the body and overflowing upon external Nature. Thus the Sun in the physical world is the allegory of the true self. The worshiper must adore the Sun, he must saturate himself with sunlight, and take the physical Sun into himself. Those who live by fire and candle-light are filled with phantoms; their thoughts are Will-o'-th'-wisp-like images of themselves, and they are tormented by a horrible self-consciousness.

And when the Civilisation-period has passed away, the old Nature-religion—perhaps greatly[Pg 71] grown—will come back. This immense stream of religious life which, beginning far beyond the horizon of earliest history, has been deflected into various metaphysical and other channels—of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and the like—during the historical period, will once more gather itself together to float on its bosom all the arks and sacred vessels of human progress. Man will once more feel his unity with his fellows, he will feel his unity with the animals, with the mountains and the streams, with the earth itself and the slow lapse of the constellations, not as an abstract dogma of Science or Theology, but as a living and ever-present fact. Ages back this has been understood better than now. Our Christian ceremonial is saturated with sexual and astronomical symbols; and long before Christianity existed, the sexual and astronomical were the main forms of religion. That is to say, men instinctively felt and worshiped the great life coming to them through Sex, the great life coming to them from the deeps of Heaven. They deified both. They placed their gods—their own human forms—in sex, they placed them in the sky. And not only so, but wherever they felt this kindred human life—in the animals, in the ibis, the bull, the lamb, the snake, the crocodile; in the trees and flowers, the oak, the ash, the laurel, the hyacinth; in the streams and water-falls, on the mountain-sides or in the depths of the sea—they placed them. The whole universe was full of a life which, though not always friendly, was human and kindred to[Pg 72] their own, felt by them, not reasoned about, but simply perceived. To the early man the notion of his having a separate individuality could only with difficulty occur; hence he troubled himself not with the suicidal questionings concerning the whence and whither which now vex the modern mind.[16] For what causes these questions to be asked is simply the wretched feeling of isolation, actual or prospective, which man necessarily has when he contemplates himself as a separate atom in this immense universe—the gulf which lies below seemingly ready to swallow him, and the anxiety to find some mode of escape. But when he feels once more that he, that he himself, is absolutely indivisibly and indestructibly a part of this great whole—why then there is no gulf into which he can possibly fall; when he is sensible of the fact, why then the how of its realisation, though losing none of its interest, becomes a matter for whose solution he can wait and work in faith and contentment of mind. The Sun or Sol, visible image of his very Soul, closest and most vital to him of all mortal things, occupying the illimitable heaven, feeding all with its life; the Moon, emblem and nurse of his own reflective thought, the conscious Man, measurer of Time, mirror of the Sun; the planetary passions wandering to and fro, yet within bounds; the starry destinies; the changes of the earth, and the seasons; the upward growth and unfoldment of all organic life; the emergence of the perfect Man, towards[Pg 73] whose birth all creation groans and travails—all these things will return to become realities, and to be the frame or setting of his supra-mundane life. The meaning of the old religions will come back to him. On the high tops once more gathering he will celebrate with naked dances the glory of the human form and the great processions of the stars, or greet the bright horn of the young moon which now after a hundred centuries comes back laden with such wondrous associations—all the yearnings and the dreams and the wonderment of the generations of mankind—the worship of Astarte and of Diana, of Isis or the Virgin Mary; once more in sacred groves will he reunite the passion and the delight of human love with his deepest feelings of the sanctity and beauty of Nature; or in the open, standing uncovered to the Sun, will adore the emblem of the everlasting splendour which shines within. The same sense of vital perfection and exaltation which can be traced in the early and pre-civilisation peoples—only a thousand times intensified, defined, illustrated and purified—will return to irradiate the redeemed and delivered Man.

In suggesting thus the part which Civilisation has played in history, I am aware that the word itself is difficult to define—is at best only one of those phantom-generalisations which the mind is forced to employ; also that the account I have given of it is sadly imperfect, leaning perhaps too[Pg 74] much to the merely negative and destructive aspect of this thousand-year long lapse of human evolution. I would also remind the reader that though it is perfectly true that under the dissolving influence of civilisation empire after empire has gone under and disappeared, and the current of human progress time after time has only been restored again by a fresh influx of savagery, yet its corruptive tendency has never had a quite unlimited fling; but that all down the ages of its dominance over the earth we can trace the tradition of a healing and redeeming power at work in the human breast and an anticipation of the second advent of the son of man. Certain institutions, too, such as Art and the Family (though it seems not unlikely that both of these will greatly change when the special conditions of their present existence have disappeared), have served to keep the sacred flame alive; the latter preserving in island-miniatures, as it were, the ancient communal humanity when the seas of individualism and greed covered the general face of the earth; the former keeping up, so to speak, a navel-cord of contact with Nature, and a means of utterance of primal emotions else unsatisfiable in the world around.

And if it seem extravagant to suppose that Society will ever emerge from the chaotic condition of strife and perplexity in which we find it all down the lapse of historical time, or to hope that the civilisation-process which has terminated fatally so invariably in the past will ever eventuate in[Pg 75] the establishment of a higher and more perfect health-condition, we may for our consolation remember that to-day there are features in the problem which have never been present before. In the first place, to-day Civilisation is no longer isolated, as in the ancient world, in surrounding floods of savagery and barbarism, but it practically covers the globe, and the outlying savagery is so feeble as not possibly to be a menace to it. This may at first appear a drawback, for (it will be said) if Civilisation be not renovated by the influx of external Savagery its own inherent flaws will destroy society all the sooner. And there would be some truth in this if it were not for the following consideration, namely, that while for the first time in History Civilisation is now practically continuous over the globe, now also for the first time can we descry forming in continuous line within its very structure the forces which are destined to destroy it and to bring about the new order. While hitherto isolated communisms, as suggested, have existed here and there and from time to time, now for the first time in History both the masses and the thinkers of all the advanced nations of the world are consciously feeling their way towards the establishment of a socialistic and communal life on a vast scale. The present competitive society is more and more rapidly becoming a mere dead formula and husk within which the outlines of the new and human society are already discernible. Simultaneously, and as if to match this growth, a move towards Nature and Savagery is for the first[Pg 76] time taking place from within, instead of being forced upon society from without. The nature movement begun years ago in literature and art is now, among the more advanced sections of the civilised world, rapidly realising itself in actual life, going so far even as a denial, among some, of machinery and the complex products of Civilisation, and developing among others into a gospel of salvation by sandals and sunbaths! It is in these two movements—towards a complex human Communism and towards individual freedom and Savagery—in some sort balancing and correcting each other, and both visibly growing up within, though utterly foreign to—our present-day Civilisation, that we have fair grounds, I think, for looking forward to its cure.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

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


(See p. 26) The following remarks by Mr. H. B. Cotterill on the natives around Lake Nyassa, among whom he lived at a time, 1876-8, when the region was almost unvisited, may be of interest. "In regard of merely 'animal' development and well-being, that is in the delicate perfection of bodily faculties (perceptive), the African savage is as a rule incomparably superior to us. One feels like a child, utterly dependent on them, when travelling or hunting with them. It is true that many may be found (especially amongst the weaker tribes that have been slave-hunted or driven into barren corners) who are half-starved and wizened, but as a rule they are splendid animals. In character there is a great want of that strength which in the educated civilised man is secured by the roots striking out into the Past and Future—and in spite of their immense perceptive superiority they feel and acknowledge the superior force of character in the white man. They are the[Pg 77] very converse of the Stoic self-sufficient sage—like children in their 'admiration' and worship of the Unknown. Hence their absolute want of Conceit, though they possess self-command and dignity. They are, to those they love and respect, faithful and devoted—their faithfulness and truthfulness are dictated by no 'categorical imperative,' but by personal affection. Towards an enemy they can be, without any conscientious scruples, treacherous and inhumanly cruel. I should say that there is scarcely any possible idea that is so foreign to the savage African mind as that of general philanthropy or enemy-love."

"In endurance the African savage beats us hollow (except trained athletes). On one occasion my men rowed my boat with 10 foot oars against the wind in a choppy sea for 25 hours at one go, across Kuwirwe Bay, about 60 miles. They never once stopped or left their seats—just handed round a handful of rice now and then. I was at the helm all the time—and had enough of it!... They carry 80 lbs. on their heads for 10 hours through swamps and jungles. Four of my men carried a sick man weighing 14 stones in a hammock for 200 miles, right across the dreaded Malikata Swamp. But for sudden emergencies, squalls, etc., they are nowhere."

(See p. 27) "So lovely a scene made easily credible the suggestion, otherwise highly probable, that the Golden Age was no mere fancy of the poets, but a reminiscence of the facts of social life in its primitive organisation of village and house-communities." (J. S. Stuart-Glennie's Europe and Asia, ch. i. Servia.)

(See p. 72) "It was only on the up-break of the primitive socialisms that the passionate desire of, and therefore belief in, individual Immortality arose. With an intense feeling, not of an independent individual life, but of a dependent common life, there is no passionate desire of, though there may be more or less of belief in, a continuance after death of individual existence." (Ibid, p. 161.)

Following is an extract from a letter from my friend Havelock Ellis, which he kindly allows me to reprint. The passage is[Pg 78] interesting as indicating one cause, at any rate, of the failure of the modern civilisations. "Your remark that you are re-publishing Civilisation: its Cause and Cure has led me to read it once again, and I see how well adapted it is for reissue just now when there is so widespread a discontent with 'civilisation.' I do not see any reason for changing the essay, though, no doubt, much might be added to supplement it. What has, however, struck me is that you leave out of account the reason for the greater health, vigour, and high spirit of savages (when such conditions exist), and that is the more stringent natural selection among savages owing to the greater hardness of their life. You doubtless know ch. xvii of Westermarck's Moral Ideas, where he shows how widespread among savages (when they have got past the first crude primitive stage), and in the ancient civilisations, was the practice of infanticide applied to inferior babies and the habit of allowing sick persons to die. That was evidently the secret of the natural superiority of the savage and of the men of the old civilisation, for the Greeks and Romans were very stringent in this matter. The flabbiness of the civilised and the prevalence of doctors and hygienists, which you make fun of, is due to the modern tenderness for human life which is afraid to kill off even the most worthless specimens and so lowers the whole level of 'civilised' humanity. Introduce a New Hardness in this matter and we should return to the high level of savagery, while the doctors would disappear as if by magic. I don't myself believe we can introduce this hardness; and that is why I attach so much importance to intelligent eugenics, working through birth-control, as the only now possible way of getting towards that high natural level you aim at."—Havelock Ellis (1920).


[1] It is interesting to note that the "sense of Sin" seems now (1920) to have nearly passed away. And this fact probably indicates a considerable impending change in our Social Order.

[2] For proof I must refer the reader to Engels, or to his own studies of history.

[3] Say like the Homeric Greeks, or the Spartans of the Lycurgus period.

[4] Matabele Land and the Victoria Falls, p. 209.

[5] A similar physical health and power of life are also developed among Europeans who have lived for long periods in more native conditions. It is not to our race, which is probably superior to any in capacity, but to the state in which we live that we must ascribe our defect in this particular matter.

[6] See Col. Dodge's Our Wild Indians.

[7] Wood's Natural History of Man.

[8] See Appendix.

[9] See Note at end of this chapter.

[10] No words or theory even of morality can express or formulate this—no enthronement of any virtue can take its place; for all virtue enthroned before our humanity becomes vice, and worse than vice.

[11] It is curious that this word seems to have the same root as the word Man, the original idea apparently being Order, or Measure.

[12] And with regard to disease, though it is not maintained that among the animals there is anything like immunity from it—since diseases of a more or less parasitic character are common in all tribes of plants and animals—still they seem to be rarer, and the organic instinct of health greater, than in the civilised man.

[13] As to the unity of these wild races with Nature, that is a matter seemingly beyond dispute; their keenness of sense, sensitiveness to atmospheric changes, knowledge of properties of plants and habits of animals, etc., have been the subject of frequent remark; but beyond this, their strong feeling of union with the universal spirit, probably only dimly self conscious, but expressing itself very markedly and clearly in their customs, is most strange and pregnant of meaning. The dances of the Andaman Islanders on the sands at night, the wild festival of the new moon among the Fans and other African tribes, the processions through the forests, the chants and dull thudding of drums, the torture-dances of the young Red Indian bravos in the burning heat of the sun; the Dionysiac festivals among the early Greeks; and indeed the sacrificial nature-rites and carnivals and extraordinary powers of second-sight found among all primitive peoples; all these things indicate clearly a faculty which, though it had hardly become self-conscious enough to be what we call religion, was yet in truth the foundation element of religion, and the germ of some human powers which wait yet to be developed.

[14] There is another point worth noting as characteristic of the civilisation-period. This is the abnormal development of the abstract intellect in comparison with the physical senses on the one hand, and the moral sense on the other. Such a result might be expected, seeing that abstraction from reality is naturally the great engine of that false individuality or apartness, which it is the object of Civilisation to produce. As it is, during this period man builds himself an intellectual world apart from the great actual universe around him; the "ghosts of things" are studied in books; the student lives indoors, he cannot face the open air—his theories "may prove very well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds, and along the landscape and flowing currents"; children are "educated" afar from actual life; huge phantom-temples of philosophy and science are reared upon the most slender foundations; and in these he lives defended from actual fact. For as a drop of water, when it comes in contact with red-hot iron, wraps itself in a cloud of vapor and is saved from destruction, so the little mind of man, lest it should touch the burning truth of Nature and God and be consumed, evolves at each point of contact a veil of insubstantial thought which allows it for a time to exist apart, and becomes the nurse of its self-consciousness.

[15] See Alonso di Ovalle's Account of the Kingdom of Chile in Churchill's Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1724.

[16] See Notes at end of this chapter.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:21 am


παντι λὁγω λὁγος ἱσος αντικεἱται

[Greek: panti logô; logos isos antikeitai.]

It is one of the difficulties which meet anyone who suggests that modern science is not wholly satisfactory, that it is immediately assumed that the writer is covertly defending what Ingersoll calls the "rib-story," or that he wishes to restore belief in the literal inspiration of the Bible. But, religious controversy apart, and while admitting that Science has done a great work in cleaning away the kitchen-middens of superstition and opening the path to clearer and saner views of the world, it is possible—and there is already a growing feeling that way—that her positive contributions to our comprehension of the order of the universe have in late times been disappointing, and that even her methods are only of limited applicability. After a glorious burst of perhaps fifty years, amid great acclamations and good hopes that the crafty old universe was going to be caught in her careful net, Science, it must be confessed, now finds herself in almost[Pg 80] every direction in the most hopeless quandaries; and, whether the rib-story be true or not, has at any rate provided no very satisfactory substitute for it. And the reason of this failure is very obvious. It goes with a certain defect in the human mind, which, as we have pointed out (note, p. 57), necessarily belongs to the Civilisation-period—the tendency, namely, to separate the logical and intellectual part of man from the emotional and instinctive, and to give it a locus standi of its own. Science has failed, because she has attempted to carry out the investigation of nature from the intellectual side alone—neglecting the other constituents necessarily involved in the problem. She has failed, because she has attempted an impossible task; for the discovery of a permanently valid and purely intellectual representation of the universe is simply impossible. Such a thing does not exist.

The various theories and views of nature which we hold are merely the fugitive envelopes of the successive stages of human growth—each set of theories and views belonging organically to the moral and emotional stage which has been reached, and being in some sort the expression of it; so that the attempt at any given time to set up an explanation of phenomena which shall be valid in itself and without reference to the mental condition of those who set it up, necessarily ends in failure; and the present state of confusion and contradiction in which modern Science finds itself is merely the result of such attempt.

[Pg 81]

Of course this limitation of the validity of Science has been recognised by most of those who have thought about the matter;[17] but it is so commonly overlooked, and latterly the notion has so far gained ground that the "laws" of science are immutable facts and eternal statements of verity, that it may be worth while to treat the subject a little more in detail.

The method of Science is the method of all mundane knowledge; it is that of limitation or actual ignorance. Placed in face of the great uncontained unity of Nature we can only deal with it in thought by selecting certain details and isolating those (either wilfully or unconsciously) from the rest. That is right enough. But in doing so—in isolating such and such details—we practically beg the question we are in search of; and, moreover, in supposing such isolation we suppose what is false, and therefore vitiate our conclusion. From these two radical defects of all intellectual inquiry we cannot escape. The views of Science are like the views of a mountain; each is only possible as long as you limit yourself to a certain standpoint. Move your position, and the view is changed.[18]

Perhaps the word "species" will illustrate our meaning as well as any word; and, in a sense, the word is typical of the method of Science. I[Pg 82] see a dog for the first time. It is a fox-hound. Then I see a second fox-hound, and a third and a fourth. Presently I form from these few instances a general conception of "dog." But after a time I see a grey-hound and a terrier and a mastiff, and my old conception is destroyed. A new one has to be formed, and then a new one and a new one. Now I overlook the whole race of civilised dogs and am satisfied with my wisdom; but presently I come upon some wild dogs, and study the habits of the wolf and the fox. Geology turns me up some links, and my conception of dog melts away like a lump of ice into surrounding water. My species exists no more. As long as I knew a few of the facts I could talk very wise about them; or if I limited myself arbitrarily, as we will say, to a study only of animals in England at the present day, I could classify them; but widen the bounds of my knowledge, the area of observation, and all my work has to be done over again. My species is not a valid fact of Nature, but a fiction arising out of my own ignorance or arbitrary isolation of the objects observed.

Or to take an instance from Astronomy. We are accustomed to say that the path of the moon is an ellipse. But this is a very loose statement. On enquiry we find that, owing to perturbations said to be produced by the sun, the path deviates considerably from an ellipse. In fact in strict calculations it is taken as being a certain ellipse only for an instant—the next instant it is supposed to[Pg 83] be a portion of another ellipse. We might then call the path an irregular curve somewhat resembling an ellipse. This is a new view. But on further enquiry it appears that, while the moon is going round the earth, the earth itself is speeding on through space about the sun—in consequence of which the actual path of the moon does not in the least resemble an ellipse! Finally the sun itself is in motion with regard to the fixed stars, and they are in movement too. What then is the path of the moon? No one knows; we have not the faintest idea—the word itself ceases to have any assignable meaning. It is true that if we agree to ignore the perturbations produced by the sun—as in fact we do ignore perturbations produced by the planets and other bodies—and if we agree to ignore the motion of the earth, and the flight of the solar system through space, and even the movement of any centre round which that may be speeding, we may then say that the moon moves in an ellipse. But this has obviously nothing to do with actual facts. The moon does not move in an ellipse—not even "relatively to the earth"—and probably never has done and never will do so. It may be a convenient view or fiction to say that it would do so under such and such circumstances—but it is still only a fiction. To attempt to isolate a small portion of the phenomena from the rest in a universe of which the unity is one of Science's most cherished convictions, is obviously self-stultifying and useless.

[Pg 84]

But you say it can be proved by mathematics that the ellipse would be the path under these conditions; to which I reply that the mathematical proof, though no doubt cogent to the human mind (as at present constituted in most people), is open to the same objection that it does not deal with actual facts. It deals with a mental supposition, i.e., that there are only two bodies acting on each other—a case which never has occurred and never can occur—and then, assuming the law of gravitation (which is just the thing which has to be proved), it arrives at a mental formula, the ellipse. But to argue from this process that the ellipse is really a thing in Nature, and that the heavenly bodies do move or even tend to move in ellipses, is obviously a most unwarrantable leap in the dark. Finally you argue that the leap is warranted because, by assuming that the moon and planets move in ellipses, you can actually foretell things that happen, as for instance the occurrences of eclipses; and in reply to that I can only say that Tycho Brahé foretold eclipses almost as well by assuming that the heavenly bodies moved in epicycles, and that modern astronomers do apply the epicycle theory in their mathematical formulæ. The epicycles were an assumption made for a certain purpose, and the ellipses are an assumption made for the same purpose. In some respects the ellipse is a more convenient fiction than the epicycle, but it is no less a fiction.

In other words—with regard to this "path of the moon" (as with regard to any other phenomenon[Pg 85] of Nature)—our knowledge of it must be either absolute or relative. But we cannot know the absolute path; and as to the relative, why all we can say is that it does not exist (any more than species exists)—we cannot break up Nature so; it is not a thing in Nature, but in our own minds—it is a view and a fiction.[19]

Again, let us take an example from Physics—Boyle's law of the compressibility of gases. This law states that, the temperature remaining constant, the volume of a given quantity of gas is inversely proportional to its pressure. It is a law which has been made a good deal of, and at one time was thought to be true, i.e., it was thought to be a statement of fact. A more extended and careful observation, however, shows that it is only true under so many limitations, that, like the ellipse in Astronomy, it must be regarded as a convenient fiction and nothing more. It appears that air follows the supposed law pretty well, but not by any means exactly except within very narrow limits of pressure; other gases, such as carbonic acid and hydrogen, deviate from it very considerably—some more than others, and some in one direction and some in the opposite. It was found, among other things, that the nearer a gas was to its liquefying point, the greater was the deviation from the supposed law, and the conclusion was jumped at that the law was true for[Pg 86] perfect gases only. This idea of a perfect gas of course involved the assumption that gases, as they get farther and farther removed from their liquifying point, reach at last a fixed and stable condition, when no further change in their qualities takes place—at any rate for a very long time—and Boyle's law was supposed to apply to this condition. Since then, however, it has been discovered that there is an ultra-gaseous state of matter, and on all sides it is becoming abundantly clear that the change in the condition of matter from the liquid state to the ultra-gaseous state is perfectly continuous—through all modifications of liquidity and condensation and every degree of perfection and imperfection of gasiness to the utmost rarity of the fourth state. At what point, then, does Boyle's law really apply? Obviously it applies exactly at only one point in this long ascending scale—at one metaphysical point—and at every other point it is incorrect. But no gas in Nature remains or can be maintained just at one point in the scale of its innumerable changes. Consequently, all we can say is that out of the innumerable different states that gases are capable of, and the innumerable different laws of compressibility which they therefore follow, we could theoretically find one state to which would correspond the law of compressibility called Boyle's law; and that, if we could preserve a gas in that state (which we can't), Boyle's law really would be true just for that case. In other words, the law is metaphysical. It has no real existence. It is a convenient view or fiction,[Pg 87] arising in the first place out of ignorance, and only tenable as long as further observation is limited or wilfully ignored.

This then is the Method of Science. It consists in forming a law or statement by only looking at a small portion of the facts; then, when the other facts come in, the law or statement gradually fades away again. Conrad Gessner and other early zoologists began by classifying animals according to the number of their horns! Political Economy begins by classifying social action under a law of Supply and Demand. When people believed that the earth was flat, they generalised the facts connected with the fall of heavy bodies into a conception of "up and down." These were two opposite directions in space. Heavy bodies took the "downward"; it was their nature. But in time, and as fresh facts came in, it became impossible to group animals any longer by their horns; "up and down" ceased to have a meaning when it was known that the earth was round. Then fresh laws and statements had to be formed. In the last-mentioned case—it being conceived that the earth was the centre of the universe—the new law supposed was that all heavy bodies tended to the centre of the earth as such. This was all right and satisfactory for a while; but presently it appeared that the earth was not the centre of the universe, and that some heavy bodies—such as the satellites of Jupiter—did not in fact tend to the centre of the earth at all. Another lump of ignorance (which had enabled the old [Pg 88]generalisation to exist) was removed, and a new generalisation, that of universal gravitation, was after a time formed. But it is probable that this law is only conceived of as true through our ignorance; nay it is certain that belief in its truth presents the gravest difficulties.

In fact here we come upon an important point. It is sometimes said that, granting the above arguments and the partiality and defectiveness of the laws of Science, still they are approximations to the truth, and as each fresh fact is introduced the consequent modification of the old law brings us nearer and nearer to a limit of rigorous exactness which we shall reach at last if we only have patience enough. But is this so? What kind of rigorous statement shall we reach when we have got all the facts in? Remembering that Nature is one, and that if we try to get a rigorous statement for one set of phenomena (as say the lunar theory) by isolating them from the rest, we are thereby condemning ourselves beforehand to a false conclusion, is it not evident that our limit is at all times infinitely far off? If one knew all the facts relating to a given inquiry except two or three, one might reasonably suppose that one was near a limit of exactness in one's knowledge; but seeing that in our investigation of Nature we only know two or three, so to speak, out of a million, it is obvious that at any moment the fresh law arising from increased experience may completely upset our former calculations. There is a difference between approximating to a wall and [Pg 89]approximating to the North Star. In the one case you are tending to a speedy conclusion of your labours, in the other case you are only going in a certain direction. The theories of Science generally belong under the second head. They mark the direction which the human mind is taking at the moment in question, but they mark no limits. At each point the appearance of a limit is introduced—which becomes, like a mirage in the desert, an object of keen pursuit; but the limit is not really there—it is only an effect of the standpoint, and disappears again after a time as the observer moves. In the case of gravitation there is for the moment an appearance of finality in the law of the inverse square of the distance, but this arises probably from the fact that the law is derived from a limited area of observation only, namely the movements (at great distances from each other) of some of the heavenly bodies.[20] The Cavendish and Schehallien experiments do not show more than that the law at ordinary distances on the earth's surface does not vary very much from the above; while the [Pg 90]so-called molecular forces compel us (unless we make the very artificial assumption that a variety of attractions and repulsions co-exist in matter alongside of, and yet totally distinct from, the attraction of gravitation) to suppose very great modifications of the law for small distances. In fact, as we saw of Boyle's law before—the Newtonian law is probably metaphysical—true under certain limited conditions—and the appearance of finality has been given to it by the fact that our observations have been made under such or similar conditions. When we extend our observation into quite other regions of space, the law of the inverse square ceases to appear as even an approximation to the truth—as, for instance, the law of the inverse fifth power has been thought to be nearer the mark for small molecular distances.

And indeed the state of the great theories of Science in the present day—the confusion in which the Atomic theory of physics finds itself, the dismal insufficiency of the Darwin theory of the survival of the fittest; the collapse in late times of one of the fundamental theories of Astronomy, namely that of the stability of the lunar and planetary orbits; the cataclysms and convulsions which Geology seems just now to be undergoing; the appalling and indeed insurmountable difficulties which attach to the Undulatory theory of Light; the final wreck and abandonment of the Value-theory, the foundation-theory of Political Economy—all these things do not seem to point to very[Pg 91] near limits of rigorous exactness! An impregnable theory, or one nearing the limit of impregnability, is in fact as great an absurdity as an impregnable armour-plate. Certainly, given the cannon-balls, you can generally find an armour-plate which will be proof against them; but given the armour-plate, you can always find cannon-balls which will smash it up.

The method of Science, as being a method of artificial limitation or actual ignorance, is curiously illustrated by a consideration of its various branches. I have taken some examples from Astronomy, which is considered the most exact of the physical sciences. Now does it not seem curious that Astronomy—the study of the heavenly bodies, which are the most distant from us of all bodies, and most difficult to observe—should yet be the most perfect of the sciences? Yet the reason is obvious. Astronomy is the most perfect science because we know least about it—because our ignorance of the actual phenomena is most profound. Situated in fact as we are, on a speck in space, with our observations limited to periods of time which, compared with the stupendous flights of the stars, are merely momentary and evanescent, we are in somewhat the position of a mole surveying a railway track and the flight of locomotives. And as a man seeing a very small arc of a very vast circle easily mistakes it for a straight line, so we are easily satisfied with cheap deductions and solutions in Astronomy which a more extensive experience would cause us to reject. The man[Pg 92] may have a long way to go along his "straight line" before he discovers that it is a curve; he may have much farther to go along his curve before he discovers that it is not a circle; and much farther still to go before he finds out whether it is an ellipse or a spiral or a parabola, or none of these; yet what curve it is will make an enormous difference in his ultimate destination. So with the astronomer; and yet Astronomy is allowed to pass as an exact science![21]

Well then, as in Astronomy we get an "exact[Pg 93] science," because the facts and phenomena are on such a tremendous scale that we only see a minute portion of them—just a few details so to speak—and our ignorance therefore allows us to dogmatise; so at the other end of the scale in Chemistry and Physics we get quasi-exact sciences, because the facts and phenomena are on such a minute scale that we overlook all the details and see only certain general effects here and there. When a solution of cupric sulphate is treated with ammonia, a mass of flocculent green precipitate is formed. No one has the faintest notion of all the various movements and combinations of the molecules of these two fluids which accompany the appearance of the precipitate. They are no doubt very complex. But among all the changes that are taking place, one change has the advantage of being visible to the eye, and the chemist singles that out as the main phenomenon. So chemistry at large consists in a few, very few, facts taken at random as it were (or because they happen to be of such a nature as to be observable) out of the enormous mass of facts really concerned: and because of their fewness the chemist is able to arrange them, as he thinks, in some order, that is, to generalise about them. But it is certain as can be that he only has to extend the number of his facts, or his powers of observation, to get all his generalisations upset. The same may be said of magnetism, light, heat, and the other physical sciences; but it is not necessary to prove in detail what is sufficiently obvious.

[Pg 94]

But now, roughly speaking, there is a third region of human observation—a region which does not, like Astronomy (and Geology), lie so far beyond and above us that we only see a very small portion of it; nor, like Chemistry and Physics, so far below us and under such minute conditions of space and time that we can only catch its general effects; but which lies more on a level with man himself—the so-called organic world—the study of man, as an individual and in society, his history, his development, the study of the animals, the plants even, and the laws of life—the sciences of Biology, Sociology, History, Psychology, and the rest. Now this region is obviously that which man knows most of. I don't say that he generalises most about it, but he knows the facts best. For one observation that he makes of the habits and behaviour of the stars, or of chemical solutions—for one observation in the remote regions of Astronomy or Chemistry—he makes thousands and millions of the habits and behaviour of his fellowmen, and hundreds and thousands of those of the animals and plants. Is it not curious then that in this region he is least sure, least dogmatic, most doubtful whether there be a law or no? Or, rather, is it not quite in accord with our contention, namely that Science, like an uninformed boy, is most definite and dogmatic just where actual knowledge is least.

It will however be replied that the phenomena of living beings are far more complex than the phenomena of Astronomy or Physics—and that[Pg 95] is the reason why exact science makes so little way with them. Though man knows many million times more about the habits of his fellow-men than about the habits of the stars, yet the former subject is so many million times more complicated than the latter that all his additional knowledge does not avail him. This is the plea. Yet it does not hold water. It is an entire assumption to say that the phenomena of Astronomy are less complicated than the phenomena of vitality. A moment's thought will show that the phenomena of Astronomy are in reality infinitely complex. Take the movement of the moon: even with our present acquaintance with that subject we know that it has some relation to the position and mass of the earth, including its ocean tides; also to the position and mass of the sun; also to the position and mass of every one of the planets; also of the comets, numerous and unknown as they are; also the meteoric rings; and finally of all the stars! The problem, as everyone knows, is absolutely insoluble even for the shortest period; but when the element of Time enters in, and we consider that to do anything like justice to the problem in an astronomical sense we should have to solve it for at least a million years—during which interval the earth, sun, and other bodies concerned would themselves have been changing their relative positions, it becomes obvious that the whole question is infinitely complex—and yet this is only a small fragment of Astronomy. To debate, therefore, whether the infinite complexity of the movements[Pg 96] of the stars is greater or less than the infinite complexity of the phenomena of life, is like debating the precedence of the three persons of the Trinity, or whether the Holy Ghost was begotten or proceeding: we are talking about things which we do not understand.

Nature is one; she is not, we may guess, less profound and wonderful in one department than another; but from the fact that we live under certain conditions and limitations we see most deeply into that portion which is, as it were, on the same level with us. In humanity we look her in the face; there our glance pierces, and we see that she is profound and wonderful beyond all imagination; what we learn there is the most valuable that we can learn. In the regions where Science rejoices to disport itself we see only the skirts of her garments, so to speak, and though we measure them never so precisely, we still see them and nothing more.

There is another point, however, of which much is often made as a plea for the substantial accuracy of the scientific laws and generalisations, namely that they enable us to predict events. But this need not detain us long. J. S. Mill in his "Logic" has pointed out—and a little thought makes it obvious—that the success of a prediction does not prove the truth of the theory on which it is founded. It only proves the theory was good enough for that prediction.

There was a time when the sun was a god going forth in his chariot every morning, and there was[Pg 97] a time when the earth was the centre of the universe, and the sun a ball of fire revolving round it. In those times men could predict with certainty that the sun would rise next morning, and could even name the hour of its appearance; but we do not therefore think that their theories were true. When Adams and Leverrier foretold the appearance of Neptune in a certain part of the sky, they made a brief prediction to an unknown planet from the observed relations of the movements of the known planets; that does not show, however, that the grand generalisation of these movements, called the "law of gravitation," is correct. It merely shows that it did well enough for this very brief step—brief indeed compared with the real problems of Astronomy, for which latter it is probably quite inadequate.

Tycho Brahé, excellent astronomer as he was, kept as we saw to the epicycle theory. He imagined that the moon's path round the earth was a fixed combination of cycle and epicycle. Kepler introduced the conception of the ellipse. Later on the motion of the perigee and other deviations compelled the abandonment of the ellipse and the supposition of an endless curve, similar to an ellipse at any one point, and maintaining a fixed mean distance from the earth, but never returning on itself or making a definite closed figure of any kind. Finally the researches of Mr. George Darwin have destroyed the conception of the fixed mean distance, and introduced that of a continually enlarging spiral. Certainly no four theories could[Pg 98] well be more distinct from each other than these; yet if an eclipse had to be calculated for next year it would scarcely matter which theory was used. The truth is that the actual problem is so vast that a prediction of a few years in advance only touches the fringe of it so to speak; yet if the fulfilment of the prediction were taken as a proof of the theory in each of these different cases, it would lead in the end to the most hopelessly contradictory results.

The success of a prediction therefore only shows that the theory on which it is founded has had practical value so far as a working hypothesis. As working hypotheses, and as long as they are kept down to brief steps which can be verified, the scientific theories are very valuable—indeed we could not do without them; but when they are treated as objective facts—when, for instance, the "law of gravitation"—derived as it is from a brief study of the heavenly bodies—has a universal truth ascribed to it, and is made to apply to phenomena extending over millions of years, and to warrant unverifiable prophecies about the planetary orbits, or statements about the age of the earth and the duration of the solar system—all one can say is that those who argue so are flying off at a tangent from actual facts. For as the tangent represents the direction of a curve over a small arc, so these theories represent the bearing of facts well enough over a small region of observation; but as following the tangent we soon lose the curve, so following these theories for any [Pg 99]distance beyond the region of actual observation we speedily part company with facts.[22]

To proceed with a few more words about the general method of Science. Science passes from phenomena to laws, from individual details which can be seen and felt to large generalisations of an intangible and phantom-like character. That is to say, that for convenience of thought we classify objects. How is this classification effected? It is effected through the perception of identity amid difference. Among a lot of objects I perceive certain attributes in common; this group of common attributes serves, so to speak, as a band to tie these objects together with—into a bundle convenient for thought. I give a name to the band, and that serves to denote any unit of the bundle by. Thus perceiving common attributes among a lot of dogs—as in an example already given—I give the name foxhound to this group of attributes, and thenceforth use the name foxhound to connect these objects by in my mind; again perceiving other common attributes among[Pg 100] other similar objects, I invent the word greyhound to denote these latter by. The concept foxhound differs from the objects which it denotes, in this respect that these latter are (as we say) real dogs with thousands and thousands of attributes each: one of them has a broken tooth, another is nearly all white, another answers to the name "Sally," and so on; while the concept is only an imaginary form in my mind, with only a few attributes and no individual peculiarities—a kind of tiny G.C.M. arising from the contemplation of a long row of big figures.

Now having created these concepts "foxhound," "greyhound," and a lot of other similar ones, I find that they in their turn have a few attributes in common and thus give rise to a new concept "dog." Of course this "dog" is more of an abstraction than ever, the concept of a concept. In fact the peculiarity of this whole process is that, as sometimes stated, the broader the generalisation becomes the less is its depth; or in other words and obviously, that as the number of objects compared increases, the number of attributes common to them all decreases. Ultimately as we saw at the beginning, when a sufficient number of objects are taken in, the concept ("dog" or whatever it may be) fades away and ceases to have any meaning. This therefore is the dilemma of Science and indeed of all human knowledge, that in carrying out the process which is peculiar to it, it necessarily leaves the dry ground of reality for the watery region of abstractions, which [Pg 101]abstractions become ever more tenuous and ungraspable the farther it goes, and ultimately fade into mere ghosts. Nevertheless the process is a quite necessary one, for only by it can the mind deal with things.

To dwell for a moment over this last point: it is clear that every object has relation to every other object in the world—exists in fact only in virtue of such relation to other objects; it has therefore an infinite number of attributes. The mind consequently is powerless to deal with such object—it cannot by any possibility think it. In order to deal with it, the mind is forced to single out a few of its attributes (the method of ignorance or abstraction already alluded to)—that is a few of its relations to other objects, and to think them first. The others it will think afterwards—all in good time. In thus stripping or abstracting the great mass of its attributes from our object, and leaving only a few, which it combines into a concept, the mind practically abandons the real article and takes up with a shadow; but in return for this it gets something which it can handle, which is light to carry about, and which, like paper-money, for the time and under certain conditions does really represent value. The only danger is lest it—the mind—carried away by the extensive applicability of the partial concept which it has thus formed, should credit it with an actual value—should project it on the background of the external world and ascribe to it that reality which belongs only to objects [Pg 102]themselves, i.e., to things embodying an infinite range of attributes.

The peculiar method of Science is now clear to us, and can be abundantly illustrated from modern results. Our experience consists in sensations, we feel the weight of heavy bodies, we see them fall when let go, we have sensations of heat and cold, light and darkness, and so forth. But these sensations are more or less local and variable from man to man, and we naturally seek to find some common measure of them, by which we can talk about and describe them exactly, and independently of the peculiarities of individual observers. Thus we seek to find some common phenomenon which underlies (as we say) the sensations of heat and cold, or of light and darkness, or something which explains (i.e., is always present in) the case of falling bodies—and to do this we adopt the method of generalisation above described, i.e., we observe a great number of individual cases and then see what qualities or attributes they have in common. So far good. But it is just here that the fallacy of the ordinary scientific procedure comes in; for, forgetting that these common qualities are mere abstractions from the real phenomena we credit them with a real existence, and regard the actual phenomena as secondary results, "effects" or what-not of these "causes." This in plain language is putting the cart before the horse—or rather the shadow before the man. Thus finding that a vast number of variously shaped and coloured bodies tend to fall towards the earth, we erect this[Pg 103] common attribute of falling into an independent existence which we call "attraction" or "gravitation"—and ultimately posit a universal gravitation acting on all bodies in Nature!—or finding that a number of different substances, such as water, air, wood, etc., convey to us the sensation we call sound, and that in all these cases the common element is vibration, we detach the attribute vibration, credit it with a separate existence, and speak of it as the cause of sound. But though we may thus think of the shadow as separate from the man, the shadow cannot be separate from the man; and though we may try to think of the falling or the vibration as separate from the wood or the stone, such falling and vibration cannot exist apart from these and other such materials, and the effort to speak of it as so existing ends in mere nonsense. More strange still is the fatuity, when, as in the case of the undulatory Theory of light or the Atomic theory of physics, the concepts thus erected into actualities are composed of purely imaginary attributes—of which no one has had any experience—an undulatory ether in the one case, a hard and perfectly elastic atom in the other. The total result is of course—just what we see—Science landing itself in pure absurdities in every direction. Beginning by detaching the attribute of falling from the bodies that fall—beginning that is by an abstraction, which of course is also a falsity—it generalises and generalises this abstraction till at last it reaches a perfectly generalised absurdity and thing without any[Pg 104] meaning—the law of gravitation.[23] The statement that "every particle in the universe attracts every other particle with a force proportional to the mass of the attracting particle and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two" is devoid of meaning—the human mind can give no definite meanings to the words "mass," "attract," and "force," which do not overlap and stultify each other. The law in every way baffles intelligence. Newton, who invented it, declared that no philosophic mind would suppose that bodies could thus act on one another "without the mediation of anything else by and through which their action might be conveyed;" scientific men to-day are fain to see that a material mediation of this kind would only make the law still more remote from our comprehension than it already is, while, on the other hand, an immaterial mediation or a fourth-dimensional mediation, such as some propose, would simply remove the problem out of the regions of scientific analysis.[24] Again, the[Pg 105] form of the law is declared to be the inverse square of the distance; but this is the law by the nature of space itself of any perfect radiation, and if true of gravitation involves the conclusion that that radiation of force (whatever its nature may be) takes place without loss or dissipation of any kind. This would make gravitation absolutely unique among phenomena. More than this, its propagation is supposed to be instantaneous over the most enormous distances of space, and to take place always unhindered and unretarded, whatever be the number or the nature of the bodies between! What can be more clear than that the law is simply metaphysical—a projection into a monstrous universality and abstraction, of partially understood phenomena in a particular region of observation—a Brocken-shadow on the background of Nature of the observer's own momentary attitude of thought?

Again, the undulatory theory of Light. Studying the phenomena of a vast number of coloured[Pg 106] and bright bodies, Science finds that it can think about these phenomena—can generalise and tie them into bundles best by assuming that the bodies are all in a state of vibration; a vibration so minute that (unlike the vibrations connected with Sound) it cannot be directly perceived. So far good. There is no harm in the assumption of vibration, as long as it is understood to be a mere assumption for a temporary convenience of thought. But now Science goes farther than this, and not only supposes a common attribute to all visible bodies, but credits this common attribute with a real existence independent of the visible bodies in which it was supposed to inhere—and makes this the cause of their visibility! Obviously now a common and universal medium is required for this common and universal assumed vibration (just as Newton required a medium for his universal "falling")—and so, hey presto! we have the Undulatory Ether. And having got it we find that to fulfil our requirements it must have a pressure of 17 million million pounds on the square inch, and yet be so rare and tenuous as not to hinder the lightest breath of air; that while it is thus rare enough to surpass all our powers of direct scrutiny, its vibrations must yet be capable of agitating and breaking up the solidest bodies; that it must pass freely through some dense and close structures like glass, and yet be excluded by some light and porous, like cork, and so on and on! In fact we find that it is unthinkable. Against this adamantine, impalpable Ether, as against[Pg 107] this instantaneous, untranslatable gravitation, Science bangs its devoted head in vain. Having created these absurdities by the method of "personification of abstractions"[25] or the "reification of concepts,"[26] it seriously and in all good faith tries to understand them; having dressed up its own Mumbo Jumbo (which it once jeered at religion for doing) it piously shuts its eyes and endeavours to believe in it.

The Atomic Theory affords a good example of the "method of ignorance." When we try to think about material objects generally—to generalise about them—that is, to find some attribute or attributes common to them, we are at first puzzled. They present such an immense variety. But after a time, by dint of stripping off or abstracting all such attributes or qualities as we think we perceive in one body and not in another—as for example, redness, blueness, warmth, saltness, life, intelligence, or what not—we find an attribute left, namely resistance to touch, which is common to all material bodies. This quality in the body we call "mass," and since it is only known by motion, mass and motion become correlative attributes which we find useful to class bodies by, not because they represent the various bodies particularly well, but because they are found in all bodies; just as you might class people by their boots—not because boots are a very valuable method of classification, but simply because every[Pg 108] one wears boots of one kind or another. So far there is no great harm done. But now having by the method of ignorance thought away all the qualities of bodies, except the two correlatives of mass and motion, we set about to explain the phenomena of Nature generally by these two "thinks" that are left. We credit these "thinks" (mass and motion) with an independent existence and proceed to derive the rest of phenomena from them. The proceeding of course is absurd, and ends by exposing its own absurdity. Thinking of mass and motion as existing in the various bodies apart from colour, smell, and so forth—which of course is not the case—we combine the two attributes into one concept, the atom, which we thus assume to exist in all bodies. The atom has neither colour, smell, warmth, taste, life or intelligence; it has only mass and motion; for it came by the method of divesting our thought of everything but mass and motion. It is a projection of a "think" upon the background of nature. And it is an absurdity. No such thing exists in all the wide universe as mass and motion divested from colour, smell, warmth, life and intelligence. The atom is unthinkable. It is perfectly hard and it is perfectly elastic—which is the same as saying that it bends and it doesn't bend at the same time; it has form, and it hasn't form; it has affinities and yet is perfectly indifferent. To justify to men the ways of their Mumbo Jumbo has sorely exercised the votaries of the Atom. One philosopher says that it is mere matter, passive, exercising no[Pg 109] force but resistance; another says that it is a centre of force, without matter; a third suggests that it is not itself matter, but only a vortex in other matter! All agree that it is not an object of sense, and there remains no conclusion but that it is nonsense![27]

[Pg 110]

And so on in all directions. Human thought flying off at its tangents from Nature lands itself in infinite nothings afar off, poor ghostly skeletons and abstractions from Nature—which indeed is all right, for human thought as yet can only see ghosts and not realities; but let there be no mistake, let these ghosts not be mistaken for realities—for they are not even compatible with each other. The Atom that suits the physicist does not suit the chemist. The Ether that does for the vehicle of Light will not do for the vehicle of universal Gravitation.

It would be hardly worth while entering into these criticisms, were it not evident that Science in modern times, either tacitly or explicitly, has been seeking, as I said at the beginning, to enounce facts independent of Man, the observer. Seeing that the ordinary statements of daily life are obviously inexact and relative to the observer—charged with human sensation in fact—Science has naturally tried to produce something which should be exact and independent of human sensation; but here it has of course condemned itself beforehand to failure; for no statement of isolated phenomena or groups of phenomena can be exact except by the method of ignorance aforesaid, and no statement obviously can be really independent of human sensation. When a man says It is cold, his statement, it must be confessed, is deplorably human and vague. It—what is that? Is—do you mean is? or do you mean feels, appears? Cold—in what[Pg 111] sense? Cold to yourself, or to other people, or to polar bears, or by the thermometer? And so on. Science therefore steps in with an air of authority and sets him right. It says the temperature is 30° Fahrenheit, as if to settle the matter. But does this really settle the matter? Temperature—who knows what that is? What is the scientific definition of it? I find (Clerk-Maxwell's Theory of Heat, p. 2.) "the temperature of a body is a quantity which indicates how hot or how cold the body is." This sounds very much like saying, "the colour of a body is a quantity which indicates how blue, red, or yellow the body is." It does not bring us much farther on our way. But in the next paragraph Maxwell shows the object of his definition (which of course is only preliminary) by saying, "By the use, therefore, of the word temperature, we fix in our minds the conviction that it is possible not only to feel, but to measure, how hot a body is." That is to say he clearly maintains that it is possible to find an absolute standard of hotness or coldness—or rather of the unknown thing called temperature—outside of ourselves and independent of human sensation. When the man said he was cold he was probably just describing his own sensations, but here Science indicates that it is in search of something which has an independent existence of its own, and which therefore when found we can measure exactly and once for all. What then is that thing? What is temperature? say, what is it?

We cudgel our brains in vain. Perhaps the[Pg 112] remainder of the sentence will help us. "The temperature is 30° Fahrenheit." "The unknown thing is thirty degrees." What then is a degree? That is the next question. When the Theory of Heat went out from sensation and left it behind, one of its first landing places was in the expansion of liquids—as in thermometer tubes. Here for some time was thought to be a satisfactory register of "temperature." But before long it became apparent that the degree—Fahrenheit, Réaumur, or what-not—was an entirely arbitrary thing, also that it was not the same[28] thing at one end of the scale as the other, and finally that the scale itself had no starting point! This was awkward, so a move was made to the air thermometer, and there was some talk about an absolute zero and absolute temperatures; it was thought that the Unknown thing showed itself most clearly and simply in the expansion of air and other gases, and that the "degree" might fairly be measured in terms of this expansion. But in a little time this kind of thermometer—chiefly because no gas turned out to be "theoretically perfect"—broke down, absolute zero and all, and another step had to be made—namely, to the dynamical theory. It was announced that the Unknown thing might be measured in terms of mechanical energy, and Joule at Manchester proclaimed that[Pg 113] the work done by any quantity of water falling there a distance of 772 feet is capable of raising that water one degree Fahrenheit.[29] Here seemed something definite. To measure temperature by mass and velocity, to measure a degree by the flight of a stone, or the heat in the human body by the fall of a factory chimney—if rather roundabout and elusive of the main question—seemed at any rate promising of exact results! Unfortunately the difficulty was to pass from the theory to its application. The complicated nature of the problem, the "imperfection" of the gases and other bodies under consideration, the latent and specific heats to be allowed for, the elusive nature of heat in experiment, and the variable value of the degree itself—all render the conclusions on this subject most precarious; and the general equations connecting the Fahrenheit or other temperatures with a thermo-dynamic scale—while they become so unwieldy as to be practically useless—are themselves after all only approximate.

Finally, to give a last form to the mechanical theory of heat, the conception of flying atoms or molecules was introduced, and a number of neat generalisations were deduced from dynamical considerations. Of course it was inevitable, having once started with a mechanical theory, that one should arrive at the Atom some time or other—and (from what has already been said) it was also[Pg 114] inevitable that the result should be unsatisfactory. It is sufficient to say that the molecular theory of heat is not in accordance with facts. Such things as the law of Charles and the law of Boyle, which according to it should be strictly accurate and of general application, are known to be true only over a most limited range. This failure of the theory may be said to arise partly from its being pursued by the statistical method; but if, on the other hand, we were to try and follow out the individual movement of each molecule we should be landed in a problem far exceeding in complexity the wildest flights of Astronomy, and should have exchanged for the original difficulty about "temperature" a difficulty far greater.

The result of all this has been that notwithstanding the talk about energy and atoms, Science has sadly to confess that it can still give no valid meaning to the word temperature: the unknown thing is still unknown, the independent existence round the corner still escapes us. By the very effort to arrive at something independent of human sensation, Science has, in a roundabout way, arrived at an absurdity. When the man said he was cold, his statement—deplorably vague as it certainly was—had some meaning; he was describing his feelings, or possibly he had seen some snow or some ice on the road; but when, in the endeavour to leave out the human and to say something absolute, Science declared that the temperature was thirty degrees, it committed itself to a remark which possibly was exact in[Pg 115] form, but to which it has never given and never can give any definite meaning.[30]

Similarly with other generalities of Science: the "law" of the Conservation of Energy, the "law" of the Survival of the Fittest—the more you think about them the less possible is it to give any really intelligible sense to them. The very word Fittest really begs the question which is under consideration, and the whole Conservation law is merely an attenuation of the already much attenuated "law" of Gravitation. The Chemical Elements themselves are nothing but the projection on the external world of concepts consisting of three or four attributes each: they are not more real, but very much less real than the individual objects which they are supposed to account for; and their "elementary" character is merely fictional. It probably is in fact as absurd to speak of pure carbon or pure gold, as of a pure monkey or a pure dog. There are no such things, except as they may be arrived at by arbitrary definition and the method of ignorance.

In the search for exactness, then, Science has been continually led on to discard the human and personal elements in phenomena, in the hope of finding some residuum as it were behind them[Pg 116] which should not be personal and human but absolute and invariable. And the tendency has been (hitherto) in all the sciences to get rid of such terms as blue, red, light, heavy, hot, cold, concord, discord, health, vitality, right, wrong, etc., and to rely on any less human elements discoverable in each case; as for instance in Sound, to deal less and less with the judgments and sensations of the ear, and to rely more and more on measurements of lengths of strings, numbers of vibrations, etc. Each science has been (as far as possible) reduced to its lowest terms. Ethics has been made a question of utility and inherited experience. Political Economy has been exhausted of all conceptions of justice between man and man, of charity, affection, and the instinct of solidarity; and has been founded on its lowest discoverable factor, namely self-interest. Biology has been denuded of the force of personality in plants, animals, and men; the "self" here has been set aside, and the attempt made to reduce the science to a question of chemical and cellular affinities, protoplasm, and the laws of osmose. Chemical affinities, again, and all the wonderful phenomena of Physics are emptied down into a flight of atoms; and the flight of atoms (and of astronomic orbs as well) is reduced to the laws of dynamics—which the student sitting in his chamber may write down on a piece of paper. Thus the idea, formulated by Comte, of a great scale of sciences arising from the simplest to the most complex, has tacitly underlain modern scientific work. It—Science—has[Pg 117] sought to "explain" each stage by reference to a lower stage—"blueness" by vibrations, and vibrations by flying atoms—the human always by the sub-human. Going out from humanity dissatisfied, it has wandered through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, through the regions of Chemistry and Physics, into that of Mechanics. "Here at last, in Mechanics, is something outside humanity, something exact in itself, something substantial," it has said. "Let us build again on this as on a foundation, and in time we shall find out what humanity is." This I say has been the dream of Modern Science; yet the fallacy of it is obvious. We have not got outside the human, but only to the outermost verge of it. Mass and motion, which in this process are taken to be real entities and the first progenitors of all phenomena, are simply the last abstractions of sensible experience, and our emptiest concepts. The material explanation of the universe is simply an attempt to account for phenomena by those attributes which appear to us to be common to them all—which is, as said before, like accounting for men by their boots:—it may be possible to get an exact formula this way, but its contents have little or no meaning.

The whole process of Science and the Comtian classification of its branches—regarded thus as an attempt to explain Man by Mechanics—is a huge vicious circle. It professes to start with something simple, exact, and invariable, and from this point to mount step by step till it comes to[Pg 118] Man himself; but indeed it starts with Man. It plants itself on sensations low down (mass, motion, etc.), and endeavours by means of them to explain sensations high up, which reminds one of nothing so much as that process vulgarly described as "climbing up a ladder to comb your hair." In truth Science has never left the great world, or cosmos, of Man, nor ever really found a locus standi without it; but during the last two or three centuries it has gone in this direction, outwards, continually. Leaving the central basis and facts of humanity as too vast and unmanageable, and also as apparently variable from man to man and therefore affording no certain consent to work upon, it has wandered gradually outwards, seeking something of more definite and universal application Discarding thus one by one the interior phases of sensation—as the sense of personal relationship, the sense of justice, duty, fitness in things or what-not (as too uncertain, or perhaps developed to an unequal degree in different persons, embryonic in one and matured in another), drifting past the more specialised bodily senses, of colour, sound, taste, smell, etc., as for similar reasons unavailable—Science at last in the primitive consciousness of muscular contraction and its abstraction "mass" or "matter" comes to a pause. Here in this last sense, common probably to man and the lowest animals, it finds its widest, most universal ground—its farthest limit from the Centre. It has reached the outermost shell, as it were, of the great Man-cosmos.

Even this shell is partially human; it is not entirely osseous, and so far not entirely exact and invariable; but Science can go no farther—and there, for the present, it may remain!

Some day perhaps, when all this showy vesture of scientific theory (which has this peculiarity that only the learned can see it) has been quasi-completed, and Humanity is expected to walk solemnly forth in its new garment for all the world to admire—as in Anderssen's story of the Emperor's New Clothes—some little child standing on a door-step will cry out: "But he has got nothing on at all," and amid some confusion it will be seen that the child is right.
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:21 am


"I fear I have very imperfectly succeeded in expressing my strong conviction that, before a rigorous logical scrutiny, the Reign of Law will prove to be an unverified hypothesis, the Uniformity of Nature an ambiguous expression, the certainty of our scientific inferences to a great extent a delusion." (Stanley Jevons, Principles of Science, p. ix.)


[17] See note, p. 119.

[18] Since the above was written there has certainly been a great change, and the dogmatic confidence in the verity of the scientific "laws" has now (1920) almost disappeared.

[19] Such fictions, however, are (I need not say) quite necessary as our only means of thinking out, however imperfectly, the problems before us (1920).

[20] It is not generally realised how feeble a force gravitation is. It is calculated (Encycl. Brit., Art. Gravitation) that two masses, each weighing 415,000 tons, and placed a mile apart, would exert on each other an attractive force of only one pound. If one, therefore, was as far from the other as the moon is from the earth, their attraction would only amount to 1/57,600,000,000th of a pound. This is a small force to govern the movement of a body weighing 415,000 tons! and it is easy to see that a slight variation in the law of the force might for a long period pass undetected, though in the course of hundreds of centuries it might become of the greatest importance.

[21] As another instance of the same thing, let me quote a passage from Maxwell's Theory of Heat, p. 31; the italics are mine: "In our description of the physical properties of bodies as related to heat we have begun with solid bodies, as those which we can most easily handle, and have gone on to liquids, which we can keep in open vessels, and have now come to gases, which will escape from open vessels, and which are generally invisible. This is the order which is most natural in our first study of these different states. But as soon as we have been made familiar with the most prominent features of these different conditions of matter the most scientific course of study is in the reverse order, beginning with gases, on account of the greater simplicity of their laws, then advancing to liquids, the more complex laws of which are much more imperfectly known, and concluding with the little that has been hitherto discovered about the constitution of solid bodies." That is to say that Science finds it easier to work among gases—which are invisible and which we can know little about—than among solids, which we are familiar with and which we can easily handle! This seems a strange conclusion, but it will be found to represent a common procedure of Science—the truth probably being that the laws of gases are not one whit simpler than the laws of liquids and solids, but that on account of our knowing so much less about gases it is easier for us to feign laws in their case than in the case of solids, and less easy for our errors to be detected.

[22] All our thoughts, theories, "laws," etc., may perhaps be said to touch Nature—as the tangent touches the curve—at a point. They give a direction—and are true—at that point. But make the slightest move, and they all have to be reconstructed. The tangents are infinite in number, but the curve is one. This may not only illustrate the relation of Nature to Science, but also of Art to the materials it uses. The poet radiates thoughts: but he sets no store by them. He knows his thoughts are not true in themselves, but they touch the Truth. His lines are the envelope of the curve which is his poem.

[23] See the report of the joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, November 6, 1919, when Einstein's theory was discussed.

[24] It is obvious that the Einstein theory, in which Time enters as a kind of fourth dimension in relation to Space, removes us at once out of the whole field of ordinary scientific reasoning and lands us, so to speak, in a new world. The nature of Space (or of the universal medium, whatever it is) in any region—its possible fundamental accelerations there, its "curvature" or non-Euclidean character, and so forth—is supposed, according to this theory, to vary with the amount of matter in, or density of, that region; and the movements of bodies are consequently supposed to take on the characters (accelerations, etc.,) which we ascribe to the action of Gravitation. Gravitation in fact in any region is the manifestation in Time of the attributes of the universal Medium in that region—which latter again is dependent on the degree of Matter present. Thus, Matter, Time, and Space are one phenomenon.

The whole Einstein theory, in fact, is a device to present these three Protean and variable elements of all material existence (Matter, Time and Space) as so far involved and interlaced in each other that they form always an absolute and complete unity. As such the theory is no doubt suggestive, and along the line of future speculation: but it awaits corroboration. If corroborated it will point the way to a new conception of the Universe.

[25] J. S. Mill.

[26] See Stallo's excellent Concepts of Modern Physics.

[27] See, for instance, the last new thing in this style—the Helmholtz molecule as improved upon by Sir William Thomson; it is described as follows: "A heavy mass connected by massless springs with a massless enclosing shell; or there may be several shells enclosing each other connected by springs with a dense mass in the centre (far more dense than the ether)." It is not, of course, seriously maintained that this nonsensical creation exists—but that if it did exist it would account for certain unexplained phenomena in the dispersion of light, etc.

Later still (1920) we have the following delightful verdict on the Structure of the Atom, given by Sir Ernest Rutherford—and which I commend to all lovers of clear thinking:—

"The Bakerian Lecture was delivered yesterday before the Royal Society by Sir Ernest Rutherford, whose subject was 'The Nuclear Construction of the Atom.' He said that during recent years much attention had been paid to the nature and structure of atoms. The atomic theory of matter had been definitely proved. The mass of the individual atoms, and the number in any given weight of matter, were now known with considerable accuracy. Not only was matter known to be made up of atoms, but electricity was also atomic in nature, and there was a definite unit of electrical charge which could not further be subdivided. The negative electron, which was a constituent of all atoms of matter, was probably nothing more than an isolated unit of negative electricity, and its small mass was electrical in origin. It had long been considered probable that the atom is an electrical structure, consisting of positive and negative particles, held in equilibrium by electric or magnetic forces. In recent years evidence had accumulated that an atom consists of a positively charged nucleus surrounded at a distance by a distribution of electrons to make it electrically neutral." (From The Morning Post of June 4, 1920.)

[28] The very fact alone that the degrees on a thermometer are equal space divisions shows that they must bear a varying relation to the total volume of liquid as that expands from one end of the tube to the other.

[29] A statement obviously applying—from what has been already said—at only one point in the scale.

[30] I am not, of course, here arguing against the use of thermometers or other instruments for practical purposes. This is certainly the legitimate field of Science. But (as in the case of prediction before mentioned) the exactness of results obtained is a very different matter from the truth of the generalities which are supposed to underlie these results. In using a thermometer you need not even mention the word "temperature."
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Re: Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, And Other Essays

Postby admin » Sat May 19, 2018 4:23 am


Once let that [the human ideal] slip out of the thought, and science is of no more use than the invocations in the Egyptian papiri.

—Richard Jefferies.

It would appear then, from the preceding paper, that in some sense a mistake has been made in the method of modern scientific work; not that the vast amount of labour expended in it has been altogether wasted, for in return for this there is a mass of practical results and detailed observations to show; but that in attempting to solve the problem of science by the intellect alone, a radical mistake has been made which could only land us in absurdity, and that this mistake has for the time being also vitiated the results that have been attained. For—in reference to this last point—the divorce of the intellectual from the emotional has caused a great portion of our scientific observations to become merely pedantic and trifling; while it has turned the practical results—as industrial and military machinery, etc.—into engines of evil as often as into engines of good.

Science in searching for a permanently valid and purely intellectual representation of the universe has, as already said, been searching for a thing which does not exist. The very facts of Nature, as we call them, are at least half feeling. If we try to clean the feeling out of a fact and to produce a statement which shall be devoid of the human or sense element, it simply amounts to cleaning the meaning out; and though our resulting statement may be exact it is nugatory and of no value. We might as well try to take the clay out of a brick. It must never be forgotten that the logical processes—important as they are—cannot stand by themselves, have no standing ground of their own. They presuppose assumptions and are the expression of things that are unreasoning, perhaps illogical. The strictest logic is a mere hooking together of links in a chain, and the last link is of no use—you can put no stress on it—unless the first is secured somewhere. The strength of the intellectual chain is no greater than that of the staple from which it hangs—and that is a human feeling The strength of Euclid is no greater than that of the axioms—and they are feelings; they are unreasoning statements of which all that we can say is, "I feel like that." In fact all the propositions of Geometry are nothing but the analysis and elaborate expression, so to speak, of these primary convictions—and the Geometry-structure stands and falls with them. There is no such thing as intellectual truth—that is, I mean, a truth which can be stated[Pg 122] as existing apart from feeling. If, for instance, a proposition in Geometry can be really shown to be based on the axioms, it is true, not intellectually or absolutely, but as an expression of my primary Geometrical sense; and if my giving a few pence to a crossing sweeper is based not on a mere impression of duty, or an anxiety to appear charitable, or wish to escape his importunity, but on genuine regard for the man, then it is true, not in any absolute signification, but just as an expression of what it professes to represent—namely my primary sense of humanity. Indeed the truest truth is that which is the expression of the deepest feeling, and if there is an absolute truth it can only be known and expressed by him who has the absolute feeling or Being within himself.

This being so—and the nature of the intellectual processes being, like the links in a chain, transitional—it becomes obvious that the intellectual results may figure as a means but never as an end in themselves. To hang any weight of reliance on them in the latter sense is like the Chinese Trick—described by Marco Polo—of throwing a rope's end up in the air and then climbing up the rope. Hence it appears that our scientific theories are perfectly legitimate, as long as they are formed as a means towards practical applications. In that sense they are transitional; they are formed, not as substantial truths, but merely as links in a chain towards some definite practical result. For this purpose we may form whatever theories are convenient: if we[Pg 123] are calculating the strength of bridges, we may adopt what generalisations we like concerning mechanical structure, as long as they give us actual and practical results; if we are predicting eclipses, we may make use of any theory that will do. The theory does not matter, as long as it hauls the practical result after it, just as it does not matter whether your cable is of iron or hemp or silk, as long as you can get your ship into dock with it. In this sense our Modern Science is, I conceive, admirable. For practical results and brief predictions it affords a quantity of useful generalisations—shorthand notes and conventional symbols and pocket summaries of phenomena—which bear about the same relation to the actual world that a map does to the country it is supposed to represent. It cannot be said to have any resemblance to the real thing—but, when you understand the principle on which it is formed, it is exceedingly useful for finding your way about. As long as Science therefore keeps the practical end in view, and starting from sense seeks to return to sense again, its intermediate theorising is perfectly legitimate; but the moment it credits its theory with a positive and authoritative existence, as an actual representation of facts—and endeavours to pass by means of it into unverifiable and abstract regions, as of invisible germs or atoms, or far distances of space, or the remote past or future—it is simply throwing its rope's end into the sky and trying to climb up! That "the wish is father to the thought" is in its wide sense profoundly true. In the [Pg 124]individual, feeling precedes thinking—as the body precedes the clothes. In history, the Rousseau precedes the Voltaire. There is, I believe, a physiological parallel; for behind the brain and determining its action stands the great sympathetic nerve—the organ of the emotions. In fact here the brain appears as distinctly transitional. It stands between the nerves of sense on the one hand and the great sympathetic on the other.

Change the feeling in an individual, and his whole method of thinking will be revolutionised; change the axiom or primary sensation in a science, and the whole structure will have to be re-created. The current Political Economy is founded on the axiom of individual greed; but let a new axiomatic emotion spring up (as of justice or fair play instead of unlimited grab), and the base of the science will be altered, and will necessitate a new construction.

So when people argue (on politics, morality, art, etc.) it will generally be found that they differ at the base; they go out, perhaps quite unconsciously, from different axioms and hence they cannot agree. Occasionally of course a strict examination will show that, while agreeing at the base, one of them has made a false step in deduction; in that case his thought does not represent his primary feeling, and when this is pointed out he is forced to alter it. But more often it is found that the difference lies deep down at a point beyond the reach of reason; and they disagree to the end. In this case neither is right and neither is wrong.[Pg 125] They simply feel differently; they are different persons.

The Thought then is the expression, the outgrowth, the covering of underlying Feeling. And in the great life of Man as a whole, as in the lesser life of the individual, his continual new birth and inward growth causes his thought-systems also continually to change and be replaced by new ones. Like the bud-sheaths and husks in a growing plant or tree they give form for a time to the life within; then they fall off and are replaced. The husk prepares the bud underneath, which is to throw it off. The thought prepares and protects the feeling underneath, which growing will inevitably reject it; and when a thought has been formed it is already false, i.e., ready to fall.

We are now, then, in a position to come back to the question of a genuine Science, truly so-called.

As there is no invariable and absolute datum on the fringe of Humanity—no definable flying atom on which we can found our reasonings—and as Modern Science, considered as an actual representation of the universe, falls miserably to pieces in consequence—is it possible that we have made a mistake in the direction in which we have sought for our datum; and may it be that we should look for that in the very Centre of Humanity instead of in its remotest circumference? In that direction evidently, if we could penetrate, we should expect to find, not a shadowy intellectual generalisation, but the very opposite of that—an[Pg 126] intense immutable feeling or state, an axiomatic condition of Being. Is it possible that here, blazing like a sun (if we could only see it—and the sun is its allegory in the physical world), there exists within us absolutely such a thing—the one fact in the universe, of which all else are shadows, to which everything has relation, and round which, itself unanalysable, all thought circles and all phenomena stand as indirect modes of expression?

Is it possible? That is the question—the question which each one of us has to solve. At any rate, let us throw this out as a suggestion. Let us suggest that as we have got nothing satisfactory by cleaning the sense-element out of phenomena, we should take the opposite course and put as much sense into them as we can!

"Facts" are, at least, half feelings. Let us acknowledge this and not empty the feeling out of them, but deepen and enlarge that which we already have in them. Who knows whether we have ever seen the blue sky? Who knows whether we have ever seen each other? Is it not a commonplace to say that one man sees in the common objects of Nature what another is wholly unconscious of? "The primrose on the river's brim a yellow primrose is to him—and nothing more." To what extent may the facts of Nature thus be deepened and made more substantial to us—and whither will this process lead us?

Do we not want to feel more, not less, in the[Pg 127] presence of phenomena—to enter into a living relation with the blue sky, and the incense-laden air, and the plants and the animals—nay, even with poisonous and hurtful things to have a keener sense of their hurtfulness? Is it not a strange kind of science, that which wakes the mind to pursue the shadows of things, but dulls the senses to the reality of them—which causes a man to try to bottle the pure atmosphere of heaven and then to shut himself in a gas-reeking, ill-ventilated laboratory while he analyses it; or allows him to vivisect a dog, unconscious that he is blaspheming the pure and holy relation between man and the animals in doing so? Surely the man of Science (in its higher sense, that is) should be lynx-eyed as an Indian, keen-scented as a hound—with all senses and feelings trained by constant use and a pure and healthy life in close contact with Nature, and with a heart beating in sympathy with every creature. Such a man would have at command, so to speak, the keyboard of the universe; but the mechanical, unhealthy, indoor-living student—is he not really ignorant of the facts?—Certainly, since he has not felt them, he is.

The process of the true Science consists first in the naming and defining of phenomena (i.e., the facts of human consciousness), and secondly, in the discovery of the true relation of these phenomena to each other; and since the definitions of phenomena and their relations keep varying with the standpoint of the observer, the process[Pg 128] evidently involves all experience, and ultimately the discovery of that last fact of experience to which and through which all the other facts are related. It is therefore an age-long process, and has to do with the emotional and moral part of man as well as with the logical and intellectual. It is, in fact, the discovery of the nature of Man himself, and of the true order of his being.

Modern Science—though seeking for a unity in Nature—fails to find it, because, from the nature of the case, any large body of knowledge in which all people will agree is limited to certain small regions of human experience—regions in which very likely no unity is discoverable. It takes the emerald, and breaks it up; treats of its colour and light-refracting qualities on the one hand; of its crystalline structure and hardness on the other; of its weight and density; and of its chemical properties; all separately, and producing long strings of generalisation from each aspect of the subject. But how all these qualities are conjoined together, what their relation is which constitutes the emerald—yea, even the smallest bit of emerald dust—it (wisely) does not attempt to say. It takes the man and dissects him; treats of his blood, his nerves, his bones, his brain; of his senses of sight, of touch, of hearing; but of that which binds these together into a unity, of their true relation to each other in the man, it is silent.

Yet the man knows of himself that he is a unity; he knows that all parts of his body have relation[Pg 129] to him, and to each other; he knows that his senses of sight and hearing and touch and taste and smell are conjoined in the focus of his individual life, in his "I am;" he knows that all his faculties and powers, however much they may belong to different planes, spiritual or material, or may come under the inquisition of different Sciences, have an order of their own among each other—that there is an ultimate Science of them—even though he be not yet wholly versed in it. And he knows, moreover, that in a grain of dust, or in an emerald, or in an orange, or in any object of Nature, the different attributes of the object—which the Sciences thus treat of separately—are only the reflexion of his different senses; so that the problem of the conjunction of different attributes in a body comes back to the same problem of the union of various senses and powers in himself—each individual object being only a case, externalised as it were, and made a matter of consciousness, of the general relation to each other of his own sensations and feelings. Knowing all his—I say—he sees that the understanding of Nature in general and of the laws or relations which he thinks he perceives among external things must always depend on the relations and laws which he tacitly assumes, or which he is directly conscious of, as existing between the various parts of his own being; and that the ultimate truth which Science—the divine Science—is really in search of is a moral or psychologic Truth—an understanding of what man is, and the discovery[Pg 130] of the true relation to each other of all his faculties—involving all experience, and an exercise of every faculty physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, instead of one set of faculties only.

Not till we know the law of ourselves, in fact, shall we know the law of the emerald and the orange, or of Nature generally; and the law of ourselves is not learnt, except subordinately, by intellectual investigation; it is mainly learnt by life. The relation of gravity to vitality is learnt not so much by outer experiment in a laboratory as by long experience within ourselves from the day when as infants we cannot lift ourselves above the floor, through the years of the proud strength of manhood scaling the loftiest mountains, to the hour when our disengaged spirits finally overcome and pass beyond the attraction of the earth; and just as the sense of weight—which first appears as a quite external sensation—is thus at last found to stand in most pregnant relation with our deepest selves, so of the other senses which feed the individual life—the senses of light, of warmth, of taste, of sound, of smell. Taste, which begins as it were on the tip of the tongue, becomes ultimately, if normally developed, a sense which identifies itself with the health and well-being of the whole body; the pleasure of taste becomes vastly more than a mere surface pleasure, and its discrimination of food more than a mere regard for the nutrition of the ordinary corporeal functions. The sense of Light, which[Pg 131] begins in the material eye, grows and deepens inwardly till the consciousness of it pervades the whole body and mind with a kind of inward illumination or divine Reason, showing the places of all things and enfolding the sense of beauty in itself. The sense of Warmth in the same manner is related to and leads up to Love; and Sound, in the voices of our friends or the divine chords of music, has passed away from being an external phenomenon and has established itself as the language of our most tender and intimate emotions.

All the senses thus, as they develop and deepen, are found to unite in the very focus of individual life. Slowly, and through long experience, their relation to each other, their very meaning unfolds, or will unfold; and as this process takes place the man knows himself one, a unity, of which the various faculties are the different manifestations. Then further through his less localised feelings or more glorified senses the individual finds his relation to other individuals. Through his loves and hatreds, through his senses of attraction, repulsion, cohesion, solidarity, order, justice, charity, right, wrong and the rest—these feelings, each like the others deepening back more and more as time goes on—he gradually discovers his true and abiding relationship to other individuals, and to the divine society of which they all form a part—and so at last, if we may venture to say so, his relationship to the absolute and universal. At present, since our most important[Pg 132] relation to each other is conceived of as one of rivalry and Competition, we of course think of the objects of Nature as being chiefly engaged in a Struggle for Existence with each other; but when we become aware of all our senses and feelings, and of ourselves as individuals, as having relation to the Absolute and universal, proceeding from it, as the branches and twigs of a tree from the trunk—then we shall become aware of a Divine or absolute science in Nature; we shall at last understand that all objects have a permanent and indissoluble relation to each other, and shall see their true meaning—though not till then.

Is it possible then that Science, having hitherto—and we shall see in time that this process has been really most valuable and important—gone outwards from the centre towards the very fringe of Humanity—emptying facts as far as possible as it went of all feeling, and reducing itself at last to the most shadowy generalisations on the very verge of sense and nonsense—is it possible, I say, that it will now return, and first filling up facts with feeling as far as practicable (that is, by direct and the most living contact with Nature in every form, learning to enter into direct personal sense-relationship with every phenomenon and phase), will so gradually ascend to the great central fact and feeling, and then at last and for the first time become fully conscious of a vast organisation—absolutely perfect and intimately knit from its centre to its utmost circumference[Pg 133]—(the true cosmos of Man—the conceptions of man and god combined)—existing inchoate or embryonic in every individual man, animal, plant, or other creature—the object of all life, experience, suffering, and toil—the ground of all sensation, and the hidden, yet proper, theme of all thought and study?

For this is it possible that Science will, speaking broadly, have to leave the laboratory and become one with Life; or that the great currents of human life will have to be turned on into these often Augean stables of intellectual pruriency?—the investigation of Nature no longer a matter of the intellect alone, but of patient listening and the quiet eye, and of love and faith, and of all deep human experience, bearing not superciliously its weight towards the interpretation of the least phenomenon—every "fact" thus deepened to its utmost—all experience (rather than experiment) courted, and filial walking with Nature, rather than tearing of veils aside—the life of the open air, and on the land and the waters, the companionship of the animals and the trees and the stars, the knowledge of their habits at first hand and through individual relationship to them, the recognition of their voices and languages, and listening well what they themselves have to say; the keenest education of the senses towards the physical powers and elements, and the acceptance of all human experience, without exception—till Science become a reality.

Is it possible that in some sense, instead of[Pg 134] reducing each branch of Science to its lowest terms, we shall have to read it in the light of its highest factors, and "take it up" into the Science above—that we shall have to take up the mechanical sciences into the physical, the physical into the vital, the vital into the social and ethical, and so forth, before we can understand them? Is it possible that the phenomena of Chemistry only find their due place and importance in their relation to living beings and processes; that the phenomena of vitality and the laws of Biology and Zoology—Evolution included—can only be "explained" by their dependence on self-hood—both in plants and animals; that Political Economy and the Social Sciences (which deal with men as individual selves) must, to be understood aright, be studied in the light of those great ethical principles and enthusiasms, which to a certain extent override the individual self; and that, finally, Ethics or the study of moral problems is only comprehensible when the student has become aware of a region beyond Ethics, into which questions of morality and immorality, of right and wrong, do not and cannot enter?

Of this reversal of the ordinary scientific method Ruskin has given a great and signal instance in his treatment of Political Economy; it remains, perhaps, for others to follow his example in the other branches of Science.[31]

With regard to the absolute datum question we have seen that Science has two alternatives before it—either to be merely intellectual and to seek for its start-point in some quite external (and imaginary) thing like the Atom, or to be divine and to seek for its absolute in the innermost recesses of humanity. We have two similar alternatives in the doctrine of Evolution, which looks either to one end of the scale or the other for its interpretation—either to the amoeba or to the man—to something it knows next to nothing of, or to that which it knows most of. Goethe, when gazing at a fan-palm at Padua, conceived the idea of leaf-metamorphosis, which he afterwards enunciated in the now accepted doctrine that all parts of a plant—seed-vessel, pistil, stamens, petals, sepals, stalk, etc.—may be regarded as modifications of a leaf or leaves. In this view the distinctions between the parts are effaced, and we have only one part instead of many—but the question is "what is that part?" It is of course arbitrary to call it a leaf, for since it is continually varying it is at one time a leaf, and at another a stalk, and then a petal or a sepal, and so forth.[Pg 136] What then is it? For the moment we are baffled.

So with the doctrine of Evolution as applied to the whole organic kingdom up to man. Like the doctrine of leaf-metamorphosis it obliterates distinctions. Geoffroy St. Hilaire proposed to show the French Academy that a Cephalopod could be assimilated to a Vertebrate by supposing the latter bent backwards and walking on its hands and feet. There is a continuous variation from the mollusc to the man—all the lines of distinction run and waver—classes and species cease to exist—and Science, instead of many, sees only one thing. What then is that one thing? Is it a mollusc, or is it a man, or what is it? Are we to say that man may be looked upon as a variation of a mollusc or an amoeba, or that the amoeba may be looked on as a variation of man? Here are two directions of thought; which shall we choose? But the plain truth is, the Intellect can give no satisfactory answer. Whichever, or whatever, it chooses, the choice is quite arbitrary—just as much so as the choice of the "leaf" in the other case. There is no answer to be given. And thus it is that the appearance of the doctrine of Evolution is the signal of the destruction of Science (in the ordinary acceptation of the word). For Evolution is the successive obliteration of the arbitrary distinctions and landmarks which by their existence constitute Science, and as soon as Evolution covers the whole ground of Nature inorganic and organic (as before long it will do)[Pg 137]—the whole of Nature runs and wavers before the eye of Science, the latter recognises that its distinctions are arbitrary, and turns upon and destroys itself. This has happened before, I believe—ages back in the history of the human race—and probably will happen again.

The only conceivable answer to the question, "What is that which is now a mollusc and now a man and now an inorganic atom?"[32] is given by man himself—and his answer is, I fear, not "scientific." It is "I Am." "I am that which varies." And the force of his answer depends on what he means by the word "I." And so also the only conceivable answer to the absolute datum question is to be found in the meaning of the word "I"—in the deepening back of consciousness itself. Man is the measure of all things. If we are to use Science as a minister to the most external part of man—to provide him with cheap boots and shoes, etc.—then we do right to seek our absolute datum in his external part, and to take his foot as our first measure. We found a science on feet and pounds, and it serves its purpose well enough. But if we want to find a garment for his inner being—or, rather, one that shall fit the whole man—to wear which will be a delight to him and, as it were, a very interpretation of himself—it seems obvious that we must not take our measure from outside, but from his very most central principle. The whole[Pg 138] question is, whether there is any absolute datum in this direction or not. There have been men through all ages of history (and from before) who have declared that there is. They have perhaps been conscious of it in themselves. On the other hand there have been men who, starting from their feet, declared that consciousness itself was a mere incident of the human machine—as the whistle of the engine—and thus the matter stands. On the whole, at the present day, the feet have it, and (notwithstanding their variety in size and boot-induced conformation) are generally accepted as the best absolute datum available.

Under the foot régime the universe is generally conceived of as a medley of objects and forces, more or less orderly and distinct from man, in the midst of which man is placed—the purpose and tendency of his life being "adaptation to his environment." To understand this we may imagine Mrs. Brown in the middle of Oxford Street. 'Buses and cabs are running in different directions, carts and drays are rattling on all sides of her. This is her environment, and she has to adapt herself to it. She has to learn the laws of the vehicles and their movements, to stand on this side or on that, to run here and stop there, conceivably to jump into one at a favourable moment, to make use of the law of its movement, and so get carried to her destination as comfortably as may be. A long course of this sort of thing "adapts" Mrs. Brown considerably, and she becomes more[Pg 139] active, both in mind and body, than before. That is all very well. But Mrs. Brown has a destination. (Indeed how would she ever have got into the middle of Oxford Street at all, if she had not had one? and if she did get there with no destination at all, but merely to skip about, would there be any Mrs. Brown left in a short time?) The question is, "What is the destination of Man?"

About this last question unfortunately we hear little. The theory is (I hope I am not doing it injustice) that by studying your environment sufficiently you will find out—that is, that by investigating Astronomy, Biology, Physics, Ethics, etc., you will discover the destiny of man. But this seems to me the same as saying that by studying the laws of cabs and 'buses sufficiently you will find out where you are going to. These are ways and means. Study them by all means, that is right enough; but do not think they will tell you where to go. You have to use them, not they you.

In order therefore for the environment to act, there must be a destination. This I suppose is expressed in the biological dictum, "organism is made by function as well as environment." What then is the function of Man? And here we come back again to the meaning of the word "I."

Nothwithstanding then the prevalence of the foot régime, and that the heathen so furiously rage together in their belief in it, let us suggest that[Pg 140] there is in man a divine consciousness as well as a foot-consciousness. For, as we saw that the sense of taste may pass from being a mere local thing on the tip of the tongue to pervading and becoming synonymous with the health of the whole body; or as the blue of the sky may be to one person a mere superficial impression of colour, and to another the inspiration of a poem or picture, and to a third—as to the "god-intoxicated" Arab of the desert—a living presence like the ancient Dyaus or Zeus; so may not the whole of human consciousness gradually lift itself from a mere local and temporary consciousness to a divine and universal? There is in every man a local consciousness connected with his quite external body; that we know. Are there not also in every man the makings of a universal consciousness? That there are in us phases of consciousness which transcend the limit of the bodily senses, is a matter of daily experience; that we perceive and know things which are not conveyed to us by our bodily eyes or heard by our bodily ears, is certain; that there rise in us waves of consciousness from those around us, from the people, the race, to which we belong, is also certain; may there not then be in us the makings of a perception and knowledge which shall not be relative to this body which is here and now, but which shall be good for all time and everywhere? Does there not exist, in truth, as we have already hinted—an inner Illumination—of which what we call light in the outer world is the[Pg 141] partial expression and manifestation—by which we can ultimately see things, as they are, beholding all creation, the animals, the angels, the plants, the figures of our friends and all the ranks and races of human kind, in their true being and order—not by any local act of perception but by a cosmical intuition and presence, identifying ourselves with what we see? Does there not exist a perfected sense of Hearing—as of the morning-stars singing together—an understanding of the words that are spoken all through the universe, the hidden meaning of all things, the word which is creation itself—a profound and far pervading sense, of which our ordinary sense of sound is only the first novitiate and initiation? Do we not become aware of an inner sense of Health and of Holiness—the translation and final outcome of the external sense of taste—which has power to determine for us absolutely and without any ado, without argument and without denial, what is good and appropriate to be done or suffered in every case that can arise?

And so on; it is not necessary to say more. If there are such powers in man, then there is indeed an exact science possible. Short of it there is only a temporary and phantom science. "Whatever is known to us by (direct) consciousness," says Stuart Mill in his System of Logic, "is known to us beyond possibility of question;" what is known by our local and temporary consciousness is known for the moment beyond possibility of question; what is known[Pg 142] by our permanent and universal consciousness is permanently known beyond possibility of question.[33]



[31] Thus the study of Geometry would be primarily an education of the eye, and the mind's eye, to the perception of geometrical forms and facts, the judgment of angles, etc.—and secondarily only a process of deductive reasoning—a body of empirical knowledge strengthened and tied together by bands of logic; the study of Natural History would be primarily an affectionate intimacy with the habits of animals and plants, and classification would be treated as a secondary matter and as a help to the former; Physiology would be studied in the first place by the method of Health—the pure body—becoming gradually transparent with all its organs to the eye of the mind—and dissection would be used to corroborate and correct the results thus attained; and so on.

[32] Compare the Sphinx-riddle: What is that which goes on four legs, etc.

[33] See for continuation of this subject the chapter on "A Rational and Humane Science," p. 219 infra.
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