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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/576

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

demonstration of the superior usefulness of the proposed end would justify the transfer to it of capital already usefully and worthily employed.

Now, among the points to be considered in weighing such a question, this certainly should not be overlooked, that the altruistic act, while it may alleviate a given case of misfortune, tends to produce another case to replace the one relieved. Does any one ask how? By creating an expectation in the minds of others that their troubles will be lightened or removed in a similar manner, and so causing a certain relaxation of the effort by which a condition of helplessness might be averted. The probability is that not one only but several cases calling for charitable interference might be the result of a single stroke of charitable effort; just as a single prize taken in a lottery upsets scores if not hundreds or thousands of minds. We need not, however, theorize on the subject—though the theory on this occasion is nearly as demonstrable as a proposition in Euclid—for experience has proved over and over again that systematic "charity" makes beggars. The man, therefore, whose money is usefully employed, and who has nothing to reproach himself with on the score of personal waste, will have to be satisfied that the cases of want or vice that he cures—admitting that he cures them—will not be made up, or more than made up, by others resulting more or less directly from his benevolence.

But in how many cases is real good done to the so-called "beneficiaries" of charity? "We have ourselves heard the most mournful confessions on this subject from persons who practiced altruism, or Christian charity, as they would perhaps rather have called it, from motives of religious duty. According to these statements, it is a comparatively rare thing to be able to record any solid advantage as resulting to the objects of such charity. But, if so, must not harm result? If we mistake not, the secretaries and other agents of our Young Men's Christian Associations could tell of hordes of shiftless, characterless creatures, interspersed now and then by some unctuous adventurer, who haunt their rooms in the expectation of relief, and who frequently get relief, but of whom no good is ever afterward heard. We do not deny that money may be expended in such a way as to do real good to those who need help; we only say that it is difficult so to expend it, and very difficult to guard against doing harm to others by weakening the motives for resistance to the habits that make for pauperism. Some large charity may seem a beautiful and admirable thing considered in itself; but we should not stop with this inside view. We are bound to ask what effect it is producing on society at large; and if a current is seen ever setting toward it, and virtually "nulla vestigia retrorsum"—no steps turned away from it—we must moderate our admiration of the function it is performing in the community.

It is common for sentimentalists to speak of natural selection as the very type of a "merciless law." But who will dare to say with confidence that natural selection is not more merciful, on the whole, than man's vaguely altruistic interferences with the natural course of things? Nature makes incompetence and misery short-lived, and reduces them in every way to a minimum. Man steps in and accuses Nature of cruelty; he tries his own hand, and, lo! thousands and hundreds of thousands are leading a languishing physical and a depraved intellectual and moral existence. The result is not one to be proud of. Man should love his neighbor. Truly; but that does not mean that he should undermine his neighbor's independence, or that he should injure half a dozen neighbors for the sake of benefiting one. As we understand Mr. Smiley, altruism is just as much in need of being kept within the bounds of reason as egoism. He would not discour-