Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/537

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THE WASTES OF MODERN CIVILIZATION.

But the justice of Varnhagen's indictment is perhaps most forcibly illustrated in the time and labor saving contrivances of modern civilization, as contrasted with the enormous waste incident to the evils of life under abnormal circumstances.

The apparent shiftlessness of animals and savages is often due to their confidence in the spontaneous bounty of Nature. Apes will nibble and fling away dozens of wild figs for one they eat, well knowing that the forests will continue to produce millions of similar fruits. Nomads exhaust the pastures of a whole river-delta, and then drive their herds farther inland, having found by experience that, before the return of spring, the coast-land meadows will have recovered their luxuriance.

We pity the ignorance of the Circassian peasant who wastes his time and energy by plowing his highland farm with an implement resembling a crooked fence-rail; but together with other old-fashioned things that barbarian has retained his primitive confidence in the trustworthiness of his natural instincts, and consequently devotes every square yard of his field to the production of palatable and nutritious vegetables.

"Whatever is natural is wrong," was for centuries the shibboleth of our spiritual taskmasters, and that doctrine has borne its fruit in the reckless disregard of our natural intuitions. The shocking taste of a poisonous weed or liquid is generally accepted as a prima facie proof of its wholesomeness, and many millions of acres, plowed and harrowed with highly improved apparatus, are wasted on the production of not only useless but positively pernicious harvests. Our prohibition orators bewail the vast area of arable soil wasted on distillery crops, but in the eyes of science the alcohol-habit is only a special form of the stimulant-vice, which, in the course of the last fifty years, has assumed more gigantic proportions than in the most bibulous era of pagan antiquity. The official statistics of the liquor traffic generally allow one bushel of grain for two gallons of spirits, and three bushels for one barrel of beer. By that estimate, the distilleries of the United States alone consumed in the last few years an annual average of thirty-five million bushels of grain, the breweries at least twenty millions. The aggregate of that wasted farm-produce would have made more than a billion four-pound loaves of bread, or nearly a hundred loaves for every household in North America. Placed side by side, the bushel-measures containing that grain would form a chain equal in extent to the circumference of the earth. But the area of the land thus "tilled to bring forth a harvest of misery, crime, and disease" is only a fraction of the total portion of arable fields cultivated to subserve the various forms of the stimulant-vice. Tobacco, tea, coffee, pulque, and opium, together with all the toxic stimulants prepared from tree--