Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/236

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

vival of the fittest," things—so at least some of us may think—would have been worse. But such fancies have nothing to do with scientific inquiries. We have to take things as they are, and make the best of them.

The common feeling, no doubt, is different. The incessant struggle between different races suggests a painful view of the universe, as Hobbes's natural state of war suggested painful theories as to human nature. War is evidently immoral, we think; and a doctrine which makes the whole process of evolution a process of war must be radically immoral too. The struggle, it is said, demands "ruthless self-assertion," and the hunting down of all competitors; and such phrases certainly have an unpleasant sound. But, in the first place, the use of the epithets implies an anthropomorphism to which we have no right so long as we are dealing with the inferior species. We are then in a region to which moral ideas have no direct application, and where the moral sentiments exist only in germ, if they can properly be said to exist at all. Is it fair to call a wolf "ruthless" because it eats a sheep and fails to consider the transaction from the sheep's point of view? We must surely admit that if the wolf is without mercy he is also without malice. We call an animal ferocious because a man who acted in the same way would be ferocious. But the man is really ferocious because he is really aware of the pain which he inflicts. The wolf, I suppose, has no more recognition of the sheep's feelings than a man has of feelings in the oyster or the potato. For him, they are simply non-existent; and it is just as inappropriate to think of the wolf as cruel as it would be to call the sheep cruel for eating grass. Are we, then, to say that "Nature" is cruel because the arrangement increases the sum of general suffering? That is a problem which I do not feel able to answer; but it is at least obvious that it can not be answered offhand in the affirmative. To the individual sheep it matters nothing whether he is eaten by the wolf or dies of disease or starvation. He has to die anyway, and the particular way is unimportant. The wolf is simply one of the limiting forces upon sheep, and, if he were removed, others would come into play. The sheep, left to himself, would still have a practical illustration of the doctrine of Malthus. If, as evolutionists tell us, the hostility of the wolf tends to improve the breed of sheep, to encourage him to climb better and to sharpen his wits, the sheep may be, on the whole, the better for the wolf: in this sense, at least, thus the sheep of a wolfless region might lead a more wretched existence, and be less capable animals and more subject to disease and starvation than the sheep in a wolf-haunted region. The wolf may, so far, be a blessing in disguise.

This suggests another obvious remark. When we speak of the