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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/279

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EDUCATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION OF NATURE

criminal parents when placed in good surroundings. Many are convinced that the elimination of those in whom the anti-moral tendencies are strong is essential for moral evolution, and this is certainly nature's method, as she deals summarily with animals whose actions are at variance with the immediate good of the species. But human progress is not so simple, its problems are not so easy of solution. Discrimination is necessary in order to know what are the anti-moral proclivities. Seemingly reversionary tendencies in early life, for example, are not always bad, since many times they are the source of our best social strength and virtues. The so-called criminal instincts of children are survivals of acts that among primitive races fitted their possessors to survive. Deception and the strength and willingness to fight well, and to kill, were essential to racial existence, and these were the highest virtues of which primitive man could conceive. To-day these acts are wrong in adults because they are not only unnecessary, but hinder progress. They do not fit man's reconstructed nature. They are anti-social. Yet the elimination of boys with these anti-moral characteristics would be fatal. Altruism arose as a kind of enlarged egoism. At first man must have been chiefly, if not wholly, individualistic, but very soon a time came when individual selfishness no longer served its egoistic ends, and self preservation required the extension of each self to embrace all members of the tribe. Self interest thus became absorbed in tribal interest, not at first because of any moral ideas about the rights of others, but solely because in this way each one's self-interests were better served. But these primitive instincts are not without meaning for modern life. The readiness of civilized boys to fight shows an independent, active, aggressive character which, rightly guided, leads to manly courage. The determined opponent of civic corruption, the man whose onslaughts no threats can stay, was a boy who fought for boy's rights. The prevailing social ideas are important in giving these tendencies the direction that makes for progress, and their very persistence and vigor is a necessary element in evolution.

The power of ideas and actions when intelligently applied to conduct has been shown in the complete change of life of the New York City toughs who were given the ideals and ambitions of the George Junior Republic. In the slums of the city their racial tendencies followed the drift of excitement and adventure natural to a criminal environment, but with the social suggestions and inspirations of the republic these instincts found new outlets which led to manhood under civilization, while still satisfying the organic yearnings of the race. The evolutional impulse in all this is an atmosphere of moral thoughts and actions, but we must take care not to confuse mere custom or tradition with morality.

Animals are dependent upon conditions in the selection of which