Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/276

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The recognition of the true rĂ´le of instinct in human social life will serve at once as a basis for scientific social work and as a means of transcending the purely instinctive plane of social activity. It would seem, therefore, that the practical consequence of the recognition of the importance of the instinctive element in human social life would be to establish a wise conservatism with reference to the reconstruction of institutions and at the same time a progressive radicalism as regards the ultimate amelioration of social conditions. Any plan of social reorganization which is made without regard to man's instincts is probably destined to meet with as great failure as any plan of individual education which is made without regard to native impulses and capacities. On the other hand, human instincts are indefinitely modifiable, through selection in the race and through education in the individual. There is nothing in them, therefore, which can put any permanent obstacle in the way of carrying out any rational measure of social reform, although the recognition of instinct as at the basis of human social life, points to the conclusion that the only sure and probably the only safe method of social reconstruction is through education. When the instinctive element is thoroughly understood it certainly can be controlled, and in this sense transcended.

As we have seen, man's instincts were created by the selective influence of past living conditions. It is hardly probable that civilization has as yet very greatly altered the instincts of civilized man from those of the barbarian and the savage. Those persons who, like Fourier, claim that the instincts and the correlated emotions should be the supreme guide in social life would plunge society again into barbarism. Our instincts, as Professor Thorndike remarks, would be a much better guide if we were still living a wild life in the woods than they are in our complex civilized society. It is the dominance of instinctive control and of instinctive activities in existing society, rather than of rational control and rational activities, in other words, which creates many of the problems of our present civilization. As Sir Francis Galton has pointed out, many of these problems are due to the fact that man's instincts are not yet adjusted to the new and complex social conditions in which he finds himself. It is idle to think that it is practical to secure such adjustment through the elimination of socially undesirable natural tendencies by any means of artificial selection. That is too far in the future to be worthy of serious discussion. The only means which remains, therefore, of adjusting man to the requirements of a complex social life is to modify and control instinctive activities by a system of scientific education of the young, that is, by a system of social character building. The great problem of civilized society, therefore, is not to suppress man's instincts, for that can not be done, but to guide and control them by a system of scientific education, so that they will discharge themselves only in paths of social advantage.