Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/November 1893/Editor's Table



THE following very pertinent questions were proposed for discussion at the World's Congress of Evolutionists, held during the last days of September in connection with the Columbian Exposition:

"Does the doctrine of evolution in its sociological aspects offer wise suggestion for the solution of the grave social and economic problems of our time?

"What in accordance with such suggestion should be the next step taken in our own country looking toward the solution of these problems?"

At the moment of writing we are not in possession of the result of the discussion thus provoked; but, as the questions must be of interest to very many of our readers, we propose to attempt such an answer to them as our brief limits permit.

The doctrine of evolution in its broadest aspect is simply that doctrine which teaches us that everywhere throughout Nature there are action and reaction between organisms and their environments; that where the result of this action and reaction is increasing heterogeneity and complexity of the organism, with more complete and various adjustment or adaptation to the environment, a process which may be called evolution is in progress; and that when, on the other hand, the result is the obliteration of special adaptations and combinations and a return toward simpler modes of organization, a process of dissolution is in progress. It is a doctrine which proclaims the supremacy of natural law, and which keeps prominently before the mind the necessity of an efficient cause for every change that takes place. It thus introduces into the realm of organic Nature and into the moral and social spheres the Newtonian principle that the direction of motion can not be changed without the application of force. The mind that has accepted the evolutionary view of things has done with vain superstitions and idle credulity. It feels no less than before the vastness and mystery that surround human life and limit human thought, but it has lost all appetite for what may be called the vulgar marvelous—that toward which childish minds of every age go so eagerly forth.

When, therefore, we try to bring the doctrine of evolution to bear on the social and economic problems of our time, the first thought that occurs to us is that the so-called problems are aspects of the change that society is undergoing in its progress toward higher organization. That the process in the midst of which we live is one of evolution and not of dissolution is evident by many signs. What we see is the effort of the different classes and elements of society to achieve the establishment of satisfactory mutual relations, or, as we may otherwise express it, to discover and give effect to a modus vivendi. That this involves occasional conflict is just what might, on general grounds, have been anticipated. The market price is not fixed without a good deal of "higgling," and precisely the same process applies to the adjustment of social relations. "Higgling" may not be a beautiful thing to witness, but it does its work in the fixing of prices much better than would a competition in altruism, which could only lead to utter confusion. The evolution philosophy would therefore suggest to us extreme caution in interfering at all with the process which we see at work. What is manifestly necessary, however, is that no one individual or group of individuals should be lowed to exercise arbitrary and irresponsible power in the effort to advance their claims. Power, in the last resort, belongs to the community as a whole, and no man or group of men should be encouraged for one moment to think that he or they can he allowed to usurp the authority of society. There is no "higgling" if one of the parties to the bargain takes a club and forces the other to accept his price. Society should be the sole club-wielder, and, while slow to wield it in general, should be quick to wield it upon those who would take the club out of its hands. It is bad for the individual not to insist upon his rights; but for society not to insist on its rights is absolutely fatal.

In the popular mind the theory of natural selection is largely identified with the doctrine of evolution, and many are impressed by the work of Darwin who have but a scant knowledge or appreciation of that of Spencer. Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey, but whether an equal honor awaits the author of the Synthetic Philosophy is perhaps doubtful. The theory of natural selection, however, far from being the whole of evolution, is only a subordinate aspect of it. At the same time, if we would gather the practical lessons of the evolution philosophy, the views elaborated by Darwin claim our serious attention. We have learned from him how Nature is continually selecting those who are to carry on the great chain of life. Not every one who is called is chosen, which, interpreted by Darwin, means that not every one who is called into life is chosen to carry on life. Far from this, the vast multitude of living things meet untimely death, and go to aid, either actively or passively—actively if they minister to their sustentation, passively if by their absence they lessen the demand on food supplies—the lives of the survivors. There is perhaps no greater or more serious problem confronting society today than this: how to pay just heed to the above law without injury to our own moral sensibilities and particularly to our sense of the sacredness of life. It is impossible to doubt that the law on which the well-being of every other animal species depends must be vindicated in the case of the human species also; and yet the very fact that we are sensible of the problem before us shows that we are called to solve it in a manner suitable to our higher intellectual and moral development. As every one is aware, there is at present an important controversy in progress between Mr. Spencer on the one hand and Prof. Weismann on the other, upon the question as to whether modifications acquired by an organism during the course of its individual existence are transmissible by inheritance. The discussion is not one into which we can enter; and we only refer to it for the purpose of remarking that, though it seems to touch a vital point in the doctrine of evolution, the great fact of evolution remains unassailable. The practical difference between one view and the other is that, if Mr. Spencer is right, a larger scope seems to be opened for educative effort, and more encouragement for such effort is afforded; whereas, if Prof. Weismann is right, the one all-important principle to keep in view, if we would preserve society from degeneration, is that of selection of stocks, seeing that an inferior individual, however much we may improve him personally by education, must, if he have progeny, transmit, not the qualities imparted by education, but those bestowed upon him by Nature at birth.

The doctrine of evolution thus shows us the necessity for struggle in the settlement of the bases of society, and it indicates, in a general way, how that struggle should be carried on, namely, by a firm and decent assertion of individual rights, and the acceptance by each and all from time to time of such compromises as circumstances prescribe. Should there be, in any given society, such a relaxation of the moral fiber of individuals as would lead them to forego their just claims, in presence of violent demands unsupported by reason, there would be great cause to fear that the society as a whole would also abnegate its just authority and thus leave the way open for lawless, ambitious, and anarchic forces. If not the greatest, the surest service, therefore, which any individual can render to the community in which he lives is to stand on his rights, not in his own interest or for his own sake merely, but in the interest and for the sake of all his fellow-citizens; for in this way others will be encouraged to stand on their rights, unjust pretensions will be discouraged, and the whole fabric of society strengthened. We say this is the surest service an individual can render; because there is no doubt whatever as to the beneficial results of such a line of conduct, whereas all purely altruistic measures are of more or less uncertain tendency. This is shown by the frequent failure of benefactions to accomplish the purposes for which they were intended, or, we may even say, their frequent perversion to purposes entirely opposed to the objects in view. It requires a vast amount of wisdom to be generous without doing more harm than good; but, in practicing and insisting on justice, no risk whatever of doing harm is incurred.

If there is any one thing in the way of positive effort which the doctrine of evolution seems clearly to prescribe as advantageous, it is the exposition of the doctrine itself to all who are capable of understanding it, so that there may be a general comprehension of the true goal of society and of the conditions necessary for unimpeded social progress. How few persons, comparatively speaking, understand that justice is the one vital principle, the one essential condition of social welfare! How few persons are prepared to make allowances for the necessary imperfections of human society, or to see in what is commonly regarded as evil a preparation for higher good! How few have the balance of mind that enables them to place a true value on the nostrums of would-be reformers, who undertake to make you a new society if you will only allow them to pass a law or two! How few have a true and reasoned faith in the possibilities of social progress! In regard to all these matters there would be a great increase of public intelligence if the doctrine of evolution, with all that it implies, were as earnestly and industriously taught as certain other views of life, which appeal more to emotion than to reason. The doctrine of evolution stands to-day for the scientific view of life, and, the more that view can be brought home to the masses, the surer will be the foundations of the state, and the more rapidly and happily will the stages that yet separate us from a condition of perfect social health be accomplished.


The great Fair at Chicago marks the utmost achievement of the kind that the world has beheld, and probably the last effort which America will see on the plan of universal inclusion. Science and art in these latter days have become so broad in development, so minute in specialization, that from sheer unwieldiness it would be scarcely possible to repeat the programme of Chicago, expanded as it inevitably would be in the flight of time. In Great Britain the universal exhibition has been differenced into a series of expositions of fisheries, inventions, "healtheries," and so on, a sensible plan which America is likely to copy. In displays so vast as those of Jackson Park the ordinary visitor can bestow no more than a passing glance on rows upon rows of cases, often filled with objects of beauty and high interest. Those who have been instructed by the Fair are those who went to study a particular feature of it, or the fortunate few who Lave been able to devote months to its examination as a whole. And yet something will be lost when the days of universal exhibitions are past. There is a cross-fertilization of ingenuity illustrated only when displays of the utmost diversity are brought together. In Machinery Hall is the familiar festoon of perforated cards guiding the Jacquard loom; in the Federal Building is a new indexer for libraries identical in principle; in the Transportation Building is an extensive array of the maps whose marginal letters and figures indicate the particular square in a chess-board where a sought town or village may be found; in Machinery Hall the compositor is superseded by a machine which adopts the same principle in casting type from a manuscript reduced to perforated symbols.

In so far as there may be a science and an art in disposing a universal exhibition the Fair at Chicago evinces a distinct advance. Mr. G. Brown Goode, of the National Museum at Washington, defines an efficient educational museum as a collection of instructive labels, each illustrated by a well-selected specimen. Add to this the intelligent custodian to answer inquiry or to show a machine or an apparatus at work, and from museums are born an exhibition interesting and informing. Something else, however, is necessary—an exhibition must mainly, but should never wholly, depend upon the good will, the enterprise, or the generosity of individual exhibitors. Wherever needful, it should be made comprehensive by the board of management buying or hiring what they can not borrow. Because of the strike at Homestead last year there is at Chicago no adequate display of the iron and steel industry which has in America made so remarkable progress within recent years. In the Electricity Building there is no display of Edison's kinetograph, an instrument which nearly two years ago had been brought to the point of reproducing by instantaneous photography with remarkable fidelity the visual impressions of motion.

With abundant means, with trained skill and comprehensive purpose, much the best group of exhibits at Chicago is presented by the national departments, in the Federal Building. Within its appointed limits the displays in the Anthropological Building are as admirable in arrangement as those of the Federal Government; here the debt is mainly due to the devoted labors of the officer in charge, Prof. F. W. Putnam, of Harvard University. In the Agricultural Building the State experiment stations, which owe their origin to Prof. W. O. Atwater, in their systematic array of appliances and results show how much the farmer is profited by his new partnership with the man of research. Agriculture, it would seem, in certainty of results, is fast taking on the conditions of manufacture. Many of the industrial exhibits in excellence of arrangement vie with those formally scientific; as a type of these displays that of the Standard Oil Company deserves particular mention. In the same building, that of mining industry, the western gallery bears a small but capital exhibit of aluminium, from its ore, bauxite, through the processes of the electrical furnace until pure metal is derived: all the principal uses of the metal are illustrated; these are accompanied by specimens of its most valuable alloys. This exhibit is in striking contrast to others within the same walls—displays some of them as ill assorted as the contents of an auction room.

In designing several of the State buildings at the Fair they were contrived to pay a double debt: they illustrate noteworthy styles of architecture, or reproduce famous structures, as well as serve as show places and club houses. In much the same way it would have been easy for, let us say, the Shoe and Leather Building to have exemplified the slow-burning construction for factories which in the Eastern States has so much reduced the fire tax.

These are not times when inventors or manufacturers wait for an exhibition to give the world its first view of their work; hence, in the Electricity Building, for example, there is little of novelty, and yet in its mass and variety the contents of the great hall and galleries are most impressive. Here are shown how, in the seventeen years since the Centennial Exhibition, electricity has passed from the experimental laboratory to become the most versatile and powerful servant that industry and domestic economy know.

Within the past two decades Photography has stridden along almost as fast as her sister Electricity. In an inconspicuous booth in the gallery of Liberal Arts is an exhibit without an attendant, lacking adequate labels, and yet withal marking an epoch in the application of scientific research to this art and industry. The display presents photography in colors, an achievement due to Dr. H. Vogel, of Berlin. In observing the fugitiveness of some aniline dyes, it struck him that the very sensitiveness to certain rays of the spectrum which rendered the dyes as such worthless, meant a photographic quality of the first importance. Experiment proved the soundness of his surmise, and orthochromatic and color photography were born. In pure and applied chemistry Germany, as her show-cases at Chicago amply attest, is far in the lead. In Germany practice and theory have long ceased to look askance at each other, and the lesson should not be lost on America, for theory and practice have at last arched toward each other until at many points they touch, with the effect that both are vastly the stronger. To-day the observer can pass to prediction, the experimenter can build to order a molecule, a flower, a cereal, or a beeve. The convincing word of Germany to America is that to begrudge the means for original research is simply to withhold the seed-corn of progress. But America, too, has something to teach. In science her most worthy and characteristic display is that of instruments of precision. The dividing engine of Prof. W. A. Rogers, the diffraction gratings of Prof. H. A. Rowland, the parallel planes in glass of Mr. J. A. Brashear—with a limiting error of one millionth—the lenses with perfect color correction of Prof. C. S. Hastings, mark a distinctively American field of attainment and make clear why this country divides with France the leadership in modern astronomy, and in apparatus for the most refined measurement has no rival. It is gratifying to see at the Fair the magnificent new telescope for the University of Chicago, the refractor for which, forty inches in diameter, is the largest in existence.

In education the exhibits at the Fair, repetitious though they are and often poor in quality, show progress. The large spaces given up to manual training, to instruction in sewing and cooking, to the all-round development of the senses, abundantly prove that the old and wasteful clerkly instruction has its hat in its hand and is moving toward the door. In the Children's Building the kindergarten and kitchen-garden classes are giving admirable lessons not only to many little people but to uncounted thousands of interested parents. At many other places in Jackson Park how sound education brings out an intelligent interest in every-day work and duty is attractively demonstrated. Take for example the Rumford Kitchen, where with the minimum of toil and offense a meal both palatable and nourishing is cooked at a cost of less than five cents. Mr. Edward Atkinson, who leads in this branch of household economy, is desirous that the State experimental stations should add courses in cooking to their instruction. Why, he argues, should we be anxious that food stuffs be produced with the utmost saving of labor, and then in the cooking waste them one half? For education conceived in its broadest reach one of the most significant services has been rendered at the Fair by the psychological exhibit and laboratory, over which Prof. Jastrow presides, in the Anthropological Building. Here, amid the most extensive collection of appliances ever brought together in America, quantitative tests of faculty are made: the effect of this new science of experimental psychology on education must be to sift out good methods of instruction from bad, and in the fullness of time to awaken and direct in the individual mind the ambitions which to-day either remain unaroused or ignorantly run riot.

In some respects the most audacious and the least satisfactory part of the programme at Chicago has been the Auxiliary Congresses. Assembled seven miles from Jackson Park, in a building directly abutting on a noisy railroad, filled with smoky and dusty air from locomotives and factory chimneys, the sessions have often been too much for human endurance. With utterly inadequate means the president, Hon. C. C. Bonney, has been unable to provide fitting attendance, or to give suitable publicity to the daily proceedings. Nevertheless, despite shortcomings on every hand, the Art Institute has during the past five months given a hearing to nearly every eminent American teacher, and it has opened its doors to Prof, von Helmholtz, and to other men of science from abroad scarcely less illustrious.