Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/April 1896/Professional Institutions XII
XII.—EVOLUTION OF THE PROFESSIONS.
By HERBERT SPENCER.
THE saying that we can not put old heads on young shoulders, figuratively expresses, among other truths, the truth that the beliefs which in youth result from small information joined with undisciplined thought and feeling, can not, until after long years, be replaced by the beliefs which wider knowledge and better balanced mental powers produce. And while it is usually impracticable to ante-date the results of mental development and culture, it is also usually impracticable to arouse, during early stages, any such distrust of convictions then formed, as should be caused by the perception that there is much more to be learned.
This general remark, trite in substance though it is, I am prompted to make à propos of the profound change which study of many peoples in many places and times causes in those ideas of social organization which are current—ideas entertained not only by the young but also by the majority of the old, who, relatively to the subject-matter to be investigated, are also young. For patient inquiry and calm thought make it manifest that sundry institutions regarded with strong prejudices have been essential institutions; and that the development of society has everywhere been determined by agencies—especially political and ecclesiastical—of characters condemned by the higher sentiments and incongruous with an advanced social ideal.
One in whom aversion to autocratic rule is strong, does not willingly recognize the truth that without autocratic rule the evolution of society could not have commenced; and one to whom the thought of priestly control is repugnant, can not, without difficulty, bring himself to see that during early stages priestly control was necessary. But contemplation of the evidence, while proving these general facts, also makes it manifest that in the nature of things groups of men out of which organized societies germinate, must, in passing from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, have first assumed the form in which one individual predominates—a nucleus of the group serving as a center of initiation for all subsequent steps in development. Though, as fast as society advances, and especially as fast as the militant type yields place to the industrial type, a centralized and coercive control, political and ecclesiastical, becomes less needful, and plays a continually decreasing part in social evolution; yet the evidence compels us to admit that at first it was indispensable.
This generalization, which we saw variously illustrated by political institutions and ecclesiastical institutions, we now see again illustrated by professional institutions. As the foregoing chapters have shown, all the professions originate by differentiation from the agency which, beginning as political, becomes, with the apotheosis of the dead ruler, politico-ecclesiastical, and thereafter develops the professions chiefly from its ecclesiastical element. Egypt, which, by its records and remains, exhibits so well the early phases of social progress, shows us how at first various governmental functions, including the professional, were mingled in the king and in the cluster of those who surrounded the king. Says Tiele:—
And since, as Brugsch tells us, "Pharaoh's architects (the Murket) . . . were often of the number of the king's sons and grandsons," we see that in the governing group the political, ecclesiastical, and professional functions were united.
No group of institutions illustrates with greater clearness the process of social evolution; and none shows more undeniably how social evolution conforms to the law of evolution at large. The germs out of which the professional agencies arise, forming at first a part of the regulative agency, differentiate from it at the same time that they differentiate from one another; and, while severally being rendered more multiform by the rise of subdivisions, severally become more coherent within themselves and more definitely marked off. The process parallels completely that by which the parts of an individual organism pass from their initial state of simplicity to their ultimate state of complexity.
Originally one who was believed by himself and others to have power over demons—the mystery-man or medicine-man—using coercive methods to expel disease-producing spirits, stood in the place of doctor; and when his appliances, at first supposed to act supernaturally, came to be understood as acting naturally his office eventually lost its priestly character altogether: the resulting physician class, originally uniform, eventually dividing into distinguishable sub-classes while acquiring a definite embodiment.
Less early, because implying more developed groups, arose those who as exhibitors of joy, now in the presence of the living ruler and now in the supposed presence of the deceased ruler, were at first simultaneously singers and dancers, and becoming specialized from the people at large, presently became distinct from one another: whence, in course of time, two groups of professionals, whose official laudations, political or religious, extended in their range and multiplied in their kinds. And then by like steps were separated from one another vocal and instrumental musicians, and eventually composers; within which classes also there arose subdivisions.
Ovations, now to the living king and now to the dead king, while taking saltatory and musical forms, took also verbal forms, originally spontaneous and irregular, but presently studied and measured: whence, first, the unrhythmical speech of the orator, which under higher emotional excitement grew into the rhythmical speech of the priest-poet, chanting verses—verses that finally became established hymns of praise. Meanwhile from accompanying rude imitations of the hero's acts, performed now by one and now by several, grew dramatic representations, which little by little elaborated, fell under the regulation of a chief actor, who prefigured the playwright. And out of these germs, all pertaining to worship, came eventually the various professions of poets, actors, dramatists, and the subdivisions of these.
The great deeds of the hero-god, recited, chanted or sung, and mimetically rendered, naturally came to be supplemented by details, so growing into accounts of his life; and thus the priest-poet gave origin to the biographer, whose narratives, being extended to less sacred personages, became secularized. Stories of the apotheosized chief or king, joined with stories of his companions and amplified by narratives of accompanying transactions, formed the first histories. And from these accounts of the doings of particular men and groups of men, partly true but passing by exaggeration into the mythical, came the wholly mythical, or fiction; which then and always preserved the biographico-historical character. Add to which that out of the criticisms and reflections scattered through this personal literature an impersonal literature slowly emerged: the whole group of these products having as their deepest root the eulogies of the priest-poet.
Prompted as were the medicine-men of savages and the priests of early civilized peoples to increase their influence, they were ever stimulated to acquire knowledge of natural actions and the properties of things; and, being in alleged communication with supernatural beings, they were supposed to acquire such knowledge from them. Hence, by implication, the priest became the primitive man of science; and, led by his special experiences to speculate about the causes of things, thus entered the sphere of philosophy: both his science and his philosophy being pursued in the service of his religion.
Not only his higher culture but his alleged intercourse with the gods, whose mouthpiece he was, made him the authority in cases of dispute; and being also, as historian, the authority concerning past transactions and traditional usages, or laws, he acquired in both capacities the character of judge. Moreover, when the growth of legal administration brought the advocate, he, though usually of lay origin, was sometimes clerical.
Distinguished in early stages as the learned man of the tribe or society, and especially distinguished as the possessor of that knowledge which was thought of most value—knowledge of unseen things—the priest of necessity became the first teacher. Transmitting traditional statements concerning ghosts and gods, at first to neophytes of his class only but afterward to the cultured classes, he presently, beyond instruction in supernatural things, gave instruction in natural things; and having been the first secular teacher, has retained a large share in secular teaching even down to our own days.
As making a sacrifice was the original priestly act, and as the building of an altar for the sacrifice was by implication a priestly act, it results that the making of a shelter over the altar, which in its developed form became the temple, was also a priestly act. When the priest, ceasing to be himself the executant, directed the artificers, he continued to be the designer; and when he ceased to be the actual designer, the master-builder or architect thereafter continued to fulfill his general directions. And then the temple and the palace in sundry early societies, being at once the residence of the apotheosized ruler and the living ruler (even now a palace usually contains a small temple) and being the first kinds of developed architecture, eventually gave origin to secular architecture.
A rude carved or modeled image of a man placed on his grave, gave origin to the sculptured representation of a god inclosed in his temple. A product of priestly skill at the outset, it continued in some cases to be such among early civilized peoples; and always thereafter, when executed by an artisan, conformed to priestly direction. Extending presently to the representation of other than divine and semi-divine personages, it eventually thus passed into its secularized form.
So was it with painting. At first used to complete the carved representation of the revered or worshiped personage, and being otherwise in some tribes used by the priest and his aids for exhibiting the tribal hero's deeds, it long remained subservient to religion, either for the coloring of statues (as it does still in Roman Catholic images of saints, etc.), or for the decoration of temples, or for the portraiture of deceased persons on sarcophagi and stelæ; and when it gained independence it was long employed almost wholly for the rendering of sacred scenes: its eventual secularization being accompanied by its subdivision into a variety of kinds and of the executant artists into correlative groups.
Thus the process of professional evolution betrays throughout the same traits. In stages like that described by Hue as still existing among the Tibetans, where "the Lama is not merely a priest; he is the painter, poet, sculptor, architect, physician," there are joined in the same individual, or group of individuals, the potentialities out of which gradually arise the specialized groups we know as professions. While out of the one primitive class there come by progressive divergences many classes, each of these classes itself undergoes a kindred change: there are formed in it subdivisions and even sub-subdivisions, which become gradually more marked; so that, throughout, the advance is from an indefinite homogeneity to a definite heterogeneity.
In presence of the fact that the immense majority of mankind adhere pertinaciously to the creeds, political and religious, in which they were brought up; and in presence of the further fact that on behalf of their creeds, however acquired, there are soon enlisted prejudices which practically shut out adverse evidence; it is not to be expected that the foregoing illustrations, even joined with kindred illustrations previously given, will make them see that society is a growth and not a manufacture, and has its laws of evolution.
From prime ministers down to plow-boys there is either ignorance or disregard of the truth that nations acquire their vital structures by natural processes and not by artificial devices. If the belief is not that social arrangements have been divinely ordered thus or thus, then it is that they have been made thus or thus by kings, or if not by kings then by parliaments. That they have come about by small accumulated changes not contemplated by rulers, is one of those open secrets which only of late have been recognized by a few and are still unperceived by the many—educated as well as uneducated. Though the turning of the land into a food-producing surface, cleared, fenced, drained, and covered with farming appliances, has been achieved by men working for individual profit not by legislative direction—though villages, towns, cities, have insensibly grown up under the desires of men to satisfy their wants— though by spontaneous co-operation of citizens have been formed canals, railways, telegraphs, and other means of communication and distribution; the natural forces which have done all this are ignored as of no account in political thinking. Our immense manufacturing system with its multitudinous inventions, supplying both home and foreign consumers, and the immense mercantile marine by which its products are taken all over the globe and other products brought back, have naturally and not artificially originated. That transformation by which, in thousands of years, men's occupations have been so specialized that each, aiding to satisfy some small division of his fellow citizen's needs has his own needs satisfied by the work of hundreds of others, has taken place without design and unobserved. Knowledge developing into science, which has become so vast in mass that no one can grasp a tithe of it, and which now guides productive activities at large, has resulted from the workings of individuals prompted not by the ruling agency but by their own inclinations. So, too, has been created the still vaster mass distinguished as literature, yielding the gratifications filling so large a space in our lives. Nor is it otherwise with the literature of the hour. That ubiquitous journalism which provides satisfactions for men's more urgent mental wants, has resulted from the activities of citizens severally pursuing private benefits. And supplementing these come the innumerable companies, associations, unions, societies, clubs, subserving enterprise, philanthropy, culture, art, amusement; as well as the multitudinous institutions annually receiving millions by endowments and subscriptions: all of them arising from the unforced co-operations of citizens. And yet so hypnotized are nearly all by fixedly contemplating the doings of ministers and parliaments, that they have no eyes for this marvelous organization which has been growing for thousands of years without governmental help—nay, indeed, in spite of governmental hindrances. For in agriculture, manufactures, commerce, banking, journalism, immense injuries have been done by laws—injuries afterward healed by social forces which have thereupon set up afresh the normal courses of growth. So unconscious are men of the life of the social organism that though the spontaneous actions of its units, each seeking livelihood, generate streams of food which touch at their doors every hour—though the water for the morning bath, the lights for their rooms, the fires in their grates, the bus or tram which takes them to the City, the business they carry on (made possible by the distributing system they share in), the evening "Special" they glance at, the theater or concert to which they presently go, and the cab home, all result from the unprompted workings of this organized humanity, they remain blind. Though by its vital activities capital is drafted to places where it is most wanted, supplies of commodities balanced in every locality and prices universally adjusted—all without official supervision; yet, being oblivious of the truth that these processes are socially originated without design of any one, they can not believe that society will be bettered by natural agencies. And hence when they~ see an evil to be cured or a good to be achieved, they ask for legal coercion as the only possible means.
More than this is true. If, as every parliamentary debate and every political meeting shows, the demands for legislation pay no attention to that beneficent social development which has done so much and may be expected to increase in efficiency, still more do they ignore the laws of that development—still less do they recognize a natural order-in the changes by which society passes from its lower to its higher stages. Though, as we have seen, the process of evolution exemplified in the genesis of the professions is similar in character to the process exemplified in the genesis of political and ecclesiastical institutions and everywhere else; and though the first inquiry rationally to be made respecting any proposed measure should be whether or not it falls within the lines of this evolution, and what must be the effects of running counter to the normal course of things; yet not only is no such question ever entertained, but one who raised it would be laughed down in any popular assemblage and smiled at as a dreamer in the House of Commons: the only course thought wise in either the cultured or the uncultured gathering being that of trying to estimate immediate benefits and evils.
Nor will any argument or any accumulation of evidence suffice to change this attitude until there has arisen a different type of mind and a different quality of culture. The politician will still spend his energies in rectifying some evils and making more—in forming, reforming, and again reforming—in passing acts to amend acts that were before amended; while social schemers will continue to think that they have only to cut up society and re-arrange it after their ideal pattern and its parts will join together again and work as intended!
In the course of his experiments on the psychic development of a litter of puppies. Prof. Wesley Mills remarked that these animals, as well as those of several other kinds, even on their first day would not creep off from a surface on which they were resting if it was elevated a little distance above the ground. "When they approach the edge, they manifest hesitation, grasp with their claws or otherwise attempt to prevent themselves falling, and it may be cry out, giving evidence of some profound disturbance of their nervous system." But a water tortoise he had had for some years would at any time walk off from a surface on which it was placed. Prof. Mills accounts for the difference by supposing that land animals, depending on a firm substratum beneath them, have inherited "a sense of support"; while the amphibious tortoise is accustomed frequently to drop off from logs into water, and has not, or but little, "sense of support." Then, again, he finds the sense of support "well marked in birds that drop themselves into 'thin air,'" Birds, however, need the "sense of support" when depending on their feet quite as much as land animals.The instruments used in the observations of the British Association's committee on earth tremors are so delicate that an angle can be detected corresponding with that subtended by a chord an inch long of a circle one thousand miles in radius.