Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/129

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141
EDITOR'S TABLE.
EDITOR'S TABLE.


THE BEARING OF THE DOCTRINE OF EVOLUTION ON SOCIAL PROBLEMS.

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 al-