Path of Vision; pocket essays of East and West/Part First, 10

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Path of Vision; pocket essays of East and West by Ameen Rihani
Part First
X. Myself When Young Did Frequently Visit


X


"MYSELF WHEN YOUNG DID EAGERLY FREQUENT"


BUT, unlike Omar, I came out of another door, not regretting wholly my adventure. For I have a reverence for Science, which is exceeded only by my reverence for what is beyond Science. The Unknown and the Unknowable, though not always helpful in the ordinary pursuits of life, have a fascination that no knowledge, no discovered mysteries of creation, can ever excell. And yet, I have often gone with my empty bucket to the well of Science only to find that its water, though refreshing, does not quench the thirst. I have often, too, to satisfy my curiosity, thrown stones in the well, thinking that I could sound its depth. The astronomer and the geologist who saw me, smiled and passed on. But the naturalist, who was loath to let me go away unsatisfied, entertained me with one of his wonderful tales.

He told me how varieties in animals gradually develop into species; how certain causes, which in brief periods produce varieties, in long periods give rise to types; how the colors of animals are useful for concealment from their prey; how they are acquired, transmitted, distributed, and lost. He also discoursed of the hoof of the horse, and how it developed from a thickened nail; of the pest insects and scales threatening the ruin of orchards, and how they can be fought by insect allies; of the grasshoppers, and how they may be killed by a fungus disease cultivated for that purpose; of the colors and scents of blossoms, and how they attract insects and bees; of plants that hold the key to buried wealth, indicating as they do mineral veins. These, and many more fascinating and useful details, Science can relate. But the fact that they are useful soon dispels the fascination. And my learned friend the naturalist was silent when I asked him to explain to me the life-principle of growth and decay in the butterwort, the black scale, the woodchuck, or the lion. I did not mention man, whose romance, as written in the Book of Evolution, he started to relate.

But I had heard this before, and asked him, therefore, to start where it ended. Not being able to read through the covers of what was to him a closed book, however, he referred me to the horticulturist, whom I found absorbed in the business of "fixing the type." But he had a little time to spare, seeing that I was an interested and earnest seeker of knowledge. And he revealed to me the wonders of Mendel's discovery, which was in itself truly wonderful. He demonstrated—the proof was irrefutable—how the dwarf pea, born of a tall ancestor, breeds true to dwarfness; and how the offspring of rusty wheat, by the aid of Mendelism, has been taught to resist disease. Now, this system, Mendelism, the horticulturist would apply to the breeding of men. "Better teaching and better sanitation," he said, "are but palliatives." Education is to man what a fertilizer is to the pea: the man might profit by it, but not his children. If the progress of the race is to be permanent, it must depend, therefore, not on education, but on breeding. And as a corollary to Mendel's theory, he gave me this, from the author of the Descent of Man: "There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs (he might have added, or by education) from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring."

But there are others among us who claim to have made a greater discovery than Science. These people scoff at romance, and extol a social system that would better man and redeem society, not by elimination, which breeding presupposes, but by the levelling process. Human power to them is an unmitigated evil; intellectual ability, a curse; genius itself, a crime. Nevertheless, it was one of their protagonists who wrote the Romance of Equality. But Carl Marx, its author, sees no salvation for humankind, except in political economy, the most uninteresting, to me, of all the sciences and, methinks, the least ennobling, For it promotes in a nation aggressiveness, sordidness, greed; and it schools the individual in the infinite stupidities of life—in figures, and measures, and stock-taking, and such like. Political economy is the bible of the philistine. And the philistine is one who has neither intellectual nor spiritual needs. Even the theory of evolution is more uplifting.

And Mendelism, in a material sense, is nearer to the truth. For though a votary of Marx, who, we will admit, is a slave under present political and industrial conditions, may succeed eventually in freeing himself, will he be able to transmit this freedom to his offspring? "A dwarf pea, born of a tall ancestor, breeds true to drawfness." And no knowledge in the science of political economy, no mastering of its details of production and consumption, no faith in the laws that govern them, can be of any help to man in combatting heredity and disease. If those who free themselves from the bondage of capital and labor have no other need than to earn more money and work less, if their needs, in other words, are purely material, no matter how free they might become, they can not, I am certain, ever become the parents of better offspring, They can only transmit to their children the desire, the passion, at best, for freedom and health and comfort. And I am not certain whether they have not handicapped them for the struggle, the battle they have to fight for themselves, in living as they did a purely materialistic life.

For though the children themselves achieve power, they remain, indeed, slaves. And a slave, born of a freed slave, will breed true to slavery. The levelling process, in this way, wreaks its vengeance upon the heads of those who uphold its infallibility—and it perpetuates its curse. Doubt it not. On the whole, the materialistic conception of history, as propounded by Carl Marx,—the conception that the fundamental factor in the development of any nation, is the economic factor, that is the way in which a nation produces and exchanges its commodities,—is the narrowest, shallowest, most sordid, and most pernicious that ever was conceived by a man with any pretension to learning and wisdom. It is a shallow well, indeed, that of Marx, and its water withal is brackish. I turn away from it, thinking how well it could be filtered, if it were allowed to pass through the channels of religion, at least, and the arts. For these can be of great help, in spite of the breeding theory of Mendel.

More than that. For I believe—holding as I do to the idea of the potentiality of the Unknown and the Unknowable—that religion and the arts can confound Mendel in the end and upset all his demonstrations about the pea, when they are applied to man. Neither science, then, nor education is a panacea. But a reverence for the Unknown, an open mind, a sense of awe before the Unknowable, a quickening hope, an implicit faith in its potentialities,—these will accomplish the miracle that Marx and Mendel and Darwin have only partly discovered and described. For the laborer without a spirituality, without a developed sense for the beautiful and the true,—the laborer, or the capitalist for that matter, without intellectual and spiritual needs, is a slave, and the son of a slave, and the parent of a slave, even though he become the chief of all the Soviets of Russia. And neither through Mendelism, nor Darwinianism, nor Socialism alone can he achieve his own redemption and freedom. Doubt not that. And by the way, was it not Wagner who said that the redemption of Society is possible only through music?