Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/541

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523
THE PLACE OF CONSCIENCE IN EVOLUTION.

We are now in a position to describe how man came by that social modus vivendi which we call utility, and define as all that makes for the continued existence and progressive welfare of the community. Utility is scientifically "the result of the conflict of individual rights, with survival of the fittest." The first right that passed away was the right to kill my neighbor; the first that survived was the right that my neighbor should not kill me. And to these rights conscience paid an intuitive deference (rendered perhaps all the more striking by the contrast presented by men's habitual practice) from the moment that the mind conceived the possibility of social relations. Things being as they were, it could not do otherwise. But then this right to one's self soon passes, under the fostering nurture of social life, to mean not merely bare animal existence, but all that conduces to make life happy, free, good, and useful. During the long course of advancing ages, rights are being conceded to the individual or being abandoned by him according as experience shows what is possible and best for human life and happiness. And all the while the conscience plays its part in this upward progress by transferring to any recognized reasonable rightness (alas! also to a thousand wrongs, which, yet true to its innate origin, the universal conscience persists in regarding as doomed to pass away) the same intuitive deference that it could not help but pay to the first moral inference evolved by the needs and the instincts of social life, "If you have no right to kill me, then have I no right to kill you."

5. The Political Stage. The earliest and (in a certain sense) most authentic records of the human race represent the murder of a brother as the first crime, the murderer's fear of vengeance as the first idea of punishment, and "Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed" as the first effort of criminal law to curb the murderous instincts. We have in this a very impressive representation of the next stage in the history of conscience. At first the faint and shadowy idea of my neighbor's right to existence must have been a poor and frail defense indeed against the storms of innate passion, the cruel, selfish lusts, the reckless and savage assaults of men just emerged from the animals and beginning a social life, which, unlike theirs, involved a conscious sacrifice of the individual's will to the community. But no society could have lasted for long without there growing up a distinct and profound conviction that the indiscriminate taking of life cut at the root of its own existence. There are many interesting (in a scientific sense) survivals (blood-feuds, for instance, or the cheapness of human life, which invariably accompanies the dissolution of society at revolutionary epochs) of this primeval state of man, during which some of the strongest sentiments we possess were engraved upon our mental and moral constitution by the external action of laws and customs. It was now that the voice of the community began to proclaim in no hesitating tones to the individual conscience "Thou shalt not kill," and to take