Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/754

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734

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

physical development which brings them most nearly into accord with natural laws.

Below the human strata, superabundant generation is neutralized by the simple device of having every organism prey upon some other one. In her ten years of fruitful life the female cod lays 50,000,000 eggs. If nothing thwarted the amiable efforts of herself and offspring to multiply and replenish, they would shortly pack the ocean as full as a box of sardines. But, while giving one animal the desire and capacity to produce 50,000,000 lives, Nature has given other animals the desire and capacity to annihilate those 50,000,000 lives. So, all through the animal kingdom it is nearly a neck-and-neck race between Production and Extermination.

Man alone is practically exempt from what is apparently an inseparable condition of all other forms of animal life. While he preys on a myriad of created things, there is no created thing that preys on him, and assists in keeping his excessive reproductiveness within the limits of subsistence. Most singular of all, not even a parasite wages destructive warfare against him.

This absence of destructive enemies must be compensated for in some way, and it is accomplished by making vicious inclinations the agents to weed out the redundant growths, and to select for extermination those which are inferior, depraved, weak, and unfit for preservation or reproduction.

If five human beings are procreated where there is present room and provision for but three, how are the surplus two to be picked out and exterminated? Of course, each one of us feels entirely competent to pick out in his own community the persons who could be best spared, but public opinion is at present hostile both to any practicable plan of making the necessary thinning out, and also to lodging the power of selection in the hands of even those of us best qualified for the duty.

Fortunately, the surplus ones relieve us from embarrassment on this score, by selecting and exterminating themselves. Their methods of suicide cover a wide range of expedients, but all are very effectual. Most beneficent of any of the facts that we have to consider is the one that each of those chosen for extermination embraces his fate with eagerness, under the delusion that he is about to enhance his own happiness. Immoderate use of stimulants, and the various excesses and vital errors which are grouped under the general head of "dissipation," a "life of pleasure," or the still more expressive phrase, "a short life and a merry one," etc., are favorite plans of self-annihilation, and leave little to be desired in the completeness with which they do their work.

Competent English statisticians estimate that, after a man has begun drinking beer in large quantities, it takes him 21·7 years to kill himself, and a whiskey-drinker shortens the time to 16·1 years. In-