Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/329

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
315
PRIVATE RELIEF OF THE POOR.

Under present circumstances the difficulty seems almost insurmountable. By the law-established and privately established agencies, coercive and voluntary, which save the bad from the extreme results of their badness, there have been produced unmanageable multitudes of them, and to prevent further multiplication appears next to impossible. The yearly accumulating appliances for keeping alive those who will not do enough work to keep themselves alive, continually increase the evil. Each new effort to mitigate the penalties on improvidence, has the inevitable effect of adding to the number of the improvident. Whether assistance is given through State-machinery, or by charitable societies, or privately, it is difficult to see how it can be restricted in such manner as to prevent the inferior from begetting more of the inferior.

If left to operate in all its sternness, the principle of the survival of the fittest, which, as ethically considered, we have seen to imply that each individual shall be left to experience the effects of his own nature and consequent conduct, would quickly clear away the degraded. But it is impracticable with our present sentiments to let it operate in all its sternness. No serious evil would result from relaxing its operation, if the degraded were to leave no progeny. A short-sighted beneficence might be allowed to save them from suffering, were a long-sighted beneficence assured that there would be born no more such. But how can it be thus assured? If, either by public action or by private action, aid were given to the feeble, the unhealthy, the deformed, the stupid, on condition that they did not marry, the result would manifestly be a great increase of illegitimacy; which, implying a still more unfavorable nurture of children, would result in still worse men and women. If instead of a "submerged tenth" there existed only a submerged fiftieth, it might be possible to deal with it effectually by private industrial institutions, or some kindred appliances. But the mass of effete humanity to be dealt with is so large as to make one despair; the problem seems insoluble.

Certainly, if solvable, it is to be solved only through suffering. Having, by unwise institutions, brought into existence large numbers who are unadapted to the requirements of social life, and are consequently sources of misery to themselves and others, we can not repress and gradually diminish this body of relatively worthless people without inflicting much pain. Evil has been done and the penalty must be paid. Cure can come only through affliction. The artificial assuaging of distress by State-appliances, is a kind of social opium-eating, yielding temporary mitigation at the eventual cost of intenser misery Increase of the anodyne dose inevitably leads by and by to increase of the evil; and the