Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/332

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328
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

CIVILIZATION AND VEGETATION
By Professor GEORGE J. PEIRCE

STANFORD UNIVERSITY

CERTAIN experiences, national and personal, have caused me to reflect of late on this subject, the outlines and meaning of which will become clear, I hope, as we proceed.

With the modesty which we all recognize to be the supreme characteristic distinguishing man from all other living organisms, we regard the human race as the dominant one in nature. We consider it not only the one whose mental, if not physical, evolution has proceeded furthest toward the highest good, but the one which by natural or divine right should subjugate and rule all others, should domesticate or exterminate at will, should plow or disembowel the earth, should make the desert bear crops or strip the slopes of their forest cover, centuries old. In fact, so complete is human modesty, that the race does all these things and many more with no thought but as to the means and the gain, never a question as to the right. That is modestly assumed.

Human modesty even goes so far as to compel competition among men. The gross material cannibalism that once prevailed has given place to that refined cannibalism which, on bourse and stock exchange, in manufacture and sale of commodities, even in the numberless Olympuses of our American colleges, "eats up" the "lambs," devours the weak competitor, and oppresses the friendless. Peace is not in the scheme of nature, that nature in which man has taken the role of Ishmael, whose hand was against every man and every man's hand against him.

With this Ishmael, as in all nature, struggle is universal and inevitable; struggle, competition, war if you will, which can have only one end, the extermination of one of the stragglers. There is such a thing as extermination by assimilation. The King of the Cannibal Islands exterminated the first missionaries by assimilating them after murder. We are to-day exterminating the Indian as such by assimilating him without murder as certainly as in the days of the Indian wars.

Where are the races of wild animals from which we have "developed" cows and hens, the intelligence, alertness and gaiety of whose countenances is so obvious? We have assimilated them. Some of their excellences have even been imitated on the stage.

What is the joy of living as a tame hen, as a domesticated cow, as a pruned pear tree? "The ox that treadeth out corn" is sure of daily food; so is "the cock of the walk"; so also are the subjugated plants of