Sorry folks! National Library websites (including, Papers Past, Digital NZ, He Tohu, and others) will be unavailable from Tuesday 16 January 9pm – Wednesday 17 January 3.30am. This is a planned outage for scheduled maintenance. ×
Article image
Article image
Article image
Article image
Article image
Article image
Article image
This article displays in one automatically-generated column. View the full page to see article in its original form.


(All Bight* Kwemed>X

Dr. .*& t W* SALEEBY, F.R.S., Edhn

Li implicit or explicit approval of a falling birth-rate, one is in opposition to ' the opinion of the man in the street, the general opinion of the medical profession, the bench of bishops, and the social prophet and publicist in general. Nevertheless, I hold that a fall in the birthrate is a factor in organic progress, and thai in, general the level of any specks is in inverse proportion to its birthrate, from bacteria to—l will not say bachelor bishops, though the argument would be - perfectly warranted—4»ut at any rate to the most civilised classes ef men in the most civilised countries of to-day -. But in truth the uniformed opinion, whilst totally contrary to the -whole history of life and to the most obvious comparative facts of the birthrate amongst and within present day human societies, was utterly disposed of forty years ago in the closing chapter of the greatest contribution yet made to philosophic biology—Herbert Spencer's "Principles of Biology." Malthus assumed—indeed> formally declared—*hat there was no natural factor of an Internal kind, tending to limit the rate of. vital fertility, Spencer discovered that there is such a factor whleh can and does limit, and has been limiting animal fertility since the dawn of life. SPENCER'S DISCOVERY^ Reproduction, Spencer taught us, may be metaphorically, conceived, to our great eniighte»anent> as growth beyond the limits of the individual. This expresses clearly enough the rigorously accurate truth that all reproduction Involves an expenditure of energy in some degree on the part of the parent. Now the energy available by any individual is finite. If he expends it all upon reproduction, he himself, or she herself, must cease to exist. This happens in all the lowest forms of life, which multiply by fission or simple splitting. The baby bacteria are their subdivided parent. At the other extreme is the case of the Individual who retains the whole of his energy for his own development and life, and has no offsprlns* at all. Such consummato bachelor philosophers as Rant and Spencer may be quoted, and the list of childless men of genius might be ejtfcended quite Indefinitely;. The reader will not hastily assume that I am declaring this last state to be ideal. I am merely pointing out the logical extremes. The principle is that there is an "individuation" and "genesis" between the proportion of energy expended upon the individual and the proportion expended' upon the continuance of the race. AND HOW TT WORKS OUT. If we regard parentage as in a sense "discontinuous growth," it is then a process of disintegration, "and is thus essentially opposed to that process of integration which is an element of individual evolution." Thus "individuation," meaning all these processes which complete and maintain the life of the individual, and "genesis," meaning all those processes which aid the formation and perfection of new individuals, are necessarily antagonistic Every higher degree of individual evolution is followed by a lower degree of race multiplication, and vice versa. Progress in bulk (e.g., the elephant), complexity, or activity, involves retrogression in fertility; and progress in fertility involves retrogression in bulk, complexity, or activity. This is an obvious a priori principle. Should the reader • declare that there must be something the matter with an asserted principle of progress which leads in theory or in practice to the production of a childless generation, and therefore to the end of all progress, and that this principle suggests that the most completely developed man and- woman cannot be parents, then I would join in the chorus of fathers and mothers generally, who would say that, in human parentage, if not, indeed, in subhuman parentage, the antagonism is reconciled in a higher unity; that the best and most- complete development of the individual is effected only through parentage. DO LOW BIRTH-KATES MEAN DEGENERATION? It is impissfble here to sho whow complete is the evidence for Spencer's law, both froni the side of logical necessity and from the side of observation. Even without it, the assertion may be formally made that people who regard a falling birth-rate as in. itself, and obviously, a sign of racial degeneration or immorality, or approaching weakness or failure of any kind, can have made no substan-' tial additions to their knowledge of the subject since they themselves, formed items in the birth-Tate. Spencer goes on to show, with that profound insight still denied by living nonentities who know no more of him than that his name has only one "s," that, in general, greater individuation or, to put it in other words, the more highly evolved organism, "though less fertile absolutely, is the more fertile relatively." The supreme instance of this truth is, of course, the ca6e of man, in whom individuation has reached its unprecedented height, who is absolutely the least fertile of creatures, and yet who is relatively the most fertile—unique in his actual and persitent multiplication. LIVING EXAMPLES OF SPENCERS PRINCIPLE. Within the human species the laws of multiplication hold. It is still worth while, after half a century, to quote Spencer's TemaTk as to infertility in women due to mental labour carried to excess:—"Most of the flat-chested girls who survive their high-pressure education are incompetent to bear a welldeveloped infant and to supply it with the natural food for the natural period." On all hands people with opened eyes aTe rightly urging this truth upon us today. Here is simply an instance of the Spenserian principle in its most unfortunate misdirection by man. The most important point is also alluded to that men of unusual mental activity frequently have no offspring. To quote cases of some special interest, one may observe that the two great octogenarians now living, to one of whom we owe modern surgery, and to the other the independent discovery of the principle of natural selection, are, like Spencer himself, both childless. DEVELOPMENT OF INDI\TDUALITY. Before leaving Spencer we must refer briefly to the most remarkable predictions, based upon the foregoing principle, . with which he concluded his great work. The further evolution of man, he declare*, must take mainly the direction of

a higher intellectual and emotional da. velopment. Even to-day, ; pressure o| population is the original caus's of bioman competition, application, disoi D . Rne, expenditure of "energy, andy one may add, the possibility of continued selection. Excess of .fertility, then says fepencer, is the cause of man's, evolution but -man's further evolution iteelf neces! sitates a decline in his fertility." The future progress of civilisation will be ac companied by. increased development o] individuality, emotional' and intellectual* As Spencer observes, this.does not necessarily mean a mentally laborious life, for aa mental activity "gradually becomes

INDIVIDUALITY AND PARENTAGE, Finally, the necesßary antagonism be•tween individuality and parentage ensures the ultimate attainment of the highest form of the maintenance of the race—"a form in which the amount or hfe shall be the greatest possible, and the births and deaths the fewest possible. Kroin the beginning, pressure of popuhv tion has been the proximate cause off' progress. After having duly stocked the. globe with inhabitants; raised all its .habitable parts into the highest state ofi culture; brought ail processes for the satisfaction of human wants to perfection; developed the intellect into complete competency for its workj and the feelings into complete fitness for social i-bfej the pressure of population, as if* gradually finishes its work, must gradm ally bring itself to an end;" If now, we look at the law of Malthus we'ehali. realise the enormous significance of the. law of Spencer* In this respect we have the advantage over Malthus s we ara, aware, as he was not, of the great faot,' of organic evolution. We discover, then, that an actual consequence of the pressure of population, leading as it does to the struggle for existence and, in the main, the survival of higher types, ia that the Tate of fertility falls. This con. ception of the fall in the- birth-rate—, which, as I maintain, has been a great factor in all organic progress-—was entirely absent fromihe mind of Malthus.. In a word,, the unlimited multiplication which Malthus observed leads to its own correction. It- provides abundance of•material for natural selection to work;, upon, and then the survival value of in-, dividuation, wherever it appear**, assertsr itself, with the consequence that the rata: of multiplication declines. MALTHUS AND MODERN VIEWS, As I said at the Royal Institution ia 1907, Malthus desired to lower the birth-, rate, but under the influence of natural., selection and the dominant survival-value of individuation — which, by Spencer's law, is inimical to a high birth-rate—■ the birth-rate has fallen and continues to fall. Malthus desired that 'we should postpone marriage to later ages so as to lower the birth-rate. Yet, though not' one in a thousand of.the population has ever heard of Malthus, and. though it is incredible that there should ever have been any individual so Impersonal in his outlook as to postpone his own marriage on luAlthusian principles, we find that the increasing necessity and demand for: individuation is actually leading to that postponement in marriage which Mattfam desired. A HOPEFUL CONCLUSION. For every student of progress, and no{ least the eugenist, Spencer's law is *j; .- warrant of hope and a .promise of better > things to come. It teaches that'in the development of higher—that is to say, more specialised, more individualised—' * organic iypes, Nature is working, and'- - has been working for ages, towards'ths?; elimination of the brutal dements in the"' struggle for existence. This is, of■ course,' what every worker for progress, and every eugenist in especial, desires. Spencer's discovery teaches also that indivi--duality compensates a species for loss ofl. high fertility. The survival-value of in-. dividuation is greater than the survivalvalue of rapid multiplication. The very, fact of progress is the- replacement of' low grade by high-grade life, the supersession of the quantitatively the qualitative criterion of survival-value; the increasing dominance of mind over mat- ; ter, the substitution of the intensive fos the merely 'extensive cultivation of life* CULTURE OR FERULITYr

But it will be already evident to the reader that though Spencer' 3 law offers hope and warrant to the eugenist, it also poses him with a permanent and inera-. dicable difficulty which is inherent in; natural necessity—the difficulty that, in consequence of the operation of this law,: those very classes or members of society,: whose parentage he most desires, must be, in general, the least fertile. Throughout the animal world the lesser fertility, of higher species is no real handicap to them, as we*know; but where tu.e conditions of selection are so profoundly modi* fled as in human society, the case is very, different. Furthermore, amongst mankind individuality has often grown, and does grow, to such on extent that, as we hinted, parentage disappears THE TOUCHSTONE. The difficulty shows itself to some extent in the male sex, but it shows itself still more in the female sex, where the proportion of the individual energy devoted to the race, as compared with that devoted to individuation, is necessarily, far higher, and must so remain if therace is to persist. Without going further into the matter, it may be sugr gested that a cardinal principle of practical importance is involved. It is that the individual development of women, their higher education, their sell-expres-sion in works of art and thought and practice, cannot safely be carried beyond the point at which motherhood is compromised; else the race in question will necessarily disappear and be replaced by any race whatsoever, the women of which continue to be mothers.

This article text was automatically generated and may include errors. View the full page to see article in its original form.
Permanent link to this item

Bibliographic details

PROGENY AND PROGRESS., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 65, 17 March 1909

Word Count

PROGENY AND PROGRESS. Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 65, 17 March 1909

  1. New formats

    Papers Past now contains more than just newspapers. Use these links to navigate to other kinds of materials.

  2. Hierarchy

    These links will always show you how deep you are in the collection. Click them to get a broader view of the items you're currently viewing.

  3. Search

    Enter names, places, or other keywords that you're curious about here. We'll look for them in the fulltext of millions of articles.

  4. Search

    Browsed to an interesting page? Click here to search within the item you're currently viewing, or start a new search.

  5. Search facets

    Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.

  6. View selection

    Switch between images of the original document and text transcriptions and outlines you can cut and paste.

  7. Tools

    Print, save, zoom in and more.

  8. Explore

    If you'd rather just browse through documents, click here to find titles and issues from particular dates and geographic regions.

  9. Need more help?

    The "Help" link will show you different tips for each page on the site, so click here often as you explore the site.