The Involutionary Ascent
( Originally Published 1916 )
"IN COMPLETED MAN BEGINS ANEW A TENDENCY TO GOD. PROGNOSTICS TOLD MAN'S NEAR APPROACH; SO IN MAN'S SELF ARISE AUGUST ANTICIPATIONS, SYMBOLS, TYPES OF A DIM SPLENDOUR EVER ON BEFORE IN THAT ETERNAL CIRCLE LIFE PURSUES."
Granted that man is in his turn a structural unit, it by no means follows that he is the heir of the ages. Is man the unit of the fifth cosmic period? This is the question we have now to settle, and a most vital one it is. But before considering man's claim to the line of ascent, let us look to the pretensions of his rivals. First among these, to the best of our judgment, stand the ants and bees. If co-operation and mutuality of endeavour are the criteria of progressive involution surely we find it here. But notwithstanding the integration of the social insects has led to highly organised involutes, it has so far as we are able to determine reached its culmination. While the groups have differentiated to a certain extent, they show no potentiality for the forming of larger complexes. And with the Articulata thus put to the side, there is none to dispute man's right, for he combines in himself, as does no other vertebrate, the essential features of a structural unit.
Man possesses in a high degree that plasticity which rendered the unit, whatsoever its biological period, peculiarly sensitive to outward influences. He has also the great activity which has given him an increasing perception of the nature of the environment. And above all is he distinguished by those powers of concentration and quick response that have ever characterised his predecessors in the life chain. In man the psychical functions of the organic living network have reached their highest development thus far. Furthermore he stands in the same structural relation to the social congeries that earlier units stood to their respective colony formations. And because of his ability to respond more effectively to his environment than his fellow-creatures of the present evolutionary period, the more insistent and imperative is the need on his part of the larger adjustments coming through involution.
The human social composite is in its turn serial with the previous colony formations. Chromid, Cell, Gastrea, and Annelid, each in its turn passed through the same stages of development as are to be traced in the growth of a sovereignty. Nor does the social body fail to meet the criteria of an organic structure. It is self-maintaining and self-perpetuating. It also simulates an individual in the inter-action of its part-processes and like him opposes aberration from the main direction of its purpose. The question of physical connection among the components of the social entity should give us no trouble, since, for any colony formation, whatsoever its status, this resolves itself into an inquiry as to the transference of stimuli, and manifestly it is immaterial whether filaments or wires serve this purpose. That there is a certain type of physiognomy characteristic of a nation goes to show a spirit peculiarly its own. And so we might continue with the analogy indefinitely — through language, literature, customs.
If social systems are of organic growth, it must be possible to discover in them some definite principle of life. This principle I take to be the moral law. But it will be said that the standard of con-duct is constantly changing, that it is never exactly the same even in the most similar countries, or in two successive generations in the same country. Very true, but this extreme mutability of the standards of action is due rather to intellectual variation than to a change in the moral instinct. For, as Buckle puts it, " there is, unquestionably, nothing to be found in the world which has undergone so little change as those great dogmas of which moral systems are composed. To do good to others ; to sacrifice for their benefit your own wishes ; to love your neighbour as yourself; to forgive your enemies ; to restrain your passions; to honour your parents ; to respect those who are set over you; — these and a few others are the sole essentials of morals; but they have been known for thousands of years, and not one jot or tittle has been added to them by all the sermons, homilies, and text-books which moralists and theologians have been able to produce. " Have we not here the invariants of our group-analysis?
The Eastern religions conceive humanity as a being spiritual and eternal,' manifesting itself in time in a series of generations. Ancestor-worship is a recognition of this continuous life. The progress of mankind marks in Oriental thought the development of an entity of which the individual is the structural element.
The concept of the state as a unified organism dates back to Ezekiel, who likens Jerusalem to a man. Cicero finds all stages of human life reproduced in the history of Rome. St. Augustine generalises the simile, if simile it was, to humanity as a whole. Pas-cal leaves no doubt as to his attitude, for he says: " We must look upon the continuity of the human race throughout the centuries as the continued existence and progressive experience of a single human being." On the other hand, Max Nordau expresses the view of many thinkers concerning this anthropomorphic interpretation of history in the remark : " Paracelsus came much nearer the truth when he called each man a microcosm, a world in himself." And the marvel of it all is that biology has found a synthesis inclusive of both interpretations.
" AND THIS TO FILL US WITH REGARD FOR MAN, WITH APPREHENSION OF HIS PASSING WORTH, DESIRE TO WORK HIS PROPER NATURE. OUT, AND ASCERTAIN HIS RANK AND FINAL PLACE."
If the factors of evolution were as definitely de-fined as we once supposed, there would be little difficulty in setting up those of involution. Natural selection would find its counter-part in altruism ; survival of the fittest, in self-sacrifice; the struggle for existence, in co-operation. But with the recent change in the point of view of Evolutionists, the first have become greatly transformed so that one may not readily distinguish between the operators making for variation and those which are integrative in character. For instance, where we once read, " If there had been no struggle for existence, there would have been no adaptation and no improvement," we now read, " If there had been no struggle for existence, there would have been no destruction of forms already risen or arising."
Manifestly the effort has been to bridge the chasm between the unit and its component to the end that the Darwinian movement might be continuous. If altruism could be smuggled into the system of things, then integration would be seen to be a factor of evolution — a " neglected " one, to be sure, but one upon which emphasis could be placed as occasion required.
Although it is not possible to define the higher life-processes in terms of the lower, we are able to in-duce from the previous involutions of the life-movement certain elements that will at least point the way for the human unit. This is where the group analysis stands us in good stead.
Even as early as the second period the structural unit showed a certain degree of individual variation — a characteristic which became more marked with each succeeding period, the greater complexity of the organism rendering such increase possible. With the increase in differentiation went a growing augmentation of the compounding or socialising tendency. The importance of a right balancing of these two forces finds negative testimony in the many colony formations that have failed of the organic unity essential to integration, not to mention the countless individuals that have dropped out from the life-procession in its triumphal march down the ages.
While there have been with each period many types of colony formations as a result of the lapsing into heterogeneity of the composite organism, only one of these has at any time attained to the unity creative of a higher life-form. If these serial units, unlike as they are in structure, can be said to have any characteristic in common, it is that of being close to the life-stock and varying in the direction of the life-principle. Furthermore, the communal-self was ever dependent upon the complete energising of the forces composing it. And so it is that Germany was the first of the sovereignties to achieve a national consciousness. But is its Kultur that of the general trend of civilisation? That is the vital question.
Although it is not possible to draw the line clearly between the differentiative and integrative factors, we may generalise to this extent : The first are more concerned with inherited tendencies, while the second have to do largely with the acquired characteristics induced by education and environment.
" FOR WHEREFORE MAKE ACCOUNT OF FEVERISH STARTS OF RESTLESS MEMBERS OF A DORMANT WHOLE? - BUT WHEN FULL ROUSED, EACH GIANT-LIMB AWAKE, EACH SINEW STRUNG, THE GREAT HEART PULSING FAST, HE SHALL START UP AND STAND ON HIS OWN EARTH, THEN SHALL HIS LONG TRIUMPHANT MARCH BEGIN, THENCE SHALL HIS BEING DATE, THUS WHOLLY ROUSED, WHAT HE ACHIEVES SHALL BE SET DOWN TO HIM."
If morality has reverted, as it seemingly has, to ideals antedating even those of Attila,, it is because the factors of evolution remain unaltered. Treitschke rewrites Nietzsche with a change of the structural unit, and evolution begins over again. The psychic entities that have replaced us in the scheme of things must needs evolve a morality of their own, for ours, even at its best, belongs to the pre-evolutionary period. Nations, like boys, have to pass through the school of experience — they are not born with a moral sense .
There can be no doubt that the social conscience, inasmuch as it has to do with larger relations and greater complexities, is destined ultimately to transcend the individual conscience. Would we further its development, we must hold it responsible alike for Titanic and jitney disaster even at the loss of personal responsibility. The one virtue left to us as individuals in view of the biological chasm yawning at our feet is loyalty,—" our country ; right or wrong, our country "— for the way to the larger loyalty is through the lesser. Civilisations at their height are inevitably marked by vice; for vice is the logical consequence of the impersonal attitude toward one's fellows that necessarily goes with great numbers and the compounding process.
Although the social conscience is to be comprehensive of a greater good, until that conscience is fully evolved there will doubtless be many Lusitania wrongs of one sort or another. Since there is no reconciling the standards of diplomacy with our personal ideals our only consolation while undergoing the throes of integration is that Nature has evinced an increasing purpose through all her creations for the forming of a higher type of consciousness.
Are the finer powers of personality then to count for naught in this summing up process whose total is the corporate consciousness? For answer let us look back once more to the invariants of the life-group. We find there was always the giving up of self — the functioning for a common cause. Ah, but first there was a self worth the giving ! Evolution saw to that. The period of differentiation was a long one even for the cell, and it grew ever longer as the unit rose in the scale of complexity. The involutionary process was based at every rise upon the highest variation consistent with 'organic unity — as shown in the lower stages by free-swimming propensities ; in the higher, by spontaneity of action generally. Indeed, there is great danger that an involute may have its rise in too low a degree of individualisation to permit of its forming a link in the life-sequence. With the large majority of its citizens barely over the edge of illiteracy, Germany may have come prematurely to the sense of a national self. From the point of view of our democratic ideal there is not the requisite heterogeneity among its elements to make life more than efficient for the day. On the other hand, the democratic ideal may be subversive of the necessary homogeneity for the informing of an organic whole. However that may be, it is interesting to note that the emphasis France has placed upon individual development is not telling against its spirit of loyalty.
Another invariant of the group-analysis, and one that is concomitant with the self-development of the element, is the sense of conscious adjustment with his fellows. This means political wisdom and virtue — in a word, democracy. Says Mr. Graham Wallas : " The very existence of the Great Society requires that there should be found in each generation a certain number of men and women whose de-sire for the good of others is sufficiently reliable and continuous to ensure that they will carry out the duty of originating leadership (mere dexterous self-advancement does not originate) either in administration or thought. Whoever has known any such men will accept the statement, which they themselves constantly make, that no ambition, however lofty, would be sufficient to carry them through the unexciting toil, the constant disappointments, the ever present uncertainty of result, which are involved in the intellectual organisation of a modern community."
Although material conditions, habits and sentiments are necessary to the welding of a people, they do not suffice to give rise to the new life. That has its inception alone in the spiritual bond of common ideals. Only thus is the individual born again. " America is not the government," says Mary Antin ; " it is a spiritual state. America is a matter of the inner man." Need we fear that personal worth and aspiration are lost to the involute when thus essential even to its inauguration?