Struggle For Existence
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Quoting from Darwin's Introduction to Origin of Species:
"This is the doctrine of Malthus applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdom. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected."
Darwin was endeavoring to look far back into prehistoric jungle life in search of the origin of species, and he saw clearly and distinctly this phase of life : "The Struggle for Existence." Beyond question, this struggle has its influence as one factor in evolutionary development. It is undoubtedly a real struggle and an important struggle.
But it is only a part of plant and animal life, and is, therefore, only a partial explanation of the results. There is no apparent evidence that it had any influence on the origin of new species, though it has increased variability, in the limited meaning of that term. It is not sufficient to explain the great gaps between species, nor the differences in structure and function which exist.
Moreover, the struggle for existence is only a partial explanation and an imperfect interpretation of the efforts of plant and animal life. It does not seem to have been clear to Mr. Darwin that the more highly developed plants and animals are endowed with embryonic powers which manifest other elements than those of struggle and competition. These other elements deserve an explanation of being. There is a whole world of beauty and utility in plant and animal life other than the phase known as "The Struggle for Existence."
Why do plants and animals struggle? Do the terms "Nutrition" and "Reproduction" cover all the struggles of plant and animal life ? Is there any degree of intelligence repelling them from one condition or environment and impelling them to seek a different condition or environment? Is life dear to them simply as an instinct for self-preservation ?
If nature had endowed plants and animals with only one instinct, that of self-preservation, very different results would have been produced from those which now obtain. It is evident that Darwin did not balance the results of his personal search for evolutionary principles with the results obtained by nature from her principles in actual operation. In other words, he did not discover all of nature's principles; nor did he discern the true nature of the evolutionary process as indicated by the results thus far obtained by nature, and as prophesied in present undeveloped potentialities.
Fierce competition for a limited food supply is not the strongest trait of plants or animals. Rather, the strongest trait is an intuitive intelligence adapting itself to conditions and seeking desirable means of life. The competition is incidental where the food supply is temporarily limited.
If nature were hostile, life could not have been produced and perpetuated. What is needed is an understanding of the results of the whole process, not merely the effects of part of the process on individual forms. This subject will be considered later. It is sufficient now to state that a higher and truer reading of the same facts of nature shows that worthy, intelligent ends are forever being accomplished.
It is a superficial interpretation of nature that finds only "blind physical forces" and "hostile environments." Of course some organisms are more intelligent than others, and some environments are more favorable than others; but every organism serves its inherent purpose in its place and degree, and all life accomplishes something for itself, or else it nourishes other life.
It is impossible to estimate how many members of the various species of plants gave up their lives to make a ton of coal. But since it is equally impossible to estimate how much good is accomplished by each ton of coal on the average, we are usually well satisfied that these plants did not die in vain. The Carboniferous Age preceded the possibility of civilization.
"The Struggle for Existence" is said to be a means of "Natural Selection." This depends upon the point of view. If nature is at war and there is no unified purpose, it is true. But the New Reading is that nature is essentially one and there is an harmonious purpose.
Therefore, from this point of view, "The Struggle for Existence," where the food supply is limited and there is a distinctly hostile environment, gives rise to an unnatural selection. It is the exception rather than the rule. Natural selection in the true sense allows for natural instincts and choice. An animal does not act "naturally" when under compulsion.
Where one species uses another for food supply, competition in the true sense does not occur. This is nature's method of sustaining life. It is natural, it is normal, it is right. Even here, instances of any species being exterminated solely because a stronger species preyed upon them for food are rare if not altogether unknown.
Competition in the true sense can only occur between members of the same species and there has never been any possibility of a species becoming exterminated or even diminished by such competition, because it is so limited. Nature is prolific in repairing temporary ravages.
But there is truly a natural selection. Those who have become accustomed to the other viewpoint will be slow to see that this is of far more importance as an active factor in evolution and a law of nature than what is called "natural selection" in the Darwinian theory.
There are natural selections of animals which have much to do with their character and development. The natural selections of animals can be determined only when the animals are free to select. If they are permitted to have a free choice, they are intelligent enough to forsake a "hostile environment" when they perceive a hospitable one. The annual migrations of some birds are evidence of this.
Domestic animals are restrained by their masters and governed by greater intelligence than their own. But if cows were left in a pasture with plenty of grass, competition would be unknown. Limit the grass and as the animals begin to suffer from hunger, a fierce competition will arise. As suffering increases, conflicts will arise. But this is not the natural selection of the cows.
Suppose the bars of the pasture are raised, and the way is opened into a corn field. There is no question but the cows would forsake the grass for the corn. Darwin's theory does not account for the inherent nature, nor for the cause of the choice of the cows.
The same principles may be observed in human association. When plenty of food is at hand, men will be polite, gentle and refined in their manners. Limit the food and all the fierceness of savages may result. This is not the natural selection of the men. All the machinery of modern business has been created in the efforts to avoid the primitive phases of the "Struggle for Existence." The "Struggle" has not yet been eliminated, but it is directly in the course of evolution that it shall be reduced to the lowest possible minimum.
However, there are plenty of historic examples of men controlled by chivalry, ethics, or love, who would cheer-fully die rather than violate their acquired standards of right. So wherever there seems to be a blind, unintelligent natural order, it is essential to remember that man is also a product of nature and he supplements nature's efforts through the application of individualized intelligence.
Ethics naturally develop in the course of man's evolutionary progress.
Darwin's theory does not account for what is really a natural law of selection, namely, natures demanding certain satisfactions. It does not explain results, the phenomena of daily life as we now find it. It does not account for the love of knowledge, the scientist's sacrifices, the artist's labors, the musician's fervor, the hero's attempt, the martyr's death. "Darwinism" does not explain the noble and self-sacrificing life of Charles Darwin. The other psychical factors of evolution as listed in Table B reveal his animating motives far better.
The history of development includes the record of man's gradual conquering of environment and his control of nature's forces by natural and intelligent selections. It is also full of the gradual rise of intelligence and love which have removed undesirable competition and established more favorable conditions for growth and development. All nature is progressing and it would seem as though an "eternity" were necessary for full realization of present potentialities.
Plant and animal life do not reveal their essential natures nor display their inherent potencies under the fiercest competition. Cooperation is as much a law of nature as competition. All that any life needs to produce better results is to have the cooperation of higher intelligence. Ultimately, every species may work out a useful destiny, either through the efforts of the Universal Intelligence or by the assistance of Human Intelligences who perceive the possible good to be attained. Mutual advantage precedes individual success. Man's success to a great extent is dependent upon the success of plants and animals.
The struggle for nutrition has had altogether too prominent a position in the literature of evolution and in the world's explanation of the purpose of life. It is a genuine struggle, but it is only the basis for other things much more worthy of struggle and effort. The doctrine of Malthus is comparatively unimportant. Any greater success of plant and animal life would have been a positive hindrance and an injury, for then there would have been neither room nor motive for higher development through effort. There is now on the earth an abundance of life and sustenance for life. This. abundance promises to continue indefinitely.