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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

MAN'S opinion of his own position in relation to the rest of the
animals has swung pendulum-wise between too great or too
little a conceit of himself, fixing now too large a gap between himself
and the animals, now too small. The gap, of course, can be dimin-
ished or increased at either the animal or the human end. One can,
like Descartes, make animals too mechanical, or, like most unsophisti-
cated people, humanize them too much. Or one can work at the
human end of the gap, and then either dehumanize one's own kind
into an animal species like any other, or superhumanize it into beings
a little lower than the angels.
Primitive and savage man, the world over, not only accepts his
obvious kinship with the animals but also projects into them many of
his own attributes. So far as we can judge, he has very little pride in
his own humanity. With the advent of settled civilization, economic
stratification, and the development of an elaborate religion as the
ideological mortar of a now class-ridden society, the pendulum began
slowly to swing in the other direction. Animal divinities and various
physiological functions such as fertility gradually lost their sacred
importance, Gods became anthropomorphic and human psycho-
logical qualities pre-eminent, Man saw himself as a being set apart,
with the rest of the animal kingdom created to serve his needs and
pleasure, with no share in salvation, no position in eternity. In west-
ern civilization this swing of the pendulum reached its limit in devel-
oped Christian theology and in the philosophy of Descartes; both
alike inserted a qualitative and unbridgeable barrier between all
men and any animals.
With Darwin, the reverse swing was started. Man was once again
regarded as an animal, but now in the light of science rather than of
unsophisticated sensibility. At the outset, the consequences of the
changed outlook were not fully explored. The unconscious prejudices
and attitudes of an earlier age survived, disguising many of the moral
and philosophical implications of the new outlook. But gradually the
pendulum reached the furthest point of its swing. What seemed the
logical consequences of the Darwinian postulates were faced: man is
an animal like any other; accordingly, his views as to the special
meaning of human life and human ideals need merit no more con-
sideration in the light of eternity (or of evolution) than those of a
bacillus or a tapeworm. Survival is the only criterion of evolutionary