Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


The Arrival Of The Fit
by [?]

The evolution of nations is attended by the same contingencies, the same law of probability, the same law of the survival of the fit, as are organic bodies. I say the survival of the fit; there are degrees of fitness in the scale of life; the fit survive, and the fittest lead and dominate, as did the reptiles in Mesozoic time, and the mammals in Tertiary time. Among the mammals man is dominant because he is the fittest. Nations break up or become extinct when they are no longer fit, or equal to the exigencies of the struggles of life. The Roman Empire would still exist if it had been entirely fit. The causes of its unfitness form a long and intricate problem. Germany of to-day evidently looks upon herself as the dominant nation, the one fittest to survive, and she has committed herself to the desperate struggle of justifying her self-estimate. She tramples down weaker nations as we do the stubble of the fields. She would plough and harrow the world to plant her Prussian Kultur. This Kultur is a mighty good product, but we outside of its pale think that French Kultur, and English Kultur, and American Kultur are good products also, and equally fit to survive. We naturally object to being ploughed under. That Russian Kultur has so far proved itself a vastly inferior product cannot be doubted, but the evolutionary processes will in time bring a finer and higher Russia out of this vast weltering and fermenting mass of humanity. In all these things impersonal laws and forces are at work, and the balance of power, if temporarily disturbed, is bound, sooner or later, to be restored just as it is in the inorganic realm.

Evolution is creative, as Bergson contends. The wonder is that, notwithstanding the indifference of the elemental forces and the blind clashing of opposing tendencies among living forms,–a universe that seems run entirely on the trial-and-error principle,–evolution has gone steadily forward, a certain order and stability has been reached in the world of inert bodies and forces, and myriads of forms of wonderful fitness and beauty have been reached in the organic realm. Just as the water-system and the weather-system of the globe have worked themselves out on the hit-and-miss plan, but not without serious defects,–much too much water and heat at a few places, and much too little at a few others,–so the organic impulse, warred upon by the blind inorganic elements and preyed upon by the forms it gave rise to, has worked itself out and peopled the world as we see it peopled to-day–not with forms altogether admirable and lovely from our point of view, but so from the point of view of the whole. The forests get themselves planted by the go-as-you-please winds and currents, the pines in one place, the spruce, the oaks, the elms, the beeches, in another, all with a certain fitness and system. The waters gather themselves together in great bodies and breathe salubrity and fertility upon the land.

A certain order and reasonableness emerges from the chaos and cross-purposes. There are harmony and cooeperation among the elemental forces, as well as strife and antagonism. Life gets on, for all groping and blundering. There is the inherent variability of living forms to begin with–the primordial push toward the development from within which, so far as we can see, is not fortuitous, but predestined; and there is the stream of influences from without, constantly playing upon and modifying the organism and taken advantage of by it.

The essence of life is in adaptability; it goes into partnership with the forces and conditions that surround it. It is this trait which leads the teleological philosopher to celebrate the fitness of the environment when its fitness is a foregone conclusion. Shall we praise the fitness of the air for breathing, or of the water for drinking, or of the winds for filling our sails? If we cannot say explicitly, without speaking from our anthropomorphism, that there is a guiding intelligence in the evolution of living forms, we can at least say, I think, that the struggle for life is favored by the very constitution of the universe and that man in some inscrutable way was potential in the fiery nebula itself.