AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles AmblesideOnline.org

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
______________________________________
Altruism

by Lieut.-Colonel The Hon. James Baker
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 106-111


[Dear Madam—Most persons interested in Education—and more especially in Military Education—must during the past year have read with pleasure the many letters appearing on this subject in the Times, Morning Post, and United Service Gazette, over the signature James Baker, Lieut.-Colonel, Inglewood, Parkstone, Dorset. Those who heard his notable lecture on "Education," delivered last May in the theatre of the Royal United Service Institution—since published in the August Journal of that Institution—will undoubtedly attach even greater weight to his opinions. Those who, like myself, have the honour of Colonel Baker's acquaintance, can even better appreciate the sound judgment, ripe experience, and tempered enthusiasm, which are the foundation of all his educational ideas. It is because I am firmly convinced that Colonel Baker's words will be an inspiration to parents and teachers everywhere, that I venture to send you for publication in the Parents' Review a lecture of his, delivered at Victoria, British Columbia. Colonel Baker is the last of a famous trio of brothers. The names of Sir Samuel and Valentine will for all time be connected with those of England's most famous explorers and cavalry leaders. In a different field—that of Education—Colonel James Baker has led a somewhat less strenuous life. England's need just now is perhaps even greater for educationalists than for explorers or cavalry leaders. For England's sake, let us hope that the last of the brothers will not be the least famous of the three.

Yours faithfully,
Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, B. R. Ward, Major R.E.]
December 14th, 1902

It is good for us—it is both useful as well as instructive—to occasionally turn aside from the busy hum, the daily routine and mechanism of life, in order to study what I may term the motors of society, because, by so doing, we are the better able to understand and appreciate the various forces which are acting upon the temporary habitation of the mind—the body—and which are impelling us either upwards or downwards along the complicated path of evolution according to the direction which we may give to the mysterious and inherited force of "free will" which is at the disposal of every sane man and sane woman.

A student who endeavours to fathom the depths of sociology soon becomes attracted by the hypothesis of the continuity and augmentation of thought. He realizes that the mind of man is not only influenced and formed by his present environment, but that he is more or less an inheritor of thoughts and conclusions of individuals and generations who have preceded him. For example, the philosophy of Plato, the science of Aristotle, the logic of Socrates did not die and pass away with the decay of their bodies, but they continued to live and are living still to take temporary habitation in the minds and bodies of present and future generations.

And so it is with every individual thought; it forms one of the many units which make up the general evolution of mind, and it will have an impelling or retarding effect upon that evolution according to the disposal of the free will of the individual.

This free will is a mystery in life, and as yet is far beyond our ken, but we are able to recognise the eternity of mind, by means of induction, from the experience of the past and the consequent deductions for the future.

Continuity and augmentation of thought are not mere mental conceptions, but they have been given a substantial form by means of writing and the printing press. A new conception of the mind comes to us by what we call intuition, but that is merely a term which is so indefinite as to mark its uncertainty. How we obtain our ideas we cannot always prove. They may be around us, although invisible—an onward wave of progressive thought which beats against our sensitive brain and leaves some impress there.

But a short time ago we should have laughed to scorn the man who asserted that he could see through a deal door, but we now know how effectively it can be done by means of the Rontgen rays. And so, perhaps, in the far future we may be permitted to see and recognise the mysterious forces which surround us, and which are shaping our thoughts and actions.

But what I want to impress upon you now is that your mind—or soul, if you like so to call it—will go on for-ever, and that you therefore have a selfish and personal interest in the future. Whatever the measure of improvement in your mind now, so much will it have gained or added to it in the future; whatever the measure of debasement in your mind now, so much lost ground will it have to make good in the future—as you sow you will reap. This is not only an axiom of religion, but it is being verified by scientific research. Science has revealed to us two great forces in nature—the force of evolution, or the lifting up of life to a higher order of being, and the force of degeneration, or the gravitation of life towards its primitive form of existence. The dawn of this knowledge was visible in early forms of religion which recognised a creating and a destroying angel, and we recognise it ourselves through our conceptions of God and the devil. Between these two contending forces of evolution and degeneration there stands the mysterious power of free will. We are conscious of its possession, but that is all we know about it.

To gravitate towards a lower order of being is so easy that it requires no effort, it is assisted by the force of gravitation; but to be lifted up to a higher level requires effort. Now, all effort must be at the expense of some other force in nature and produces change, and this change to a higher order of being is evolution.

Scientific research has always indicated certain species and organisms which have all the attributes of degeneration, and there is an interesting example of this gravitation to a lower level in one of the Ascidians known to boys as the "sea-squirt," which is found in the seaweed among the rocks at low water. In appearance it is an oval- shaped, fleshy lump of seaweed, with two orifices at the top. With one it sucks in sea water, and squirts it out with the other in a fatuous sort of manner. But if this apparent lump of seaweed is dissected, it is found to contain a stomach and other organs somewhat resembling those of a human being, and it is a curious fact that the young of this Ascidian are little animals, very similar to young tadpoles, which swim about in the water and after a time fix on to the rocks. Their tails then disappear by atrophy, and it gradually assumes the seaweed form of the sea-squirt. We thus have a short epitome of degeneration in the ontological history of the sea-squirt, which evidently once occupied a far higher position in the scale of life.

We are accustomed to talk of so-and-so as having been a good fellow, but that he has completely run to seed—degenerated, in fact,—and when we look upon the melancholy spectacle of a poor drunken sot, we ask ourselves, what of his further degeneration? It is one of the functions of Altruism to knit together the units of society in order that they may mutually support each other in the effort to rise to a higher plane of existence, and the teachers of our public schools have cast upon them a grave responsibility in this respect, inasmuch as they have committed to their charge the moulding of immature minds at an age when inherited tendencies are easily directed to either higher or lower aims.

It is a matter of every-day experience that the mind is greatly influenced by its environment. Place a young boy among bad associates, and he soon becomes contaminated by their vices; on the other hand, let him be living with those whose thoughts and actions are manly and noble, and he will rise in the scale of humanity—in either case his inherited tendencies will be respectively debased or exalted by his environment. But if you acknowledge the eternity of mind, and if you also acknowledge that mind is greatly influenced by its environment, then you are bound to recognise the obvious fact that the more you can improve the environment—or society—of the future, the greater must be the improvement in your own mind or soul. Therefore, it is not only to your interest to improve society in the present, but it is equally to your interest to submit to present sacrifice, if necessary, in order to improve society in the future, when it will also form part of your environment.

The span of bodily life is merely a pulsation in the progress of the soul, and nature affords us many examples of this rhythmic motion. The day alternates with night, the summer with winter; the trees put forth and drop their leaves in regular cadence; we sleep at night to awake in the morning; we take our long rest at the close of bodily life that our soul may awaken refreshed for further activity in a new habitation. But the measure of the rhythm varies greatly in length.

There is no such thing as absolute rest in nature, but everything is more or less in motion—even the atoms of a solid piece of iron or any other metal are in a constant state of vibration. Neither is there any such thing as complete destruction; there is only—change.

And so it is with the mind; it is in progressive motion, and every unit of society has a permanent interest in the movement. Hence the paramount importance of Altruism, or duty towards your neighbour, as a function of sociology.

Now, how shall I convey to you the thoughts which are in my mind upon this subject? Has it ever occurred to you how thoughts are conveyed from one to another? I must first produce an effort of that mysterious power called my Will to give direction to my brain. After that, the mechanical process sets in. My brain, acting under directions from my will, telegraphs by means of my nerves to certain muscles, which act upon my lungs and tongue; the movement of my lungs creates a current of air through my throat and mouth, and produces what we call sound; the movements of my tongue give inflexions to this sound and form language; the vibrations of this language act upon the particles of air, which impinge upon the drums of your ears, and from thence are conveyed by your nerves to the diaphragm of your brains, upon which they are indented, to be afterwards at the disposal of individual will—and so my thoughts are conveyed to you. It is therefore apparent that a mechanical process is necessary before my thoughts can be placed in conjunction with your thoughts, and the velocity with which thoughts can be transmitted from one to another by this vocal process is limited to the velocity of sound, but at no time is it very great. For example, the sound from the firing of an ordinary cannon would travel at the rate of about thirteen hundred feet per second. But, by means of mechanical contrivances, we are now able to greatly increase not only the velocity but also the distance over which thoughts can be transmitted. The telephone is a long wire with a diaphragm at each end of it; the vibrations of language strike against the diaphragm at one end; from there they are carried by the electric current—which travels at about the same speed as light, or one hundred and eighty-five thousand miles in one second—to the diaphragm at the other end of the wire, and from thence to the drum of the ear of the listener, and so to his brain. By means of the telegraph and the electric current, we can transmit our thoughts at the velocity of one hundred and eighty-five thousand miles per second to almost any part of the world, but in this case, the eye and the hand become factors in the operation instead of the voice and the ear. Then, again, the printing press enables us to strike off any number of copies of our thoughts, and to distribute them among a large number of people in a comparatively short space of time.

Therefore, by means of the press and the telegraph, we are able to have placed upon our breakfast table every morning the thoughts of numbers of people from all parts of the world a few hours after the thinking process. Now, you may ask, what has this to do with Altruism? It has a most important bearing upon it, because scientific discovery and mechanical contrivance place us in closer touch with nature, and "a touch of nature makes the whole world kin." It has the effect of greatly enlarging our environment, or, in other words, of increasing the area of our Altruism, and the responsibility cast upon us is proportionate to this increase of area. Society hardly yet realizes the grave importance of this increase in the velocity and distribution of thought and the effect it is having upon the human race.

(To be continued.)

Altruism

by Lieut.-Colonel The Hon. James Baker
Volume 14, 1903, pg. 186


Part 2, continued from page 111

It may be well to dwell for a moment upon what we really understand by the term Altruism. If you turn to the dictionaries, they will tell you that Altruism is opposed to Egoism. But I think that is a misleading explanation of the term, because, although Egoism may exist without Altruism, Altruism cannot exist without Egoism. It should rather be called complement or consort of Egoism. But I may, perhaps, be better able to elucidate the question by placing it before you in the form of an idyl. I will therefore ask you to call upon your imaginations for a time, and to picture to yourselves a young man, in the prime of life and in a state of nature, asleep upon the grass on a small but beautiful and fertile island; and I will ask you to so conceive of him that when he awakes he will be oblivious of the past and he will only be cognizant of the circumstances of the present. He awakes, stretches his supple limbs, and gazes around him with indolent curiosity. Soon a craving for food comes upon him, and he wanders about the island in search of something to satisfy his hunger, but he finds neither habitation nor human being upon the island, and then he realizes that he is alone upon the land, and that he must be dependent upon his own exertions to provide himself with food, with raiment, and with shelter. And so he labours day after day until, in course of time, he has obtained for himself a fair standard of comfort. But you will observe that this is entirely egoistic labour; he has neither thought nor care for anyone but himself, and if he did not labour he would starve, and his body would decay. Therefore, Egoism is necessary for existence. One day, however, as he wends his way back to his solitary hut, he is startled by the apparition of a human form lying asleep among the flowers, and as he draws near and gazes upon the form of a beautiful girl there comes upon him a great pity, which is akin to love, and soon he realizes the poetic words, "I live to love, and because I love I live"—and lo! the spirit of Altruism is breathed into his soul.

And now mark the change which comes over his being; note the cheerful vigour he puts into his work. He has no longer to provide for himself alone, but he has to labour for another, and it is a labour of love. And this begets within him—mark the point—the spirit of sacrifice; he is ready to bear any hardship, to cheerfully brave any danger, and to forfeit his life if needs be—for what? For the welfare of a fellow- being.

And she reciprocates the beautiful emotion, and in a hundred tender ways lightens his burdens and ministers to his wants, and cleaves to him in sunshine and in shadow, in sickness and in sorrow, until death shall them, temporarily, part. Egoism has found a consort and become Altruism. After a time there arrives the purest Altruism of all, in the mother's love for her child. It is bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, and she slaves for it, nourishes it, sacrifices herself—mark you—not only for its present but also for its future welfare, long after she may have passed away in the flesh and be no more seen.

This maternal Altruism is typical of what the Altruism of society should be. It should be prepared for present sacrifice, if necessary, for the advancement of society in the future, and the sacrifice should be a labour of love.

We are able to realize the wonderful power of self-sacrifice over the human race by turning back the pages of history and noting the conduct of the followers of Christ and the noble army of martyrs. And think you that their sacrifice has been in vain? Nay; it has ennobled humanity.

But to return to our idyl. I have pictured to you the pure Altruism of the family, which may be taken as the unit of society, and it is easy to imagine the family expanded into a tribe and a tribe into a nation.

But, unfortunately, society has, as yet, advanced but a short distance along the path of evolution, and it still inherits many of the savage instincts of its animal progenitors, and must therefore be protected against itself by means of laws.

Now, there is a law of nature called natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, and by that law we find that, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, one species wars against another species to wholly or partially destroy it, and, as far as evolution has as yet advanced, that law appears to be a necessity of life, otherwise the velocity of propagation would be so great that in a very short time the sustenance of the earth would not be sufficient to support the life which would be upon it. There are minute organisms which propagate with such rapidity that one pair will, if unchecked, increase in a fortnight to over fourteen millions. I am very glad that they do not require education! We therefore find that life is a battlefield, and that in the struggle for existence, the stronger overcomes and dominates the weaker, and we can clearly see that the result of this law must tend towards the minority dominating the majority, because, in the perpetual struggle for existence, the fittest can only survive through the extermination or subjection of the greater number. But, when we say that the stronger overcomes and dominates the weaker, what do we mean by the term "stronger"? We find that, in the process of evolution, there are two forces in operation—the physical force, or development of the organism, and the psychical force, or the development of the mind. They may be designated co-operative forces, because we are not yet able to recognise one apart from the other. If we place a weak mind in a strong body, it will tend to lead the body to destruction; on the other hand, if we place a strong mind in a weak body, it will tend to wear out the latter, and, in either case, the forces will cease to be co-operative. To put the case mathematically, we may therefore say that the greatest effect is obtained from the sum of the two forces when the ratio of one to the other makes unity, and when such is the case the power of the sum of the forces will naturally vary directly as the power of the components. This reminds us of the quotation, "Mens sana in corpore sano"—"A sound mind is a sound body." And nature offers us a useful object lesson by proving the importance of duly cultivating the strength and healthiness of the body at the same time as we are cultivating the strength of the mind, which marks the necessity for healthy recreation.

Now, the higher we ascend in the scale of evolution the nearer do we approach to perfect unity in the ratio between the physical and psychical forces. But in the earlier stages of human existence—in the days of primitive man—we find the physical force of brute strength the predominant factor in the ascendancy of one man over his fellow-men. "Might became right." And we recognise the same motive and its equivalent effect among the savages of the present age.

My brother told me that on one occasion, when he was in Central Africa, he was entertained by a savage potentate, and in return he made him a present of a rifle, and after explaining its destructive powers he showed him how to use it. The savage was quite delighted, and immediately began to fire at some women who were drawing water at a neighbouring well, and he killed one poor woman before he could be stopped. This savage did not feel as much concern over the death of the woman as I should over the death of a mouse. His Altruism was entirely overshadowed by his Egoism—in his eyes might was right. But as we ascend in the scale of evolution, and the psychical power becomes more developed in us, we recognise that the fiat that might shall be right must be reversed, and that for the future "right shall be might."

The law of the survival of the fittest is sometimes advanced by individualists as an argument in favour of one portion of society being permitted to prey upon another portion. It is pointed out that because there is no such thing as perfect equality in nature, either in the animal or vegetable kingdom; therefore, for the sake of sustenance for the whole, it is evidently intended that the weakest should go to the wall, and, consequently, our motto should be "every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost." But in this argument we detect the hereditary taint of our brute existence; it is the old formula that "might shall be right." It is useless, however, for the advocates of that egoistic principle to attempt to ignore, in the present age, the progressive spirit of Altruism which has illuminated the human race, and which has also written its name upon the pages of history through centuries upon centuries of contests between Demos and Aristos, Plebs and Patrician, and in a hundred other ways, as finger-posts on the road to justice. It has revealed to us the law that "right shall be might," and the problems which now has to be solved is this: "When shall man be evolved to such a degree as to be competent to enact laws which shall give to every unit of society equality of opportunity, and at the same time proportion the number of units to the productiveness of their environment?"

This would be carrying out the law of the survival of the fittest in a higher sense; it would be Altruism perfected by making the greater more fitted to survive. I do not mean that we should arrive at an equality of mental capacity in all human beings—God forbid, because to do that would bring evolution to a standstill—but we should cultivate the field of choice, we should raise the general standard of humanity and still retain the standard bearers to lead on their followers to higher planes. The goal, however, is still far distant, but when it is reached, then Mammon will be dethroned and Intellect [Character?—Ed.] will be king.

We are now passing through a transition stage as the result of rapid scientific discovery, and society has not yet had time to equilibrate the new forces which have been brought to bear upon its progress. But, already, the effect has been to give a great stimulus to Altruism, and the last half century has afforded us numerous examples of the practical working of this important function of evolution, both in the major and minor affairs of life.

I may mention free education, the Factory Ants, County Councils, Mechanics' Lien Act, the Postal Union, Savings Banks, the numerous Benevolent Societies, Co-operative Societies, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the similar Society (and no less needed) for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, besides many others. Then we have the agitation in favour of International Arbitration, for Imperial Federation, for an International currency, weights, and measures, and all of these are Altruistic movements of the last half century. Even in my own profession, the movement is most marked in the greater care and comfort bestowed upon the private soldier and the closer sympathy between officers and men, and in minor details there is the curious evidence of the advance of military Altruism by the manner in which a company is formed for maneuvre. In my time, the captain of a company sized his men by placing the tallest on the flanks, so as to present a smart and uniform appearance; but now that is all changed, and Altruism takes precedence. Comradeship is the rule, and the closest chums are placed next each other so as to bring their Altruism to bear in time of danger. In fact, the closer we look into the working of society, the more we become aware of the wonderful advance which has been and is being made in Altruistic tendencies.

We frequently hear the present age called an age of frivolity, and "laissez faire," and in many ways the charge is, unfortunately, only too true, but there is a strong under-current of sound progressive thought, which, as it gathers strength from tributary channels, will sweep away all the eddies of folly and frivolity, and will, let us hope, scour out a broad channel for the onward flow of the nobler traits of humanity.

I have endeavoured to point out how Altruism takes its source from the family, and I have shown that, in the family, the mother is the paramount cause of Altruism, and this proves to us the pre-eminent part which woman plays in the ethics of society.

We have recognised, also, two forces which are acting upon society— the force of evolution and the force of degeneration. The former has partially lifted man out of his brute existence, but his inherited animal tendencies still cling to him and produce that dual character of the individual which is so familiar to us all, and which demands from us so much charity in our judgment of the conduct of our fellow-beings.

The surging passions of man's worser self—of greed, or gluttony, or lust, or plunder, varying both in kind and in degree according to the inherited tendency and vigour of his temperament—ofttimes seize upon him, struggle with him, master him, drag him to the very brink of the abyss, when, suddenly, his course is arrested and he is held back by the force of conscience—which carries the echo of the mother's voice— and then, for a time, he loaths his worser self.

But the flow of maternal Altruism is naturally interrupted when the child first enters public school, and a large portion of the maternal responsibility then devolves upon the public school teacher. To restrain his enthusiasm he is, however, prohibited by law in British Columbia from teaching the young child any form or kind of religion. Strange irony on the derivation of the world "religo"—"I bind again!" But the teacher is permitted to inculcate the highest morality, and he thus becomes, in a partial sense, a delegate from the mother to further the progress of the child, mentally, morally, and physically as a unit of society. It is a responsibility which should never be undertaken without a due appreciation of the gravity of the situation. The gauging of inherited tendencies in immature minds, and the patient labour of directing and restraining them in proper channels, is an honourable task which should carry with it some of the best rewards which society can bestow, and the time will assuredly come when the conscientious performance of such important duties will be duly recognised.

In conclusion, I would submit for the consideration of public school teachers the advisability of occasionally laying aside their books, in order to talk to the pupils, so as to relieve their young minds of the mechanism and monotony of routine, and to enlighten them on various topics of interest and usefulness. And, among other things, what might you tell them? Let us take the boys. Appeal to their manliness and to their courage; tell them life is a battlefield and they are the soldiers marching as to war, and that they will find every kind of impediment strewn along their route, and that if they wish for victory and success, they must stand shoulder to shoulder in the struggle for existence and fight for it. They must be brave collectively as well as individually; they must be loyal to their army, which is society. Tell them that the very soul of an army is made up of discipline and duty—and dwell upon that word "duty." Make it a point of honour; tell them that the man who neglects to do his daily duty conscientiously is as false as the coward who deserts his post in the hour of danger—for there is always danger in neglect of duty; warn them to expect many failures, both in their material and moral aims—ah, how many! But when they are thwarted, obstructed, and beaten down, perchance by their own inherited tendencies, bid them not to despair or to be downhearted, but to be up again and manfully to press on through every difficulty, danger, and temptation until they reach the front and the din, the excitement, and the glory of the open battle. Warn them that, in avoiding the Scylla of care and hypocrisy, to beware lest they drift on to the Charybdis of debauchery, for many a young man's life has been wrecked from that very cause. Teach them reverence for woman, and tell them that the man who scoffs at woman scoffs at his own mother, and the man who scoffs at his own mother is sliding down—down to the very depths of Avernus.

[Scylla and Charybdis are mythological monsters said to have been turned into a rock and a whirlpool - so, the analogy might be likened to being between a rock and a hard place, or going from the fire to thr frying pan.]

And the girls—Ah! what shall you tell them? Tell them that they are the source of Altruism, and that men are—what women make them.



Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, December 2008