Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Fit and the Unfit. — Improving the Race. — An Interview with Dr Truby King

The Fit and the Unfit.

Improving the Race.

An Interview with Dr Truby King.

"Speaking broadly," he said, "it is generally conceded now that the races of mankind have progressed and improved along the same lines as plants and animals. We believe in improvement through the survival of the fittest and the general tendencies of the fit to pass on their qualities through heredity. It seems to me, however, that the world has come to centre too much attention upon the matter of recent heredity in the sense of regarding it as an absolutely dominant factor which must, of necessity, determine, in the main, the bodily and mental tendencies of the individual. Of course tendencies are inherited, but observant and thinking men are coming to recognise more and page 73 more the fact that hereditary tendencies can be overcome by environment in the great majority of cases, and can always be greatly modified by suitable conditions of life and training. Nothing is worse for an individual than to come to the conclusion that, because for a generation or so his forebears may happen to have been leading unhealthy lives, therefore he must of necessity be more of less unhealthy himself.

"Curiously enough, while too much attention has been focussed upon imperfect heredity as implying an inevitable Nemesis, we have centred our efforts during the last fifty years mainly upon bolstering up the unfit. Perhaps I should rather say, not that we have devoted too much attention to the unfit, but that we have given insufficient attention to the fit, for whom we could do so much more.

Raise the General Standard of Health.

"We always talk about diminishing the death-rate, whereas what is of infinitely greater importance is to increase the health-rate, to improve the general standard of health, strength, and efficiency in the whole community. It goes without saying that diminishing the death-rate implies, on the whole, an improved health-rate, but this relationship is not absolute. One could imagine, for instance, that in the near future we might arrive at medicinal means by which the human body could be rendered an unfit soil for the survival of tubercle bacilli. The result would be that all people who now tend to acquire phthisis could be kept from dying through that agency, but we should not thereby increase the average strength of the race. We should rather diminish it, because we should be keeping alive people whose tissues were not strong enough to carry on the battle of life unaided against a lower organism. In plain terms we should not be openly and squarely facing and fighting our enemies, but should be resorting to poisoning their wells. Our whole aim should be to render the individual cells of our bodies strong enough to resist and defeat any cells of lower organisms that they may be called upon to contend with. Anything that we can do in the direction of inducing human beings, as a whole, to lead more simple, natural, physiological lives, with a sufficiency of exercise in the open air and sunlight, would tend towards greatly increasing the standard of health and strength, even though the immediate effect on the death-rate might not be so striking as that brought about by bolstering up the unfit by means of poisonous agencies directed against bacteria, or hospitals for harboring the sick.

"It is possible to centre our attention too much upon disease and to forget that the positive, the natural, and the more important thing is health. We are all ready to endow hospitals, and the sentiment is excellent, but we could do more if we bent our efforts towards preventing the necessity for hospitals. An American philosopher has said tersely : 'It is better and cheaper to put up a fence at the top of a precipice than to maintain an ambulance at the bottom.'

"I cannot help continually reflecting over the fact of the great care and attention which the modern world devotes to those whom it elects to deprive of liberty by placing them in asylums and gaols. We fully recognise our responsibilities in these directions, and it is well known that in such institutions, so far as ordinary health is concerned, the conditions of life are made better than those prevailing in the general community outside. We have deprived these people of their liberty and recognise that the least we can do for them, in justice, is to see that they are properly provided for. But do we recognise such responsibility in the case of others, infinitely more important both to themselves and the race, and much more numerous, in regard to whom we take up an equally arbitrary position? Babies have no choice whatever as to whether they are to come into the world or not. We simply decree that they are to be born, and up to a certain age they are absolutely dependent on us, more dependent than prisoners in gaol. The position would be very different if children had fore-knowledge and could be allowed, as Zangwill fancifully suggests, to exercise the privilege of selecting their parents. Then as he says : 'When children begin to be fastidious about the families they are born into, parents will have to improve or die childless. . . . In their anxiety to be worthy of selection by posterity parents will rise to heights of health and holiness, of which our sick generation does not dream. If they do not, woe to them ! They will be remorselessly left to die without issue.' Meantime, children have to accept the parents to whom it is their fortune or misfortune—their fate—to be allotted. There is nothing in our scheme of public instruction or laws to appreciably aid in promoting the physical page 74 well-being or to protect the lives of children. Everything is left to chance and ignorance. The community is at no pains to see that the lives of girls at school or elsewhere are such as will best fit them for parenthood. On the contrary, our school system tends in a reverse direction, for virtually no instruction is given in the direction of properly fitting them for household or domestic duties; and school over-pressure, with neglect of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and healthy recreation during girlhood, renders a large number of women unfit for healthy maternity. Thus children come to be born into the world as weaklings, and their mothers are fundamentally unfitted to properly nurture them or are unwilling to take the trouble to render themselves fit to do so or to properly feed them by artificial means. Taking women generally they have no realisation of the importance of closely adhering to the laws and intentions of nature in feeding, exercise, and other matters bearing on the growth of children, and the result is not only the appalling death-rate which so strikingly appeals to our imagination, but the infinitely more important and significant lowering of the standard of health strength, and efficiency throughout the whole community, which cannot be made evident by statistics, and therefore escapes general recognition.

Let them Grow While they can.

"There are only two periods in the life of the human being in which rapid growth naturally takes place, and we should see that we make hay while the sun shines. During the first year of life and during the climax of puberty the individual should be growing with extreme rapidity, and it must be remembered that the periods of rapid growth are the periods in which we can specially influence the destiny of the organism not merely as regards size and weight, but also in respect to mental and moral qualities and potentialities. The diagram which I drew up for last Thursday's lecture illustrates the importance of these growing periods. (See Fig. I. on page 29.)

"It will be noticed, on referring to Fig. 1. that the second great period of growth culminates in boys at sixteen years and in girls at thirteen. It is an extraordinary perversity that leads us at these momentous epochs of life to offer every inducement to an immature being to neglect the body for the sake of mental acquirements, many of which are superficial, trivial, inconsequent, fugitive, and worse than useless. We know by actual scientific observation made on the Continent and elsewhere that mental work carried on during the period of rapid growth, except in strict moderation, dwarfs the development of the various organs of the body, of which the brain is one. The growth of the brain is obviously dependent on the health, strength, and development of the organs which feed and serve it. Our main aim seems to be to centre attention on the work of producing a maximum amount of superficial display during youth instead of bending our energies to building up the organism with a view to the bodily mental, and moral requirements of the future man or woman. For the sake of present pretentious display we strain the immature brain with much useless, uninteresting toil, and all our trouble ends in the production of an adult who has infinitely less bodily and mental power and initiative for the actual serious work of life than he would have if properly and moderately trained all round.

"The compulsion which we exercise with regard to school children is in effect just as absolute as the compulsion which we exercise in regard to prisoners in gaol. Education is not an optional question, and when we compel children to go to school the least that we can do in justice to those whom we thus deprive of liberty for the time being is to see that they are supplied with the primary requirements of all organic life. They should have good air, sufficient warmth, sunlight, and recreation. The tasks set them should be such as will best conduce to their mental development and fit them for the battle of life, and should certainly be such as will not trench upon the periods of rest or interfere with the proper regular daily rhythm for sleep, meals, exercise, recreation, etc. We seem to think that we can disregard nature and ordinary common sense, and we set about building the ton storey without giving any reasonable consideration to the foundation and scaffolding of our buildings."—(See Chart A, page 52.)