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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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Genius and the Struggle for Existence
(S600: 1903)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 296 of the 29 January 1903 number of Nature. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S600.htm

    Will you allow me to supplement the excellent reply of Sir Oliver Lodge to your correspondent Mr. G. W. Bulman by a few remarks dealing more specifically with that gentleman's difficulty, which is one very widely felt, but is, I believe, founded on a misconception?

    The words "useful" and "advantage" have two distinct meanings, the one referring to material the other to intellectual and moral results; and it is in the former sense only that they can be properly used in relation to natural selection or survival of the fittest. In that relation, physical results only are of value--those that tend to the preservation of life on occasions of stress and danger. In deciding whether any quality, physical or mental, is of value in this sense, Lloyd Morgan's admirable test should be applied--"Is it of survival-value?" If not, then it is not useful in the struggle for existence either to the individual or the race, unless it happens to be combined with other qualities which are, in an exceptional degree, of survival value. Now genius in all its varying manifestations is a quality which has hardly any relation to survival except an adverse one, and only in exceptional cases is of any material advantage to the race. The genius of the poet, of the writer, of the artist, even of the inventor, only occasionally benefits the race in its material struggle with other races, while it very rarely gives long life and an ample progeny to the possessor. Its use to him is solely the enjoyment of the exercise of his faculty of creating. Too frequently it is of no material use whatever to him, and he dies in poverty and neglect. The two races that have exhibited the highest manifestations of genius were the ancient Greeks and the Jews. But this genius did not advantage their respective races in the struggle for existence. Both of them became permanently subject races, and that they have survived at all is not due to their genius, but to their exceptionally fine physical qualities, their courage and their endurance.

    As a matter of fact, the law of the survival of the fittest has almost entirely ceased to apply to civilised man, and the more civilised he is the less it applies. I have already shown (in the chapter on "Human Selection" in my "Studies"), how, under a higher civilisation and a truer social system, it will be superseded by another law, which may be termed "the perpetuation of the fittest," and which will operate as automatically and as beneficially in improving the human race as natural selection has acted in improving the lower animals. At present, as Darwin himself fully recognised, it is not the best or the highest that survive, but a comparatively low type morally and intellectually, though in relation to our present very imperfect civilisation they may be held to be the fittest. It is, however, fitness to "succeed in life," as it is termed, not necessarily to survive; and this is indicated by the comparatively short lives of millionaires and of the inhabitants of cities, who are continually replaced by the sons of the less successful but more virile inhabitants of the rural districts.

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