The Next Million Years - Part 2 - Can Mankind be Domesticated?

Knowledge Driven Revolution
11.03.2008
Brent Jessop

“The only imaginable way of overcomingthese [sic] difficulties would be to set up a class of consultants who would prescribe what marriages were eugenically admissible and how large the consequent families should be. But this does not solve the difficulty; it only pushes it back a stage, for it leaves unanswered the question who are to be the consultants, and what principles are to guide them in settling the values of the different qualities of mankind. It comes back to just the difficulty I described in my fable, that a tame animal must have a master, and that therefore though it might conceivably be possible to tame the majority of mankind, this could only be done by leaving untamed a minority of the population. Moreover, this minority would have to be the group possessing the most superior qualities of all. ” [emphasis mine] - Charles Galton Darwin, 1952 (p123)

Is it possible to domesticate humanity as a whole? Would we need a wild master race to watch over us? Charles Galton Darwin in his 1952 book The Next Million Years [1] attempts to answer these questions.

In this book C. G. Darwin (1887-1962) attempts to give a general outline of the “future history” of mankind. He was an English physicist and grandson of Charles Darwin of evolutionary fame. Despite being concerned about the over-population of the world he had four sons and one daughter with his wife Katharine Pember. The hypocrisy of this may seem odd, but the concern about over-population only refers to inferior breeds of humans and not superior breeds like himself and his lineage. C.G. Darwin was a long time member and eventual president of the Eugenic Society (1953-59) which represented the belief system held among many of the political, scientific and aristocratic elites of his day and the present.

The first part in this series examined a variety of issues that C. G. Darwin envisions for the next million years of the future history of humanity including: the altering of human nature, the structure of government and the effects of globalization and computers.

Can Mankind be Domesticated?

From The Next Million Years :

“Civilization might, loosely speaking, be counted as a sort of domestication, in that it imposes on man conditions not at all typical of wild life. It might then at least be argued that it is a false analogy to compare man to a wild animal, but that he should rather be compared to one which has been domesticated. I shall maintain that this analogy would be false, and that man is and will always continue to be essentially a wild and not a tame animal.

Before coming to this main theme it is important to notice that, if it were admissible to regard man as a domesticated animal, the whole time-scale of history would have to be radically altered. Thus though the geological evidence shows that it takes a million years to make a new wild species, we know that the various domesticated animals have been created in a very much shorter time. For example, the ancestors of the greyhound and the bulldog of ten thousand years ago would probably have been quite indistinguishable. If then man’s characteristics could be similarly remoulded in so short a time, the whole future of history might be radically different. It would become impossible to forecast man’s future after as short a period as ten thousand years, hardly longer than the span of known past history, instead of the million years which holds if he is a wild animal.

In the first place, it is necessary to be clear as to what is meant by a wild or a tame animal. We are apt sometimes to call an animal wild because it is dangerous to man, and to call it tame because it is harmless, but this is a slovenly way of speaking, and here I shall use the word “tame” simply as a synonym for “domesticated” which I think is its true meaning. A tame animal then is one that does the will of a master , and the savage watch-dog, trained to bite all intruders, is tamer than the friendly terrier which sometimes slips away to do its own private hunting. All tame animals owe their qualities to centuries of selective breeding, and it must always be remembered that the changes made in them owe nothing to the inheritance of acquired characters, but are due to the selection for breeding of those individual animals which show to the highest degree natural characteristics useful to their masters.

A chief feature in domesticated animals has been the creation of a great variety of breeds, each specialized for some particular purpose, either practical or aesthetic. Each breed far excels its wild ancestry in the quality for which it has been bred, so that race-horses run faster than wild horses, dairy cows give much more milk than and wild cattle, and the sheep-dog has even been bred to do skilfully the exact opposite of what the ancestral wolf would have done . Now human families often show special qualities in which they excel their fellows, and in some cases these qualities seem to be hereditary - witness the musicians of the Bach family. If man is really a tame animal, there is no reason why breeds of man should not be created, say breeds of mathematicians or of professional runners, who should possess gifts far beyond anything we now know, and far beyond anything that their fellows could compete against. Certainly at the present time mankind is very far from this, but that would not exclude the possibility in the not so very distant future, if man really were a tame animal. I shall consider this question of special breeds later in the chapter in more detail; all the evidence seems to show that they will not arise, but to see this clearly, it is best to return to the prime feature of tameness, obedience to a master.

It is obvious that we in this country, with our passion for freedom, value wildness very highly, whereas in some lands, where the population are content to live under a much more strictly controlled rule of discipline, tameness may be more nearly acceptable. This question of taste is irrelevant however, for it might be that a tame race could achieve so much higher a degree of efficiency that it could master the wild ones, and so reduce them also to a state of tameness. I am going to maintain that this cannot happen, in that man is untameable. The reason involves a feature not often present in scientific arguments, and I will venture to introduce it by means of a fable.” [emphasis mine] - 115

C.G Darwin’s fable revolves around a highly intelligent, long living (ten-thousand years) “director” who breeds people for specialized tasks.

“Though this has only been presented as a fable, the experience with domesticated animals does show that the most astonishing improvements could be made in the various human faculties, if a similar course of continuous selection could be applied to man over as long a period of time. The trouble is that for man this is not possible, because he has got to apply the selection to himself , and that means that it is not merely a different problem, but a wholly different kind of problem. There is a fundamental difference between the subjective and the objective. Scientific progress has always succeeded only by regarding its themes of study objectively; even in the field of psychology progress has mainly come by the study of the minds of others, that is to say objectively, instead of by following the old barren course of introspection. The most severe critic of his own conduct can never judge his actions as if they were someone else’s, and the selective breeding of other types of people would be no guide at all in the breeding of his own kind.

If the director had foreseen his death, he would have tried to produce a successor to himself. Since his profound belief in heredity had been so fully confirmed by the remarkable changes he had made in his subjects, he would naturally expect that it would be one of his own sons that would be best fitted to succeed him, but his difficulty would be just the same if he were trying to find a successor elsewhere. The matter is on quite a different footing from all his other decisions. For the others he could say: “I have improved all our breeds, by seeing which son improved on the qualities of his father. That is why I select you.” For his own successor the utmost he could say would be “I am selecting you in the hope that you may be a better director than I have been. But I have no idea how you will set about it, since, if I had known what I was failing in, I should have set it right myself.” The targets in the two statements are quite different, for in one he knows what he is aiming at, in the other he does not. In one case the target is too make the man better, in the other to hope to make him as good. One is the systematic breeding of tame animals, the other the unsystematic method of nature in the breeding of wild animals .

This point is so important that before following it to its conclusion I will give another example, which has the advantage of not being fabulous. In their studies of how to improve the human race the eugenists have very naturally considered both ends of their problem, the increase in the good qualities of humanity and the elimination of the bad qualities. Their chief effort has gone, quite rightly at first, into the easy part of the problem, and they have spent most of their energy in pointing out the disastrous tendencies of the present policy of directly encouraging the breeding of the feeble-minded. This is undoubtedly useful work, but it is comparatively easy, since these feeble-minded can be regarded objectively by their superiors, and so might become amenable to the same sort of control as is applicable to domestic animals. This restraint of the breeding of the feeble-minded is important, and it must never be neglected, but it cannot be regarded as a really effective way of improving the human race. If by analogy one wished to improve the breed of racehorses, one might accomplish a little by always slaughtering the horse that finished last in every race, but it would be a much slower process than the actual one of sending the winner to the stud farm.

Conscious of this criticism, eugenists have often attempted to define what are the good characteristics which should be positively encourage, instead of only the negative ones that must be discouraged, but the results are disappointing. Lists of meritorious qualities such as good health, good physique, high intelligence, good family history, are compiled, and those possessing them are told that they should breed, but the statements lead nowhere in practice, for no one can be expected to assess his own merits and demerits in a balance way. How, for example, is a man to weigh his own good health or good ability against a heredity made dubious, say, by an uncle who was insane, or again how is he to strike a balance between considerable artistic gifts - as he thinks - together with a good family record, but quite bad health. It is clearly beyond anyone to decide these things for himself , and even then the matter is only half settled, since similar judgments are needed for both partners to the marriage. However helpful the literature may be which can be consulted, it is evident that subjective judgments on such matters are too difficult; with the best will in the world they would very often be made wrongly, because, however sincerely he tries, no man can be a good judge in his own case.” [emphasis mine] - 120

Could Man be Turned Into an Ant?

“These examples suggest the impossibility of taming mankind as a whole, but before accepting the principle fully, it is proper to examine a case where the exact contrary has happened; this is in the insect civilization of the ants or termites. In applying the same term, civilization, to both ants and men, it is hardly necessary to say that I am drawing an analogy between things which are really of a very different quality. All species of ants live in cities, and some species have developed agriculture, others animal husbandry; but all these practices are purely instinctive and individual to each species. On the other hand human civilization is an acquired character, based on education , and so is not inherent in man’s nature. Nevertheless it may be worth while to follow out the analogy a little further. Admitting the different sense of the words, it may be said that all species of ants have made the third revolution, the invention of cities, that some have made the second, agriculture, none the first or fourth, fire and science; but they have all added another revolution of their own, the complete control of the problem of sex. The ants’ nest has no rulers at all, for the queen is hardly more than an egg-laying mechanism, and they seem to get on perfectly well without civil servants or lawyers or captains of industry.

Why cannot man set up a community like an ants’ nest? This would be the ideal of the anarchist, and hitherto it has held no promise at all of success, but with the help of recent and probable future biological discoveries, some sort of imitation by man of the ants’ nest cannot be quite excluded from consideration . Thus the control of the numbers of the two sexes may become possible, and with the knowledge of the carious sexual hormones it might also become possible to free the majority of mankind from the urgency of sexual impulse , so that they could live contented celibate lives, instead of the unsatisfied celibate lives that are the compulsory lot of such a large fraction of the present population of the world. If these discoveries should be made - and this is really by no means impossible - man would be able to carry out the sex revolution which is the typical characteristic of the insect civilizations. The detail would of course have to be quite different, for instead of one queen there would have to be large numbers of fertile women to renew the population, whereas there might be one king, literally the father of his country. Also it is probable that on account of their greater physical strength, it would be the men who would be the workers.” - [emphasis mine] 125

What About a Master Breed?

“In order to create such specialist breeds there would have to be a master breed at the summit, and this would be a totally different kind of thing from all the other breeds, because it would have to create itself.” - 130

“At every turn the argument leads back to this question of the master breed. Nothing can be done in the way of changing man from a wild into a tame animal without first creating such a breed, but most people are entirely inconsistent in their ideas of what they want created. On the one hand they feel that all the world’s problems would be solved if only there were a wise and good man who would tell everybody what to do, but on the other hand they bitterly resent being themselves told what to do. As to which of these motives would prevail, it seems at least probable that it would be the resentment, so that if the breed should arise in any manner, it would be extirpated before it could ever become well established. It is, however, imaginable, that there might be a part of the world in which the breed was accepted, and that this part should gain a superiority over the rest of the world, because it could develop various suitable breeds of specialists under the control and direction of the master breed, and by the exercise of the skills of these specialists it might overcome the other nations. So it is appropriate to look a little further into the matter.

Imagine that through new discoveries in biology, say by suitably controlled doses of X-rays, it becomes possible to modify the genes in any desired direction, so that heritable changes can be produced in the qualities of some members of the human race. I may say I do not believe this is ever likely to be practicable, but that does not matter as far as concerns the present argument. The first success might be in some physical attribute, for example, by making a breed with longer and stronger legs so that it could jump a good deal higher than anyone can at present. But passing to more important matters, there might be created a breed which could think more abstractly, say a breed of mathematicians, or one that could think more judiciously, say a breed of higher civil servants. These would be of great value, but they would not be the master breed, and the question arises of a more precise prescription for what the qualities of the master breed are to be.

It is usually best to build on what one already has, rather than to start from nothing. So the natural procedure would be to begin with existing rulers, since these have already established themselves as acceptable to at least a good many of their fellow creatures. One would collect together, say, a hundred of the most important present rulers - among them of course should be included a good many who exert secret influence without holding any overt office - and tell them to get on with the business of settling what the master breed should be. It is impossible to believe that any such body of men would ever reach agreement on any subject whatever; so this plan fails.

In the search for the qualities of the master breed the next idea might be to appeal to the wisdom of our forefathers. Plato in his Republic [emphasis in original] devotes much attention to this very subject. Why not then find a Plato, give him his group of recruits, and let him educate them for thirty years according to his prescription - though perhaps fortifying it by the findings of modern educational theory; the result should be the master breed. But this will not do either, for Plato was not educating the master breed, he was educating the civil servant breed. It is not about these that there is any difficulty; it is the finding of someone to fill the role of Plato himself. It all comes back to the point that we do not know in the remotest degree what we want; for I do not count as an answer the one that would usually be proposed, which would be that the type required should be good and wise, while at the same time showing a special favour for the particular enthusiasms of the proposer. The reason for the impossibility of making a prescription for the master breed is that it is not a breed at all; to call it so is to change the sense of the word. Breeds are specialized for particular purposes, but the essence of masters is that they must not be specialized. They have to be able to deal with totally unforeseen conditions, and this is a quality of wild, not of tame, life. No prescription for the master breed is possible .

In these considerations I have been assuming the licence of supposing that we might be able really to change human nature in a heritable manner, and this is far beyond all probability. Returning now to more practical considerations, there seems no likelihood whatever of a master breed arising. All through history the most formidable difficulty of every ruler has been the selection of his successor, and the best intentions have been nearly always disappointed. Indeed it is notably surprising how very seldom the choice has been well made. The immediate cause of these failures, has been the difficulty of the subjective judgments on the basis of which the choice must be made, but fundamentally they have arisen from a cause in the deep nature of mankind. Of all animals man is the most ready to try experiments and there are always candidates - far too many candidates - who regard themselves as fit members for the master breed. This quality is a characteristic of a wild animal, and it will always prevent man from domesticating himself. He will always prevent the creation of the master breed, through which alone the rest of man could be domesticated. The evolution of the human race will not be accomplished in the ten thousand years of tame animals, but in the million years of wild animals, because man is and will always continue to be a wild animal.” [emphasis mine] - 130

“It always comes back to the same point, that to carry out any policy systematically in such a way as permanently to influence the human race, there would have to be a master breed of humanity, not itself exposed to the conditions it is inducing in the rest. The master breed, being wild animals, would be subject to all the fashions, tastes and passions of humanity as we know it, and so would never have the constancy to establish for generation after generation a consistent policy which could materially alter the nature of mankind.” - 184

Conclusion

The next part in this series will look into the importance of creeds on the future history of mankind. The second last part in this series will examine C. G. Darwin’s emphasis on the desirability of eugenics and ways of perpetuating “superior” genes in future generations. Finally, I will examine the difficulties in controlling the size of the world population as described in The Next Million Years .

[1] Quotes from Charles Galton Darwin, The Next Million Years (1952).

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