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The heredity with which civilization is most

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Unformatted text preview: er the mental life and character of all his own ancestors and the ancestors of every other man. A child is not born merely to a father and a mother. He is born to a group, fiercely and definitely prejudiced in custom, belief and ideal, with ways of doing, feeling and thinking which it seeks to impose on each of its new members. Family, tribe, race and nation all demand of each accession that he accept their ideals, habits and beliefs on peril of disapproval and even of punishment. And man is so constituted that the approval and disapproval of his group mean more to him even than his life. The social setting into which each one is born is his social heredity. "The heredity with which civilization is most supremely concerned," says Sir Edwin Ray Lankester, "is not that which is inborn in the individual. It is the SOCIAL inheritance which constitutes the dominant factor in human progress."[1] It is this social inheritance which shapes our characters, rough-hewn by nature. It is by the light of each person's social inheritance that we must also judge his character. [1] The Eugenists fiercely contest this statement, and rightly, for it is extreme. Society is threatened at its roots by the present high birth rate of the low grade and the low birth rate of the high grade. Environment, culture, can do much, but they cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Neither can heredity make a silk purse out of silk; without culture and the environmental influences, without social heredity, the silk remains crude and with no special value. The aims of a rational society, which we are born a thousand years too soon to see would be twofold: to control marriage and birth so that the number of the unfit would be kept as low as possible, and then to bring fostering influences to bear on the fit. "Education," says Oliver Wendell Holmes, "is only second to nature. Imagine all the infants born this year in Boston and Timbuctoo to change places!" And education is merely social inheritance...
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