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Are We A Dying Race?
The genius of Christianity, however, is not the dominance of the strong, but the protection of the weak: he is greatest who serves most. Here seem to be two principles at war with each other, -- a principle in the natural world tending to the weeding out of the feeble and weakly, and the principle in the spiritual world demanding the sacrifice of the strong for the weak. If to be perfectly natural is to be truly spiritual, as the writer believes, there ought to be some way of reconciling these conflicting principles. It certainly will not do to maintain that quarantine laws shall be abolished, and that cholera, typhus, and the black death be allowed to ravage the densely populated cities of today as they did those of the Middle Ages.
The remedy is to be found, not in the abolition of public hygiene, but in the cultivation of private hygiene. More attention must be given to the training of the individual: men and women must be made to see that the prevalent conditions of our modern civilization are anti-natural, and tend to the deterioration of the vital powers and the development of disease.
This subject is too large to be treated exhaustively in a brief paper, and I shall undertake only to mention what seem to me to be some of the most important deteriorating forces which, operating in connection with public sanitation, are tending slowly but surely toward final race extinction.
First in importance, because of its wide-spread character and the profound mischief which it works in the human organism, must be mentioned the narcotic habit. Whatever may be the particular poison to which the individual is addicted, whether alcohol, tobacco, opium, cocaine, tea or coffee, chloral, absinth or hashish, the vice is one and the same. It is the gratification of the desire for artificial stimulation, the craving for unearned felicity. While alcohol, tobacco, opium, cocaine, and chloral must be placed at the head of the formidable list of drugs which are capable of producing a temporary exhilaration at the expense of subsequent depression and ultimate degeneration, the other drugs named, if less potently mischievous, are nevertheless evil and only evil in their tendency, a fact which is steadily forcing itself more and more upon public attention, after having long been recognized by the observing and sagacious medical man.
The recent studies of Andriesen, Tuke, Hodge, and others have shown how these drugs destroy man, soul and body, by producing degeneration of the delicate fibers by means of which nerve-cells communicate with one another, thus isolating the individual units of the cerebrum, and so destroying memory, co-ordination, will, and judgment, and wrecking the individual physically, mentally, and morally. Nine Hundred million dollars spent annually for drink and an almost equal amount expended for other poisons is a thunder-voiced fact telling of race degeneration proceeding at a hurricane pace.
Next in the category of destructive forces, I must enumerate the slavery to conventional dress, which binds or holds our mothers, sisters, and daughters in a grip so strong that a quarter of a century of earnest agitation has only just begun the work of emancipation. A careful study of this subject during the last twenty-five years has convinced me that, aside from the liquor and tobacco habits, there is no deteriorating force which deals such destructive blows against the constitution of the race as the unphysiological customs in dress which prevail among civilized American women. Scarcely a woman can be found who has reached the age of twenty-five or thirty, and has worn the conventional dress, who is not suffering from dislocation of the stomach, the kidneys, the bowels, or some other important internal organ, the displacement of which is a far greater calamity than the dislocation of a shoulder, a hip, or any other joint. The present outlook is, however, somewhat hopeful. The bicycle has forever delivered women from the thraldom of long skirts, and gives encouragement that the necessity for breathing capacity may yet banish the corset and its accompanying tight bands.
Next in the list I will venture to mention a cause which decency usually seeks to keep out of sight, but which duty forbids me to ignore; namely, sensualism. Physicians, perhaps better than any others, understand how deep this evil strikes into the vitals of society, and how wide-spread it is in all ranks and conditions of life. Public prostitution is certainly the grossest, but it is by no means the largest nor the most pernicious, phase of this evil. Its full meaning can only be appreciated by the physiologist who comprehends the fact that the functions on which depend the divine possibilities of fatherhood and motherhood also embrace the potency of physical and mental manhood and womanhood. The secret forces which operate to perpetuate the race, at the same time serve in a marvelous way, first, to develop in the individual manly or womanly traits and instincts, second, to supply an ever-needed source of vital force and energy. The diversion and abuse of the most sacred of all the bodily functions must be held responsible for a vast amount of individual incapacity and a large share of the growing racial weakness.