The progressive decline of modern civilization
THAT modern man is declining in physical fitness has been emphasized by many eminent sociologists and other scientists. That the rate of degeneration is progressively accelerating constitutes a cause for great alarm, particularly since this is taking place in spite of the advance that is being made in modern science along many lines of investigation.
Dr. Alexis Carrel in his treatise "Man, the Unknown" states:
Medicine is far from having decreased human sufferings as much as it endeavors to make us believe. Indeed, the number of deaths from infectious diseases has greatly diminished. But we still must die in a much larger proportion from degenerative diseases.
After reviewing the reduction in the epidemic infectious diseases he continues as follows:
All diseases of bacterial origin have decreased in a striking manner. . . . Nevertheless, in spite of the triumphs of medical science, the problem of disease is far from solved. Modern man is delicate. Eleven hundred thousand persons have to attend the medical needs of 120,000,000 other persons. Every year, among this population of the United States, there are about 100,000,000 illnesses, serious or slight. In the hospitals, 700,000 beds are occupied every day of the year. . . . Medical care, under all its forms, costs about $3,500,000,000 yearly. . . . The organism seems to have become more susceptible to degenerative diseases.
The present health condition in the United States is reported from time to time by several agencies representing special phases of the health program. The general health problem has been thoroughly surveyed and interpreted by the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, Dr. Parran. Probably no one is so well informed in all of the phases of health as is the head of this important department of the government. In his recent preliminary report (1) to state and local officers for their information and guidance, he presented data that have been gathered by a large group of government workers. The report includes a census of the health conditions of all the groups constituting the population of the United States--records of the health status and of the economic status of 2,660,000 individuals living in various sections, in various types of communities, on various economic levels. The data include records on every age-group. He makes the following interpretations based upon the assumption that the 2,660,000 offer a fair sampling of the population, and he indicates the conclusions which may be drawn regarding conditions of status for the total population of some 130,000,000 people.
Every day one out of twenty people is too sick to go to school or work, or attend his customary activities.
Every man, woman and child (on the average) in the nation suffers ten days of incapacity annually.
The average youngster is sick in bed seven days of the year, the average oldster 35 days.
Two million five hundred thousand people (42 per cent of the 6,000,000 sick every day) suffer from chronic diseases-heart disease, hardening of the arteries, rheumatism, and nervous diseases.
Sixty-five thousand people are totally deaf; 75,000 more are deaf and dumb; 200,000 lack a hand, arm, foot or leg; 300,000 have permanent spinal injuries; 500,000 are blind; 1,000,000 more are permanent cripples.
Two persons on the Relief income level (less than $1,000 yearly income for the entire family) are disabled for one week or longer for every one person better off economically.
Only one in 250 family heads in the income group of more than $2,000 yearly cannot seek work because of chronic disability. In Relief families one in every 20 family heads is disabled.
Relief and low-income families are sick longer as well as more often than better-financed families. They call doctors less often. But the poor, especially in big cities, get to stay in hospitals longer than their better-off neighbors.
Concluded Dr. Parran:
It is apparent that inadequate diet, poor housing, the hazards of occupation and the instability of the labor market definitely create immediate health problems.
It will be seen from this report that the group expressed as oldsters, who spend on an average thirty-five days per year in bed, are sick in bed one-tenth of the time. Those of us who are well, who may have been so fortunate as to spend very little time in bed, will contemplate this fact with considerable concern since it expresses a vast amount of suffering and enforced idleness. It is clear that so great an incidence of morbidity must place a heavy load upon those who at the time are well. The problem of the progressive increase in percentage of individuals affected with heart disease and cancer is adequate cause for alarm. Statistics have been published by the Department of Public Health in New York City which show the increase in the incidence of heart disease to have progressed steadily during the years from 1907 to 1936. The figures provided in their report reveal an increase from 203.7 deaths per 100,000 in 1907 to 327.2 per 100,000 in 1936. This constitutes an increase of 60 per cent. Cancer increased 90 per cent from 1907 to 1936.
That this problem of serious degeneration of our modern civilization is not limited to the people of the United States has been commented on at length by workers in many countries. Sir Arbuthnot Lane, one of England's distinguished surgeons, and a student of public welfare, has made this comment: (2)
Long surgical experience has proved to me conclusively that there is something radically and fundamentally wrong with the civilized mode of life, and I believe that unless the present dietetic and health customs of the White Nations are reorganized, social decay and race deterioration are inevitable.
The decline in white population that is taking place in many communities throughout several countries illustrates the widespread working of the forces that are responsible for this degeneration. In discussing this matter in its relation to Australia, S. R. Wolstenhole, (3) lecturer in economics at Sydney University, predicts that:
A decline in Australia's population is inevitable within 40 years because of the absence of a vigorous population policy.
Students of our modern social problems are recognizing that these problems are not limited to health conditions which we have been accustomed to think of as bodily diseases. This is illustrated in a recent discussion by Will Durant: (4)
The American people are face to face with at least 4 major and militant problems that have to do with the continuity and worthwhile progress of modern civilization:
- The threatened deterioration of our stock.
- The purchasing power of our people must rise as fast as the power to procure. . . .
- The third problem is moral. A civilization depends upon morals for a social and governmental order. . . .
- The sources of statesmanship are drying up. . . .
Dental caries or tooth decay is recognized as affecting more individuals throughout the so-called civilized world today than any other affection. In the United States, England and Europe examinations of highly modernized groups, consisting of several million individuals, reveal the fact that from 85 to 100 per cent of the individuals in various communities are suffering from this affection. As a contributing factor to absence from school among children it leads all other affections. From the standpoint of injury to health, it has been estimated by many to be the most serious contributing factor through its involvement of other organs of the body. The Honorable J. A. Young, Minister of Health of New Zealand, strongly emphasized that the insidiousness of the effect of dental disease lies in the fact that it is the forerunner of other far-reaching disturbances and he has referred to the seriousness with which it is viewed in England as follows: "Sir George Newman, Principal Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health in Great Britain, has said that 'dental disease is one of the chief, if not the chief, cause of the ill health of the people.'"
Dr. Earnest A. Hooton, of Harvard University, has emphasized the importance of oral sepsis and the task of stopping tooth decay. In closing Chapter VII of his recent book "Apes, Men and Morons," (5) he states the case as follows:
I firmly believe that the health of humanity is at stake, and that, unless steps are taken to discover preventives of tooth infection and correctives of dental deformation, the course of human evolution will lead downward to extinction. . . . The facts that we must face are, in brief, that human teeth and the human mouth have become, possibly under the influence of civilization, the foci of infections that undermine the entire bodily health of the species and that degenerative tendencies in evolution have manifested themselves in modern man to such an extent that our jaws are too small for the teeth which they are supposed to accommodate, and that, as a consequence, these teeth erupt so irregularly that their fundamental efficiency is often entirely or nearly destroyed.
In discussing the strategic situation of dental science, Dr. Hooton states.
In my opinion there is one and only one course of action which will check the increase of dental disease and degeneration which may ultimately cause the extinction of the human species. This is to elevate the dental profession to a plane on which it can command the services of our best research minds to study the causes and seek for the cures of these dental evils. . . . The dental practitioner should equip himself to become the agent of an intelligent control of human evolution, insofar as it is affected by diet. Let us go to the ignorant savage, consider his way of eating, and be wise. Let us cease pretending that tooth-brushes and tooth-paste are any more important than shoe-brushes and shoe-polish. It is store food which has given us store teeth.
Students of history have continually commented upon the superior teeth of the so-called savages including the human types that have preceded our modernized groups. While dental caries has been found occasionally in several animal species through the recent geologic ages, the teeth of the human species have been comparatively free from dental caries. Primitive human beings have been freer from the disease than has contemporary animal life. This absence of tooth decay among primitive races has been so striking a characteristic of human kind that many commentators have referred to it as a strikingly modern disease.
Dryer, (6) in discussing dental caries in the pre-historic South Africans, makes this comment:
In not one of a very large collection of teeth from skulls obtained in the Matjes River Shelter (Holocene) was there the slightest sign of dental caries. The indication from this area, therefore, bears out the experience of European anthropologists that caries is a comparatively modern disease and that no skull showing this condition can be regarded as ancient.
In connection with the studies reported in this volume, it is of particular importance that a desire to find the cause of dental caries was the primary reason for undertaking these investigations. Since it was exceedingly difficult to find in our modern social organization any large group with relatively high immunity to dental caries, a search was made for such control groups among remnants of primitive racial stocks that could also be examined at the point of contact with modern civilization in order that the changes associated with their racial loss of immunity might be noted. Probably few problems with which our modern social groups are concerned have been so inadequately understood not only by the laity, but by the members of the medical and dental professions as has this problem of the cause of dental caries.
The problem of correcting dental arch deformities and thereby improving facial form has developed a specialty in dentistry known as "orthodontia." The literature dealing with the cause of facial deformities is now voluminous. The blending of racial stocks that differ radically in facial form has been said by many to be the chief factor contributing to the creation of deformities of the face. Crowded teeth have been said to be due to the inheritance of the large teeth of one parent and the small bone formation of the other and that such inheritances would provide dental arches that are too small for the teeth that have been made for them. A more general explanation for certain types of deformity, particularly for the protruding of the upper teeth over the lower, is that they result from thumb sucking, which tends to bring the upper arch forward and to depress the lower. Among the other contributing factors named have been faulty sleeping and breathing habits. To these has been assigned much of the blame. This problem of facial form, as well as that of bodily design, including dental arch design, is so directly a problem of growth, not only of individuals, but of races themselves, that certain laws have been very definitely worked out by physical anthropologists as laws of development. They have assumed that changes in physical type can occur only through the impact of changes in the environment which have affected a great number of generations. It is important to keep this viewpoint in mind as the succeeding chapters are read, for they contain descriptions of many changes in physical form that have occurred routinely in the various racial groups, even during the first generation after the parents have adopted the foods of modern civilization.
Many of our modern writers have recognized and have emphasized the seriousness of mental and moral degeneration. Laird has made a splendid contribution under the title "The Tail That Wags the Nation," (7) in which he states:
The country's average level of general ability sinks lower with each generation. Should the ballot be restricted to citizens able to take care of themselves? One out of four cannot. . . . The tail is now wagging Washington, and Wall St. and LaSalle Street. . . . Each generation has seen some lowering of the American average level of general ability.
In Laird's analysis of our present situation he has stressed a very important phase. While emphasizing that the degeneration is not limited to restricted areas, he raises the question as to whether local conditions in certain areas play important roles in the rate and extent to which degeneration has taken place. He says further, (7)
Although we might cite any one of nearly two dozen states, we will first mention Vermont by name because that is the place studied by the late Dr. Pearce Bailey. "It would be," he wrote, "safe to assume that there are at least 30 defectives per 1000 in Vermont of the eight-year-old mentality type, and 300 per 1000 of backward or retarded persons, persons of distinctly inferior intelligence. In other words, nearly one-third of the whole population of that state is of a type to require some supervision."
The problem of lowered mentality and its place in our modern conception of bodily diseases has not been placed on a physical basis as have the better understood degenerative processes, with their direct relationship to a diseased organ, but has generally been assigned to a realm entirely outside the domain of disease or injury of a special organ or tissue. Edward Lee Thorndike, (8) of Columbia University, says that "thinking is as biological as digestion." This implies that a disturbance in the capacity to think is directly related to a defect in the brain.
Another of the distinguished students of mental capacity, J. B. Miner, (9) states:
If morality and intellect are finally demonstrated to be correlated throughout the whole range of individual differences, it is probably the most profoundly significant fact with which society has to deal.
The origin of backwardness in a child seems to have been assigned very largely to some experience in that child's life which becomes a conditioning factor and which thereafter strongly influences his behavior. The problem of the relation of physical defects to delinquency in its various phases, including major crime, constitutes one of the most alarming aspects of our modern problems in social degeneration. Chassell (10) has made an exhaustive study of the reports from workers in different fields in several countries and summarizes her finding as follows: "The correlation between delinquency and mental inferiority as found in the case of feeble-minded groups is clearly positive, and tends to be marked in degree."
Burt, (11) who had made an extensive study, over an extended period, of the problems of the backward child and the delinquent child in London, states in his summary and conclusion with regard to the origin of backwardness in the child:
Both at London and at Birmingham between 60 and 70 per cent belong to the (innately) "dull" category. . . . In the majority the outstanding cause is a general inferiority of intellectual capacity, presumably inborn and frequently hereditary.
In discussing the relationship between general physical weakness and the mentally backward, he writes:
Old and time-honoured as it must seem to the schoolmaster, the problem of the backward child has never been attacked by systematic research until quite recently. We know little about causes, and still less about treatment. . . . Thirdly, though the vast majority of backward children--80 per cent in an area like London--prove to be suffering from minor bodily ailments or from continued ill-health, nevertheless general physical weakness is rarely the main factor.
Among the many surveys made in the study of the forces that are responsible for producing delinquency and criminality, practically all the workers in this field have testified to the obscure nature of those forces. Burt (12) says that, "it is almost as though crime were some contagious disease, to which the constitutionally susceptible were suddenly exposed at puberty, or to which puberty left them peculiarly prone." He emphasizes a relationship between delinquency and physical deficiency:
Most repeated offenders are far from robust; they are frail, sickly, and infirm. Indeed, so regularly is chronic moral disorder associated with chronic physical disorder that many have contended that crime is a disease, or at least a symptom of disease, needing the doctor more than the magistrate, physic rather than the whip.
. . . . . . .
The frequency among juvenile delinquents of bodily weakness and ill health has been remarked by almost every recent writer. In my own series of cases nearly 70 per cent were suffering from such defects; and nearly 50 per cent were in urgent need of medical treatment. . . . Of all the psychological causes of crime, the commonest and the gravest is usually alleged to be defective mind. The most eminent authorities, employing the most elaborate methods of scientific analysis, have been led to enunciate some such belief. In England, for example, Dr. Goring has affirmed that "the one vital mental constitutional factor in the etiology of crime is defective intelligence." In Chicago, Dr. Healy has likewise maintained that among the personal characteristics of the offender "mental deficiency forms the largest single cause of delinquency." And most American investigators would agree.
The assertion of the obscurity of the fundamental causative factors of delinquency constitutes one of the most striking aspects of the extensive literature that has been accumulated through the reporting of intensive studies made by workers in many countries.
Thrasher, (13) in discussing the nature and origin of gangs, expresses this very clearly:
Gangs are gangs, wherever they are found. They represent a specific type or variety of society, and one thing that is particularly interesting about them is the fact that they are, in respect to their organization, so elementary, and in respect to their origin, so spontaneous.
Formal society is always more or less conscious of the end for which it exists, and the organization through which this end is achieved is always more or less a product of design. But gangs grow like weeds, without consciousness of their aims, and without administrative machinery to achieve them. They are, in fact, so spontaneous in their origin, and so little conscious of the purposes for which they exist, that one is tempted to think of them as predetermined, foreordained, and "instinctive," and so, quite independent of the environment in which they ordinarily are found.
No doubt, many cities have been provided, as has Cleveland, with a special school for delinquent boys. The institution there has been given the appropriate title, the "Thomas A. Edison School." It usually has an enrollment of 800 to 900 boys. Dr. Watson, (14) who has been of outstanding service in the organization of this work, makes an important comment on the origin of the student population there:
The Thomas A. Edison student population consists of a group of truant and behavior boys, most of them in those earlier stages of mal-adjustment which we have termed predelinquency. . . . In general, they are the products of unhappy experiences in school, home and community. They are sensitive recorders of the total complex of social forces which operate in and combine to constitute what we term their community environment.
It will be seen from these quotations that great emphasis has been placed upon the influence of the environment in determining factors of delinquency.
Hooton, the distinguished physical anthropologist of Harvard, has made important observations regarding our modern physical degeneration. As an approach to this larger problem of man's progressive degeneration, he has proposed the organization and establishment of an Institute of Clinical Anthropology, (15) the purpose of which he has indicated:
. . . for finding out what man is like biologically when he does not need a doctor, in order to further ascertain what he should be like after the doctor has finished with him. I am entirely serious when I suggest that it is a very myopic medical science which works backward from the morgue rather than forward from the cradle.
Very important contributions have been made to the forces that are at work in the development of delinquents through an examination of the families in which affected individuals have appeared. Sullenger, (16) in discussing this phase, states:
Abbott and Breckinridge found in their Chicago studies that a much higher percentage of delinquent boys than girls were from large families. However, Healy and Bronner found in their studies in Chicago and Boston that the large family is conducive to delinquency among children in that the larger the family the greater percentage of cases with more than one delinquent. They were unable to detect whether or not this fact was due to parental neglect, poverty, bad environmental conditions, or the influence of one child on another. In each of the series in both cities the number of delinquents in families of different sizes showed general similarity.
As the investigations outlined in this study are reviewed, many problems not anticipated by the writer when these investigations were undertaken will be presented. These new problems were not, at first, generally thought of as related directly or indirectly to our modern racial degeneration, but have been found recently to be so related.
Since it will be seen that the size and shape of the head and sinuses, including the oral cavity and throat, are directly influenced by forces that are at work in our modern civilization, we shall consider the speaking and singing voice. In traveling among several of the primitive races, one is frequently impressed with the range and resonance of many of the voices--in fact, by almost every voice. We are quite familiar with the high premium that is placed on singing voices of exceptional quality in our modern social order. This is illustrated by the following comment: (17)
Tip-top Italian-style tenors have always been a scarce commodity, and for the past two decades they have been growing scarcer and scarcer. Opera impresarios count on the fingers of one hand the lust-high-voice Latins. . . . Since the death of Enrico Caruso (1921) opera houses have shown a steady decline.
Important light will be thrown on this phase of the problem--the cause of fewer good voices in Italy today than of old--as we note the narrowing of the face and of the dental arches and as we see the change in the form of the palate of the various primitive races. These changes occur even in the first generation after the parents have adopted the foods of modern white civilizations.
As we study the primitives we will find that they have had an entirely different conception of the nature and origin of the controlling forces which have molded individuals and races.
Buckle, (18) in writing his epoch-making "History of Civilization" about the middle of the last century, summed up his years of historical studies with some very important conclusions, some of which are as follows:
2. It is proved by history, and especially by statistics, that human actions are governed by laws as fixed and regular as those which rule in the physical world.
3. Climate, soil, food, and the aspects of Nature are the principal causes of intellectual progress.
6. Religion, literature, and government are, at best, but the products, and not the cause of civilization.
This important view was not orthodox and was met by very severe criticism. The newer knowledge strongly corroborates his view.
My early studies of the relation of nutrition to dental problems were related chiefly to growth defects in the teeth produced long before the eruption of the permanent teeth, chiefly from one year of age to the time of eruption. These often appeared as lines across the teeth. I was able to trace these lines directly to the use of a few highly processed baby foods. I published an extensive report on this phase of the problem, together with illustrations, in 1913. (19) These injuries are disclosed with the x-ray long before the teeth erupt. These disturbances occur much less frequently in connection with the baby foods used today.
The problems of modern degeneration can in general be divided into two main groups, those which relate to the perfection of the physical body and those which relate to its function. The latter include character as expressed in behavior of individuals and of groups of individuals which thus relate to national character and to an entire culture.
In an enumeration of the phases in which there is a progressive decline of modern civilization, it is essential that we keep in mind that in addition to an analysis of the forces responsible for individual degeneration, the ethical standards of the whole group cannot be higher than those of the individuals that compose it. That recent mass degeneration is in progress is attested by daily events throughout the world. The current interpretation for individual character degeneration largely places the responsibility on a conditioning factor which exerts an influence during early childhood and therefore is directly related to the environment of the child. These, therefore, are postnatal conditioning factors. An important contribution to this phase comes directly from the experience of primitive races and indicates that a more fundamental conditioning factor had developed in the prenatal period. If, therefore, large groups of individuals suffer from such a prenatal conditioning influence, new light will be thrown upon the larger problems of group deterioration. History seems to provide records of such mass degeneration as, for example, those which culminated in the so-called "dark ages." That some such mass degeneration is now in progress is suggested by leading students of human welfare. The regius professor of Greek at Oxford in his inaugural lecture in 1937 made the following observation: (20)
In the revolution of thought through which we are living, the profoundest and most disturbing element is the breakdown of that ethical system which, since the days of Constantine, has imposed upon European culture at least the semblance of moral unity.
In commenting on this important statement Sir Alfred Zimmern in his address on the decline of international standards said that "Recent events should convince the dullest mind of the extent to which international standards have deteriorated and the anarchy which threatens the repudiation of law and order in favour of brute force."
The problem of progressive decline in individual and group ethical standards is commanding the attention of great international organizations. In discussing this problem before the International Rotary at its meeting in San Francisco in June, 1938, one of the leaders in mass reform, Mayor Harold Burton of Cleveland, stressed very important phases. He stated that the American boys "are making irrevocable choices" between good and bad citizenship which "may make or wreck the nation. It may be on the battlefield of crime prevention that the life of democracy will be saved." He described great industrial cities as battlefields where "the tests of democracy are the newest and sharpest." (21) . . . "For centuries," he said:
. . . we have fought crime primarily by seeking to catch the criminal after the crime has been committed and then through his punishment to lead or drive him and others to good citizenship. Today the greater range of operation and greater number of criminals argue that we must deal with the flood waters of crime. We must prevent the flood by study, control and diversion of the waters at their respective sources. To do this we must direct the streams of growing boys in each community away from fields of crime to those of good citizenship.
If the "flood waters" that must be controlled lie farther back than the cradle, in order to safeguard individual character and individual citizenship from prenatal conditioning factors which have profound influence in determining the reaction of the individuals to the environment, it is essential that programs that are to be efficient in maintaining national character reach back to those forces which are causing the degeneration of increasing numbers of the population in succeeding generations of our modern cultures.
That the problem of mass degeneration constitutes one of the most alarming problems of our modernized cultures is demonstrated by the urgency of appeals that are being made by students in national and international affairs. The discussion of "An Ethical Declaration for the Times," (22) a declaration of faith, is accompanied by a pledge. This pledge reads:
I pledge myself to use every opportunity for action to uphold the great tradition of civilization to protect all those who may suffer for its sake, and to pass it on to the coming generations. I recognized no loyalty greater than that to the task of preserving truth, toleration, and justice in the coming world order.
The author emphasizes the great danger of taking for granted that the cultural progress that has been attained will continue. There is probably no phase of this whole problem of modern degeneration that is so brilliantly illuminated by the accumulated wisdom of primitive races as group degeneration. They have so organized the life of the family and the individual that the nature of the forces which established individual behavior and character are controlled.
Our problem of modern degeneration involves both individual and group destiny. Our approach to this study will, accordingly, involve first a critical examination of the forces that are responsible for individual degeneration.
In my search for the cause of degeneration of the human face and the dental organs I have been unable to find an approach to the problem through the study of affected individuals and diseased tissues. In my two volume work on "Dental Infections," Volume I, entitled "Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic," and Volume II, entitled "Dental Infections and the Degenerative Diseases," (23) I reviewed at length the researches that I had conducted to throw light on this problem. The evidence seemed to indicate clearly that the forces that were at work were not to be found in the diseased tissues, but that the undesirable conditions were the result of the absence of something, rather than of the presence of something. This strongly indicated the need for finding groups of individuals so physically perfect that they could be used as controls. In order to discover them, I determined to search out primitive racial stocks that were free from the degenerative processes with which we are concerned in order to note what they have that we do not have. These field investigations have taken me to many parts of the world through a series of years. The following chapters review the studies made of primitive groups, first, when still protected by their isolation, and, second, when in contact with modern civilization.
Table of Contents
Back to the Small Farms Library