Kinship a Reality.

From: The Creed of Kinship (1935)
Author: Henry S. Salt
Published: Constable & Co Ltd 1935 London


  “Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!” (From Hamlet, II, ii.)

  From the quotation which is prefixed to this chapter the reader will note, at the outset, that the word in which the great master of invective sums up the tale of human depravity is “kindless”—not to be found perhaps in dictionaries, but unmistakable in meaning. The kindless man is he who is unnaturally lacking in the sense of affinity, who has no belief in what I would call the Creed of Kinship, which, as I have said in the Preface, I regard as of all creeds the greatest, and eventually destined to prevail. To believe that in a far age men will be pacifists, socialists, rationalists, and in all ways humanitarian, seems much saner than to imagine them intelligently changed in one or two directions, but still the same old unthinking individuals in the rest.

  That there subsists a real physical kinship between mankind and the other races is now an established fact, and the problems that remain to be determined are of an ethical and social nature. “Man,” as Mr. E. P. Evans has said in his Evolutional Ethics, is “as truly a part and product of Nature as any other animal, and the attempt to set him up as an isolated point outside of it is philosophically false and morally pernicious.” The same moral was enforced in a letter addressed by Mr. Thomas Hardy to the Humanitarian League in 1910. “Few people,” he wrote, “seem to perceive fully as yet that the most far-reaching consequence of the establishment of the common origin of all species is ethical. . . . While man was deemed to be a creation apart from all other creations, a secondary or tertiary morality was considered good enough to practise towards the ‘inferior’ races; but no person who reasons nowadays can escape the trying conclusion that this is not maintainable.”

  That the conclusion is a trying one, under present conditions, no thinker will deny; but it is one that has to be faced, and it is especially incumbent on humanitarians to face it. Perhaps, with complete candour, and a willingness to open the mind to all future possibilities, the difficulty may appear less insurmountable as we proceed.

That is the reason, and it is an imperative one, why, in this attempt to show what I think will be the belief of a future age, a considerable number of themes have been included, it being my conviction that deliverance (the old word once more!) will at last be found, not by adopting one or another of the various remedies proposed by reformers, but by an amalgamation of those that are of the same class and the most essential. This is a thought that has seldom found expression in our literature; so here, at the start, to do justice to a predecessor, I will quote words used by Mr. J. C. Kenworthy in 1896:

  “By humanitarians, socialists, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, teetotalers, land-reformers, and all such seekers after human welfare, this must be borne in mind- that each of their particular efforts is but a detail of the whole work of social regeneration, and that we cannot rightly understand and direct our own little piece of effort, unless we know it, and pursue it, as part of the whole.”1

  That is profoundly true. For example, are not the frequent questions of a just social system, and of humanity to animals, in principle closely allied? If anyone believes, as I do, that a kindly consideration for the tights of all our fellow-beings, human or sub-human, is the basis of any religion, any morality, worthy of the name, how can he consistently confine his interest to socialism alone, or to zoophilist doctrines? Where would be the sense of making protest against the ill-usage of the lower races, if the inhumanity with which some humans are treated were overlooked. And, conversely, are not the victims of hunting-field and slaughter-house as grievously exploited as any human workers? There is, of course, a worse and a better in these doings, but there is no ultimate difference in kind. In all cases the aggressor takes advantage of some neighbours’ weakness. Whether he cheats them, or eats them, is but a detail.

  It seems, then, that the various movements demanding the discontinuance of savage practices such as those I have mentioned, and many others, are all prompted by one and the same spirit, and that men’s action, if their minds were carefully balanced, would be on a wider and more uniform scale. It was with that conviction that the Humanitarian League was founded in 1891. “Its promoters,” as I have elsewhere written, “saw clearly that barbarous practices can be philosophically condemned on no other ground than that of the broad democratic sentiment of universal sympathy. . . . The emancipation of men from cruelty and injustice will bring with it, in due course, the emancipation of animals also. The two reforms are inseparably connected and neither can be fully realised alone.”

  Remark is often made on the excessive number of humane causes that appeal for assistance, each working busily on its own lines. This, as I have said, at present is inevitable; for reformers, of whatever school, are naturally inclined to advocate a single plea, because several, be the logic of the situation what it may, are less likely to win support. It is felt, truly enough, that everything cannot be done at once, and a society, if it is to see “results,” must work on partial lines; it has been pointed out, for instance, that to expect all rationalists to avow themselves also pacifists would lead to endless discussion. Yet one wonders whether, apart from active propaganda, the members of the various schools of reform do not lose something in the long run by lack of a more concentrated purpose—of what may be called, if not a creed, an understanding.

  On one point, at least, I am under no sort of hallucination, the certainty that the changes to which I look forward can only be realised after many years have passed. Even in political affairs, the extreme slowness with which reforms are accomplished is a matter of common remark: what, then, is to be expected in these far more vital matters of character and conduct? We are living in an age which still permits great wealth and abject poverty to exist side by side; we still hang and flog; we still wage wars, and honour in every way the trade of soldiering; we still ill-treat, hunt, cage, eat, and even vivisect, sentient beings closely akin to ourselves; and we still maintain a religion which does not attempt to teach us how savage these practices are. In spite of scientific discoveries and our boast of high “civilisation,” many of our doings deserve rather to be classed with the primeval—the prehistoric.

  Yet there is comfort in the thought that the Future is before us, and that if a hundred years effect but little change, a thousand may effect more, and ten thousand more still; there is, in fact, no limit to the time in which humane influences may be brought to bear on this brutal and barbarous mankind. Some learned man has been expressing his belief that the age of the earth is “not more than eighty-nine million years.” Well, if there is no more than that behind us, and only the same amount to come, it leaves room for improvement; and that is why I think the folk who smile so knowingly at the mention of a possible release from the savageries I have named are not quite so clever as they deem themselves, and that the “crankiness” of which they talk may prove in the long run to have been less on the humanitarian side than their own.

1 In The New Charter. A Discussion of the Rights of Men and the Rights of Animals. George Bell & Sons Ltd.

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