Last and First Men

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The third men in the wilderness 1. the third human species

WE have now followed man's career during some forty million years. The whole period to be covered by this chronicle is about two thousand million. In this chapter, and the next, therefore, we must accomplish a swift flight at great altitude over a tract of time more than three times as long as that which we have hitherto observed. This great expanse is no desert, but a continent teeming with variegated life, and many successive and very diverse civilizations. The myriads of human beings who inhabit it far outnumber the First and Second Men combined. And the content of each one of these lives is a universe, rich and poignant as that of any reader of this book.

In spite of the great diversity of this span of man's history, it is a single movement within the whole symphony, just as the careers of the First and of the Second Men are each a single movement. Not only is it a period dominated by a single natural human species and the artificial human species into which the natural species at length transformed itself; but, also, in spite of innumerable digressions, a single theme, a single mood of the human will, informs the whole duration. For now at last man's main energy is devoted to remaking his own physical and mental nature. Throughout the rise and fall of many successive cultures this purpose is progressively clarifying itself, and expressing itself in many tragic and even devastating experiments; until, toward the close of this immense period, it seems almost to achieve its end.

When the Second Men had remained in their strange racial trance for about thirty million years, the obscure forces that make for advancement began to stir in them once more. This reawakening was favoured by geological accident. An incursion of the sea gradually isolated some of their number in an island continent, which was once part of the North Atlantic ocean-bed. The climate of this island gradually cooled from sub-tropical to temperate and sub-arctic. The vast change of conditions caused in the imprisoned race a subtle chemical re-arrangement of the germ-plasm, such that there ensued an epidemic of biological variation. Many new types appeared, but in the long run one, more vigorous and better adapted than the rest, crowded out all competitors and slowly consolidated itself as a new species, the Third Men.

Scarcely more than half the stature of their predecessors, these beings were proportionally slight and lithe. Their skin was of a sunny brown, covered with a luminous halo of red-gold hairs, which on the head became a russet mop. Their golden eyes, reminiscent of the snake, were more enigmatic than profound. Their faces were compact as a cat's muzzle, their lips full, but subtle at the corners. Their ears, objects of personal pride and of sexual admiration, were extremely variable both in individuals and races. These surprising organs, which would have seemed merely ludicrous to the First Men, were expressive both of temperament and passing mood. They were immense, delicately involuted, of a silken texture, and very mobile. They gave an almost bat-like character to the otherwise somewhat feline heads. But the most distinctive feature of the Third Men was their great lean hands, on which were six versatile fingers, six antennae of living steel.

Unlike their predecessors, the Third Men were short-lived. They had a brief childhood and a brief maturity, followed (in the natural course) by a decade of senility, and death at about sixty. But such was their abhorrence of decrepitude, that they seldom allowed themselves to grow old. They preferred to kill themselves when their mental and physical agility began to decline. Thus, save in exceptional epochs of their history, very few lived to be fifty.

But though in some respects the third human species fell short of the high standard of its predecessor, especially in certain of the finer mental capacities, it was by no means simply degenerate. The admirable sensory equipment of the second species was retained, and even improved. Vision was no less ample and precise and colourful. Touch was far more discriminate, especially in the delicately pointed sixth finger-tip. Hearing was so developed that a man could run through wooded country blind-fold without colliding with the trees. Moreover the great range of sounds and rhythms had acquired an extremely subtle gamut of emotional significance. Music was therefore one of the main preoccupations of the civilizations of this species.

Mentally the Third Men were indeed very unlike their predecessors. Their intelligence was in some ways no less agile; but it was more cunning than intellectual, more practical than theoretical. They were interested more in the world of sense-experience than in the world of abstract reason, and again far more in living things than in the lifeless. They excelled in certain kinds of art, and indeed also in some fields of science. But they were led into science more through practical, aesthetic or religious needs than through intellectual curiosity. In mathematics, for instance (helped greatly by the duodecimal system, which resulted from their having twelve fingers), they became wonderful calculators; yet they never had the curiosity to inquire into the essential nature of number. Nor, in physics, were they ever led to discover the more obscure properties of space. They were, indeed, strangely devoid of curiosity. Hence, though sometimes capable of a penetrating mystical intuition, they never seriously disciplined themselves under philosophy, nor tried to relate their mystical intuitions with the rest of their experience.

In their primitive phases the Third Men were keen hunters; but also, owing to their strong parental impulses, they were much addicted to making pets of captured animals. Throughout their career they displayed what earlier races would have called an uncanny sympathy with, and understanding of, all kinds of animals and plants. This intuitive insight into the nature of living things, and this untiring interest in the diversity of vital behaviour, constituted the dominating impulse throughout the whole career of the third human species. At the outset they excelled not only as hunters but as herdsmen and domesticators. By nature they were very apt in every kind of manipulation, but especially in the manipulation of living things. As a species they were also greatly addicted to play of all kinds, but especially to manipulative play, and above all to the playful manipulation of organisms. From the first they performed great feats of riding on the moose-like deer which they had domesticated. They tamed also a certain gregarious coursing beast. The pedigree of this great leonine wolf led, through the tropical survivors of the Martian plague, back to those descendants of the arctic fox which had over-run the world after the Patagonian disaster. This animal the Third Men trained not only to help them in shepherding and in the chase, but also to play intricate hunting games. Between this hound and its master or mistress there frequently arose a very special relation, a kind of psychical symbiosis, a dumb intuitive mutual insight, a genuine love, based on economic co-operation, but strongly toned also, in a manner peculiar to the third human species, with religious symbolism and frankly sexual intimacy.

As herdsmen and shepherds the Third Men very early practised selective breeding; and increasingly they became absorbed in the perfecting and enriching of all types of animals and plants. It was the boast of every local chieftain not only that the men of his tribe were more manly and the women more beautiful than all others, but also that the bears in his territory were the noblest and most bear-like of all bears, that the birds built more perfect nests and were more skilful fliers and singers than birds elsewhere. And so on, through all the animal and vegetable races.

This biological control was achieved at first by simple breeding experiments, but later and increasingly by crude physiological manipulation of the young animal, the fcetus and (later still) the germ-plasm. Hence arose a perennial conflict, which often caused wars of a truly religious bitterness, between the tender-hearted, who shrank from the infliction of pain, and the passionately manipulative, who willed to create at whatever cost. This conflict, indeed, was waged not only between individuals but within each mind; for all were innately hunters and manipulators, but also all had intuitive sympathy even with the quarry which they tormented. The trouble was increased by a strain of sheer cruelty which occurred even in the most tender-hearted. This sadism was at bottom an expression of an almost mystical reverence for sensory experience. Physical pain, being the most intense of all sensed qualities, was apt to be thought the most excellent. It might be expected that this would lead rather to self-torture than to cruelty. Sometimes it did. But in general those who could not appreciate pain in their own flesh were yet able to persuade themselves that in inflicting pain on lower animals they were creating vivid psychic reality, and therefore high excellence. It was just the intense reality of pain, they said, that made it intolerable to men and animals. Seen with the detachment of the divine mind, it appeared in its true beauty. And even man, they declared, could appreciate its excellence when it occurred not in men but in animals.

Though the Third Men lacked interest in systematic thought, their minds were often concerned with matters outside the fields of private and social economy. They experienced not only aesthetic but mystical cravings. And though they were without any appreciation of those finer beauties of human personality, which their predecessors had admired as the highest attainment of life on the planet, the Third Men themselves, in their own way, sought to make the best of human nature, and indeed of animal nature. Man they regarded in two aspects. In the first place he was the noblest of all animals, gifted with unique aptitudes. He was, as was sometimes said, God's chief work of art. But secondly, since his special virtues were his insight into the nature of all living things and his manipulative capacity, he was himself God's eye and God's hand. These convictions were expressed over and over again in the religions of the Third Men, by the image of the deity as a composite animal, with wings of the albatross, jaws of the great wolf-dog, feet of the deer, and so on. For the human element was represented in this deity by the hands, the eyes, and the sexual organs of man. And between the divine hands lay the world, with all its diverse population. Often the world was represented as being the fruit of God's primitive potency, but also as in process of being drastically altered and tortured into perfection by the hands.

Most of the cultures of the Third Men were dominated by this obscure worship of Life as an all-pervading spirit, expressing itself in myriad diverse individuals. And at the same time the intuitive loyalty to living things and to a vaguely conceived life-force was often complicated by sadism. For in the first place it was recognized, of course, that what is valued by higher beings may be intolerable to lower; and, as has been said, pain itself was thought to be a superior excellence of this kind. And again in a second manner sadism expressed itself. The worship of Life, as agent or subject, was complemented by worship of environment, as obj ect to life's subj ectivity, as that which remains ever foreign to life, thwarting its enterprises, torturing it, yet making it possible, and, by its very resistance, goading it into nobler expressions. Pain, it was said, was the most vivid apprehension of the sacred and universal Object.

The thought of the third human species was never systematic. But in some such manner as the foregoing it strove to rationalize its obscure intuition of the beauty which includes at once Life's victory and defeat.

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