Suicide is so universal among lower races that it must also be considered one of the means for reducing population to its saturation point. If at any time the stress of life is so severe that the life is not worth the living, it is quite natural that self-destruction should follow. The suicide or murder of the widows of lower races is of this type. They preferred death to the awful life of a widow. This mode of death in India nearly doubled the death rate, for every man's death had to be followed by one or more suicides. Natural selection alone can explain such a custom.
Defeated generals formerly always killed themselves, for their subsequent life was not worth living. "Victory or death" was not a mere play to the galleries, but a vital necessity. The Moros and Moors at present carry on war the same way. There is no such thing as surrender, for they fight until killed - capture is practically impossible, and impractical if possible, for they take up the fight as soon as released. The Japanese have a remnant of the old style warrior feeling when suicide was a virtue in certain situations. In civilization, nearly every suicide is insane, more than fifty per cent, being proved to be the mental depression of neurasthenia, a few killing themselves in preference to the life of disgrace after being detected in crime, so that suicides of normal men are found mostly in the lower races just where the overpopulation is the worst. Doctor Miller, at the 1897 Congress of Psychology, reported that there are 50,000 suicides annually in Europe alone. He blames alcohol, yet we know that alcoholism is a symptom of the conditions causing suicide; also we know that the loss of life from the gradual increase of other nervous diseases among the most highly developed people can never be checked, as the high-strung, nervous system is an increasing result of civilization.
*A newspaper clipping says: "The number of Hindoos killed by snake bite in India in 1899, was greater than English total losses through the Boer War. The official statistics just issued show 24,169 deaths from snake bites. The total number of deaths in India from wild animals that year was 27,585, the highest since statistics have been collected. Tigers killed 899 human beings".
Murder in primitive times was not confined to strangers or competitors, but members of one's own family were the victims by necessity. Works on anthropology refer to the universal custom in a certain stage of civilization to kill the infirm, crippled, sick and aged. It was demanded by self-preservation, or rather, family or clan preservation. Young men were too busy keeping themselves and their babies alive to have a moment's time or a crumb of bread for the old folks. Indeed, they would have been weakened themselves beyond the survival point had they cared for those who had outlived their usefulness to the family or clan. The survival of the useful demanded the destruction of the useless, and only those tribes or families survived who practiced this awful custom. Man was in that large class of lower creatures which die as soon as they have prepared their offspring for survival, and being of no further use, nature eliminates them. When a monkey is ill its companions worry it to death or will kill it, if given a chance, and in some species they drown the sick by throwing them into streams. Even the buffalo had a custom of excluding the old bulls from the herd - they were "horned off," but remained in the vicinity of the herds, soon to fall a prey to wolves. It left reproduction to the strongest and best, and the habit grew up by natural selection - weaker herds descended from old individuals could not survive. The defense of the herd also demanded the young and vigorous. In human herds of savages the same law holds good. The natives of Fiji buried then old men alive, and this custom existed throughout Melanesia, New Caledonia and in most of the adjacent Polynesian islands. The Australians abandoned the old people as soon as they lost ability to care for themselves and were a burden. In many parts of the world the aged were killed and eaten. Grimm says of the ancient peoples of Germany, they "killed the old and the sick, and often buried them alive." Very much later, when a higher civilization created more food the parents were given "dower rights" in the estate after being deposed by the children. It remains to the present time in the "parent's dower" on landed property among Teutons. In Japan there is a remnant of the same custom, for Japanese business men retire very early from active management in favor of their sons, but have a "dower right" to be supported as long as they live. Japanese business is in the hands of young men as a rule.
Destruction of the aged and infirm was a dire necessity among the Teutons and Slavs, even up into historic times. This necessity did not exist in those who migrated south, after their settlement in Asia, and it is not known among them, or in Greece or Rome. But there was a survival of this custom in ancient Rome. It appears that among the Aryans it was the custom to throw the aged from a bridge. "There is even at the present time, in one of the Hanoverian districts on the Elbe, which the Wends once occupied (Wendland of the present day), a Low-German saying which the people declare was once used as a prayer when the old people were thrown from the bridge into the water."* In Rome, the custom was forgotten, but the ceremony was kept up by means of straw figures (the argei), which the vestal virgins cast into the river from the bridge after prayers and sacrifices were offered on both banks to the river god. Jhering thinks they were sacrifices to satisfy the river gods who were offended by being fettered by a bridge, as it was done at the building of a new bridge and yearly thereafter.
In course of time the old did become of use, as we will subsequently explain. Civilization would die were it not for the experience, knowledge, wisdom and conservatism of the aged, and the process became reversed. That is, no society survived unless it did preserve the aged. As a rule, then, whenever prehistoric graves contain skeletons showing evidence of long continued disease, great age or deformity, it is positive proof that quite a high civilization existed. It must not be supposed that there were horrors connected with these murders - indeed, the old men recognized the necessity of reserving food for the young men - the hunters and fighters - and preferred death to starvation. Hence, it was honorable for old men to die, and they voluntarily offered themselves for sacrifice, seeming thereby immortal life.
Human sacrifices to the gods have been well-nigh universal throughout the world at some period in the evolution of every tribe and race. There may have been too few sacrifices to make much difference in the food supply, but the custom indicates the remarkable cheapness of life and ancient overpopulation.