Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A DISMAL PROPHECY.

Vision of Human Development.

Mr. Wells continues to project himself into the future with untiring imagination and a most uncomfortable vision of human development. Mr. Bellamy's "Looking Backward" was the optimism of prophecy.  It was the interesting application of a theory which takes small account of human nature. Mr. Wells is a consistent pessimist who thrusts our weaknesses upon us with an almost savage insistence, observes the London Daily Chronicle. Civilised man discovers himself in Mr. Well's new romance only 200 years hence, in a mighty disagreeable condition. The sleeper is a gentleman who fell into a trance in the present era, and awoke to find that he was the nominal ruler of the world by virtue of an accumulation of property administered in his name by twelve trustees. For some generations a by no means apostolic twelve had handled on the power of a supreme council, which ruled not only these islands, but even the entire population of the globe, all boundaries of States, and demarcations of race having disappeared. The sleeper awakes in a London of 33,000,000 inhabitants, most of whom are no better off than serfs in the bondage of gigantic trusts, and already working out below ground the damnation completed in "The Time Machine."
The sleeper is certainly in a lamentable situation. A humane man, with old fashioned nineteenth century ideas, he is amazed by the cruelty of the "systematised sensuality" he sees around him. Pictures have vanished ; a combination of the phonograph and the kinetoscope has superseded the stage ; the new entertainment borders on the obscene; books are dead ; nobody reads newspapers, but everybody listens to rival "Babble Machines," which in a vast hall trumpet the news of the day with racy comments. Education is in the hands of a trust, which takes care that the children are amused and not instructed. A trust purveys the food of the people. All newborn children are sent to a public creche. Death is run by a company which charges a heavy fee for providing tired citizens with a painless end. There are still bishops, who are the last to adopt the prevalent polygamy, and at a fashionable gathering a lady who enlightens the sleeper as to the liberty of the affections points out to him the Bishop of London's "subsidiary wife." Religion seems to be in a poor way, though the various denominations have lost none of their vigor. The language has been corrupted by phonetic spelling, and by a horrible dialect which is spoken by the illiterate masses who, for the most part, wear a blue canvas uniform, and are the slaves of a labor trust. When the sleeper comes on the scene, the council is at daggers drawn with an agitator, who is a nice specimen of the calculating ruffian. He helps the sleeper to escape from the twelve, who are disgusted by the unexpected awakening of the monarch of the universe, and after a confused struggle, the sleeper comes ostensibly by his own, with the agitator as chief adviser. He soon finds that one atrocious tyranny has succeeded another, and that he alone is the hope of depressed millions who cry to him as to a deliverer, miraculously vouchsafed to them from the golden past.
It is a powerful conception—this satire on the soulless dominance of wealth, against which a single champion steps out of our own bygone century, out of this Victorian era, with its rather halting ideals of moral welfare. A commonplace person, with vague notions of Socialism in his own generation, the sleeper rises with his new and strange responsibilities to the dignity of a saviour of the people. He is incensed to find that his Chief Minister, who plays the despot and treats him as a puppet, has employed black police, the descendants of Fuzzy Wuzzy, to suppress a rising in Paris, and has sent for them to terrorise the enslaved millions in London. The Minister, whose name is Ostrog, has his ideas of the well-being of mankind.
"The day of democracy is past," he said. "Past for ever. That day began with the bowmen of Crecy ; it ended when marching infantry, when common men in masses ceased to win the battles of the world, when costly cannon, great ironclads and strategic railways became the means of power. To-day is the day of wealth. Wealth now is power, as it never was power before—it commands earth and sea and sky. All power is for those who can handle wealth. . . . . You must accept facts, and these are facts. The world for the crowd ! The crowd as ruler ! Even in your days that creed had been tried and condemned. To-day it has only one believer—a multiplex, silly one—the man in the crowd. . ... Those days of gunpowder and democracy were only an eddy in the stream. The common man now is a helpless unit. In these days we have this great machine of the city, and an organisation complex beyond his understanding. . . . The crowd is a huge foolish beast. What if it does not die out? Even if it does not die, it can still be tamed and driven. I have no sympathy with servile men. You heard those people shouting and singing, two nights ago. They were taught to sing. If you had taken any man there in cold blood and asked why he shouted, he could not have told you.
" No, no," said Graham. " They shouted because their lives were dreary, without joy or pride, and because in me—in me—they hoped."
" And what was their hope ? What is their hope ? What right have they to hope? . . . The hope of mankind—what is it ? That some day the Overman may come, that some day the inferior, the weak and the bestial may be subdued or eliminated. Subdued, if not eliminated.  The world is no place for the bad, the stupid, the enervated. Their duty—its a fine duty, too—is to die. The death of the failure ! That is the path by which the beast rose to manhood, by which man goes on to higher things."

 Clarence and Richmond Examiner 5 September 1899,

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