JD Bernal

The World, the Flesh & the Devil


By now it should be possible to make a picture of the general scheme of development as a unified whole, and though each part may seem plausible in detail, yet in some obscure way the total result seems unbelievable. This disbelief may be well founded, for what is suggested is not so much a fulfilling as a transformation of humanity, a setting up of what is virtually a new species or several new species, and a mode of setting up which is in itself a departure from the time-hallowed methods of evolution. Now, I believe, that this scheme is more than a bare possibility, that it, or something like it, has about an even chance of occurring; but I must justify this belief not by hypothetics of the future but by analysis of causes acting in the present. Perhaps the most fruitful way is to ask the question, ``What is the effective purpose of the human race as it now is?'' We can eliminate such satisfactory answers as ``For the glory of God,'' because, however true, they do not differentiate humanity from other parts of creation. The answer one seeks is the historical and economic one. Human societies are recent products and, up to the present, can be essentially qualified as co-operative food-producing societies - or perhaps, to include comfort, as co-operative body-satisfying societies. They are distinguished in this way from insect societies, which are essentially, as Wheeler has pointed out, reproductive societies. True, in fulfilling the function of securing a brood, insect societies have gone far in becoming food producing units, and the complementary process in man is shown by the increased care taken over education; but devotion to children has never been the mainspring of human activity. Hunger and sex still dominate the primitive mammalian side of human existence, but at the present time it looks as if humanity were within sight of their satisfaction. Permanent plenty, no longer a Utopian dream, awaits the arrival of permanent peace. Even now, through rationalized capitalism or Soviet state planning, the problem of the production and distribution of necessaries to the primary satisfaction of all human beings, is being pushed forward with uniform and intelligent method. Stupidity and the perversity of separate interests may hold the consummation back for centuries, but it must come gradually and surely.

Now supposing this state achieved or approximating to achievement, what is to become of humanity? Is it, like the stabilized insect societies, to settle down to an eternity of methodical enjoyment, or is there appearing, by some unforeseen chance, a new objective, a new reason for existing beyond the calls of hunger and lust? The primates, and subsequently man, developed intelligence in order to satisfy their desires in a world that was getting more and more difficult to live in. They developed it as primitive plants develop the habit of eating, or fish that of breathing, and just as those plants became animals who lived to eat and those fish became animals who lived to breathe, so we may, in time, come to live to think instead of thinking to live. But this biological analogy carries a very suggestive element; more fish remain in the sea than ever came out of it. It is not the habit of the evolutionary process to transform the whole of one state of living into another. Rather does nature pick some particularly happy development and allow it to expand in the place of and even at the expense of her earlier efforts. If man is to develop something new, the insistent question is, whether all humanity is going to develop or only a part of it? The biological analogy in favor of the latter would be overwhelming if man were an ordinary species, but it happens that at the moment, for the first time in history, he consists virtually of one society, and we have no precedent for the development of any new types, particularly of solitary types, from the middle of a single society; but what, of course, could develop from a society would be another society, at first simply a part of it, but afterwards differentiating itself more and more clearly.

If we consider only those alternatives that lead to development, leaving on one side the not impossible state in which mankind would be stabilized and live an oscillating existence for millennia, we have to consider, in the light of the present, the alternatives: whether mankind will progress as a whole or will divide definitely into a progressive and an unprogressive part. Over and over again in history there has occurred the raising of a particular class or a particular culture to a point at which there seemed a permanent gulf between it and other cultures or classes. Yet the gulf was not permanent; the particular aristocracy fell or its advantages spread themselves so widely that they became common stock. The cause for this is not obscure: first, the aristocrats differed only superficially from the many, and secondly they were not progressing themselves in such a way as to increase their distance and leave humanity behind. The present aristocracy of western culture, at the moment when it most clearly dominates the world, is being imitated rapidly and successfully in every eastern country. It is not on the lines of a cultural aristocracy or the formation of a class more able to lead the good life that the splitting of the human race is likely to occur; because such aristocracies are only reaching to a more complete humanity, and where they lead the race will follow. It is rather the aristocracy of scientific intelligence that may give rise to new developments. They have come down the earlier centuries, scattered singly or in small groups, but the mechanical revolution and its consequences have increased their number and at the same time their compactness. More and more, the world may be run by the scientific expert. The new nations, America, China and Russia, have begun to adapt to this idea consciously. Scientific bodies naturally are at first conceived of as advisory and they will probably never become anything else; but, with every advance in the direction of a more rational psychology, the power of advice will increase and that of force proportionately decrease. This development, coupled with the broadening of the idea of private interest to include, almost necessarily, some consideration of humanity, will tend to center real sovereignty in advisory bodies. The scientists would then have a dual function: to keep the world going as an efficient food and comfort machine, and to worry out the secrets of nature for themselves. It may well be that the dreams of Dædalus and the doom of Icarus may both be fulfilled. A happy prosperous humanity enjoying their bodies, exercising the arts, patronizing the religions, may be well content to leave the machine, by which their desires are satisfied, in other and more efficient hands. Psychological and physiological discoveries will give the ruling powers the means of directing the masses in harmless occupations and of maintain a perfect docility under the appearance of perfect freedom. But this cannot happen unless the ruling powers are scientists themselves. For a state in which the present rulers impose themselves in this way, the prospect of which so appalls Mr. Bertrand Russell, though possible, is essentially unstable and bound to lead to revolution, which would be brought about by the gradually increasing inefficiency of the rulers and the increasingly effective insurgence of the excluded intelligent. Even a scientific state could only maintain itself by perpetually increasing its power over the non-living and living environment. If it failed to do so, it would relapse into pedantry and become a perfectly ordinary aristocracy. In the earlier chapters I have given some idea of one way in which this scientific development could take place by the colonization of the universe and the mechanization of the human body. Once this process had started, particularly on the physiological side, there would be an effective bar between the altered and the non-altered humanity. The separation of the scientists and those who thought like them - a class of technicians and experts who would perhaps form ten per cent. or so of the world's population - from the rest of humanity, would save the struggle and difficulty which would be bound to ensue if there were any attempt to change the whole bulk of the population, and would, to a certain extent, lessen the hostility that these fundamental changes would necessarily produce. Mankind as a whole given peace, plenty and freedom, might well be content to let alone the fanatical but useful people who chose to distort their bodies or blow themselves into space; and if, at some time, the magnitude of the changes made them aware that something important and terrifying had happened, it would then be too late for them to do anything about it. Even if a wave to primitive obscurantism then swept the world clear of the heresy of science, science would already be on its way to the stars.

In tracing this development, however, we have neglected other weighty considerations. Up to the present the cumulative edifice of science has been erected by assistance as much from the practical world as from the learned, and scientists themselves have never formed an hereditary or even a closed caste. In two ways the progress of science depends upon non-scientific humanity. As experimentation becomes more complex, the need for the co-operation in it of technical elements from outside becomes greater and the modern laboratory tends increasingly to resemble the factory and to employ in its service increasing numbers of purely routine workers. If development is to follow, even in the earliest stages, on the lines I have indicated above, this necessity for economic and technical assistance will be multiplied many times. More important still, the complexities of scientific - and particularly of theoretical scientific - thought, calls for an ever greater number of first-class intelligences, and the modern development of science can hardly be disconnected from the political and economic changes which make it possible to recruit the personnel of science from wider and wider circles. For until we can know from the inspection of an infant or an ovum that it will develop into a genius, or else can from any infant produce one by a suitable education we shall have to rely on the diffusion of a general education in order to ensure that all capable minds are utilized.

This recruiting of science is the surest way of preventing a permanent human di-morphism from arising, because it reinforces what is probably the strongest factor involved, the emotional conservatism of the scientists themselves. The mere observation of scientists should be sufficient at the present to show that any fear of immediate di-morphism is unfounded. In every respect, save their work, they resemble their non-scientific brothers, and no one would be more shocked than they at the suggestion that they were raising up a new species and abandoning the bulk of mankind. For whether they are inventing submarines or depth charges, they feel they are serving humanity. The consciousness of solidarity - and even more, the unconscious emotional identification with the group - is a terrific force binding humanity together, and so long as individual scientists have it, di-morphism would be impossible.

But the scientists are not masters of the destiny of science; the changes they bring about may, without their knowing it, force them into positions which they would never have chosen. Their curiosity and its effects may be stronger than their humanity.

These two obstacles to the separation of the scientists, though weighty, are of the kind that would lose force with time, while those favoring their separation tend to increase. The technical importance of the scientist is bound to give him the independent administration of large funds and end the mendicant state in which he exists at present. Scientific corporations might well become almost independent states and be enabled to undertake their largest experiments without consulting the outside world - a world which would be less and less able to judge what the experiments were about. It is very probable that before the real independence of science could make itself felt, the organization of the world would have to pass through its present semi-capitalistic stage to complete proletarian dictatorship, because it is unlikely that a scientific corporation would, in an ordinary capitalistic state, be allowed to be so wealthy and powerful. In a Soviet state (not the state of the present, but one freed from the danger of capitalist attack), the scientific intuitions would in fact gradually become the government, and a further stage of the Marxian hierarchy of domination would be reached. Scientists in such a stage would tend very naturally to identify themselves with the progress of science itself than with that of a class, a nation or a humanity outside science, while the rest of the population would, by the diffusion of an education in which the highest values lay in a scientific rather than in a moral or a political direction, be much less likely to oppose effectively the development of science. Thus the balance which is now against the splitting of mankind might well turn, almost imperceptibly, in the opposite direction. The whole question is one largely of numbers, and would become entirely so as soon as the quantity and quality of population were controlled by authority. From one point of view the scientists would emerge as a new species and leave humanity behind; from another, humanity - the humanity that counts - might seem to change en bloc, leaving behind in a relatively primitive state those too stupid or too stubborn to change. The latter view suggests another biological analogy: there may not be room for both types in the same world and the old mechanism of extinction will come into play. The better organized beings will be obliged in self-defense to reduce the numbers of the others, until they are no longer seriously inconvenienced by them. If, as we may well suppose, the colonization of space will have taken place or be taking place while these changes are occurring, it may offer a very convenient solution. Mankind - the old mankind - would be left in undisputed possession of the earth, to be regarded by the inhabitants of the celestial spheres with a curious reverence. The world might, in fact, be transformed into a human zoo, a zoo so intelligently managed that its inhabitants are not aware that they are there merely for the purposes of observation and experiment.

That prospect should please both sides: it should satisfy the scientists in their aspirations towards further knowledge and further experience, and the humanists in their looking for the good life on earth. But somehow it fails by the very virtue of its being a possible and probable solutions on the lines of our own knowledge. We do not really expect or want the probable; all, even the least religious, retain in their minds when they think of the future, an idea of the deus ex machina, of some transcendental, superhuman event which will, without their help, bring the universe to perfection or destruction. We want the future to be mysterious and full of supernatural power; and yet these very aspirations, so totally removed from the physical world, have built this material civilization and will go on building it into the future so long as there remains any relation between aspiration and action. But can we count on this? Or, rather, have we not here the criterion which will decide the direction of human development? We are on the point of being able to see the effects of our actions and their probable consequences in the future; we hold the future still timidly, but perceive it for the first time, as a function of our own action. Having seen it, are we to to turn away from something that offends the very nature of our earliest desires, or is the recognition of our new powers sufficient to change those desires into the service of the future which they will have to bring about?