The Impact of Science on Society, Part 4 – Mass Psychology and Education

Mass Psychology and Education

Originally Posted February 4, 2008

“For some reason which I have failed to understand, many people like the system [scientific totalitarianism] when it is Russian but disliked the very same system when it was German. I am compelled to think that this is due to the power of labels; these people like whatever is labelled ‘Left’ without examining whether the label has any justification.”- Bertrand Russell, 1952 (p56)

What exactly is the purpose of education? Does the government want to teach young people how to think and reason for themselves or is it a form of mass psychology aimed at propagandising the young? These questions are examined through Bertrand Russell’s 1952 book entitled The Impact of Science on Society*.

Education, a Modern Method of Propaganda

From Bertrand Russell’s The Impact of Science on Society:

“I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology. Mass psychology is, scientifically speaking, not a very advanced study… This study is immensely useful to practical men, whether they wish to become rich or to acquire the government. It is, of course, as a science, founded upon individual psychology, but hitherto it has employed rule-of-thumb methods which were based upon a kind of intuitive common sense. Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of

modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called ‘education’. Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the Press, the cinema and the radio play an increasing part.

What is essential in mass psychology is the art of persuasion. If you compare a speech of Hitler’s with a speech of (say) Edmund Burke, you will see what strides have been made in the art since the eighteenth century. What went wrong formerly was that people had read in books that man is a rational animal, and framed their arguments on this hypothesis. We now know that limelight and a brass band do more to persuade than can be done by the most elegant train of syllogisms. It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment.

This subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship. Anaxagoras maintained that snow is black, but no one believed him. The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakeable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark grey.” [emphasis mine] 40

The Intended Result of Education

“The completeness of the resulting control over opinion depends in various ways upon scientific technique. Where all children go to school, and all schools are controlled by the government, the authorities can close the minds of the young to everything contrary to official orthodoxy. Printing is impossible without paper, and all paper belongs to the State. Broadcasting and the cinema are equally public monopolies. The only remaining possibility of unauthorised propaganda is by secret whispers from one individual to another. But this, in turn, is rendered appallingly dangerous by improvements in the art of spying. Children at school are taught that it is their duty to denounce their parents if they allow themselves subversive utterances in the bosom of the family. No one can be sure that a man who seems to be his dearest friend will not denounce him to the police; the man may himself have been in some trouble, and may know that if he is not efficient as a spy his wife and children will suffer. All this is not imaginary, it is daily and hourly reality. Nor, given oligarchy, is there the slightest reason to expect anything else.” [emphasis mine] – 58

“Scientific societies are as yet in their infancy. It may be worthwhile to spend a few moments in speculating as to possible future developments of those that are oligarchies.

It is to be expected that advances in physiology and psychology will give governments much more control over individual mentality than they now have even in totalitarian countries. Fichte laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished. But in his day this was an unattainable ideal: what he regarded as the best system in existence produced Karl Marx. In future such failures are not likely to occur where there is dictatorship. Diet, injections, and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible. Even if all are miserable, all will believe themselves happy, because the government will tell them that they are so.” [emphasis mine] – 61

That is really worth repeating.

“Diet, injections, and injunctions [a command, admonition, etc.] will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible.”

Some Miscellaneous Uses of Education

“…result from the elimination of war [and the establishment of a world government]. A great deal, also, is to be hoped from a change in propaganda. Nationalist propaganda, in any violent form, will have to be illegal, and children in schools will not be taught to hate and despise foreign nations. Active instruction in the evils of the old times and the advantages of the new system would do the rest. I am convinced that only a few psychopaths would wish to return to the daily dread of radioactive disintegration.” – 108

“The nations which at present increase [their populations] rapidly should be encouraged to adopt the methods by which, in the West, the increase of population has been checked.

Educational propaganda, with government help, could achieve this result in a generation.” [emphasis mine] – 116

The idea of using education or rather sex education to reduce the population of the west was further promoted in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich in his book The Population Bomb**: “We need a federal law requiring sex education in schools – sex education that includes discussion of the need for regulating the birth rate and of the techniques of birth control. Such education should begin at the earliest age recommended by those with professional competence in this area – certainly before junior high school.

By “sex education” I do not mean course focusing on hygiene or presenting a simpleminded “birds and bees” approach to human sexuality. The reproductive function of sex must be shown as just one of its functions, and one that must be carefully regulated in relation to the needs of the individual and society.” – 133

For more on Paul Ehrlich’s views on the use of education and other means of population control please read this previous article, Population, Religion and Sex Education .

The Governing Classes Only

Most people reading this article are the products of a state run educational system. If the above is not enough to make you reflect on the merits of universal education and on all of the things you were ‘taught’ as a child (and since then), hopefully the following quote will.

“Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen…” [emphasis mine] – 41

*Quotes from Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1952). ISBN0-41510906-X **Quotes from: Paul R. Ehrlich. The Population Bomb: Revised & Expanded Edition (1968, 1971). SBN 345-24489-3-150.

The Impact of Science on Society, Part 3 – Population Control and the Scientific Breeding of Humans

Population Control and the Scientific Breeding of Humans

Originally Posted January 28, 2008

“If there is not to be an endless succession of wars, population will have to become stationary throughout the world, and this will probably have to be done, in many countries, as a result of governmental measures. This will require an extension of scientific technique into very intimate matters.” – Bertrand Russell, 1952 (p38)

Bertrand Russell in his 1952 book The Impact of Science on Society* describes a variety of methods that have been and could be used to reduce the population of the world to a more manageable size. Another very interrelated concept of a managed population size is the practice of eugenics. To be more precise, the practice of dysgenics for the commoners and eugenics for the aristocracy. Commoners will be bred to create a “submissive and docile disposition” while the aristocracy will be bred for much different qualities. “Gradually, by selective breeding the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species.”

Solutions to Overpopulation

From The Impact of Science on Society:

“But bad times, you may say, are exceptional, and can be dealt with by exceptional methods. This has been more or less true unless the increase in population can be enormously diminished. At present the population of the world is increasing at about 58,000 per diem. War, so far, has had no very great effect on this increase, which continued throughout each of the world wars.” [emphasis mine] – 115

“There are three ways of securing a society that shall be stable as regards population. The first is that of birth control, the second that of infanticide or really destructive wars, and third that of general misery except for a powerful minority.” – 117

“The nations which at present increase rapidly should be encouraged to adopt the methods by which, in the West, the increase of population has been checked. Educational propaganda, with government help, could achieve this result in a generation.” [emphasis mine] – 116

“… a scientific world society cannot be stable unless there is a world government… unless there is a world government which secures universal birth control, there must from time to time be great wars, in which the penalty of defeat is widespread death by starvation… Unless, at some stage, one power or group of powers emerges victorious and proceeds to establish a single government of the world with a monopoly of armed forces, it is clear that the level of civilization must decline until scientific warfare becomes impossible – that is until science is extinct.” [emphasis mine] – 117

“If raw materials are not to be used up too fast, there must not be free competition for their acquisition and use but an international authority to ration them in such quantities as may from time to time seem compatible with continued industrial prosperity. And similar considerations apply to soil conservation.” [emphasis mine] – 124

“To deal with this problem [increasing population and decreasing food supplies] it will be necessary to find ways of preventing an increase in world population. If this is to be done otherwise than by wars, pestilence, and famines, it will demand a powerful international authority. This authority should deal out the world’s food to the various nations in proportion to their population at the time of the establishment of the authority. If any nation subsequently increased its population it should not on that account receive any more food. The motive for not increasing population would therefore be very compelling. What method of preventing an increase might be preferred should be left to each state to decide.” [emphasis mine] – 124

Eugenics and Dysgenics – The Scientific Breeding of Humans

biology, physiology and psychology are likely in the long run to affect human life quite as much as physics and chemistry.” [emphasis mine] – 38

“In any case, it is pretty certain that scientific technique will very soon effect great improvements in the animals and plants that are useful to man.

When such methods of modifying the congenital character of animals and plants have been pursued long enough to make their success obvious, it is probable that there will be a powerful movement for applying scientific methods to human propagation. There would at first be strong religious and emotional obstacles to the adoption of such a policy. But suppose (say) Russia were able to overcome these obstacles and to breed a race stronger, more intelligent, and more resistant to disease than any race of men that has hitherto existed, and suppose the other nations perceived that unless they followed suit they would be defeated in war, then either the other nations would voluntarily forgo their prejudices, or, after defeat, they would be compelled to forgo them. Any scientific technique, however beastly, is bound to spread if it is useful in war – until such time as men decide that they have had enough of war and will henceforth live in peace. As that day does seem to be at hand, scientific breeding of human beings must be expected to come about.” [emphasis mine] – 39

“Scientific societies are as yet in their infancy. It may be worthwhile to spend a few moments in speculating as to possible future developments of those that are oligarchies.

Diet, injections, and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible. Even if all are miserable, all will believe themselves happy, because the government will tell them that they are so.

A totalitarian government with a scientific bent might do things that to us would seem horrifying. The Nazis were more scientific than the present rulers of Russia, and were more inclined towards the sort of atrocities that I have in mind. They were said – I do not know with what truth – to use prisoners in concentration camps as material for all kinds of experiments, some involving death after much pain. If they had survived, they would probably have soon taken to scientific breeding. Any nation which adopts this practice will, within a generation, secure great military advantages. The system, one may surmise, will be something like this: except possibly in the governing aristocracy, all but 5 per cent of males and 30 per cent of females will be sterilised. The 30 per cent of females will be expected to spend the years from eighteen to forty in reproduction, in order to secure adequate cannon fodder. As a rule, artificial insemination will be preferred to the natural method. The unsterilised, if they desire the pleasures of love, will usually have to seek them with sterilised partners.

Sires will be chosen for various qualities, some for muscle others for brains. All will have to be healthy, and unless they are to be the fathers of oligarchs they will have to be of a submissive and docile disposition. Children will, as in Plato’s Republic, be taken from their mothers and reared by professional nurses. Gradually, by selective breeding the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species. A revolt of the plebs would become as unthinkable as an organised insurrection of sheep against the practice of eating mutton. (The Aztecs kept a domesticated alien tribe for purposes of cannibalism. Their regime was totalitarian.)

To those accustomed to this system, the family as we know it would seem as queer as the tribal and totem organisation of Australian aborigines seems to us… The labouring class would have such long hours of work and so little to eat that their desires would hardly extend beyond sleep and food. The upper class, being deprived of the softer pleasures both by the abolition of the family and by the supreme duty of devotion to the State, would acquire the mentality of ascetics: they would care only for power, and in pursuit of it would not shrink from cruelty. By the practice of cruelty men would become hardened, so that worse and worse tortures would be required to give the spectators a thrill.” [emphasis mine] – 61

Conclusion

A very important auxiliary technique involved in creating the “submissive and docile disposition” is education. Bertrand Russell’s views on education will be discussed in the following article, entitled Mass Psychology and Education .

*Quotes from Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1952). ISBN0-41510906-X

The Impact of Science on Society, Part 2 – Limits to the Stability of a Scientific World Empire

Limits to the Stability of a Scientific World Empire

Originally posted January 21, 2008

“I do not believe that dictatorship is a lasting form of scientific society – unless (but this proviso is important) it can become world-wide.”- Bertrand Russell, 1952 (p67)

According to Bertrand Russell’s 1952 book The Impact of Science on Society* empires of the past were unable to sustain their control over ever distant regions of their dominion mostly due to the difficulty of maintaining effective centralized control over the actions of their subordinates. Scientific technique has removed this limitation. The only remaining obstacle to the creation of a truly worldwide empire is the establishment of a unifying principle to replace the fear of war.

Limits to the Size of an Empire

From The Impact of Science on Society:

“In any given state of technique there is a limit to size. The Roman Empire was stopped by German forests and African deserts… And before the telegraph large empires tended to break up because they could not be effectively controlled from the centre.

Communications have been hitherto the chief factor limiting the size of empires… This difficulty was diminished by railways and the telegraph, and is on the point of disappearing with the improvement of the long-range bomber. There would now be no technical difficulty about a single world-wide Empire. Since war is likely to become more destructive to human life than it has been in recent centuries, unification under a single world government is probably necessary unless we are to acquiesce in either a return to barbarism or the extinction of the human race.” [emphasis mine] – 36

“I think the evils that have grown up in Soviet Russia will exist, in a greater or less degree, wherever there is a scientific government which is securely established and is not dependent upon popular support. It is possible nowadays for a government to be very much more oppressive than any government could be before there was scientific technique. Propaganda makes persuasion easier for the government; public ownership of halls and paper makes counter-propaganda more difficult; and the effectiveness of modern armaments makes popular risings impossible. No revolution can succeed in a modern country unless it has the support of at least a considerable section of the armed forces. But the armed forces can be kept loyal by being given a higher standard of life than that of the average worker, and this is made easier by every step in the degradation of ordinary labour. Thus the very evils of the system help to give it stability. Apart from external pressure, there is no reason why such a regime should not last for a very long time.” [emphasis mine] – 61

War, the Chief Source of Social Cohesion

“What stands in the way [of world government]? Not physical or technical obstacles, but only the evil passions in human minds…” – 108

“…so long as there is imminent risk of war it is impossible to escape from the authority of the State except to a very limited degree. It is mainly war that has caused the excessive power of modern States, and until the fear of war is removed it is inevitable that everything should be subordinated to short-term efficiency. But I have thought it worth while to think for a moment of the world as it may be when a world government has ended the present nightmare dread of war.” – 75 “War has been, throughout history, the chief source of social cohesion; and since science began, it has been the strongest incentive to technical progress. Large groups have a better chance of victory than small ones, and therefore the usual result of war is to make States larger…

There is, it must be confessed, a psychological difficulty about a single world government. The chief source of social cohesion in the past, I repeat, has been war: the passions that inspire a feeling of unity are hate and fear. These depend upon the existence of an enemy, actual or potential. It seems to that a world government could only be kept in being by force, not by the spontaneous loyalty that now inspires a nation at war.” [emphasis mine] – 36

World Government

“As regards war, the principle of unrestricted national sovereignty, cherished by liberals in the nineteenth century and by the Kremlin in the present day, must be abandoned. Means must be found of subjecting the relations of nations to the rule of law, so that a single nation will no longer be, as at present, the judge in its own cause. If this is not done, the world will quickly return to barbarism. In that case, scientific technique will disappear along with science, and men will be able to go on being quarrelsome because their quarrels will no longer do much harm. It is, however, just possible that mankind may prefer to survive and prosper rather than to perish in misery, and, if so, national liberty will have to be effectively restrained.” – 50

“In the past, there were many sovereign States, any two of which might at any time quarrel. Attempts in the line of the League of Nations were bound to fail, because, when a dispute arose, the disputants were too proud to accept outside arbitration, and the neutrals were too lazy to enforce it. Now there are only two sovereign States: Russia (with satellites) and the United States (with satellites). If either becomes preponderant, either by victory or by an obvious military superiority, the preponderant Power can establish a single Authority over the whole world, and thus make future wars impossible. At first this Authority will , in certain regions, be based on force, but if the Western nations are in control, force will as soon as possible give way to consent. When that has been achieved, the most difficult of world problems will have been solved, and science can become wholly beneficent.” – 106

“There are three ways of securing a society that shall be stable as regards population. The first is that of birth control, the second that of infanticide or really destructive wars, and third that of general misery except for a powerful minority. All these methods have been practised… the third in the world as some Western internationalists hope to make it and in Soviet Russia.” [emphasis mine] – 117

“… a scientific world society cannot be stable unless there is a world government… unless there is a world government which secures universal birth control, there must from time to time be great wars, in which the penalty of defeat is widespread death by starvation… Unless, at some stage, one power or group of powers emerges victorious and proceeds to establish a single government of the world with a monopoly of armed forces, it is clear that the level of civilization must decline until scientific warfare becomes impossible that is until science is extinct.” – 117

This last point is very important because the exact same theme was described by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997). Brzezinski outlines his case for how current American global supremacy should be used to unify the world under the dictates of the United Nations. For more about The Grand Chessboard read this .

From The Grand Chessboard:

“Meeting these challenges is America’s burden as well as its unique responsibility. Given the reality of American democracy, an effective response will require generating a public understanding of the continuing importance of American power in shaping a widening framework of stable geopolitical cooperation, one that simultaneously averts global anarchy and successfully deters the emergence of a new power challenge. These two goals– averting global anarchy and impeding the emergence of a power rival– are inseparable from the longer-range definition of the purpose of America’s global engagement, namely, that of forging an enduring framework of global geopolitical cooperation.” [emphasis mine] – 214

“In brief, the U.S. policy goal must be unapologetically twofold: to perpetuate America’s own dominant position for at least a generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework that can absorb the inevitable shocks and strains of social-political change while evolving into the geopolitical core of shared responsibility for peaceful global management. A prolonged phase of gradually expanding cooperation with key Eurasian partners, both stimulated and arbitrated by America, can also help to foster the preconditions for an eventual upgrading of the existing and increasingly antiquated UN [United Nations] structures. A new distribution of responsibilities and privileges can then take into account the changed realities of global power, so drastically different from those of 1945.” [emphasis mine] – 215

Conclusion

The next article will examine Bertrand Russell’s views on population control and the scientific breeding of humans . The fourth and final part in this series will explore the use of education as the most powerful form of government propaganda .

*Quotes from Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1952). ISBN0-41510906-X

The Impact of Science on Society, Part 1 – Scientific Technique and the Concentration of Power

Scientific Technique and the Concentration of Power

Originally posted January 14, 2008

“So long as the rulers are comfortable, what reason have they to improve the lot of their serfs?”- Bertrand Russell, 1952 (p61)

Bertrand Russell in his 1952 book The Impact of Science on Society* describes the effects of “scientific technique” on the increasing control of societies by an ever shrinking number of people. As we will see, “scientific technique” is much more than just the development and widespread use of new technology, but first some of its effects.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (1872-1970) was a renowned British philosopher and mathematician who was an adamant internationalist and worked extensively on the education of young children. He was the founder of the Pugwash movement which used the spectre of Cold War nuclear annihilation to push for world government. Among many other prizes, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950 and UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Kalinga prize in 1957.

Increasing Organization

From Impact of Science on Society:

“This [the telegraph] had two important consequences: first messages could now travel faster than human beings; secondly, in large organizations detailed control from a centre became much more possible than it had formerly been.

The fact that messages could travel faster than human beings was useful, above all, to the police…” – 33

“Electricity as a source of power is much more recent than the telegraph, and has not yet had all the effects of which it is capable. As an influence on social organisation its most notable feature is the importance of power stations, which inevitably promote centralisation… as soon as a community has become dependent upon them for lighting and heating and cooking. I lived in America in a farm-house which depended entirely upon electricity, and sometimes, in a blizzard, the wires would be blown down. The resulting inconvenience was almost intolerable. If we had been deliberately cut off for being rebels, we should soon have had to give in.” – 35

“But what is of most importance in this connection is the development of flying. Aeroplanes have increased immeasurably the power of governments. No rebellion can hope to succeed unless it is favoured by at least a portion of the air force.” – 36

“In industry, the integration brought about by scientific technique is much greater [than agriculture] and more intimate.

One of the most obvious results of industrialism is that a much larger percentage of the population live in towns than was formerly the case. The town dweller is a more social being than the agriculturist, and is much more influenced by discussion. In general, he works in a crowd, and his amusements are apt to take him into still larger crowds. The course of nature, the alternations of day and night, summer and winter, wet or shine, make little difference to him; he has no occasion to fear that he will be ruined by frost or drought or sudden rain. What matters to him is his human environment, and his place in various organisations especially.

Take a man who works in a factory, and consider how many organisations affect his life. There is first of all the factory itself, and any larger organisation of which it may be a part. Then there is the man’s trade union and his political party. He probably gets house room from a building society or public authority. His children go to school. If he reads a newspaper or goes to a cinema or looks at a football match, these things are provided by powerful organisations. Indirectly, through his employers, he is dependent upon those from whom they buy their raw material and those to whom they sell their finished product. Above all, there is the State, which taxes him and may at any moment order him to go and get killed in war, in return for which it protects him against murder and theft so long as there is peace, and allows him to buy a fixed modicum of food.” [emphasis mine] -44

“The increase of organisation has brought into existence new positions of power. Every body has to have executive officials, in whom, at any moment, its power is concentrated. It is true that officials are usually subject to control, but the control may be slow and distant. From the young lady who sells stamps in a Post Office all the way up to the Prime Minister, every official is invested, for the time being, with some part of the power of the State. You can complain of the young lady if her manners are bad, and you can vote against the Prime Minister at the next election if you disapprove of his policy. But both the young lady and the Prime Minister can have a very considerable run for their money before (if ever) your discontent has any effect.” [emphasis mine] – 45 “The increased power of officials is an inevitable result of the greater degree of organisation that scientific technique brings about. It has the drawback that it is apt to be irresponsible, behind-the-scenes, power, like that of Emperors’ eunuchs and Kings’ mistresses in former times. To discover ways of controlling it is one of the most important political problems of our time. Liberals protested, successfully, against the power of kings and aristocrats; socialists protested against the power of capitalists. But unless the power of officials can be kept within bounds, socialism will mean little more than the substitution of one set of masters for another: all the former power of the capitalist will be inherited by the official. [emphasis mine]” – 47

“As we have seen, the question of freedom needs a completely fresh examination. There are forms of freedom that are desirable, and that are gravely threatened; there are other forms of freedom that are undesirable, but that are very difficult to curb… The resultant two-fold problem, of preserving liberty internally and diminishing it externally, is one that the world must solve, and solve soon, if scientific societies are to survive.

Let us consider for a moment the social psychology involved in this situation.

…The armed forces of one’s own nation exist – so each nation asserts – to prevent aggression by other nations. But the armed forces of other nations exist – or so many people believe – to promote aggression. If you say anything against the armed forces of your own country, you are a traitor, wishing to see your fatherland ground under the heel of a brutal conqueror. If, on the other hand, you defend a potential enemy State for thinking armed forces necessary to its safety, you malign your own country, whose unalterable devotion to peace only perverse malice could lead you to question…

And so it comes about that, whenever an organisation has a combatant purpose, its members are reluctant to criticise their officials and tend to acquiesce in usurpations and arbitrary exercise of power which, but for the war mentality, they would bitterly resent. It is the war mentality that gives officials and governments their opportunity. It is therefore only natural that officials and governments are prone to foster war mentality.” [emphasis mine] – 51

“I incline to think that ‘liberty’, as the word was understood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is no longer quite the right concept; I should prefer to substitute ‘opportunity for initiative’. And my reason for suggesting this change is the character of a scientific society.” – 68

More Organization is More Power

“The effect of the telegraph was to increase the power of the central government and diminish the initiative of distant subordinates. This applied not only to the State, but to every geographically extensive organization. We shall find a great deal of scientific technique has a similar effect. The result is that fewer men have executive power, but those few had more power than such men had formerly.” [emphasis mine] – 35 “We have seen that scientific technique increases the importance of organisations, and therefore the extent to which authority impinges upon the life of the individual. It follows that a scientific oligarchy has more power than any oligarchy could have in pre-scientific times. There is a tendency, which is inevitable unless consciously combated, for organisations to coalesce, and so to increase in size, until, ultimately, almost all become merged in the State. A scientific oligarchy, accordingly, is bound to become what is called ‘totalitarian’, that is to say, all important forms of power will become a monopoly of the State.” [emphasis mine] – 56

“In the first place, since the new oligarchs are the adherents of a certain creed, and base their claim to exclusive power upon the rightness of this creed, their system depends essentially upon dogma: whoever questions the governmental dogma questions the moral authority of the government, and is therefore a rebel. While the oligarchy is still new, there are sure to be other creeds, held with equal conviction, which must be suppressed by force, since the principle of majority rule has been abandoned. It follows that there cannot be freedom of the Press, freedom of discussion, or freedom of book publication. There must be an organ of government whose duty it is to pronounce as to what is orthodox, and to punish heresy. The history of the Inquisition shows what such an organ of government must inevitably become. In the normal pursuit of power, it will seek out more and more subtle heresies. The Church, as soon as it acquired political power, developed incredible refinement of dogma, and persecuted what to us appear microscopic deviations form the official creed. Exactly the same sort of thing happens in the modern States that confine political power to supporters of a certain doctrine.” – 57

“The completeness of the resulting control over opinion depends in various ways upon scientific technique. Where all children go to school, and all schools are controlled by the government, the authorities can close the minds of the young to everything contrary to official orthodoxy. Printing is impossible without paper, and all paper belongs to the State. Broadcasting and the cinema are equally public monopolies. The only remaining possibility of unauthorised propaganda is by secret whispers from one individual to another. But this, in turn, is rendered appallingly dangerous by improvements in the art of spying. Children at school are taught that it is their duty to denounce their parents if they allow themselves subversive utterances in the bosom of the family. No one can be sure that a man who seems to be his dearest friend will not denounce him to the police; the man may himself have been in some trouble, and may know that if he is not efficient as a spy his wife and children will suffer. All this is not imaginary, it is daily and hourly reality. Nor, given oligarchy, is there the slightest reason to expect anything else.” [emphasis mine] – 58

What is Scientific Technique?

Scientific technique is much more than just the impact of new technology on the machinations of society. It is the use of science, in its most calculating and inhumane ways, to analyze, control and guide societies in a desired direction. This topic was elaborated on in a couple of talks given by Alan Watt ( here and here ) particularly through the writings of Jacques Ellul.

The rest of the articles in this series will also elaborate on other aspects of scientific technique, especially its application to education and human breeding . But first, I will examine Bertrand Russell’s views about the stability of scientific societies and the possibility of a scientific world government.

*Quotes from Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1952). ISBN0-41510906-X

The Scientific Outlook, Part 9 – Two Examples of Scientifically Created Artificial Societies: Japan and Soviet Russia

Two Examples of Scientifically Created: Japan and Soviet Russia

Originally posted August 24, 2008


“No sharp line can be drawn between scientific technique and traditional arts and crafts. The essential characteristic of scientific technique is the utilization of natural forces in ways not evident to the totally uninstructed.” – Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p137)

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“As we approach modern times, the changes deliberately brought about in social structure become greater. This is especially the case where revolutions are concerned. The American Revolution and the French Revolution deliberately created certain societies with certain characteristics, but in the main these characteristics were political, and their effects in other directions formed no part of the primary intentions of the revolutionaries. But scientific technique has so enormously increased the power of governments that it has now become possible to produce much more profound and intimate changes in social structure than any that were contemplated by Jefferson or Robespierre. Science first taught us to create machines; it is now teaching us by Mendelian breeding and experimental embryology to create new plants and animals. There can be little doubt that similar methods will before long give us power, within wide limits, to create new human individuals differing in predetermined ways from the individuals produced by unaided nature. And by means of psychological and economic technique it is becoming possible to create societies as artificial as the steam engine, and as different from anything that would grow up of its own accord without deliberate intention on the part of human agents.

Such artificial societies will, of course, until social science is much more perfected than it is at present, have many unintended characteristics, even if their creators succeed in giving them all the characteristics that were intended. The unintended characteristics may easily prove more important than those that were foreseen, and may cause the artificially constructed societies to break down in one way or another. But I do not think it is open to doubt that the artificial creation of societies will continue and increase so long as scientific technique persists. The pleasure in planned construction is one of the most powerful motives in men who combine intelligence with energy; whatever can be constructed according to a plan, such men will endeavour to construct. So long as the technique for creating a new type of society exists there will be men seeking to employ this technique. They are likely to suppose themselves actuated by some idealistic motive, and it is possible that such motives may play a part in determining what sort of society they shall aim at creating. But the desire to create is not itself idealistic, since it is a form of the love of power, and while the power to create exists there will be men desirous of using this power even if unaided nature would produce a better result than any that can be brought about by deliberate intention.” – 204

“There are in the world at the present time two Powers which illustrate the possibility of artificial creation. The two Powers in question are Japan and Soviet Russia.” – 206

Japan

“Modern Japan [1930] is almost exactly what it was intended to be by the men who made the revolution in 1867. This is one of the most remarkable political achievements in all history, in spite of the fact that the purpose which inspired the innovators was simple and such as every Japanese might be expected to sympathize with. The purpose was, in fact, nothing more recondite than the preservation of national independence. China had been found impotent to resist the Western Powers, and Japan appeared to be in like case. Certain Japanese statesman perceived that the military and naval power of the Western nations rested upon Western education and Western industrial technique. They decided to introduce both, with such modifications as Japanese history and circumstances demanded. But whereas industrialism had grown up in the West with very little assistance from the State, and scientific knowledge had developed very far before the Western Governments undertook the task of universal education, Japan, being pressed for time, was obliged to impose education and science and industrialism by governmental pressure.

It was clearly impossible to effect so great a change in the mentality of the average citizen by mere appeals to reason and self-interest. The reformers, therefore, skilfully enlisted the divine person of the Mikado and the divine authority of the Shinto religion on the side of modern science. The Mikado had been for centuries obscure and unimportant, but he had already been restored to power once before in the year A.D. 645, so that there was a precedent of respectable antiquity for what was being done. The Shinto religion, unlike Buddhism, was indigenous to Japan, but had been for ages thrust into the background by the foreign religion imported from China and Korea. The reformers very wisely decided that in introducing Christian military technique they would not attempt to introduce the theology with which it had hitherto been correlated, but would have a nationalistic theology of their own, Shinto, as now taught by the State in Japan, is a powerful weapon of nationalism; its gods are Japanese, and its cosmogony teaches that Japan was created sooner than other countries. The Mikado is descended from the Sun Goddess, and is therefore superior to the mere earthly rulers of other States. Shinto, as now taught, is so different from the old indigenous beliefs that competent students have described it as a new religion. As a result of this skilful combination of enlightened technique with unenlightened theology, the Japanese have succeeded not merely in repelling the Western menace, but in becoming one of the Great Powers and achieving the third place on the sea.

Japan has shown extraordinary sagacity in the adaptation of science to political needs. Science as an intellectual force is sceptical and somewhat destructive of social coherence, while as a technical force it has precisely the opposite qualities. The technical developments due to science have increased the size and intensity of organizations, and have more particularly greatly augmented the power of Governments. Governments have, therefore, good reason to be friendly to science, so long as it can be kept from dangerous and subversive speculations. In the main the men of science have shown themselves amenable. The State favours one set of superstitions in Japan, and another in the West, but the scientists both in Japan and of the West have, with some exceptions, been willing to acquiesce in governmental doctrines, because most of them are citizens first, and servants of truth only in the second place.

In spite of the extraordinary success of Japanese policy, there are certain unintended effects which are likely in time to cause serious difficulties. The sudden change of habits and of conscious opinions has induced a certain nervous strain, at any rate in the urban part of the population. This may produce a tendency to hysteria in time of national stress; indeed, such a tendency was shown in the massacres of Koreans that occurred after the earthquake of Tokio. What is more serious, the position of Japan demands the growth of both industrialism and armaments. Owing to the expense of the latter the industrial workers are poor; they tend, consequently, to acquire a rebellious mentality, and the circumstances of their work make it difficult for them to preserve that close family organization upon which Japanese society is built. If Japan should become engaged in an unsuccessful war, these stances might produce a revolution analogous to the Russian Revolution. The present social structure in Japan is likely therefore in time to become unstable, but it may be that the same skill which has rendered possible the triumphant career of Japan throughout the last seventy years will enable the Japanese to adapt themselves to changing circumstances gradually without any violent upheaval. The one thing that seems fairly certain is that, whether gradually or by revolution, the social structure in Japan will have to be profoundly modified. Remarkable as it is, therefore, it is not a perfect example of scientific construction. I do not mean by this that it could have been bettered at the time, but only that it is not in all respects a model for the future.” – 206

Soviet Russia

“The attempt at scientific construction which is being made by the Soviet Government is more ambitious than that which was carried through by the Japanese innovators in 1867; it aims at a much greater change in social institutions, and at the creation of a society far more different from anything previously known than is that of Japan. The experiment is still in progress, and only a rash man would venture to predict whether it will succeed or fail; the attitude both of friends and enemies towards it has been singularly unscientific. For my part, I am not anxious to appraise the good or evil in the Soviet system, but merely to point out those elements of deliberate planning which make it so far the most complete example of a scientific society. In the first place, all the major factors of production and distribution are controlled by the State; in the second place, all education is designed to stimulate activity in support of the official experiment; in the third place, the State does what it can to substitute its religion for the various traditional beliefs which have existed within the territory of the U.S.S.R.; in the forth place, literature and the Press are controlled by the Government, and are such as are thought likely to help it in its constructive purposes; in the fifth place, the family, in so far as it represents a loyalty which competes with loyalty to the State, is being gradually weakened; in the sixth place, the Five Year Plan is bending the whole constructive energies of the nation to the realization of a certain economic balance and productive efficiency, by means of which it is hoped that a sufficient degree of material comfort will be secured for everyone. In every other society of the world there is enormously less central direction than under the Soviet Government. It is true that during the war the energies of the nations were, to a considerable extent, centrally organized, but everyone knew that this was temporary, and even at its height the organization was not so all-pervasive as it is in Russia. The Five Year Plan, as its name implies, is supposed to be temporary, and to belong to a time of stress not wholly unlike that of the Great War, but it is to be expected that if it succeeds, other plans will take its place, since the central organization of the vast nation’s activities is too attractive to the organizers to be abandoned readily.

The Russian experiment may succeed or may fail, but even if it fails, it will be followed by others which will share its most interesting characteristic, namely, the unitary direction of a whole nation’s activities. This was impossible in earlier days, since it depends upon the technique of propaganda, i.e., upon universal education, newspapers, the cinema, and the wireless. The State had already been strengthened by railways and the telegraph, which made possible the rapid transmission of news and concentration of troops. In addition to modern methods of propaganda, modern methods of warfare have strengthened the State as against discontented elements; aeroplanes and poison gasses have made revolt difficult unless it obtains the support of aeronauts and chemists. Any prudent Government will favour these two classes and take pains to secure their loyalty. As the example of Russia has shown, it is now possible for men of energy and intelligence, if they once become possessed of the governmental machine, to retain power even though at first they may have to face the opposition of the majority of the population. We must therefore increasingly expect to see government falling into the hands of oligarchies, not of birth but of opinion. In countries long accustomed to democracy, the empire of these oligarchies may be concealed behind democratic forms, as was that of Augustus in Rome, but elsewhere their rule will be undisguised. If there is to be scientific experimentation in the construction of new kinds of societies, the rule of an oligarchy of opinion is essential. It may be expected that there will be conflicts between different oligarchies, but that ultimately some one oligarchy will acquire world dominion, and will produce a world-wide organization as complete and elaborate as that now existing in the U.S.S.R.” – 209

The Scientific Outlook, Part 8 – Free Trade and Labor in a Scientific Society

Free Trade and Labor in a Scientific Society

Originally posted August 17, 2008


“In the old days it was expected that about half the children in a family would die before they grew up; this involved pain, illness, and sorrow to the mother, often great suffering to the children, and a waste of natural resources in the care of children who never lived to become productive.” – Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p196)

The Scientific Society and the Enlargement of Organization

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“Such a state of affairs will have both merits and demerits; more important than either, however, is the fact that nothing less will enable a society imbued with scientific technique to survive. Scientific technique demands organization, and the more it becomes perfected, the larger are the organizations that it demands. Quite apart from war, the present depression has made it evident that an international organization of credit and banking is necessary to the prosperity not only of some countries, but of all. The international organization of industrial production is being rendered necessary by the efficiency of modern methods. Modern industrial plants can easily supply, in many directions, much more than the total needs of the world. The result of this, which should be wealth, is in fact poverty, owing to competition. In the absence of competition, the immensely enhanced productivity of labour would enable men to arrive at a just compromise between leisure and goods: they could choose whether they would work six hours a day and be rich, or four hours a day and enjoy only moderate comfort. The advantages of world-wide organization, both in preventing the waste of economic competition and in removing the danger of war, are so great as to be becoming an essential condition for the survival of societies possessing scientific technique. This argument is overwhelming in comparison with all counterarguments, and renders almost unimportant the question whether life in an organized world State will be more or less satisfactory than life at the present day. For it is only in the direction of an organized world State that the human race can develop unless it abandons scientific technique, and it will not do this except as the result of a cataclysm so severe as to lower the whole level of civilization.

The advantages to be derived from an organized world State are great and obvious. There will be, in the first place, security against war and a saving of almost the whole effort and expense now devoted to competitive armaments: there will be, one must suppose, a single, highly efficient fighting machine, employing mainly aeroplanes and chemical methods of warfare, which will be quite obviously irresistible, and will therefore not be resisted. The central government may be changed from time to time by a palace revolution, but this will only alter the personnel of the figure-heads, not the essential organization of government. The central government will, of course, forbid the propaganda of nationalism, by means of which at present anarchy is maintained, and will put in its place a propaganda of loyalty to the world State.” – 212

Free Trade

“We have seen that scientific civilization demands world-wide organization if it is to be stable. We have considered the possibility of such an organization in matters of government. We shall now consider it in the economic sphere. At present, production is organized as far as possible nationally be means of tariff walls; every nation tries to produce at home as much as possible of the goods that it consumes. This tendency is on the increase, and even Great Britain, which has hitherto aimed at maximizing its exports by means of Free Trade, appears to be on the point of abandoning this policy in favour of comparative economic isolation.

It is, of course, clear that, from a purely economic point of view, it is wasteful to organize production nationally rather than internationally. It would be an economy if all the motorcars used throughout the world were manufactured in Detroit. That is to say, a car of given excellence could be produced with less expense of human labour in that case than it can at present. In a world scientifically organized most industrial products would be thus localized. There would be one place for making pins and needles, another place for making scissors and knives, another place for making aeroplanes, and yet another for agricultural machinery. When, if ever, the world government that we have considered comes into being, one of its first tasks will be the international organization of production. Production will no longer be left, as at present, to private enterprise, but will be undertaken solely in accordance with government orders. This is already the case with such things as battleships, because in regard to war efficiency is thought to be important; but in most matters production is left to the chaotic impulses of private manufacturers, who make too much of some things and too little of others, with the result that there is poverty in the midst of unused plenty. The industrial plant at present existing in the world is in many directions far in excess of the world’s needs. By eliminating competition and concentrating production in a single concern, all this waste could be avoided.

The control of raw materials is a matter which in any scientific society would be governed by a central authority. At present the important raw materials are controlled by military power. The weak nation possessed of oil soon finds itself under suzerainty of some stronger nation. The Transvaal lost its independence because it contained gold. Raw material ought not to belong to those who, by conquest or diplomacy, have happened to acquire the territory in which they are; they ought to belong to a world authority which would ration them to those who had the most skill in utilizing them. Moreover, our present economic system causes everybody to be wasteful of raw materials, since there is no motive for foresight. In a scientific world the supply of any vital raw material will be carefully estimated, and as the moment of its exhaustion approaches scientific research will be directed to the discovery of a substitute.

Agriculture, for reasons which we considered in an earlier chapter, may have less importance in the future than it has at present, and has had in the past. We shall have not only artificial silk but artificial wool and artificial timber and artificial rubber. In time we may have artificial food. But in the meantime agriculture will become more and more industrialized, both in its methods and in the mentality of those who practise it. American and Canadian agriculturists have already the industrial mentality, not the mentality of the patient peasant. Machinery will, of course, be increasingly employed. In the neighbourhood of large urban markets intensive cultivation with artificial methods of warming the soil will yield many crops every year. Here and there throughout the country-side there will be large power stations forming the nucleus around which the population will cluster. Of agricultural mentality, as it has been known since ancient times, nothing will survive, since the soil and even the climate will be subject to human control.” – 239

Labour in a Scientific Society

“The gain from an economic point of view will be enormous: there will be no waste in competitive production, no uncertainty as to employment, no poverty, no sudden alternations of good and bad times; every man willing to work will be kept in comfort, and every man unwilling to work will be kept in prison. When owing to any circumstances the work upon which a man has hitherto been employed is no longer required, he will be taught some new kind of work, and will be adequately maintained while he is learning his new trade. Economic motives will be employed to regulate population, which will probably be kept stationary. Almost all that is tragic in human life will be eliminated, and even death will seldom come before old age.” – 213

“It may be assumed that every man and woman will be obliged to work, and will be taught a new trade if for any reason work at the old trade is no longer required. The pleasantest work, of course, will be that which gives the most control over the mechanism. The posts giving most power will presumably be awarded to the ablest men as a result of intelligence tests. For entirely inferior work negroes will be employed wherever possible. One may, I suppose, assume that the most desirable kinds of work will be more highly paid than the less desirable kinds, since they require more skill. The society will not be one in which there is equality, although I doubt whether the inequalities will be hereditary except as between different races, i.e., between white and coloured labour. Everybody will be comfortable, and those who occupy the better-paid posts will be able to enjoy considerable luxury. There will not be, as at present, fluctuations of good and bad times, for these are merely the result of our anarchic economic system. Nobody will starve, and nobody will suffer the economic anxieties which at present beset rich and poor alike. On the other hand, life will be destitute of adventure except for the most highly paid experts. Ever since civilization began men have been seeking security more avidly than they have sough anything else. In such a world they will have it, but I am not quite sure whether they will think it worth the price that they will have paid for it.” – 242

“Take again the question of work, both the kind of work and the method of performing it. At present young people choose their own trade or profession, usually because at the moment of their choice it seems to afford a good opening. A well-informed person possessed of foresight might know that the particular line in question was going to be much less profitable a few years hence. In such a case some public guidance to the young might prove extremely useful. And as regards technical methods, it is seldom in the public interest that an antiquated or wasteful technique should be allowed to persist when a more economical technique is known. At present, owning to the irrational character of the capitalist system, the interest of the individual wage-earner is very often opposed to the interest of the community, since economical methods may cause him to lose his job. This is due to the survival of capitalistic principles in a society which has grown so organic that it ought not to tolerate them. It is obvious that in a well-organized community it should be impossible for a large body of individuals to profit by preserving an inefficient technique. It is clear that the use of the most efficient technique should be enforced, and no wage-earner should be allowed to suffer by its enforcement.” – 220

The Scientific Outlook, Part 7 – Freedom and Equality in a Scientific Society

Freedom and Equality in a Scientific Society

Originally posted August 10, 2008

“There will, of course, be a universal language, which will be either Esperanto or pidgin-English. The literature of the past will for the most part not be translated into this language, since its outlook and emotional background will be considered unsettling: serious students of history will be able to obtain a permit from the Government to study such works as Hamlet and Othello, but the general public will be forbidden access to them on the ground that they glorify private murder; boys will not be allowed to read books about pirates or Red Indians; love themes will be discouraged on the ground that love, being anarchic, is silly, if not wicked. All this will make life very pleasant for the virtuous.” – Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p214)


Individual Freedom versus the Collective

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“The nineteenth century suffered from a curious division between its political ideas and its economic practice. In politics it carried out the Liberal ideas of Locke and Rousseau, which were adapted to a society of small peasant proprietors. Its watchwords were Liberty and Equality, but meantime it was inventing the technique which is leading the twentieth century to destroy liberty and to replace equality by new forms of oligarchy. The prevalence of Liberal thought has been in some ways a misfortune, since it has prevented men of large vision from thinking out in an impersonal manner the problems raised by industrialism. Socialism and Communism, it is true, are essentially industrial creeds, but their outlook is so much dominated by the class war that they have little leisure to give to anything but the means of achieving political victory. Traditional morality gives very little help in the modern world. A rich man may plunge millions into destitution by some act which not even the severest Catholic confessor would consider sinful, while he will need absolution for a trivial sexual aberration which, at the worst, has wasted an hour that might have been more usefully employed. There is need of a new doctrine on the subject of my duty to my neighbour. It is not only traditional religious teaching that fails to give adequate guidance on this subject, but also the teaching of nineteenth-century Liberalism. Take, for example, such a book as Mill on Liberty. Mill maintains that while the State has a right to interfere with those of my actions that have serious consequences to others, it should leave me free where the effects of my actions are mainly confined to myself. Such a principle, however, in the modern world, leaves hardly any scope for individual freedom. As society becomes more organic, the effects of men upon each other become more and more numerous and important, so that there remains hardly anything in regard to which Mill’s defence of liberty is applicable. Take, for example, freedom of speech and of the Press. It is clear that a society that permits these is thereby precluded from various achievements which are possible to a society that forbids them. In time of war this is obvious to everybody, because in war-time the national purpose is simple, and the causation involved is obvious. Hitherto it has not been customary for a nation in peace-time to have any national purpose except the preservation of its territory and its constitution. A government which, like that of Soviet Russia, has a purpose in peace-time as ardent and definite as that of other nations in war-time, is compelled to curtail freedom of speech and of the Press as much while it is at peace as other nations do when they are at war.

The diminution of individual liberty which has been taking place during the last twenty years is likely to continue, since it has two continuing causes. On the one hand, modern technique makes society more organic; on the other hand, modern sociology makes men more and more aware of the causal laws in virtue of which one man’s acts are useful or harmful to another man. If we are to justify any particular form of individual liberty in the scientific society of the future, we shall have to do it on the ground that that form of liberty is for the good of society as a whole, but not in most cases on the ground that the acts concerned affect nobody but the agent.” 216

“The man who dreams of a scientifically organized world and wishes to translate his dream into practice finds himself faced with many obstacles. There is the opposition of inertia and habit: people wish to continue behaving as they always have behaved, and living as they always have lived. There is the opposition of vested interest: an economic system inherited from feudal times gives advantages to men who have done nothing to deserve them, and these men, being rich and powerful, are able to place formidable obstacles in the way of fundamental change. In addition to these forces, there are also hostile idealisms. Christian ethics is in certain fundamental respects opposed to the scientific ethic which is gradually growing up. Christianity emphasizes the importance of the individual soul, and is not prepared to sanction the sacrifice of an innocent man for the sake of some ulterior good to the majority. Christianity, in a word, is unpolitical, as is natural since it grew up among men devoid of political power. The new ethic which is gradually growing in connexion with scientific technique will have its eye upon society rather than upon the individual. It will have little use for the superstition of guilt and punishment, but will be prepared to make individuals suffer for the public good without inventing reasons purporting to show that they deserve to suffer. In this sense it will be ruthless, and according to traditional ideas immoral, but the change will have come about naturally through the habit of viewing society as a whole rather than as a collection of individuals. We view a human body as a whole, and if, for example, it is necessary to amputate a limb we do not consider it necessary to prove first that the limb is wicked. We consider the good of the whole body a quite sufficient argument. Similarly the man who thinks of society as a whole will sacrifice a member of society for the good of the whole, without much consideration for that individual’s welfare. This has always been the practice in war, because war is a collective enterprise. Soldiers are exposed to the risk of death for the public good, although no one suggests that they deserve death. But men have not hitherto attached the same importance to social purposes other than war, and have therefore shrunk from inflicting sacrifices which were felt to be unjust. I think it probable that the scientific idealists of the future will be free from this scruple, not only in time of war, but in time of peace also. In overcoming the difficulties of the opposition that they will encounter, they will find themselves organized into an oligarchy of opinion such as is formed by the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R.” – 233

Freedom in a Scientific Society

“In suggesting any curtailment of liberty there are always two quite distinct questions to be considered. The first is whether such a curtailment would be in the public interest if it were wisely carried out, and the second is whether it will be in the public interest when it is carried out with a certain measure of ignorance and perversity. These two questions are in theory quite distinct, but from the point of view of the government the second question does not exist, since every government believes itself entirely free from both ignorance and perversity. Every government, consequently, in so far as it is not restrained by traditional prejudices, will advocate more interference with liberty than is wise. When, therefore, as in this chapter, we are considering what interferences with liberty might be theoretically justified, we must hesitate to draw the conclusion that they should be advocated in practice. I think it probable, however, that almost all interferences with liberty for which there is a theoretical justification will, in time, be carried out in practice, because scientific technique is gradually making governments so strong that they need not consider outside opinion. The result of this will be that governments will be able to interfere with individual liberty wherever in their opinion there is a sound reason for so doing, and for the reason just given, this will be much more often than it should be. For this reason scientific technique is likely to lead to a governmental tyranny which may in time prove disastrous.” – 223

“Let us take some examples of traditional principles which appear no longer defensible. […] To take a more important illustration: consider the immense sums of money that are spent on advertising. It cannot possibly be maintained that these bring any but the most meagre return to the community. The principle of permitting each capitalist to invest his money as he chooses is not, therefore, socially defensible.” – 218

“Take again the question of work, both the kind of work and the method of performing it. At present young people choose their own trade or profession, usually because at the moment of their choice it seems to afford a good opening. A well-informed person possessed of foresight might know that the particular line in question was going to be much less profitable a few years hence. In such a case some public guidance to the young might prove extremely useful. And as regards technical methods, it is seldom in the public interest that an antiquated or wasteful technique should be allowed to persist when a more economical technique is known. At present, owning to the irrational character of the capitalist system, the interest of the individual wage-earner is very often opposed to the interest of the community, since economical methods may cause him to lose his job. This is due to the survival of capitalistic principles in a society which has grown so organic that it ought not to tolerate them. It is obvious that in a well-organized community it should be impossible for a large body of individuals to profit by preserving an inefficient technique. It is clear that the use of the most efficient technique should be enforced, and no wage-earner should be allowed to suffer by its enforcement.” – 220

“I come now to a matter which touches the individual more intimately: I mean the question of propagation. It has hitherto been considered that any man and woman not within the prohibited degrees have a right to marry, and having married have a right, if not a duty, to have as many children as nature may decree. This is a right which the scientific society of the future is not likely to tolerate. In any given state of industrial and agricultural technique there is an optimum density of population which ensures a greater degree of material well-being than would result from either an increase or a diminution of numbers. As a general rule, except in new countries, the density of population has been beyond this optimum, though perhaps France, in recent decades, has been an exception. Except where there is property to be inherited, the member of a small family suffers almost as much from over-population as the member of a large family. Those who cause over-population are therefore doing an injury not only to their own children, but to the community. It may therefore be assumed that society will discourage them if necessary, as soon as religious prejudices no longer stand in the way of such action. The same question will arise in a more dangerous form as between different nations and different races. If a nation finds that it is losing military superiority through a lower birth-rate than that of a rival, it may attempt, as has already been done in such cases, to stimulate its own birth-rate; but when this proves ineffective, as it probably will, there will be a tendency to demand a limitation in the birth-rate of the rival nation. An international government, if it ever comes into being, will have to take account of such matters, and just as there is at present a quota of national immigrants into the United States, so in future there will be a quota of national immigrants into the world. Children in excess of the licensed figure will presumably be subjected to infanticide. This would be less cruel than the present method, which is to kill them by war or starvation. I am, however, only prophesying a certain future, not advocating it.

Quality as well as quantity of population is likely to become a matter for public regulation. Already in many States of America it is permissible to sterilized the mentally defective, and a similar proposal in England is in the domain of practical politics. This is only the first step. As time goes on we may expect a greater and greater percentage of the population to be regarded as mentally defective from the point of view of parenthood. However that may be, it is clear that the parents who have a child when there is every likelihood of its being mentally defective are doing a wrong both to the child and to the community. No defensible principle of liberty therefore stands in the way of preventing them from such behaviour.” – 221

Equality in a Scientific Society

“Equality, like liberty, is difficult to reconcile with scientific technique, since this involves a great apparatus of experts and officials inspiring and controlling vast organizations. Democratic forms may be preserved in politics, but they will not have as much reality as in a community of small peasant proprietors. Officials unavoidably have power. And where many vital questions are so technical that the ordinary man cannot hope to understand them, experts must inevitably acquire a considerable measure of control. Take the question of currency and credit as an example. William Jennings Bryan, it is true, made currency an electoral issue in 1896, but the men who voted for him were men who would have voted for him whatever issue he had selected. At the present time, calculable misery is being caused by a wrong handling of the question of currency and credit, but it is impossible to submit this question to the electorate except in some passionate and unscientific form; the only way in which anything can be done is to convince the officials who control the great central banks. So long as these men act honestly and in accordance with tradition, the community cannot control them, since if they are mistaken very few people will know it. To take a less important illustration: everyone who has ever compared British and American methods of handling goods traffic on railways knows that the American methods are infinitely superior. There are no private trucks, and the trucks of the railways are of standard size capable of carrying forty tons. In England everything is higgledy-piggledy and unsystematic, and the use of private trucks causes great waste. If this were put right, freights could be reduced and consumers would benefit, since there would be no obvious gain either to railway companies or to railway workers. If a more uniform system is ever imposed, it will be done not as a result of a democratic demand, but by government officials.

The scientific society will be just as oligarchic under socialism or communism as under capitalism, for even where the forms of democracy exist they cannot supply the ordinary voter with the requisite knowledge, nor enable him to be on the spot at the crucial moment. The men who understand the complicated mechanism of a modern community and who have the habit of initiative and decision must inevitably control the course of events to a very great extent. Perhaps this is even more true in a socialistic State than in any other, for in a socialistic State economic and political power are concentrated in the same hands, and the national organization of the economic life is more complete than in a State where private enterprise exists. Moreover, a socialistic State is likely to have more perfect control than any other over the organs of publicity and propaganda, so that it will have more power of causing men to know what it wishes known, and not to know what it wishes unknown. Equality, therefore, like liberty, is, I fear, no more than a nineteenth-century dream. The world of the future will contain a governing class, probably not hereditary, but more analogous to the government of the Catholic Church.

And this governing class, as they acquire increasing knowledge and confidence, will interfere more and more with the life of the individual, and will learn more and more the technique of causing this interference to be tolerated. It may be assumed that their purposes will be excellent, and their conduct honourable; it may be assumed that they will be well informed and industrious; but it cannot, I think, be assumed that they will abstain from the exercise of power merely on the ground that individual initiative is a good thing, or on the ground that an oligarchy is unlikely to consider the true interests of its slaves, for men capable of such self-restraint will not rise to positions of power which, except when they are hereditary, are attained only by those who are energetic and untroubled by doubt.” – 224