Friday, June 28, 2013

Exterminate All The Brutes

What to do about the rising tide of human population? It's quite simple, really. Here's a neat solution, to be applied in a Utopian future republic:
Procreation is the triumph of the living being over death; and in the case of man, who adds mind to his body, it is not only in his child but in the dissemination of his thought, the expression of his mind in things done and made, that his triumph is to be found. And the ethical system of these men of the New Republic, the ethical system which will dominate the world state, will be shaped primarily to favour the procreation of what is fine and efficient and beautiful in humanity--beautiful and strong bodies, clear and powerful minds, and a growing body of knowledge--and to check the procreation of base and servile types, of fear-driven and cowardly souls, of all that is mean and ugly and bestial in the souls, bodies, or habits of men. To do the latter is to do the former; the two things are inseparable. And the method that nature has followed hitherto in the shaping of the world, whereby weakness was prevented from propagating weakness, and cowardice and feebleness were saved from the accomplishment of their desires, the method that has only one alternative, the method that must in some cases still be called in to the help of man, is death. In the new vision death is no inexplicable horror, no pointless terminal terror to the miseries of life, it is the end of all the pain of life, the end of the bitterness of failure, the merciful obliteration of weak and silly and pointless things.... The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully, and efficiently will be to die. For a multitude of contemptible and silly creatures, fear-driven and helpless and useless, unhappy or hatefully happy in the midst of squalid dishonour, feeble, ugly, inefficient, born of unrestrained lusts, and increasing and multiplying through sheer incontinence and stupidity, the men of the New Republic will have little pity and less benevolence. To make life convenient for the breeding of such people will seem to them not the most virtuous and amiable thing in the world, as it is held to be now, but an exceedingly abominable proceeding.
 Pretty straightforward, isn't it? All the useless weak people will be exterminated, leaving the earth to the beautiful healthy ones. What's more, many of those expendable people will be black, or brown, or yellow:
Most of the human types, that by civilized standards are undesirable, are quite willing to die out through such suppressions if the world will only encourage them a little. They multiply in sheer ignorance, but they do not desire multiplication even now, and they can easily be made to dread it. Sensuality aims not at life, but at itself. I believe that the men of the New Republic will deliberately shape their public policy along these lines. They will rout out and illuminate urban rookeries and all places where the base can drift to multiply; they will contrive a land legislation that will keep the black, or yellow, or mean-white squatter on the move; they will see to it that no parent can make a profit out of a child, so that childbearing shall cease to be a hopeful speculation for the unemployed poor; and they will make the maintenance of a child the first charge upon the parents who have brought it into the world. Only in this way can progress escape being clogged by the products of the security it creates. The development of science has lifted famine and pestilence from the shoulders of man, and it will yet lift war--for some other end than to give him a spell of promiscuous and finally cruel and horrible reproduction.
 Appalled yet? These passages are from H.G. Wells's book Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, published in 1902. Yes, Wells, usually considered a beacon of rationality and scientific truth.  I was led to this book by reading John Carey's 1992 book The Intellectuals and the Masses, which sets out to show how the literary intelligentsia of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries viewed the common masses. I knew that Pound (a fascist) Lewis (a fascist sympathiser) and Eliot (an anti-Semite) had some deeply unpleasant views, and that many modernists were also snobs, but I hadn't realised the depth of their contempt for the common man and woman. Carey shows how much some of these writers owed to Nietzsche, and how pervasive their attitudes were. Writers who, one might think, would have some empathy with the working class are shown to be rabid advocates of a societal structure that would keep them vigorously suppressed. Here's D.H. Lawrence on education: "General education should be suppressed as soon as possible" so that boys can learn manly crafts and girls domestic skills. "There should be no compulsory teaching to read and write at all. The great mass of humanity should never learn to read and write--never." In this way, the state will avoid the curse of "a helpless, presumptuous, news-paper-reading population." Carey also reminds us of Woolf's dismissive attitude to Joyce, " a self-taught, working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking and ultimately nauseating...I'm reminded all the time of some callow board school boy." That contemptuous reference to the board schools - the schools set up after the education acts at the end of the nineteenth century, which offered some sort of schooling for the first time to ordinary children - encapsulates the snobbery of the intellectuals in the face of the rise of an educated working class. Carey explores the way that the intellectual elite conceived of the masses as a poisonous, semi-human swarm, ripe for extermination, so that a more beautiful earth could be left for people with artistic taste, like, well, themselves...

The fury of the intellectuals is turned on the new popular media the masses embraced, particularly the cinema and newspapers. Even cheap editions of the classics come under fire, since they enabled the working person to experience the literature that had hitherto been the province of the elite. Carey shows how the newspapers, considered utter trash by people like Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis, actually offered serious intellectual sustenance. Tit-Bits, reviled by the Bloomsberries, contained a weekly 40,000 words, with no illustrations. It included extracts from classic authors such as George Eliot, Carlyle, Macauley, Poe, Ruskin, Hawthorne and others. A new weekly poem by an established poet was a feature. It serialised the early Sherlock Holmes stories. It's hardly the Daily Star, then, but to Eliot, Gissing, Woolf et al, it represented the end of civilisation as they knew it.

Cary is particularly acute on the attitude to the clerk, who epitomises the new order. He finds numerous disparaging accounts of this new breed of man, and his close associate, the typist. Eliot's description of the sordid sexual encounter between the "young man carbuncular" and the "typist home at tea time" in The Waste Land has always struck me as gratuitously snobbish, but I now see how widespread was this level of revulsion at the very thought of these working people, who consumed tinned food and lived in flats. Much better that they should all be done away with.

Carey's book is an eye-opener. Not only does he expose the vile attitudes of the modernist elite, he also makes a very persuasive case for the work of Arnold Bennett, famously rubbished by Virginia Woolf in "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown." Bennett emerges as a thoroughly decent man, a champion of education and improvement. To my shame, I haven't read any Bennett, and my only knowledge of his work is of a  dimly-recollected seventies TV dramatisation of Clayhanger. More volumes for the To Be Read pile...

1 comment:

harriet said...

Fascinating. Do read Bennett, he is good. I read Clayhanger fairly recently and liked it a lot. Also of course his supposed masterpiece The Old Wives Tale.