January 21, 2021

"Orwell never equated technology with progress. On the contrary, he wrote during the war, 'every scientific advance speeds up the trend towards nationalism and dictatorship.'"

"It was in a review of [H.G.] Wells’s scenario for Things to Come that he mocked what he called the author’s false antithesis between the benign scientist and the bellicose reactionary. 'It never occurred to Mr. Wells that his categories might have got mixed, that it might be the reactionary who would make the fullest use of the machine and that the scientist might use his brains chiefly on race-theory and poison gas.' That wasn’t fair at all. The creator of the Invisible Man and Doctor Moreau was no stranger to perverted science."

From "The Ministry of Truth" by Dorian Lynskey.

I was listening to that audiobook on my sunrise run today, and that paragraph jumped out at me.

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40 comments:

mikee said...

Technology, scientific advances, sure it can be misused. The problem isn't with the app, it is with the app user and the app seller. The app may be useful, and using it may at the same time be bad for you and everyone else. China's Communist Party understands this, and they love those apps they use for social control and monitoring and conditioning. Don't be like China. Don't be asshoe.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Orwell wrote a piece on Gulliver's Travels in which he said it was ridiculous for Swift to reject modern science and technology, which have done so much good. There may have been a fork in the road for humanity: embrace modern technology, or not. Embracing it was partly a matter of replacing old priests with new priests. Seeing epidemiologists on TV all the time, there are echoes of the old scolding priests: do as we say or else. Only we can protect you from death.

gilbar said...

About Science....
How long will it take Jo Biden, to decide that 'The Science' REQUIRES that he rechange his mind on fracking?
(remember? During the debate, he said that he wasn't going to ban fracking?

I guess it didn't take That Long
https://townhall.com/tipsheet/katiepavlich/2021/01/20/biden-administration-yes-we-are-following-through-with-a-fracking-ban-n2583476

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Orwell is way more readable than Nostradamus because he said it all so clearly. Unfortunately the new new new left uses 1984 as a how-to manual. Zuck Jack and Bezos have helped Apple and Goo&le become Big Brither just like their 1984 Macintosh ad predicted. Warned. Whatever.

Freeman Hunt said...

The problem is less that tech can be used for evil than that it is part of an inhuman orientation to existence with efficiency as the highest ideal and algorithm as the goal for all practice. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society. (And while I agree with that, I'm still thankful for tech, especially the medical sort. Ideas exist in tension.)

Ann Althouse said...

"Orwell’s most eccentric piece for the BBC was an imagined dialogue with the ghost of Swift, in which Orwell played the cautious optimist to Swift’s savage misanthrope. His version of Swift was unsurprised by Hitler, Stalin or the Blitz because progress is a con and science merely produces more efficient killing machines. Perhaps Orwell was using Swift to personify his own grimmest impulses, so that he could mount a case against them. However pessimistic he became, he didn’t believe that humans were grubby, worthless, self-defeating creatures. “He couldn’t see what the simplest person sees,” Orwell concluded after his supernatural telephone line to Swift broke down, “that life is worth living and human beings, even if they are dirty and ridiculous, are mostly decent. But after all, if he could have seen that I suppose he couldn’t have written Gulliver’s Travels.” As Arthur Koestler put it, “Orwell never completely lost faith in the knobby-faced yahoos with their bad teeth.” Only when Swift tried to imagine an ideal society in Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels did his imagination fail him, Orwell thought, by producing the spotlessly noble and thus “remarkably dreary” Houyhnhnms. As we know, Orwell found positive utopias intolerably tedious. In his 1942 review of Herbert Samuel’s An Unknown Land, he could not resist another dig at Wells: “A certain smugness and a tendency to self-praise are common failings in the inhabitants of Utopias, as a study of Mr. H. G. Wells’ work would show.”"

Lynskey, Dorian. The Ministry of Truth (p. 93). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

gilbar said...

Lloyd W. Robertson said...
Orwell wrote a piece on Gulliver's Travels in which he said it was ridiculous


The Important thing to keep in mind is;
There Is a RIGHT way to open a boiled egg... And a WRONG way

If you're going to pick a hill to die on, make Sure you pick the pointy one,
not the rounded one

Lucid-Ideas said...

"Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of men. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Someday science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world. Not only shall we be able to cruise in space, but I’ll be hanged if I see any reason why some future generation shouldn’t walk off like a beetle with the world on its back, or give it another rotary motion so that every zone should receive in turn its due portion of heat and light."

- Henry Brooks Adams

Eleanor said...

Scientists and engineers often get caught up in the excitement of discovering new things or new ways to do old things. They often don't stop to ask if just because they can do something, does it mean they should? While they might have the best of intentions, there will always be someone who won't who will take their discoveries and do bad things with them. Belief in technology as our salvation has become a religion to some, and it's hard to argue with religious zealots.

Joe Smith said...

The greatest irony is that the same man who wrote '1984' was a socialist.

Go figure.

Gahrie said...

There may have been a fork in the road for humanity: embrace modern technology, or not.

That fork occurred 10,000 years ago when we developed agriculture. (After 290,000 years of wandering around as hunter-gatherers, living in caves and eating lice off of each other.) In biological terms, we still haven't finished adapting to that change. That change led to everything else. Agriculture led to surplus. Surplus led to specialization. Specialization led to cities. Cities led to civilization. Civilization led to history. The last 5,000 years or so has mainly been about increases in efficiency.

Danno said...

I see the tag for bad science has bad spelling.

Fernandinande said...

Wells’ "Men Like Gods" features a semi-utopia in an alternate universe which, thanks to one of their scientific experiments gone wrong, is briefly infested by a few people from our universe who cause a plague there.

You can read some of Well's ideas about eugenics here.

Lucid-Ideas said...

“Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?”

- Ecclesiastes 7:13

I especially like Ecclesiastes 7:13. We are currently living in a society where so very many people are terribly upset about things that are beyond their control or the hand they've been dealt. Technology has provided tools and a way - they believe it's a way - to do an end run around the craps dealer. To an extant, they're somewhat correct, except they don't want to acknowledge there's a price to this or pay it. Everyone pays.

Ann Althouse said...

"I see the tag for bad science has bad spelling."

Thanks. Fixed.

For years, the tags would auto-complete, and it's hard for me to overcome the impulse to trigger the auto-complete that never happens.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

As we know, Orwell found positive utopias intolerably tedious.

He realized humans cannot actually create utopias because there’s always that one guy who will shit in the punchbowl. The Bernie meme must fit in here somewhere.

Michael K said...

There was a Kennedy brothers joke around in the early 60s. Jack would be president until 1968, then Bobby would be president until 1976, the Teddy would be president for 8 years, then it would be 1984. Obviously the joke did not last long.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Technology had the definition of science applied to everyday life for a while. What has happened concurrent with the internet is the ability to enjoy tech advancement that outpaced our ability to clearly evaluate the trade offs and we all had smartphones before we realized how deep and extensive the continual data mining was. Now the benefits of access to the internet are being throttled back for some and that same unseen data mining is producing knowledge about us to Big Tech beyond what we ourselves could possibly know. A huge transaction has taken place where we unknowingly (accept terms click here) traded privacy for nothing, but they are offering security if we just let it slide and stop asking about free speech.

boatbuilder said...

Ann--I wrote a paper way back in college arguing that Swift's presentation of those "spotlessly noble and remarkably dreary Houyhnhms" and the knobby faced Yahoos was satirical and essentially sympathetic to the Yahoos. Maybe Orwell didn't get it. My professor didn't either, as I recall.

I'll have to reread Gulliver.

boatbuilder said...

Swift never struck me as a utopian guy--the opposite, in fact. Maybe I was reading my own bias into it. I couldn't abide the Houyhnhms then and I can't abide them now. I identify as a Yahoo. MAGA!

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Wait. Swift is satire?

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

I’ll have to reread A Modest Proposal now.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

C. S. Lewis has at this issue in That Hideous Strength. Others here have said that the book is too incoherent to mean much of anything, but on this topic it's fairly clear. Lewis isn't "anti-science"; the best actual scientist in the book, Hingest, is murdered because he though the N.I.C.E. "had something to do with science," but now that he's found out that it's more like a political conspiracy, he wants out. So, of course, they murder him.

The "science" remaining in the book is all, basically, from the "dark eldila," which is to say demon-directed, and the gist (as Frost explains to Studdock late in the book) is that the First and Second World Wars weren't disasters, but merely the first two of the eight major wars scheduled for the 20th Century. Wars kill off "superstitious Bavarian peasants and low-grade Russian agricultural workers," but leave the Technocracy intact, and the Technocracy is what matters to the dark eldila, whom Frost calls the Macrobes. Get rid of the useless body, and leave only the head (which of course, is just what they do to their own Head, a Frenchman guillotined and then hooked up to a lot of machinery).

Yes, even as I type it out it does seem absurd; there's enough in there for five books, and by the time the fifth ended we might understand what Lewis is going on about. But even in the first book of the Space Trilogy, his primary scientist (Weston) is evil, and by the second book he's voluntarily possessed. And his scientists are always doing the dire things, plundering and subjugating and wanting all for whatever "humanity" might look like in the distant future.

Gahrie said...

Ann--I wrote a paper way back in college arguing that Swift's presentation of those "spotlessly noble and remarkably dreary Houyhnhms" and the knobby faced Yahoos was satirical and essentially sympathetic to the Yahoos. Maybe Orwell didn't get it. My professor didn't either, as I recall.

I wrote a a paper in which I said that the Jester in King Lear was actually a split personality of the king's. IIRC, the only person who directly addresses the Jester is the king.

n.n said...

Progress is an unqualified monotonic process: one step forward, two steps backward.

The CCP has progressed from the Great Leap (i.e. Planned Population) to one-child (i.e. single/central choice) to selective-child (i.e. delegated choice) to concentration camps.

joshbraid said...

It is a part of the destiny of man, wrote Malcolm Muggeridge, “to pursue both power and love, knowing them to be incompatible. ‘Here am I, captain of a legion of Rome,’ a recently discovered inscription runs, ‘who served in the Libyan Desert and learns and ponders this truth: There are in life but two things, love and power, and no one has both.”
In God alone are power and love in perfect harmony. It is not so for us frail and fallible human beings, so we must take care not to confuse them. Muggeridge had seen too much of the seamy and the brutal to put his trust in, or to indulge in dreamy sentiment about, princes and their engines.
Thirty years after he had reported on Stalin and the starvation he visited upon millions of people in the Ukraine (and he knew it would cost him his job, while the socialist Walter Duranty, writing for The New York Times, happily helped to spread Stalin’s lies and won a Pulitzer Prize for it), he said that his disillusionment had merged “into a general sense that power must invariably bring out the worst in those who exercise it.”
If that were all, if we had only to be troubled with the excesses of our rulers, we might go our way, forgetting on most days that there ever was a king or a Congress. But the modern democratic world will not permit us to forget. “We who are the Leviathan,” Muggeridge writes, “cannot slay it.” Nor do we wish to slay it. We have believed its lies, which are our own. We cry, “How great is this Beast, that has brought us prosperity, communion, and peace in our time!” We admire its empty shows and trust its promises. “If an epitaph were required for this sad and terrible time,” says Muggeridge, “it might well be found in ‘The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.’ That is what has been assiduously sought; and because it is a vain pursuit, it has produced its exact opposite.”
I might put the problem thus. In seeking to bring about earthly salvation, we seek to attain the ends of love by the means of power. It is an empty dream. Or a nightmare: think of Orwell’s “Ministry of Love,” an inquisitorial prison and torture chamber. Yet we cannot shudder and wake from the nightmare. The best that earthly power can do, as C.S. Lewis puts it so beautifully in The Weight of Glory, is to clear a space wherein the sweet and ordinary things of human life can play:
As long as we are thinking only of natural values we must say that the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him; and that all economies, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save insofar as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the wind and sowing the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of spirit.
https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2020/11/16/wise-as-pigeons-harmless-as-snakes/

Balfegor said...

"It was in a review of [H.G.] Wells’s scenario for Things to Come that he mocked what he called the author’s false antithesis between the benign scientist and the bellicose reactionary. 'It never occurred to Mr. Wells that his categories might have got mixed, that it might be the reactionary who would make the fullest use of the machine and that the scientist might use his brains chiefly on race-theory and poison gas.'

The implication that race theory and poison gas etc. were deployed by "reactionaries" seems . . ahistorical. The reactionary powers in World War 2 -- the tottering European imperial powers like the Dutch in the East Indies and the French in Indochina or the British Empire in its decline -- were notably less monstrous in their deployment of technology than the revolutionary and radically future-oriented regimes in Germany and Russia. Even in Japan, the Imperial Army was revolutionary in the context of Japanese politics, offering a path for commoners to exercise command over princes and overrule the scions of thousand year old political dynasties.

The Bourbon restoration was reactionary. Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary were somewhat reactionary. Churchill in 1940 could be called reactionary. Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Chiang -- the regimes they headed were roughly as reactionary as the Revolution in France.

chuck said...

Early Welles the science fiction writer and later Welles the prophet of utopia are different. That said, Orwell didn't excel in research, for one thing he didn't live where the needed materials were available. I noticed similar sloppy assertions in his comments on Twain. But he is interesting despite those things.

Unknown said...

Things To Come (1936) The set designs and shots are amazing. Menzies and Korda did some beautiful visual work in this movie. But my God the dialog is insipid. The basic problem with this movie is that H.G. Wells is a didactic ass. And I know what you’re going to say. You can’t call somebody a didactic ass without sounding like a didactic ass yourself. But he really is a didactic ass! Somebody has to say it. Anyway, it’s a humorless, pompous, pacifist mess. They ought to rename this thing Oblivious To Hitler (1936).

Wince said...

In The World Set Free, H.G. Wells presaged the discovery of atomic energy. The fictional scientist Holsten thinks about whether he should hide his discovery from the world, but realizes that scientific discovery is inevitable.

Well's story influenced Leo Szilárd who, along with Einstein, wrote to FDR about the atomic bomb.

TheOne Who Is Not Obeyed said...

Orwell was a bit off in his prognostications. Internationalism and transnationalism are much more dangerous to life and liberty than plain ol' nationalism.

walk don't run said...

I am always struck by the reality that those on the left are idealistic and strive to create utopias. Of course they always fail, often miserably. All we have to do is look at the death and destruction created by Stalin or Mao in search of their societies that will reallocate assets "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". Its a lofty goal! Despite these failures, the left continue to strive in large part because they truly believe deep down that their goals are just and right. The most dangerous man in the world is one who believes unconditionally that he is absolutely right. That leads to justifying means to achieve idealistic results but many of those means almost always end up being destructive. It is often the case of unintended consequences, but mainly unintended because they are not realistic. The "utopia" must be achieved so the means must be followed! It is fundamental that the root of this problem is that the left are dogmatically idealistic. Idealism feeds this process.



Spiros said...

I think our government will continue to encourage dictatorships abroad and democracy at home. So we're okay. I don't think a single governmental party will take over either. So that's good. I don't think Biden will establish a personality cult like Trump or his buddy in North Korea. That's also good. But what about a military-run oligarchy like Ancient Sparta? Is that something we should be worried about?

As an aside... Isn't it bizarre that half of the National Guard turned their backs on Biden's motorcade. What the hell is going on? These people are probably Nazis or White Supremacists!!! (Ines de La Cuetara, a "multiplatform reporter for ABC," has a video at her twitter feed.)

Drago said...

Spiros: "I don't think Biden will establish a personality cult like Trump or his buddy in North Korea."

How is it that Trump is the first President in decades to NOT cave to the threats and provide critical resources to NK but he gets labeled NK's buddy?

Oh, thats right. Its just a continuation if the same lies.

Not to worry though, Slow Joe will be structuring hundreds of billions to flow to the ChiComs and client state NK within the first year of his admin.

Drago said...

walk: "All we have to do is look at the death and destruction created by Stalin or Mao in search of their societies that will reallocate assets "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". Its a lofty goal!"

According to Inga, any claim that the commies murdered tens of millions is a conspiracy theory.

narciso said...

and the times walter duranty covered up the ukrainian holomodor,

Ann Althouse said...

If you have a NYT subscription, look in the archive for HG Wells’s review of the movie “Metropolis.” He’s very disdainful.

The Godfather said...

Orwell may have been the last socialist to love the people.

Rusty said...

We are technology. From the time early hominids struck two stones together to make a cutting tool it was all uphill from there. It is part of our homosapian brain that we need to know things. We need to find out. Luddites fear the future. The left must always harness technology for their political gain. Look at social media.

chuck said...

Wired also published HG Wells review of Metropolis.