Darkness and the Light, by Olaf Stapledon

5 — The Reign of Darkness

i. The Japanese Revolution

THE WAR against Tibet had enabled the ruling classes of Russia and China to impose a conveniently strict discipline upon their respective peoples. When the war was over, the excuse for this discipline vanished. Inevitably the change from war to peace brought hardship to many. The transition was not simply haphazard, as it would have been under individualism; it was controlled by the supreme capitalist, the state. And it was controlled in such a way as to strengthen the ruling class, not to increase general prosperity. Further, it was clumsily controlled. Skilled workers were put to unskilled work for which they had neither the ability nor the temper. Whole populations, deprived of their livelihood by the exigencies of peace, were left to starve. Other populations, meanwhile, were over-worked mercilessly, and in bad conditions.

Among the worst sufferers were the Japanese. In an earlier phase of the industrialization of the East this swarming island people had played a vigorous but unhappy part. The old feudal ruling class, wisely refusing to allow European finance to exploit the country, had itself undertaken the westernization of Japan. Unfortunately the Japanese were far more successful in imitating the worst features of European commercialism than in absorbing the best spirit of European civilization. Ruthless industrialism and ruthless imperialism landed them in the long and disastrous attack on China. Their ultimate defeat brought loss of markets, unemployment, and constant social turmoil. Henceforth China, not Japan, was the economic master of the East. Japan’s feverishly accumulated machinery fell out of use, and its human adjuncts were starved. The crowded population could not possibly be kept alive on home-grown food. The standard of living, never high, sank to famine level. The communists, though repeatedly exterminated, repeatedly reappeared, and with increasing strength. Meanwhile the military and financial oligarchy could think of nothing better to do than copy the notorious ‘two hundred families’ of France, as it had formerly copied the pioneering industrial families of Britain. It preached an anti-bolshevik crusade, made overtures to the Chinese Empire, and finally surrendered Japan’s independence. Like the men of Vichy before them, the Japanese rulers hoped that at least a few crumbs of power would thus be secured to them. This, of course, did not happen. The only result was that the Chinese police took charge of the country, and ‘made an example of’ all those who caused trouble, whether on the left or the right. Through the combination of famine, torture, and profound disillusionment the population of the Japanese islands was greatly reduced, while immense numbers of Chinese officials were settled in the country to reorganize the whole economy of Japan as a slave state for the benefit of the Chinese Empire in its crusade against Tibet.

After the fall of Tibet and the end of war-time economy, the Japanese, like the rest of the world, eagerly awaited the promised improvement of conditions and relaxation of discipline. But like the rest of the world they were disappointed. Very soon desperation in Japan reached the pitch at which suicide becomes the commonest form of death. The population seemed to be so completely cowed that the Chinese army of occupation was reduced to a skeleton. At this point the will for the light in Japan blunderingly reasserted itself. Once more the Japanese copied the West, with their accustomed thoroughness and lack of understanding. The Communist leaders, skilfully using Russian gold, succeeded in persuading large numbers in Tokio and elsewhere that it was better to die for the Revolution than meekly commit suicide. They declared, moreover, that revolution was by no means doomed to failure. The fall of Tibet, they said, had been due to contamination from sentimental bourgeois ideas derived from the ecclesiastical oligarchy. That mistake must not be made again. The basis of the Japanese revolution must be strictly materialistic, and its emotional drive must come from hate of the oppressor, not from metaphysical delusions.

Entirely careless of their lives, the revolutionaries advanced in thousands on the machine-guns of their masters. Before effective help could come from China the régime was broken, and a people’s government was in command. The rulers of China were at this time much occupied with the danger from Russia. They refrained from sending an expeditionary force against Japan, and contented themselves with a very strict blockade. The new Japanese government set about slaughtering all who were suspected of implication in the former regime, and all who disobeyed its orders. Food was the supreme problem. The more people were killed, the more hope for the survivors. The death penalty was therefore inflicted for the most venial offences, and whenever guilt seemed at all plausible. Everything feasible was done to stimulate agriculture. The peasants were forced, under threat of death, to cultivate vast tracts of poor land, for which, owing to the blockade, fertilizer were lacking. It was promised, however, that though in the coming year famine was inevitable, next season would see a plentiful harvest. Loyalty towards the future of Japan and the human race, it was said, demanded the utmost sacrifice from the present generation. But the new land produced a miserable crop; and the people, enfeebled by famine and disease, harassed by brutal treatment, and utterly without the religious stiffening that had fortified Tibet, became incapable of effort, and too physically weak for hard agricultural work. The régime was impotent. The more desperate its plight, the more it killed and tortured. The new rulers knew well that any relaxation of discipline would have brought immediate destruction to themselves; and most of them still sincerely believed that their survival was necessary to the state. In the end the Chinese government, choosing its own time, quietly recovered possession of the Japanese islands.

ii. A Synthetic War

Both the Chinese and the Russian Empires, had been harassed by social disorders. It was clear that nothing short of another major war could restore discipline. The leaders of the two ruling classes therefore secretly conferred with one another and agreed to institute a worldwide war between the two empires. They agreed also on the rules of this lethal game. Certain districts were to remain inviolate. Trade intercourse between the two empires was to be maintained through certain demilitarized ports and frontier towns. Each side was to refrain from blotting out the other’s main centres of production, while seeming to attempt to do so. On the other hand, whenever there was any awkward social disturbance in any locality in one of the empires, the government of the other, if requested by its rival, was to launch a violent air attack on the infected area. Steps would be taken secretly by the inviting government to see that its defending air-force was unable to put up serious resistance.

There was no lack of a casus belli. The two industrial oligarchies had long been maneuvering against one another to secure the large unworked gold deposits of Eastern Tibet. There had been a time when the rivers of Tibet were rich with gold-dust, brought down from the hills. Gold had also been profitably mined within a few feet of the surface. That time had long since passed. The new Tibetan state had been aware of deeper and vaster gold deposits, but had not troubled to exploit them. To the rival empires this bright treasure was a perennial lure. China, plausibly stealing a march on her accomplice and rival, now seized this territory. With an indignation that was by no means feigned, the Russian government protested, and attacked.

For some years all went according to plan. On the plea of danger, discipline was restored. The synthetic faith which had been so effectively used to create unity against Tibet was now with equal effect used to rouse a savage hate between the two great groups of people ruled by the Russian and Chinese oligarchies. This time the differences between the Russian and the Chinese versions of the faith were duly emphasized. In Russia it was said that the Chinese heresy, which glorified cruelty, was perverse and diabolic; in China, that the Russian heresy, which exaggerated acquiescence and irresponsibility, sprang simply from lethargy, and was insincere and base.

Under the stress of violent warfare social conditions throughout the two empires inevitably grew worse. On the plea of military necessity legislation to protect labour was repealed, hours were lengthened, wages reduced, food adulterated, and rationed in such a way as to leave the rich the chance of buying substitutes which the poor could not afford. In China, for instance, rice was rationed to a bare subsistence minimum, but a new and more nutritious grain, which was rapidly supplanting rice, was left unrationed. Its price mounted far beyond the poor man’s means. The whole crop was available for the rich. Personal liberty was of course, so far as possible, destroyed. The military could move anyone to any part of the empire, could imprison, kill, or torture at their own pleasure. They did not hesitate to do so. Education was wholly concerned with producing efficient machine-tenders who could be trusted to carry out orders without question. The synthetic faith was inculcated from childhood onwards. Nearly all accepted it outwardly; most people thoughtlessly believed it; a few secretly doubted while they outwardly conformed; still fewer tried to rally the forces of light, and were promptly destroyed; a fairly large minority believed the faith with some degree of conviction; and of these a small number practised it with passion.

These were the active servants of darkness, and increasingly the rulers of the planet. Of many psychological types and all social classes, they had at least one thing in common. All were frustrated spirits. Many were innately of low-grade sensibility, incapable of appreciating any values but physical gratification, personal dominance, and sadistic passion. These were frustrated in that civilization had hitherto restrained them from the only kind of self-expression that they could conceive. Many more were innately normal, but they had been permanently warped in infancy through untoward relations with their elders. Some, though their homes had been fairly wholesome, had been damaged by their schools. Others had suffered distortion in youth or early maturity through economic failure or the lethal sense that society was against them. All alike, though in differing manners, had been forced by the disease of their society to regress into primitive behaviour. The whole population, of course, suffered in some degree from the prevailing social neurosis, but these active servants of darkness had suffered excessively. In them neurosis bred the positive will for darkness, the satanic will. In them, for one reason or another, the natural impulse of spiritual growth had been thwarted and turned into a perverse craving for power, for destruction, for cruelty. These unhappy souls did indeed experience in the act of cruelty a kind of ecstasy of release and self-expression, which all too easily they mistook for an ecstasy of illumination.

But these servants of darkness had no lasting joy in their service. In all of them the will for darkness was a perversion of the will for the light. In all but a few maniacs the satisfaction of the will for darkness was at all times countered by a revulsion which the unhappy spirit either dared not confess even to itself, or else rejected as cowardly and evil. In all, darkness appeared in the guise of light, so that they believed themselves to be the true and faithful servants not of darkness but of light, heroically denying in themselves the subtly disguised temptations of the dark power.

Such were the servants of darkness. The great majority in the two empires consisted of minds in which the darkness and the light were still equally balanced, but upon which the impact of circumstance overwhelmingly favoured darkness. For from childhood onwards they were conditioned to inhuman behaviour and to an evil faith. Though not themselves inherently perverse, but merely weak and obtuse, they were wholly incapable of resisting the climate of their age, in which darkness was persistently presented in the guise of light. Many of them indeed might reasonably be called true servants of the light, true to the flickering light in their own hearts, but utterly bewildered by the prevalent ideas which they had neither the wit nor the courage to reject. In personal relations with their children, wives, husbands, friends, and workmates they were still intermittently and timorously faithful to the ancient light which had entered them from a more lucid age. But in public affairs they meekly accepted the perverse conventions of their society, either withdrawing their attention and making a virtue of acquiescence, or surrendering themselves to the tribal passion of hate and cruelty against unfortunate individuals whom they dared not recognize as indeed their fellows.

Though for some years the policy of ‘synthetic war’ instituted by the Russian and Chinese rulers was very successful, it was bound sooner or later to fail. For its success, the two imperial powers had to be approximately equal in strength. So long as this condition held, each party respected the other’s interests and relied on the other’s co-operation. Thus a serious rebellion against the Russian authorities in Capetown was crushed by a vigorous Chinese air raid. South Africans were persuaded to believe that defence against Chinese aggression was at the time more important than the assertion of local rights against the Russian government, which after all was far less methodically ruthless than its rival. On the other hand when, in the course of a successful Russian offensive in Manchuria, the power of the local Chinese authorities began to break, and a progressive anti-war party attempted to make an independent peace so as to found a new, independent, and socialistic state, the Chinese government telephoned to Moscow to stop the offensive until the rebels had been crushed. The request was complied with, and all military action against the Chinese forces ceased. Only in the region of the Khingan Mountains, where the rebels had set up their government, did the Russians continue hostilities, attacking from the west while the Chinese pressed forward from the east.

Gradually, however, the balance of power in the world altered in favour of the Chinese Empire. This was due at bottom to the greater efficiency and colder intelligence of the Chinese ruling class. The world’s most ancient and most phlegmatic civilization, though by now so grievously perverted, had an advantage in this respect against the world’s newest, immature, and equally perverted civilization. Moreover though Chinese imperialism was handicapped by a late start, it was better organized, more wealthy, and more united than the Russian variety. After the trouble in Manchuria the Chinese government tightened its hold on all its outlying provinces, moving whole populations hither and thither so as to create a homogeneous people stretching from the Altai Mountains to the Timor Sea. Thus the rulers contrived that, although in every region there was servitude and frustration, in none was there a sufficient local tradition and consciousness to form the focus of a serious uprising. In the huge, straggling Russian Empire, on the other hand, the ancient Soviet tradition had maintained a great deal of local autonomy. Further, the personnel of the Russian imperial service, if it lacked the tyrannical meddlesomeness of the Chinese, lacked also its cunning in propaganda and oppression. The Russian provinces were therefore in a constant state of unrest, which frequently broke out into turmoil, now in North America, now in Britain, now in India. Indeed every country had its history of revolt, alternating between secret sedition and open rebellion. The consequence was that throughout the latter part of the Russo–Chinese war Russia appealed to China for help far more often than China to Russia.

There came a time when the Chinese imperialists began to make excuses for not carrying out the suggestions of their Russian colleagues and rivals. At last, so far from helping the Russian government, they actually sided with the rebels. This first occurred in India, where clumsy oppression had produced widespread revolt. Instead of bombing the progressive centres, the Chinese dropped leaflets offering help and protesting their own progressive and liberalizing intentions. At the same time they launched a great attack by means of giant mountain-crossing tanks through Burma and Assam, while their navy seized the main Indian ports. The misguided Indians welcomed them with enthusiasm. Throughout India the Russian ruling class was massacred, and the regime collapsed. An independent Indian state was founded, under Chinese supervision, and within a few years the Indians were completely assimilated to the Chinese Empire.

The Russo–Chinese war now became frankly a struggle by the Russian oligarchy to retain its territories against the attack of its more efficient rival. Man’s powers of destruction were being constantly improved. There was at this time little or no research for the improvement of health, nutrition, psychological adjustment, or social organization, but vast state-financed researches into military technique, and psychological methods of discipline. Tidal electricity, which formerly had been the world’s main form of industrial power, was by now subordinate to volcanic sources. The great natural volcanic regions of South America, the East Indies, and Japan were immensely developed by artificial borings to tap the planet’s subterranean energies. The light accumulator and the greatly improved methods of electrical transmission made it possible to distribute electricity economically into every region of the world. In respect of volcanic power, the two empires were at first equally well fortified, but the Chinese gradually outstripped their rivals by their more resolute development of their resources.

There is no need to tell in any detail of the course of the final phase of the forty-years war between Russia and China. Like all wars it was of absorbing, even obsessive, interest to those whom it directly affected, but to the developed mind its battles and campaigns and ultimate massacre are more depressing than significant. One or two striking features of the war may be mentioned. Throughout, the Chinese were greatly helped by the rebelliousness of the Russian dependencies. One by one they asserted their independence or succumbed to Chinese attack. The Russian imperialists were by now fully engaged in defending the heart of their empire, and could do nothing to maintain their authority in Africa, America, or Western Europe. In the decisive campaign the Chinese used two new inventions against which the orthodox methods of Russia were powerless. One was the giant tank, the other the legged aeroplane. The new Chinese tank was so large that to call it a land-battleship was to disparage it. This new engine was indeed a moving fortified town, complete with its own workshops, and food stores for its thousand men for three weeks. It could crush and trample modern sky-scraper cities. On good ground it moved at a hundred miles an hour. It could travel over mountainous country by using its great clawed mechanical arms or legs. The legged aeroplane had the great advantage that it could land anywhere and take off anywhere. It was indeed a giant mechanical fly which could cling to precipitous places or suddenly leap from the ground by kicking with its prodigious thighs. Some hundreds of the new tanks, each attended by its own swarm of the new aeroplanes, advanced through central Asia. Russian bombers attacked in successive waves of a thousand planes, but their bombs could not harm these armour-plated monsters, whose artillery swept them from the sky. Unchecked, these greatest of all man’s engines streamed across the prairies and deserts of Outer Mongolia, flattened out the forest, crossed the mountain barriers, turned aside here and there to grind a town to rubble, took the Urals in their stride, and headed for Moscow. The Russian government fled. The city surrendered. But the enemy, obsessed with the worship of cruelty and ecstatic with slaughter, hurried on to catch the city before it could be evacuated. Arrived, the monsters steam-rollered the whole urban area into a flat waste of rubble. The sacred mummy of Lenin was pulverized in the general ruin. The invaders then amused themselves by overtaking and squashing the hosts of refugees as a man may crush a swarm of ants under his boot. Leningrad and other cities were similarly treated.

iii. Diabolic World Empire

Thus ended the Second Russian Empire, the evil offspring of man’s first great though ill-starred attempt to organize society for the well-being of the many rather than for the power of the few. Some of the former Russian provinces hastily made peace, others declared their independence of both empires, only to be speedily crushed. America alone resisted for two years, but was finally overcome and treated to a very special punishment for its contumacy. The whole child population was transported to various parts of the world as slaves.

With the fall of America the human race had succeeded for the first time in establishing the political unity of the whole planet. The imperial Chinese government now assumed the title ‘The Celestial Government of the World’, and ordered celebrations in every town and every household of the planet. Everywhere desperate efforts were made to produce tolerable specimens of the ancient Chinese dragon flag, which had been revived by the second empire and was henceforth to be the dreaded emblem of the world-government. Everywhere, even on the blood-stained Russian plains, this emblem, or some crude approximation to it, was now anxiously flaunted. It was affirmed that at last the green Chinese dragon had devoured the red orb that had for so long hung tantalizingly before him in the golden sky. The red orb was no longer interpreted as the sun of Japan but as the red world of Russian imperialism. It was added in a whisper that, with luck the dragon might soon die of indigestion.

World-unity had been attained! But what a unity! Nowhere throughout the world was there any considerable group who were at peace with the world, save the governing class and its jackals. Everywhere the peasants were enslaved to the universal imperial landlord. Everywhere they toiled to produce the world’s food. Everywhere they starved and were harshly regimented. Miners and factory hands were in the same condition. The world-government, instead of organizing a great and universal movement of social reconstruction, thereby keeping the workers and the soldiers in employment, dismissed half its armies and kept the rest in idleness. The workers it treated with utter contempt, confident in its power to coerce them. The great class of technicians who had been persuaded to support the war in the hope that under world-unity they would be given the chance to build universal prosperity, found themselves used either for strengthening the oligarchy or for producing its luxuries; or else dismissed and maintained by the state in a sort of half-life of penury and despond.

Although individualistic capitalism had long since vanished, the universal decadent state-capitalism was in many ways subject to the same disorders. Though the power for social planning was in the hands of the world-government, the will was lacking. The rulers were concerned only to maintain their position. Vast economic powers, at first the perquisites of the great ruling Chinese families, were now farmed out to irresponsible state-servants, who turned themselves into dictators of the industries under their control. And since there was little co-ordination of their actions, and, anyhow, they were mainly concerned to feather their own nests, chaos followed. Unemployment increased, and brought with it its attendant evils. Desperate populations became difficult to handle. Punitive massacres were very frequent.

At last a new invention, one of the very few which the declining species managed to achieve, brought temporary aid. A biochemist produced a method of putting human beings into a state of suspended animation from which, he said, they could be easily wakened, ‘fresh and young’, after a sleep of many years. The world-government, believing that unemployment was a passing phase, and that later on there would be a great need of labour, set about building in every country a system of cold-storage warehouses where unwanted human beings could be deposited until the times changed. The unemployed and their families were forcibly stored in these warehouses. The struggling creatures were chained down, lying shoulder to shoulder on tiers of shelves inside huge tanks, which were then filled first with a succession of gases and finally with a preserving liquid. Millions of men, women, and children in almost every country were thus stored for future use. Though the lives of the workers were almost intolerably arid and distressful, they did all in their power to avoid being sent to the cold-storage houses. The will for the light expressed itself in them as a blind will for active life, however abject. But a few welcomed this opportunity of escape, without irrevocable extinction; believing that in their next phase of active life they would have better opportunities of expressing themselves. In most of these, the acquiescence in suspended animation was at bottom an expression of the will for darkness, though rationalized to satisfy the still smouldering will for light. For the individual in whom the will for the light is strong and clear finds his heart inextricably bound up with the struggle of the forces of light in his native place and time. Much as he may long for the opportunity of fuller self-expression in a happier world, he knows that for him self-expression is impossible save in the world in which his mind is rooted. The individual in whom the will for the light is weak soon persuades himself that his opportunity lies elsewhere. And so, as the spirit of the race was progressively undermined through ever-deteriorating physical and psychological conditions, acquiescence in ‘the deep sleep’ became more and more widespread.

One of the main factors in the waning of the will for the light in this period was the attitude of the intellectuals. The academics, musicians, painters, cinema-artists, and, above all, the writers flagrantly betrayed their trust. In all these groups there were persons of four types. Many were paid servants of the government, engaged on propaganda through work which was ostensibly independent. These were concerned chiefly to put a good complexion on the regime, and to praise the fundamental principles of the synthetic faith, in particular the virtues of acquiescence and obedience, and the ecstasy of cruelty. Still more numerous were the independent but futile intellectual ostriches who shut their eyes to the horror of their time and won adulation and power by spinning fantasies of self-aggrandizement and sexual delight, distracting men’s attention from contemporary evils with seductive romances of other ages and other worlds, or with exalted and meaningless jargon about a life after death. There were also large numbers of progressive intellectuals. These saw clearly enough that contemporary society was mortally sick, and in a dream-like, unearnest way they expounded their tenuous Utopias, in which there was often much common sense and even wisdom; but they preached without that fury of conviction which alone can rouse men to desperate action. And they themselves lived comfortably upon the existing system, in their flats and suburban houses. Vaguely they knew that they ought to give up all for the revolution; but being what they were, they could not. The fourth type were the very few sincere and impotent rebels, who flung away their lives in vain and crazy attempts to be great prophets.

Crucial to the fate of the human race at this time was the attitude of the class of technicians, the host of highly trained engineers, electricians, aeronautical experts, agricultural experts, and scientific workers in industry. These, if they could have formed a clear idea of the plight of the race, might have saved it. But they were experts who had been carefully trained in the tradition that the expert should not meddle in politics. In times of great stress, of course, they did meddle; but, because they had consistently held themselves aloof, their pronouncements were childish, and their attempts at political action disastrous. A few had, indeed, taken the trouble to study society, and had come to understand its present ills. These fought constantly to enlighten their fellows and unite them in a great effort to control the course of events. Undoubtedly, if the will for the light had been strong in this great class, which controlled throughout the world all the innumerable levers and switches and press-buttons of the material life of society, it could have overthrown the world-oligarchy in a few days, and set about organizing a sane order. But the appeal to the technicians met with a half-hearted response. Most of them shrugged their shoulders and went on with their work. A few took timid action and were promptly seized and put to torture by the rulers. The movement failed.

It seemed to me very strange that a class which included nearly all the best intelligence of the world and very much of the world’s good will should be incapable of ousting a set of tyrants who were both insensitive and stupid. The explanation, seemingly, was twofold. First, the rulers found themselves in possession of a vast and highly mechanized system of oppression. If anyone did anything obnoxious to the régime, immediately and automatically he was put out of action. Some colleague would certainly inform against him, and the police would do the rest. For the whole population, it must be remembered, was now tormented by neurotic jealousy and fear. The infliction of pain on a fellow mortal could afford a crazy satisfaction. Informers were, of course, well rewarded, but it was the joy of persecution that inspired them. Secondly, the mechanization of propaganda had been developed to an extent hitherto unknown. Psychology, the youngest of the sciences, had by now attained a thorough knowledge of the primitive and the morbid in man without reaching to any real understanding of the distinctively human reaches of human personality. Government psychologists had worked out a subtle technique of suggestion by reiterated symbolic appeals to suppressed motives. This method, applied from infancy onwards, had ensured that all the unwitting cravings of a neurotic population, all their unacknowledged fear, hate, energy, cruelty, lechery, selfishness, and mob-passion, should depend both for stimulation and assuagement on the existing social order, and should issue consciously in a jealous and vengeful loyalty to the oligarchy. Thus did a group of scientists who should have used their skill for the purgation and elucidation of men’s minds help to deepen the general darkness and misery. The power of propaganda was greatly increased by the prevailing educational principles. The free intelligence, which criticizes fearlessly and without prejudice, was ridiculed, condemned, and carefully suppressed. Bound intelligence, acting within the universe of discourse of the established culture, was encouraged; but it was mane clear to every pupil that intelligence was rather a necessary evil than a thing to prize for its own sake. What was intrinsically good was orthodoxy, unison with the tradition. To strengthen the passion for orthodoxy it was ordained that school classes should be as large as possible, and that the main method of teaching should be by organizing mass chanting of the traditional truths. Had the will for the light been less feeble, this procedure might well have induced in some pupils a revulsion in favour of free intelligence; but in this latter day of the human race, such rebellion was very rare.

The government’s control over its subjects was greatly increased by a new invention which would have been asource of increased social well-being had it occurred in a more wholesome society. This was the product of advances in physiology and electrical engineering. The mechanism of the human brain was by now fairly well known; and by means of a vast mesh of minute photoelectric cells, inserted by a brilliant surgical technique between the cerebral cortex and the skull, it was possible to record very accurately the ever-changing pattern of activity in the cortical nerve-fibres. Advances in the technique of radio made it easy to transmit this record over great distances, and to decode it automatically in such a way that the thoughts and impulses of the observed person could be accurately ‘read’ by observers in far-away government offices. The immense knowledge and skill which went to these inventions might have caused untold benefits to mankind; but through the treason of the technologists and the power-lust of the rulers they were combined to form a diabolical instrument of tyranny.

A law was passed by which everyone suspected of harbouring dangerous thoughts was condemned to have his brain made available for constant observation. This involved an operation for the insertion of the photoelectric mesh under his skull and the attachment of the necessary miniature accumulators to his crown by screws driven into the skull itself. If any attempt was made to tamper with the instrument, or if the accumulator was allowed to run down beyond a certain point, the unfortunate individual was automatically subjected to the most excruciating pain, which, if prolonged for more than an hour or so, culminated in permanent insanity. In addition to this transmission-instrument there was a minute radio telephone receiver driven into the mastoid bone. Thus not only were the subject’s thoughts and feelings open to inspection at every moment of his life by some remote official but also instructions, threats, or repetitive gramophone propaganda could be inflicted on him morning, noon, and night.

At first this technique was applied only to those under suspicion, but little by little it was extended to all classes of society, save the oligarchs themselves and their most favoured servants. Immense offices were set up in all the main centres, where hosts of inspectors were constantly at work taking sample readings of the world’s two thousand million minds. Every ordinary man, woman, and adolescent knew that at any moment he might be under inspection. At any moment a voice might interrupt his thoughts with some propaganda commentary on them, or with a rough warning or the imposition of a penalty. While he was going to sleep he might be invaded by music and incantations calculated to mould his mind into the temper approved by the government. Those who were brought up from childhood to be accustomed to this treatment accepted it cheerfully. The very young were sometimes even impatient to receive what they foolishly regarded as this certificate of maturity. Under the constant influence of official scrutiny the minds of adolescents became almost perfectly correct. Dangerous thoughts, even of the mildest type, were for them unthinkable. Those who received the treatment as grown men or women suffered prolonged mental agony, and many committed suicide.

The policy of those who controlled this vast system of espionage was simply to ensure that all minds should be orthodox. As time went on, the inquisitors themselves came to be chosen solely from the ranks of those who were products of the system itself. So amazingly correct were these minds that they suffered nothing from the publicity of all their mental processes.

The strangest aspect of the system was this. Those who controlled it were themselves enslaved to it; they used their power not to emancipate themselves but to support the ruling caste. In the earlier phase of the Chinese world-empire the caste, or rather the non-hereditary class from which the caste later developed, had maintained its position by superior cunning and resolution; but in its later phase, when cunning and resolution had given place to stupidity and self-indulgence, the position of the ruling caste was maintained automatically by the mechanical functioning of the established social system. The rulers had immense privileges and great arbitrary powers. For them the workers piled up luxuries. In accordance with the vagaries of their fickle taste, fashions changed, whole working populations were suddenly worked to death or flung aside into the cold-storage warehouses. When the rulers said ‘do this’ or ‘do that’, the world obeyed. But their power lay wholly in the fact that the technicians were hypnotized in their service, hypnotized, not through the cunning and resolution of the rulers themselves, but through the vast momentum of traditional culture. Thus little by little the ruling caste became at once helpless and absolutely secure. In the same manner the slave-owning ants depend wholly on the ministrations of devoted slaves who have all the skill but not the wit to rebel.

The perfection of the system of social control was reached by means of a further triumph of inventive genius. After much laborious experiment a method was devised by which the impulses and desires of the individual could be either stimulated or suppressed by radio. Thus it was possible for the officials in a distant government office to force upon a man an irresistible craving to carry out a prescribed course of action. Like one under hypnotic influence, but with full consciousness of the enormity of his action, he might find himself compelled to betray his friend, to murder his wife, to torture his child or himself, to work himself to death, to fight against impossible odds.

Little by little the whole subject population of the world was fitted with the instruments of volitional control. The government was now practically omnipotent.

Once more, the strangest aspect of the new invention was that those who controlled it were themselves under its control. For the operators themselves were fitted with the instruments. Operators in each department were controlled by their superiors, and these by their superiors. These again were controlled by the supreme council of the locality, which was composed of all heads of departments. The supreme council of the locality was in turn controlled by the council of the province or state; and the state councils by the World Imperial Council. Members of this body were automatically controlled. Automatic machinery ensured that any incipient desire inconsistent with the orthodox system of desires should automatically be obliterated, while certain desires fundamental to orthodoxy were automatically maintained.

This ingenious system, it must be noted, had not been devised by the rulers themselves but by the technologists, by physiologists, psychologists, and electrical engineers. They had done it partly out of blind professional enthusiasm, partly because they felt the need of such a system to fortify their orthodoxy against the unorthodox impulses which occasionally distressed them.

As for the rulers themselves, these sacred beings, these sacred animals, were not controlled. They were free to think and act according to their nature, which by now had degenerated into a mess of stupidity, selfishness, and malice. Their stupidity was the stupidity of beasts. Though they were free, they were powerless. Of degenerate stock, they were conditioned by upbringing to a life of fantastic luxury and desolating self-indulgence. So long as they behaved according to the orthodox pattern, they were preserved and reverenced. If any showed some sign of individuality he was at once declassed and operated upon for radio control. But this was very rare. Nearly all were content to live at ease on the fat of the land and the adulation of the masses. They were kept busy with the innumerable ceremonies and pageants without which, it was thought, the state would collapse, and in which the representative members of the ruling caste always played the central part. Those who obscurely felt the barrenness of their lives sought notoriety in the fields of sport or aeronautics. But, as the generations passed and their capacity deteriorated, they were forced to seek less exacting forms of self-display. Of these, one of the chief was the infliction of torture. The subject population, though conditioned to believe in the mystical virtue of cruelty, and though capable up to a point of relishing the spectacle of torture inflicted on strangers, were prone to lapse into squeamishness or even compassion. Not so the rulers. Unconsciously poisoned by their own futility and baseness, they were obsessed by hatred of the masses, the technicians, their own peers, and themselves. Without any radio control, therefore, they could inflict the most disgusting tortures with equanimity, and even unfeigned relish. When one of them had to perform the office of tearing out the eyes or bowels or genitals of the sacrificial victim, he did so without a qualm. To the fascinated and nauseated spectators this callousness appeared as aristocratic virtue. When humble people came to be subject to radio control of volition they often welcomed the artificial reinforcement to their ruthlessness. On the other hand when an erring member of the ruling caste had to be declassed and put to torture, he invariably showed less than the average fortitude. It never occurred to the public, while they howled with glee at his discomfiture, that the aristocrats, even before declassing, were after all no better than themselves; for the ceremony of declassing was supposed to have deprived the culprit of his native virtue.

One of the causes of this admiration of cruelty in the world-culture of this period was the widespread respect for ‘the unconscious’. The distinction between the conscious and unconscious motives, which had played such a beneficial part in an earlier psychology, had by now led to absurdities. The unconscious was now said to be the divine will working in us. The unconscious sources of action were therefore sacred. In a race in which, through unwholesome conditioning, the ‘unconscious’ was a tissue of perverted cravings, this meant that the perverse was deified.

Another curious aspect of this degenerate culture was that, along with ‘the unconscious’, reason was deified; and this in spite of the bitter condemnation of the exercise of free intelligence. But sacred reason was nothing whatever like ordinary human reasoning. It was the occult rationality of the universe, forever inaccessible to man. Everything, it was said, had in the divine view its reason. Everything followed necessarily from the divine reason. In the human sphere free intelligence was an impious attempt to probe the divine reason. The true scope for man’s own divine spark of reason was not in the free exercise of intelligence but in the pious and unquestioning study of the metaphysical arguments of the inspired scriptures.

One branch of the cult of reason was a fantastic use of mathematics. But again, what was admired was not the free exercise of mathematical intelligence. This, indeed, was heartily condemned. A number of complex and valid mathematical operations were, of course, performed by the technicians for practical purposes; but they were all well-established operations, handed down from a more intelligent generation. Mathematical innovation was deemed wicked.

Further, the actual symbols of mathematics were gradually acquiring mystical virtue. As intelligence deteriorated, the time-honoured operations continued to be used both in industrial research and in religious ritual, but they were performed with ever-dwindling insight. In the final phase mathematical understanding had vanished altogether. The operations were still called rational, but their rationality was said to be patent only to the divine reason. This was proved by the fact that the whole of physical nature ‘obeyed’ mathematical laws. Human reason, however, could not possibly detect the occult necessity of the higher mathematical processes. Any attempt to do so was sacrilegious.


Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30