Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 4

An Americanized Planet

1. The Foundation of the First World State

WE have now reached that point in the history of the First Men when, some three hundred and eighty terrestrial years after the European War, the goal of world unity was at last achieved — not, however, before the mind of the race had been seriously crippled.

There is no need to recount in detail the transition from rival national sovereignties to unitary control by the World Financial Directorate. Suffice it that by concerted action in America and China the military governments found themselves hamstrung by the passive resistance of cosmopolitan big business. In China this process was almost instantaneous and bloodless; in America there was serious disorder for a few weeks, while the bewildered government attempted to reduce its rebels by martial law. But the population was by now eager for peace; and, although a few business magnates were shot, and a crowd of workers here and there mown down, the opposition was irresistible. Very soon the governing clique collapsed.

The new order consisted of a vast system akin to guild socialism, yet at bottom individualistic. Each industry was in theory democratically governed by all its members, but in practice was controlled by its dominant individuals. Co-ordination of all industries was effected by a World Industrial Council, whereon the leaders of each industry discussed the affairs of the planet as a whole. The status of each industry on the Council was determined partly by its economic power in the world, partly by public esteem. For already the activities of men were beginning to be regarded as either “noble” or “ignoble”; and the noble were not necessarily the most powerful economically. Thus upon the Council appeared an inner ring of noble “industries,” which were, in approximate order of prestige, Finance, Flying, Engineering, Surface Locomotion, Chemical Industry, and Professional Athletics. But the real seat of power was not the Council, not even the inner ring of the Council, but the Financial Directorate. This consisted of a dozen millionaires, with the American President and the Chinese Vice–President at their head.

Within this august committee internal dissensions were inevitable. Shortly after the system had been inaugurated the Vice–President sought to overthrow the President by publishing his connection with a Polynesian woman who now styled herself the Daughter of Man. This piece of scandal was expected to enrage the virtuous American public against their hero. But by a stroke of genius the President saved both himself and the unity of the world. Far from denying the charge, he gloried in it. In that moment of sexual triumph, he said, a great truth had been revealed to him. Without this daring sacrifice of his private purity, he would never have been really fit to be President of the World; he would have remained simply an American. In this lady’s veins flowed the blood of all races, and in her mind all cultures mingled. His union with her, confirmed by many subsequent visits, had taught him to enter into the spirit of the East, and had given him a broad human sympathy such as his high office demanded. As a private individual, he insisted, he remained a monogamist with a wife in New York; and, as a private individual, he had sinned, and must suffer for ever the pangs of conscience. But as President of the World, it was incumbent upon him to espouse the World. And since nothing could be said to be real without a physical basis, this spiritual union had to be embodied and symbolized by his physical union with the Daughter of Man. In tones of grave emotion he described through the microphone how, in the presence of that mystical woman, he had suddenly triumphed over his private moral scruples; and how, in a sudden access of the divine energy, he had consummated his marriage with the World in the shade of a banana tree.

The lovely form of the Daughter of Man (decently clad) was transmitted by television to every receiver in the world. Her face, blended of Asia and the West, became a most potent symbol of human unity. Every man on the planet became in imagination her lover. Every woman identified herself with this supreme woman.

Undoubtedly there was some truth in the plea that the Daughter of Man had enlarged the President’s mind, for his policy had been unexpectedly tactful toward the East. Often he had moderated the American demand for the immediate Americanization of China. Often he had persuaded the Chinese to welcome some policy which at first they had regarded with suspicion.

The President’s explanation of his conduct enhanced his prestige both in America and Asia. America was hypnotized by the romantic religiosity of the story. Very soon it became fashionable to be a strict monogamist with one domestic wife, and one “symbolical” wife in the East, or in another town, or a neighbouring street, or with several such in various localities. In China the cold tolerance with which the President was first treated was warmed by this incident into something like affection. And it was partly through his tact, or the influence of his symbolical wife, that the speeding up of China’s Americanization was effected without disorder.

For some months after the foundation of the World State, China had been wholly occupied in coping with the plague of insanity, called “the American madness,” with which her former enemy had poisoned her. The coast region of North China had been completely disorganized. Industry, agriculture, transport, were at a standstill. Huge mobs, demented and starving, staggered about the country devouring every kind of vegetable matter and wrangling over the flesh of their own dead. It was long before the disease was brought under control; and indeed for years afterwards an occasional outbreak would occur, and cause panic throughout the land.

To some of the more old-fashioned Chinese it appeared as though the whole population had been mildly affected by the germ; for throughout China a new sect, apparently a spontaneous native growth, calling themselves Energists, began to preach a new interpretation of Buddhism in terms of the sanctity of action. And, strange to say, this gospel throve to such an extent that in a few years the whole educational system was captured by its adherents, though not without a struggle with the reactionary members of the older universities. Curiously enough, however, in spite of this general acceptance of the New Way, in spite of the fact that the young of China were now taught to admire movement in all its forms, in spite of a much increased wage-scale, which put all workers in possession of private mechanical locomotion, the masses of China continued at heart to regard action as a mere means toward rest. And when at last a native physicist pointed out that the supreme expression of energy was the tense balance of forces within the atom, the Chinese applied the doctrine to themselves, and claimed that in them quiescence was the perfect balance of mighty forces. Thus did the East contribute to the religion of this age. The worship of activity was made to include the worship of inactivity. And both were founded on the principles of natural science.

2. The Dominance of Science

Science now held a position of unique honour among the First Men. This was not so much because it was in this field that the race long ago during its high noon had thought most rigorously, nor because it was through science that men had gained some insight into the nature of the physical world, but rather because the application of scientific principles had revolutionized their material circumstances. The once fluid doctrines of science had by now begun to crystallize into a fixed and intricate dogma; but inventive scientific intelligence still exercised itself brilliantly in improving the technique of industry, and thus completely dominated the imagination of a race in which the pure intellectual curiosity had waned. The scientist was regarded as an embodiment, not merely of knowledge, but of power; and no legends of the potency of science seemed too fantastic to be believed.

A century after the founding of the first World State a rumour began to be heard in China about the supreme secret of scientific religion, the awful mystery of Gordelpus, by means of which it should be possible to utilize the energy locked up in the opposition of proton and electron. Long ago discovered by a Chinese physicist and saint, this invaluable knowledge was now reputed to have been preserved ever since among the elite of science, and to be ready for publication as soon as the world seemed fit to possess it. The new sect of Energists claimed that the young Discoverer was himself an incarnation of Buddha, and that, since the world was still unfit for the supreme revelation, he had entrusted his secret to the Scientists. On the side of Christianity a very similar legend was concerned with the same individual. The Regenerate Christian Brotherhood, by now overwhelmingly the most powerful of the Western Churches, regarded the Discoverer as the Son of God, who, in this his Second Coming, had proposed to bring about the millennium by publishing the secret of divine power; but, finding the peoples still unable to put in practice even the more primitive gospel of love which was announced at his First Coming, he had suffered martyrdom for man’s sake, and had entrusted his secret to the Scientists.

The scientific workers of the world had long ago organized themselves as a close corporation. Entrance to the International College of Science was to be obtained only by examination and the payment of high fees. Membership conferred the title of “Scientist,” and the right to perform experiments. It was also an essential qualification for many lucrative posts. Moreover, there were said to be certain technical secrets which members were pledged not to reveal. Rumour had it that in at least one case of minor blabbing the traitor had shortly afterwards mysteriously died.

Science itself, the actual corpus of natural knowledge, had by now become so complex that only a tiny fraction of it could be mastered by one brain. Thus students of one branch of science knew practically nothing of the work of others in kindred branches. Especially was this the case with the huge science called Subatomic Physics. Within this were contained a dozen studies, any one of which was as complex as the whole of the physics of the Nineteenth Christian Century. This growing complexity had rendered students in one field ever more reluctant to criticize, or even to try to understand, the principles of other fields. Each petty department, jealous of its own preserves, was meticulously respectful of the preserves of others. In an earlier period the sciences had been co-ordinated and criticized philosophically by their own leaders and by the technical philosophers. But, philosophy, as a rigorous technical discipline, no longer existed. There was, of course, a vague framework of ideas, or assumptions, based on science, and common to all men, a popular pseudo-science, constructed by the journalists from striking phrases current among scientists. But actual scientific workers prided themselves on the rejection of this ramshackle structure, even while they themselves were unwittingly assuming it. And each insisted that his own special subject must inevitably remain unintelligible even to most of his brother scientists.

Under these circumstances, when rumour declared that the mystery of Gordelpus was known to the physicists, each department of subatomic physics was both reluctant to deny the charge explicitly in its own case, and ready to believe that some other department really did possess the secret. Consequently the conduct of the scientists as a body strengthened the general belief that they knew and would not tell.

About two centuries after the formation of the first World State, the President of the World declared that the time was ripe for a formal union of science and religion, and called a conference of the leaders of these two great disciplines. Upon that island in the Pacific which had become the Mecca of cosmopolitan sentiment, and was by now one vast many-storied, and cloud-capped Temple of Peace, the heads of Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Hinduism, the Regenerate Christian Brotherhood and the Modern Catholic Church in South America, agreed that their differences were but differences of expression. One and all were worshippers of the Divine Energy, whether expressed in activity, or in tense stillness. One and all recognized the saintly Discoverer as either the last and greatest of the prophets or an actual incarnation of divine Movement, And these two concepts were easily shown, in the light of modern science, to be identical.

In an earlier age it had been the custom to single out heresy and extirpate it with fire and sword. But now the craving for uniformity was fulfilled by explaining away differences, amid universal applause.

When the Conference had registered the unity of the religions, it went on to establish the unity of religion and science. All knew, said the President, that some of the scientists were in possession of the supreme secret, though, wisely, they would not definitely admit it. It was time, then, that the organizations of Science and Religion should be merged, for the better guidance of men. He, therefore, called upon the International College of Science to nominate from amongst themselves a select body, which should be sanctified by the Church, and called the Sacred Order of Scientists. These custodians of the supreme secret were to be kept at public expense. They were to devote themselves wholly to the service of science, and in particular to research into the most scientific manner of worshipping the Divine Gordelpus.

Of the scientists present, some few looked distinctly uncomfortable, but the majority scarcely concealed their delight under dignified and thoughtful hesitation. Amongst the priests also two expressions were visible; but on the whole it was felt that the Church must gain by thus gathering into herself the unique prestige of science. And so it was that the Order was founded which was destined to become the dominant force in human affairs until the downfall of the first world civilization.

3. Material Achievement

Save for occasional minor local conflicts, easily quelled by the World Police, the race was now a single social unit for some four thousand years. During the first of these millennia material progress at least was rapid, but subsequently there was little change until the final disintegration. The whole energy of man was concentrated on maintaining at a constant pitch the furious routine of his civilization, until, after another three thousand years of lavish expenditure, certain essential sources of power were suddenly exhausted. Nowhere was there the mental agility to cope with this novel crisis. The whole social order collapsed.

We may pass over the earlier stages of this fantastic civilization, and examine it as it stood just before the fatal change began to be felt.

The material circumstances of the race at this time would have amazed all its predecessors, even those who were in the true sense far more civilized beings. But to us, the Last Men, there is an extreme pathos and even comicality, not only in this most thorough confusion of material development with civilization, but also in the actual paucity of the vaunted material development itself, compared with that of our own society.

All the continents, indeed, were by now minutely artificialized. Save for the many wild reserves which were cherished as museums and playgrounds, not a square mile of territory was left in a natural state. Nor was there any longer a distinction between agricultural and industrial areas. All the continents were urbanized, not of course in the manner of the congested industrial cities of an earlier age, but none the less urbanized. Industry and agriculture interpenetrated everywhere. This was possible partly through the great development of aerial communication, partly through a no less remarkable improvement of architecture. Great advances in artificial materials had enabled the erection of buildings in the form of slender pylons which, rising often to a height of three miles, or even more, and founded a quarter of a mile beneath the ground, might yet occupy a ground plan of less than half a mile across. In section these structures were often cruciform; and on each floor, the centre of the long-armed cross consisted of an aerial landing, providing direct access from the air for the dwarf private aeroplanes which were by now essential to the life of every adult. These gigantic pillars of architecture, prophetic of the still mightier structures of an age to come, were scattered over every continent in varying density. Very rarely were they permitted to approach one another by a distance less than their height; on the other hand, save in the arctic, they were very seldom separated by more than twenty miles. The general appearance of every country was thus rather like an open forest of lopped tree-trunks, gigantic in stature. Clouds often encircled the middle heights of these artificial peaks, or blotted out all but the lower stories. Dwellers in the summits were familiar with the spectacle of a dazzling ocean of cloud, dotted on all sides with steep islands of architecture. Such was the altitude of the upper floors that it was sometimes necessary to maintain in them, not merely artificial heating, but artificial air pressure and oxygen supply.

Between these columns of habitation and industry, the land was everywhere green or brown with the seasonal variations of agriculture, park, and wild reserve. Broad grey thoroughfares for heavy freight traffic netted every continent; but lighter transport and the passenger services were wholly aerial. Over all the more populous districts the air was ever aswarm with planes up to a height of five miles, where the giant air-liners plied between the continents.

The enterprise of an already distant past had brought every land under civilization. The Sahara was a lake district, crowded with sun-proud holiday resorts. The arctic islands of Canada, ingeniously warmed by directed tropical currents, were the homes of vigorous northerners. The coasts of Antarctica, thawed in the same manner, were permanently inhabited by those engaged in exploiting the mineral wealth of the hinterland.

Much of the power needed to keep this civilization in being was drawn from the buried remains of prehistoric vegetation, in the form of coal. Although after the foundation of the World State the fuel of Antarctica had been very carefully husbanded, the new supply of oil had given out in less than three centuries, and men were forced to drive their aeroplanes by electricity generated from coal. It soon became evident, however, that even the unexpectedly rich coal-fields of Antarctica would not last for ever. The cessation of oil had taught men a much needed lesson, had made them feel the reality of the power problem. At the same time the cosmopolitan spirit, which was learning to regard the whole race as compatriots, was also beginning to take a broader view temporally, and to see things with the eyes of remote generations. During the first and sanest thousand years of the World State, there was a widespread determination not to incur the blame of the future by wasting power. Thus not only was there serious economy (the first large-scale cosmopolitan enterprise), but also efforts were made to utilize more permanent sources of power. Wind was used extensively. On every building swarms of windmills generated electricity, and every mountain range was similarly decorated, while every considerable fall of water forced its way through turbines. More important still was the utilization of power derived from volcanos and from borings into the subterranean heat. This, it had been hoped, would solve the whole problem of power, once and for all. But even in the earlier and more intelligent period of the World State inventive genius was not what it had been, and no really satisfactory method was found. Consequently at no stage of this civilization did volcanic sources do more than supplement the amazingly rich coal seams of Antarctica. In this region coal was preserved at far greater depths than elsewhere, because, by some accident, the earth’s central heat was not here fierce enough (as it was elsewhere) to turn the deeper beds into graphite. Another possible source of power was known to exist in the ocean tides; but the use of this was forbidden by the S.O.S. because, since tidal motion was so obviously astronomical in origin, it had come to be regarded as sacred.

Perhaps the greatest physical achievement of the First World State in its earlier and more vital phase had been in preventive medicine. Though the biological sciences had long ago become stereotyped in respect of fundamental theories, they continued to produce many practical benefits. No longer did men and women have to dread for themselves or those dear to them such afflictions as cancer, tuberculosis, angina pectoris, the rheumatic diseases, and the terrible disorders of the nervous system. No longer were there sudden microbic devastations. No longer was childbirth an ordeal, and womanhood itself a source of suffering. There were no more chronic invalids, no more life-long cripples. Only senility remained; and even this could be repeatedly alleviated by physiological rejuvenation. The removal of all these ancient sources of weakness and misery, which formerly had lamed the race and haunted so many individuals either with definite terrors or vague and scarcely conscious despond, brought about now a pervading buoyancy and optimism impossible to earlier peoples.

4. The Culture of the First World State

Such was the physical achievement of this civilization. Nothing half so artificial and intricate and prosperous had ever before existed. An earlier age, indeed, had held before itself some such ideal as this; but its nationalistic mania prevented it from attaining the necessary economic unity. This latter-day civilization, however, had wholly outgrown nationalism, and had spent many centuries of peace in consolidating itself. But to what end? The terrors of destitution and ill-health having been abolished, man’s spirit was freed from a crippling burden, and might have dared great adventures. But unfortunately his intelligence had by now seriously declined. And so this age, far more than the notorious “nineteenth century,” was the great age of barren complacency.

Every individual was a well-fed and physically healthy human animal. He was also economically independent. His working day was never more than six hours, often only four. He enjoyed a fair share of the products of industry; and in his long holidays he was free to wander in his own aeroplane all over the planet. With good luck he might find himself rich, even for those days, at forty; and if fortune had not favoured him, he might yet expect affluence before he was eighty, when he could still look forward to a century of active life.

But in spite of this material prosperity he was a slave. His work and his leisure consisted of feverish activity, punctuated by moments of listless idleness which he regarded as both sinful and unpleasant. Unless he was one of the furiously successful minority, he was apt to be haunted by moments of brooding, too formless to be called meditation, and of yearning, too blind to be called desire. For he and all his contemporaries were ruled by certain ideas which prevented them from living a fully human life.

Of these ideas one was the ideal of progress. For the individual, the goal imposed by his religious teaching was continuous advancement in aeronautical prowess, legal sexual freedom, and millionaireship. For the race also the ideal was progress, and progress of the same unintelligent type. Ever more brilliant and extensive aviation, ever more extensive legal sexual intercourse, ever more gigantic manufacture, and consumption, were to be co-ordinated in an ever more intricately organized social system. For the last three thousand years, indeed, progress even of this rude kind had been minute; but this was a source of pride rather than of regret. It implied that the goal was already almost attained, the perfection which should justify the release of the secret of divine power, and the inauguration of an era of incomparably mightier activity.

For the all-pervading idea which tyrannized over the race was the fanatical worship of movement. Gordelpus, the Prime Mover, demanded of his human embodiments swift and intricate activity, and the individual’s prospect of eternal life depended on the fulfilment of this obligation. Curiously, though science had long ago destroyed the belief in personal immortality as an intrinsic attribute of man, a complementary belief had grown up to the effect that those who justified themselves in action were preserved eternally, by special miracle, in the swift spirit of Gordelpus. Thus from childhood to death the individual’s conduct was determined by the obligation to produce as much motion as possible, whether by his own muscular activity or by the control of natural forces. In the hierarchy of industry three occupations were honoured almost as much as the Sacred Order of Scientists, namely, flying, dancing, and athletics. Every one practised all three of these crafts to some extent, for they were imposed by religion; but the professional fliers and aeronautical engineers, and the professional dancers and athletes, were a privileged class.

Several causes had raised flying to a position of unique honour. As a means of communication it was of extreme practical importance; and as the swiftest locomotion it constituted the supreme act of worship. The accident that the form of the aeroplane was reminiscent of the main symbol of the ancient Christian religion lent flying an additional mystical significance. For though the spirit of Christianity was lost, many of its symbols had been preserved in the new faith. A more important source of the dominance of flying was that, since warfare had long ceased to exist, aviation of a gratuitously dangerous kind was the main outlet for the innate adventurousness of the human animal. Young men and women risked their lives fervently for the glory of Gordelpus and their own salvation, while their seniors took vicarious satisfaction in this endless festival of youthful prowess. Indeed apart from the thrills of devotional aerial acrobats, it is unlikely that the race would so long have preserved its peace and its unity. On each of the frequent Days of Sacred Flight special rituals of communal and solo aviation were performed at every religious centre. On these occasions the whole sky would be intricately patterned with thousands of planes, wheeling, tumbling, soaring, plunging, in perfect order and at various altitudes, the dance at one level being subtly complementary to the dance at others. It was as though the spontaneous evolutions of many distinct flocks of redshank and dunlin were multiplied a thousand-fold in complexity, and subordinated to a single ever-developing terpsichorean theme. Then suddenly the whole would burst asunder to the horizon, leaving the sky open for the quartets, duets and solos of the most brilliant stars of flight. At night also, regiments of planes bearing coloured lights would inscribe on the zenith ever-changing and symbolical patterns of fire. Besides these aerial dances, there had existed for eight hundred years a custom of spelling out periodically in a dense flight of planes six thousand miles long the sacred rubrics of the gospel of Gordelpus, so that the living word might be visible to other plants.

In the life of every individual, flying played a great part. Immediately after birth he was taken up by a priestess of flight and dropped, clinging to a parachute, to be deftly caught upon the wings of his father’s plane. This ritual served as a substitute for contraception (forbidden as an interference with the divine energy); for since in many infants the old simian grasping-instinct was atrophied, a large proportion of the new-born let go and were smashed upon the paternal wings. At adolescence the individual (male or female) took charge of a plane for the first time, and his life was subsequently punctuated by severe aeronautical tests. From middle age onwards, namely as a centenarian, when he could no longer hope to rise in the hierarchy of active flight, he continued to fly daily for practical purposes.

The two other forms of ritual activity, dancing and athletics, were scarcely less important. Nor were they confined wholly to the ground. For certain rites were celebrated by dances upon the wings of a plane in mid air.

Dancing was especially associated with the Negro race, which occupied a very peculiar position in the world at this time. As a matter of fact the great colour distinctions of mankind were now beginning to fade. Increased aerial communication had caused the black, brown, yellow and white stocks so to mingle that everywhere there was by now a large majority of the racially indistinguishable. Nowhere was there any great number of persons of marked racial character. But each of the ancient types was liable to crop up now and again in isolated individuals, especially in its ancient homeland. These “throw-backs” were customarily treated in special and historically appropriate manners. Thus, for instance, it was to “sports” of definite Negro character that the most sacred dancing was entrusted.

In the days of the nations, the descendants of emancipated African slaves in North America had greatly influenced the artistic and religious life of the white population, and had inspired a cult of negroid dancing which survived till the end of the First Men. This was partly due to the sexual and primitive character of Negro dancing, sorely needed in a nation ridden by sexual taboos. But it had also a deeper source. The American nation had acquired its slaves by capture, and had long continued to spurn their descendants. Later it unconsciously compensated for its guilt by a cult of the Negro spirit. Thus when American culture dominated the planet, the pure Negroes became a sacred caste. Forbidden many of the rights of citizenship, they were regarded as the private servants of Gordelpus. They were both sacred and outcast. This dual role was epitomized in an extravagant ritual which took place once a year in each of the great national parks. A white woman and a Negro, both chosen for their prowess in dance, performed a long and symbolical ballet, which culminated in a ritual act of sexual violation, performed in full view of the maddened spectators. This over, the Negro knifed his victim, and fled through the forest pursued by an exultant mob. If he reached sanctuary, he became a peculiarly sacred object for the rest of his life. But if he was caught, he was torn to pieces or drenched with inflammable spirit and burned. Such was the superstition of the First Men at this time that the participants in this ceremony were seldom reluctant; for it was firmly believed that both were assured of eternal life in Gordelpus. In America this Sacred Lynching was the most popular of all festivals; for it was both sexual and bloody, and afforded a fierce joy to the masses whose sex-life was restricted and secret. In India and Africa the violator was always an “Englishman,” when such a rare creature could be found. In China the whole character of the ceremony was altered; for the violation became a kiss, and the murder a touch with a fan.

One other race, the Jews, were treated with a similar combination of honour and contempt, but for very different reasons. In ancient days their general intelligence, and in particular their financial talent, had co-operated with their homelessness to make them outcasts; and now, in the decline of the First Men, they retained the fiction, if not strictly the fact, of racial integrity. They were still outcasts, though indispensable and powerful. Almost the only kind of intelligent activity which the First Men could still respect was financial operation, whether private or cosmopolitan. The Jews had made themselves invaluable in the financial organization of the world state, having far outstripped the other races because they alone had preserved a furtive respect for pure intelligence. And so, long after intelligence had come to be regarded as disreputable in ordinary men and women, it was expected of the Jews. In them it was called satanic cunning, and they were held to be embodiments of the powers of evil, harnessed in the service of Gordelpus. Thus in time the Jews had made something like “a corner” in intelligence. This precious commodity they used largely for their own purposes; for two thousand years of persecution had long ago rendered them permanently tribalistic, subconsciously if not consciously. Thus when they had gained control of the few remaining operations which demanded originality rather than routine, they used this advantage chiefly to strengthen their own position in the world. For, though relatively bright, they had suffered much of the general coarsening and limitation which had beset the whole world. Though capable to some extent of criticizing the practical means by which ends should be realized, they were by now wholly incapable of criticizing the major ends which had dominated their race for thousands of years. In them intelligence had become utterly subservient to tribalism. There was thus some excuse for the universal hate and even physical repulsion with which they were regarded; for they alone had failed to make the one great advance, from tribalism to a cosmopolitanism which in other races was no longer merely theoretical. There was good reason also for the respect which they received, since they retained and used somewhat ruthlessly a certain degree of the most distinctively human attribute, intelligence.

In primitive times the intelligence and sanity of the race had been preserved by the inability of its unwholesome members to survive. When humanitarianism came into vogue, and the unsound were tended at public expense, this natural selection ceased. And since these unfortunates were incapable alike of prudence and of social responsibility, they procreated without restraint, and threatened to infect the whole species with their rottenness. During the zenith of Western Civilization, therefore, the subnormal were sterilized. But the latter-day worshippers of Gordelpus regarded both sterilization and contraception as a wicked interference with the divine potency. Consequently the only restriction on population was the suspension of the new-born from aeroplanes, a process which, though it eliminated weaklings, favoured among healthy infants rather the primitive than the highly developed. Thus the intelligence of the race steadily declined. And no one regretted it.

The general revulsion from intelligence was a corollary of the adoration of instinct, and this in turn was an aspect of the worship of activity. Since the unconscious source of human vigour was the divine energy, spontaneous impulse must so far as possible never be thwarted. Reasoning was indeed permitted to the individual within the sphere of his official work, but never beyond. And not even specialists might indulge in reasoning and experiment without obtaining a licence for the particular research. The licence was expensive, and was only granted if the goal in view could be shown to be an increase of world activity. In old times certain persons of morbid curiosity had dared to criticize the time-honoured methods of doing things, and had suggested “better” methods not convenient to the Sacred Order of Scientists. This had to be stopped. By the fourth millennium of the World State the operations of civilization had become so intricately stereotyped that novel situations of a major order never occurred.

One kind of intellectual pursuit in addition to finance was, indeed. honoured, namely mathematical calculation. All ritual movements, all the motions of industrial machinery, all observable natural phenomena, had to be minutely described in mathematical formulae. The records were filed in the sacred archives of the S.O.S. And there they remained. The vast enterprise of mathematical description was the main work of the scientists, and was said to be the only means by which the evanescent thing, movement, could be passed into the eternal being of Gordelpus.

The cult of instinct did not result simply in a life of ungoverned impulse. Far from it. For the fundamental instinct, it was said, was the instinct to worship Gordelpus in action, and this should rule all the other instincts. Of these, the most important and sacred was the sexual impulse, which the First Men had ever tended to regard as both divine and obscene. Sex, therefore, was now very strictly controlled. Reference to sexuality, save by circumlocution, was forbidden by law. Persons who remarked on the obvious sexual significance of the religious dances, were severely punished. No sexual activity and no sex knowledge were permitted to the individual until he had won his (or her) wings. Much information, of a distorted and perverted nature could, indeed, be gained meanwhile by observation of the religious writings and practices; but officially these sacred matters were all given a metaphysical, not a sexual interpretation. And though legal maturity, the Wing–Winning, might occur as early as the age of fifteen, sometimes it was not attained till forty. If at that age the individual still failed in the test, he or she was forbidden sexual intercourse and information for ever.

In China and India this extravagant sexual taboo was somewhat mitigated. Many easy-going persons had come to feel that the imparting of sex knowledge to the “immature” was only wrong when the medium of communication was the sacred American language. They therefore made use of the local patois. Similarly, sexual activity of the “immature” was permissible so long as it was performed solely in the wild reserves, and without American speech. These subterfuges, however, were condemned by the orthodox, even in Asia.

When a man had won his wings, he was formally initiated into the mystery of sex and all its “biologico-religious” significance. He was also allowed to take a “domestic wife.” and after a much more severe aviation test, any number of “symbolical” wives. Similarly with the woman. These two kinds of partnership differed greatly. The “domestic” husband and wife appeared in public together, and their union was indissoluble. The “symbolic” union, on the other hand, could be dissolved by either party. Also it was too sacred ever to be revealed, or even mentioned, in public.

A very large number of persons never passed the test which sanctioned sexuality. These either remained virgin, or indulged in sexual relations which were not only illegal but sacrilegious. The successful, on the other hand, were apt to consummate sexually every casual acquaintance.

Under these circumstances it was natural that there should exist among the sexually submerged part of the population certain secret cults which sought escape from harsh reality into worlds of fantasy. Of these illicit sects, two were most widespread. One was a perversion of the ancient Christian faith in a God of Love. All love, it was said, is sexual; therefore in worship, private or public, the individual must seek a direct sexual relation with God. Hence arose a grossly phallic cult, very contemptible to those more fortunate persons who had no need of it.

The other great heresy was derived partly from the energy of repressed intellective impulses, and was practised by persons of natural curiosity who, nevertheless, shared the universal paucity of intelligence. These pathetic devotees of intellect were inspired by Socrates. That great primitive had insisted that clear thought is impossible without clear definition of terms, and that without clear thinking man misses fullness of being. These his last disciples were scarcely less fervent admirers of truth than their master, yet they missed his spirit completely. Only by knowing the truth, they said, can the individual attain immortality; only by defining can he know the truth. Therefore, meeting together in secret, and in constant danger of arrest for illicit intellection, they disputed endlessly about the definition of things. But the things which they were concerned to define were not the basic concepts of human thought; for these, they affirmed, had been settled once for all by Socrates and his immediate followers. Therefore, accepting these as true, and grossly misunderstanding them, the ultimate Socratics undertook to define all the processes of the world state and the ritual of the established religion, all the emotions of men and women, all the shapes of noses, mouths, buildings, mountains, clouds, and in fact the whole superficies of their world. Thus they believe that they emancipated themselves from the philistinism of their age, and secured comradeship with Socrates in the hereafter.

5. Downfall

The collapse of this first world-civilization was due to the sudden failure of the supplies of coal. All the original fields had been sapped centuries earlier, and it should have been obvious that those more recently discovered could not last for ever. For some thousands of years the main supply had come from Antarctica. So prolific was this continent that latterly a superstition had arisen in the clouded minds of the world-citizens that it was in some mysterious manner inexhaustible. Thus when at last, in spite of strict censorship, the news began to leak out that even the deepest possible borings had failed to reveal further vegetable deposits of any kind, the world was at first incredulous.

The sane policy would have been to abolish the huge expense of power on ritual flying, which used more of the community’s resources than the whole of productive industry. But to believers in Gordelpus such a course was almost unthinkable. Moreover it would have undermined the flying aristocracy. This powerful class now declared that the time had come for the release of the secret of divine power, and called on the S.O.S. to inaugurate the new era. Vociferous agitation in all lands put the scientists in an awkward plight. They gained time by declaring that, though the moment of revelation was approaching, it had not yet arrived; for they had received a divine intimation that this failure of coal was imposed as a supreme test of man’s faith. The service of Gordelpus in ritual flight must be rather increased than reduced. Spending a bare minimum of its power on secular matters, the race must concentrate upon religion. When Gordelpus had evidence of their devotion and trust, he would permit the scientists to save them.

Such was the prestige of science that at first this explanation was universally accepted. The ritual flights were maintained. All luxury trades were abolished, and even vital services were reduced to a minimum. Workers thus thrown out of employment were turned over to agricultural labour; for it was felt that the use of mechanical power in mere tillage must be as soon as possible abolished. These changes demanded far more organizing ability than was left in the race. Confusion was widespread, save here and there where serious organization was attempted by certain Jews.

The first result of this great movement of economy and self-denial was to cause something of a spiritual awakening among many who had formerly lived a life of bored ease. This was augmented by the widespread sense of crisis and impending marvels. Religion, which, in spite of its universal authority in this age, had become a matter of ritual rather than of inward experience, began to stir in many hearts — not indeed as a movement of true worship, but rather as a vague awe, not unmixed with self-importance.

But as the novelty of this enthusiasm dwindled, and life became increasingly uncomfortable, even the most zealous began to notice with horror that in moments of inactivity they were prone to doubts too shocking to confess. And as the situation worsened, even a life of ceaseless action could not suppress these wicked fantasies.

For the race was now entering upon an unprecedented psychological crisis, brought about by the impact of the economic disaster upon a permanently unwholesome mentality. Each individual, it must be remembered, had once been a questioning child, but had been taught to shun curiosity as the breath of Satan. Consequently the whole race was suffering from a kind of inverted repression, a repression of the intellective impulses. The sudden economic change, which affected all classes throughout the planet, thrust into the focus of attention a shocking curiosity, an obsessive scepticism, which had hitherto been buried in the deepest recesses of the mind.

It is not easy to conceive the strange mental disorder that now afflicted the whole race, symbolizing itself in some cases by fits of actual physical vertigo. After centuries of prosperity, of routine, of orthodoxy, men were suddenly possessed by a doubt which they regarded as diabolical. No one said a word of it; but in each man’s own mind the fiend raised a whispering head, and each was haunted by the troubled eyes of his fellows. Indeed the whole changed circumstances of his life jibed at his credulity.

Earlier in the career of the race, this world crisis might have served to wake men into sanity. Under the first pressure of distress they might have abandoned the extravagances of their culture. But by now the ancient way of life was too deeply rooted. Consequently, we observe the fantastic spectacle of a world engaged, devotedly and even heroically, on squandering its resources in vast aeronautical displays, not through single-minded faith in their rightness and efficacy, but solely in a kind of desperate automatism. Like those little rodents whose migration became barred by an encroachment of the sea, so that annually they drowned themselves in thousands, the First Men helplessly continued in their ritualistic behaviour; but unlike the lemmings, they were human enough to be at the same time oppressed by unbelief, an unbelief which, moreover, they dared not recognize.

Meanwhile the scientists were earnestly and secretly delving in the ancient literature of their science, in hope of discovering the forgotten talisman. They undertook also clandestine experiments, but upon a false trail laid by the wily English contemporary of the Discoverer. The main results were, that several researchers were poisoned or electrocuted, and a great college was blown up. This event impressed the populace, who supposed the accident to be due to an overdaring exercise of the divine potency. The misunderstanding inspired the desperate scientists to rig further impressive “miracles,” and moreover to use them to dispel the increasing restlessness of hungry industrial workers. Thus when a deputation arrived outside the offices of Cosmopolitan Agriculture to demand more flour for industrialists, Gordelpus miraculously blew up the ground on which they stood, and flung their bodies among the onlookers. When the agriculturists of China struck to obtain a reasonable allowance of electric power for their tillage, Gordelpus affected them with an evil atmosphere, so that they choked and died in thousands. Stimulated in this manner by direct divine intervention, the doubting and disloyal elements of the world population recovered their faith and their docility. And so the world jogged on for a while, as nearly as possible as it had done for the last four thousand years, save for a general increase of hunger and ill-health.

But inevitably, as the conditions of life became more and more severe. docility gave place to desperation. Daring spirits began publicly to question the wisdom, and even the piety, of so vast an expenditure of power upon ritual flight, when prime necessities such as food and clothing were becoming so scarce. Did not this helpless devotion merely ridicule them in the divine eyes? God helps him who helps himself. Already the death rate had risen alarmingly. Emaciated and ragged persons were beginning to beg in public places. In certain districts whole populations were starving, and the Directorate did nothing for them. Yet, elsewhere, harvests were being wasted for lack of power to reap them. In all lands an angry clamour arose for the inauguration of the new era.

The scientists were by now panic-stricken. Nothing had come of their researches, and it was evident that in future all wind and water-power must be devoted to the primary industries. Even so, there was starvation ahead for many. The President of the Physical Society suggested to the Directorate that ritual flying should at once be reduced by half as a compromise with Gordelpus. Immediately the hideous truth, which few hitherto had dared to admit even to themselves, was blurted out upon the ether by a prominent Jew: the whole hoary legend of the divine secret was a lie, else why were the physicists temporizing? Dismay and rage spread over the planet. Everywhere the people rose against the scientists, amid against the governing authority which they controlled. Massacres and measures of retaliation soon developed into civil wars. China and India declared themselves free national states, but could not achieve internal unity. In America, ever a stronghold of science and religion, the Government maintained its authority for a while; but as its seat became less secure, its methods became more ruthless. Finally it made the mistake of using not merely poison gas, but microbes; and such was the decayed state of medical science that no one could invent a means of restraining their ravages. The whole American continent succumbed to a plague of pulmonary and nervous diseases. The ancient “American Madness,” which long ago had been used against China, now devastated America. The great stations of waterpower and windpower were wrecked by lunatic mobs who sought vengeance upon anything associated with authority. Whole populations vanished in an orgy of cannibalism.

In Asia and Africa, some semblance of order was maintained for a while. Presently, however, the American Madness spread to these continents also, and very soon all living traces of their civilization vanished.

Only in the most natural fertile areas of the world could the diseased remnant of a population now scrape a living from the soil. Elsewhere, utter desolation. With easy strides the jungle came back into its own.

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