Star-Begotten, by H. G. Wells

Chapter Eight

How These Star–Begotten People May Presently Get Together

1

‘So your Martians are coming after all, Davis,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding.

‘I’ve given you my facts,’ said Mr. Davis, ‘a new sort of human being is appearing. Of that I am convinced. . . . I never said they were Martians.’

‘The name’s got into the story. And after all, you know — they may be.’

‘Why not the star-men?’ said Keppel. ‘Homosideralis? How would one say Star–Begotten as a specific adjective?’

‘One name seems to be as good as another,’ said Davis, affecting indifference. ‘Until we know better what they are, why trouble about the name? Let us stick to Martians.’

‘The newspapers have no doubt about it. Either there are Martians, they insist, or there is nothing.’

Davis shrugged his shoulders.

‘On the whole I wish this hadn’t leaked out to the press,’ said Keppel, crouching upon his arms over his mahogany and looking malignantly intelligent. ‘Marvellous how the press can make almost anything — unbelievable. What has the press made of it? First this Thunderclap boom. Then general derison. Then general disregard. Nothing stales so rapidly as a new popular idea. What have we now? General indifference. A few pathetic believers run about, half ashamed of themselves, and assert their faith by starting silly-looking little special periodicals and societies. I am told there are at least two pro-Martian societies in London, and three against. The people who produce that pink-covered journal called Welcome seem to be the chief. In America there are quite a lot of associations, I’m told, but all small. Most of them have a tendency to amalgamate with occultists and mix up Mars with Tibet. Then a new type of delusional insanity has appeared. God Almighty, it seems, is out of fashion among our lunatics. They are all Martians nowadays and most of them are Kings or Emperors of Mars. What else has come out of your great disclosure? Ourselves — we toughs, who knew all along just how much there was in it, and were too wise to shout.’

He looked sideways at Davis from under his overhanging brow.

‘You believe really —?’ asked Davis.

Keppel would neither assent nor deny.

‘No one would believe what we in our bones feel to be the reality. We’re not quite sure — but we feel it. We’re not quite definite but a reality is there. It is unbelievable. So why incur suspicion and contempt by talking about it? Nothing is to be done. We cannot control what is happening. We cannot avert it. Here they come. Here we are.’

‘I want to talk about it,’ said Keppel. ‘I want badly to talk about it.’

‘I find myself thinking about it a lot,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding.

‘I think now of nothing else,’ said Davis.

It seemed to him that Keppel had got this Martian fever now almost as badly as himself. That grotesque, distorted dark face was flushed, and every gesture suggested the repression of a profound excitement But Keppel’s resolve to control the stir in his imagination and to keep things as matter-of-fact as possible was very evident.

The three men were dining at Keppel’s house for the express purpose of receiving and discussing the first results of Davis’s investigations.

‘Let’s see how far we have got,’ said Keppel. ‘Let us try to disentangle as far as we can the pure guess-fantasy of an extra-terrestrial intervention, from the established realities that Davis has been elucidating. A new sort of mind is coming into the world, with a new, simpler, clearer, and more powerful way of thinking. That I think is manifest. It has already got into operation individually here and there and produced a sort of disorder of innovation in human affairs. But so far these new minds haven’t got together for any sort of associated living. So far. They are hardly aware of themselves, much less of each other. They are scattered about anyhow. All that, I think, seems to be established?’

Mr. Davis nodded assent.

These new types have made their presence felt, as yet, chiefly through discoveries in material science and mechanical invention. At this present stage they are too scattered and isolated for novel social inventions. That sort of thing requires extensive co-operations. It is on a different plane. These newcomers are dispersed; they are not appearing in bunches; they do not even know that they are a peculiar people; each one of them has been deeply embedded, so to speak, in the circumstances of his or her own birth. From birth they have all been presented with established views of the world and compelled to adjust their social behaviour to established institutions. Many no doubt have been completely baffled by the dogmatic unreason of the normal human arrangements in which they found themselves set. In — what shall I say? — in human affairs, they’ve never had a chance so far. But in regard to things, bits of glass, scraps of metal, springs and balances, they have not been encumbered to the same extent. There they have been able to think freely almost from the outset.

‘That has been the opening phase. Nobody has ever tried to explain the immense advance in scientific knowledge in the past century and a half — but this does explain it. There has been a great outbreak of precise mechanical discovery and invention. That meant — that means — a necessary discordance in human affairs — scattered inventions everywhere, a great forward drive, a revolutionary drive in mechanical science and a relative lag in social understanding. There is an almost complete inability to make new ideas in the latter field real. That is a tougher proposition altogether. I think it is easy to explain why that should be so. But there is the reason why every one nowadays is contrasting our material progress with what is called — how do the bishops put it? — our ethical and social backwardness. A temporary phase.’

‘But a damned unpleasant one,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding. ‘When the superman makes an aeroplane and the ape gets hold of it.’

‘Nevertheless — a temporary phase,’ continued Keppel, holding to his argument with resolute tenacity. ‘Because, as I say, to begin with, these Martians have been rare and scattered. But as they become more numerous — and I assume that there is no reason whatever why they should not become more and more numerous — they will necessarily become aware of one another, and get into touch with one another. Such minds, following the line of least resistence, will gravitate to scientific work. They will note and classify mental types. This must lead almost directly to self-discovery. They will observe how they resemble each other and how they differ from the wimble-wamble of the common world. They will begin to know themselves for what they are.’

‘A new chapter in history,’ said Mr. Davis, contemplating it. ‘And then?’

‘Let us think this out for a bit,’ said Keppel. ‘I believe a considerable amount of analysis of what is coming is possible. I think myself we can already make a rough forecast, but I shall feel much more certain about that when I have put what I have in mind before you two. If I get away with it. It does seem worth while to ask a few fairly obvious questions.. What is going to be the next phase in this invasion? As these Martians multiply among us, they will, I assume, tend to crystallize out in some such way as I have indicated. They will develop a distinctively Martian view of life. They will begin to realize themselves for what they are, look for their own sort, feel their way towards a common understanding. They will emerge to social action in some fashion. . . . In what fashion?’

3

‘But first of all,’ he said, ‘I want to clear up a preliminary matter — of some practical importance.’

He concentrated on his hands spread out on the table before him. ‘I’d like to put it to Davis. Here we have he says, a new kind of mind appearing in the world, a hard, clear, insistent mind. It used to appear at uncertain intervals. Rarely. It said: “Why not?” and it made discoveries. Now apparently it is becoming — frequent. Not abundant as yet but frequent. Well, what I want to know is, is this new kind of mind when it appears complete? Let me be perfectly plain about that. Certain genes making up the human mentality, we agree, have been altered in this new type. These new minds are harder, clearer, more essentially honest — yes. But are they completely detached from the old stuff or are they in many cases a sort of half-breed and all mixed up with it?

‘I want to stress that half-breed idea. Are they so much human, human of the old pattern still, and so much — and only so much — clean Martian? So that one side of them is just the old system of self-regarding complexes, vanities, dear delusions — while the other side is like a crystal growing in mud? You see what I am after? It may not be true to talk as though we were dealing with human clay vis-à-vis with Martians. We are talking about human mud and against it we have to pit these partially liberated intelligences, still largely mixed with the old mud. All three of us have been in our various ways trying to get something like a real sense of what these new beings are. These new creatures —’

Keppel paused and looked at his hands. ‘They are going to be very tragic creatures. . . . In many cases. . . . What do you make of it, Davis? Of the half-breed idea?’

‘I haven’t seen it like that yet. You see, I have been going about trying to find certain lucid intractable types. That was your suggestion, Doctor. I’ve certainly found them. I’ve been looking for a sort of difference. . . . ’

‘You haven’t thought of any other aspect?’

‘No. . . . I haven’t looked for resemblances, so to speak, in the difference,’ he added after a pause. ‘I’ve been looking for uncommon humanity; not for common humanity.’

‘Well,’ Keppel went on, talking chiefly to his intelligent-looking fingers, ‘that half-breed idea opens up a whole new world of considerations. It banishes Thunderclap’s nightmare of a lot of little active hobgoblins swarming and multiplying and desecrating our homes and everything that has made human life et cetera. In the place of that sort of thing we have to suppose an increasing number of individuals scattered about the world, who, so far at any rate, never seem to have had a suspicion that they are not just ordinary human stuff, but who find life tremendously puzzling, much more puzzling that other people do. . . . Now perhaps — it will be different. . . .

‘As children, like any other children, they will have begun by taking the world as they found it and believing everything they were told. Then as they grew up they will have found themselves mentally out of key. They will have found a disconcerting inconsistency about things in general. They will have thought at first that the abnormality was on the side of particular people about them and not on their own. They will have found themselves doubting whether their parents and teachers could possibly believe what they were saying. I think that among these Martians, that odd doubt — which many children nowadays certainly have — whether the whole world isn’t some queer sort of put-up job and that it will all turn out quite differently presently — I think that streak of doubt would be an almost inevitable characteristic of them all.’

‘That doubt about the reality of what they are told?’ considered Davis. ‘Children certainly have it. Even I. . . . ’

Keppel glanced at him for one half-instant.

‘Now,’ said Keppel, still addressing his hands, ‘before I go on with these problems of what these Martians are going to do to our world, I would like to put some rather penetrating questions to myself and — both of you. You don’t mind if I sort of lecture you? Or retail the obvious? I’m a professor in grain, you must remember.’

Dr. Holdman Stedding made assenting gestures and Davis remained obviously attentive.

‘Let us try and make this room an apartment in the palace of truth for the time being. About ourselves. . . . We are sane respectable citizens in a social order that gives us a fairly good return for the services we render it. We have adjusted ourselves — and pretty comfortably — to life as we know it. . . . Well. . . .

‘I will ask a question and answer for myself first. Am I as easy about the validity of my mental processes? As I was when I was rising twenty? No. Since then we have had our minds washed out by a real drench of psycho-analysis. We are beginning to realize the complex system of self-deception in which we live, our wilful blindness to humiliating and restraining things, our conscious acceptance of flattering and exalting things, our tortuous subconscious or half-conscious evasions and conformities to social pressures and menaces. We take everything ready-made that we can possibly find ready-made, and there are a thousand moral issues, public issues, customary imperatives, about which — it isn’t so much that we conceal our thoughts and are hypocritical, as that we will not think about them at all. We will not have thoughts to conceal. We are shifty even with ourselves. Am I overstating our subservience to the world about us?’

‘I don’t think so,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding. ‘No.’

Davis said nothing.

‘We have been born and brought up in a social order that is now obviously a failure in quite primary respects. Our social order is bankrupt. It is not delivering the goods. It is defaulting and breaking up. War, pervading and increasing brutality, lack of any real liberty, economic mismanagement, frightful insufficiency in the midst of possible super-abundance — am I overstating the indictment?’

‘No,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding with a sigh. ‘No.’

‘Quite a lot of highly intelligent people seem to be persuaded that we are heading for a world-wide war-smash — a smash-up of civilization they call it, and all that. You have denounced all that as blank pessimism, Mr. Davis.’

‘Never mind what I have written,’ said Davis. ‘Sufficient for the present discussion — is the present discussion.’

‘Well, then, I may say the outlook for our world is, to put it mildly, menacing and disappointing.’

Dr. Holdman Stedding put both his elbows on the table. ‘For any farsighted people the output for humanity has always been menacing,’

‘And not particularly now? Air warfare, germs in warfare, the entire aimlessness of the unemployed, dissolving social cohesion, the rapid disappearance of mental freedom?’

‘Yes,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding. ‘Yes. Perhaps — particularly now. For the things we value it is an exceptionally bad outlook.’

‘A general effect of things going to pieces — of large lumps falling down. Subsidences. And what I find most terrifying of all — and that is where the grim outlook for these Martians of ours comes — the increasing ineffectiveness of any fine, clear thinking in the world. I don’t know if things have shown themselves to you in the same light, but what impresses me most about the present state of the world is the entire dominance of the violent, common mind, the base mind. It brutalizes. It brutalizes everything new and fine. Inventions. Our children. Either it expresses itself in stampeding mob action, revolutionary or reactionary — it is all the same in the long run — or else it embodies itself in some Hero — like this fellow Hitler — identifies itself with him and so achieves its vehement releases. Assertive patriotism, mass fear, and impulse to persecute — particularly the impulse to persecute — seem to be more dreadfully in evidence today than ever before in human affairs. Dreadfully and hideously. That’s a question in your line, Davis. A question of historical estimates. Anyhow it is glaringly in evidence.

‘We three sit here — lucky ones — we’ve got a sort of foothold. We seem comparatively safe. We’ve fixed up things for ourselves apparently. We may not feel quite so secure as we might have felt in Harley Street twenty-five years ago, but still we feel pretty secure. We are part of the intellectual cream of the world. And how much, I ask you, is it our world? How far dare we go out of this room and speak our minds about the things that are happening in the world now? How far dare we go even into the back corners of our own minds — with a bright light, with ruthless questions? Even you and I, Holdman Stedding, have been extremely discreet — and we are going on being extremely discreet — about this Martian business. We have our reputations to consider. We mustn’t be extravagant. And so on. We are discreet even with ourselves. Do we let out what we really think about politics now, about all this bawling patriotism, about all this clammy, stale canting religiosity, about such institutions as the monarchy? Although we live here in a free country! A free country! So we are told. No concentration camps here, no inquisition, no exile, no martyrs. No visible means of restraint — and yet we are restrained. How far is our intellectual freedom here still ours, only because, as a matter of fact, we are too discreet to exercise it? Have we intellectuals here or anywhere any influence, any voice to arrest, divert, or guide this stampeding of crowds which we call the course of history —?’

‘Eh?’ said Davis.

‘These stampedes of crowds which we call the course of history.’

‘Go on,’ said Davis.

‘Suppose we went out, to as public a position as possible, and said plainly what we think of human affairs today?’

‘I suppose,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding, ‘they’d begin by smashing our windows.’

He reflected. ‘The British Broadcasting Company would probably let a leash of babbling bishops loose at you. And then your students would make trouble. Your back-bench students. . . . I’m rather in a different position. My professional gifts give me a kind of Rasputin hold on one or two exalted families.’

4

‘I have been thinking lately,’ began Davis, and halted. He had the phraseological unreadiness of the habitual writer.

‘You spoke just now of stale religion,’ he went on. ‘Such a lot of things in life now are stale. Out of date. . . . I agree. . . . ’

He felt his way forward with his argument. ‘I suppose — I suppose all the main working ideas that have held people together in communities have been getting out of date pretty rapidly in the last hundred years. Strange new influences have been at work — as we three at least are beginning to understand. But because human society is a going concern, the main working ideas have never been replaced. There never came a definite time to replace them. They have been used in new senses, made ambiguous, expanded, attenuated. Replacement was something too heroic altogether. But each time there was a patch-up there had to be fresh strains and fresh distortions. Old things got used for new purposes, and they did not stand the wear. So that — what shall I call it? — the social ideology — the social ideology has become a terrific accumulation of old clutter which now, simply through the wear and tear of terms misused, has come to mean anything or nothing. And to work less and less surely and safely. . . . Do I make myself plain, Keppel?’

‘You put what I think better than I could myself.’

‘I’m in entire agreement,’ said the doctor. ‘Go on.’

Mr. Davis pushed back his plate and folded his arms on the table, after the manner of Keppel. He spoke with care. He held on carefully to his argument and both men watched him.

‘And you see, there is a vast number of reasonable practical people who — the more they realize the unsoundness, the rottenness, to put it brutally, of their ideological framework — the more they are, as one says, disillusioned, the more they are terrified at what may happen if this vast complex collapses. . . .

‘I have been,’ he added after a momentary pause.

‘Practically,’ he amplified, ‘my life work so far has been bolstering up what I thought were still sound working ideas. I began to see clearly through my own motives — for the first time. . . . ’

Keppel sat back and put his hands in his pockets. It was plain he liked what Davis had said. ‘Here we are,’ he said, ‘in the palace of truth. And we find ourselves in virtual agreement that this world is as it were floating on a raft of rotting ideas, no longer firmly bound together, an accumulation of once sustaining institutions, customs, moral codes, loyalties, sapping one another, all so badly decayed and eaten away that in the aggregate they no longer amount to anything much better than a vast accumulation of driftwood — floating debris.’

‘We all seem to be agreed on that. And now these new creatures from outside, these creatures we call Martians, are coming aboard our drifting system. With their hard, clear minds and their penetrating, unrelenting questions stinging our darkness as the stars sting the sky. Are they going to salvage us? Shall we let them even if they can? And if not what is going to happen to them and this mental raft of a world?’

5

‘Mental raft of a world,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding, trying over the doubtful phrase. ‘Mental raft of a world!’ Keppel looked at his friend with an expression in his twisted dissimilar eyes, half defensive and half affectionate. ‘Well, isn’t it?’ he said.

‘What’s wrong with it?’ said the doctor. ‘Don’t answer me: “Everything.” Be specific. What’s wrong with the raft? What’s your case, Keppel? I’d like to have it clearer.’

‘Well,’ said Keppel, and gathered his forces. ‘It’s a half-born mind as yet. Yes — yours, mine, and everybody’s. Half born like a very young foal, encumbered by the foetal membranes it can’t shake off yet. It is blundering about, half blinded and squinting. All our philosophies, the best, are no better than that. Especially —’

‘Especially?’

‘There is this secondary world which has worked its way into the language everywhere, a sort of fold in the membrane that has established itself in a thousand metaphors, got itself most unwarrantably taken for granted by nearly everybody. Other worldliness, the idea of a ghost world, a spirit world, side by side with actuality. It overlaps and lies beside reality, like it and yet different; a parody of it done in phantoms; a sort of fuddled overlap; a universe of imaginary emanations, the consequence of congenital squint. Beside every man we see his spirit — which is not really there — beside the universe we imagine a Great Spirit. Whenever the mental going is a bit hard, whenever our intellectual eyes feel the glare of truth, we lose focus and slither off into Ghostland. Ghostland is halfway to dreamland, where all rational checks are lost. In Ghostland, that world of the spirit, you can find unlimited justifications for your impulses; unlimited evasions from rational obligation. That’s my main charge against the human mind; this persistent confusing dualism. The last achievement of the human mind is to see life simply and see it whole,’

(‘That boy at Gorpel,’ reflected Davis.)

‘But we’re getting it straighter now,’ said the doctor,

‘We’ve got new influences coming in,’ said Davis.

‘But that isn’t all,’ said Keppel, ignoring those new influences. ‘There are other things wrong with the silly creature.’

‘Homo sapiens,’ whispered the doctor.

‘Homo superbus, I suggest.’

‘Let’s have the full indictment.’

‘The creature hardly ever becomes adult. Hardly any of us grow up fully. Particularly do we dread and shirk complete personal responsibility — which is what being adult means. Man is the boy who won’t grow up, but he grows monstrous clumsy and heavy at times all the same, a Goering monster, a Mussolini — the bouncing boys of Europe. Most of us to the very end of our lives are obsessed by infantile cravings for protection and direction, and out of these cravings come all these impulses towards slavish subjection to gods, kings, leaders, heroes, bosses, mystical personifications like the People, My Country Right or Wrong, the Church, the Party, the Masses, the Proletariat. Our imaginations hang on to some such Big Brother idea almost to the end. We will accept almost any self-abasement rather than step out of the crowd and be full-grown individuals. And like all cubs and puppies and larval things, we are full of fear. What is the Sense of Sin but the instinctive fear of an immature animal? Oh, we are doing wrong! We are going to be punished for it! We are full of fears, fears of primal curses and mystical sin, masochistic impulses to sacrifice and propitiate and kneel and crawl. It paralyses our happiest impulses. It fills our world with mean, cruel, and crazy acts.

‘And what isn’t purely infantile in us is at best early adolescent. Our excess of egotism! We all have it. It is a commonplace to say man is as over-sexed as a cageful of monkeys, but sex is only one manifestation of his stupendous egotism. In every respect he is insanely self-centred — beyond any biological need. No animal, not even a dog, has the acute self-consciousness, the incessant, sore, personal jealousy of a human being. Fear is linked to this — there is no clear boundary here — and so is the hoarding instinct. The love of property for its own sake comes straight out of fear. This terrified, immature thing wants to be safe, invincibly safe, and so, by the most natural transition, fear develops into the craving for possessions and the craving for power. From the escape defensive to the aggressive defensive is a step. He not only fears other beings, he hates them, he flies at them. He fights needlessly. He is cruel. He loves to conquer. He loves to persecute. . . . Man! What was it Swift said? That such a creature should deal in pride!’

‘Homo superbus, eh?’ said the doctor. ‘But listen, Keppel. Is he really so bad as all this? Just a scared, self-defensive, immature beast squinting at the world because he has never yet learned to look straight? And hopeless at that? You experimental psychologists have been cleaning up our ideas about the human mind very fast in the past thirty or forty years. Very fast. You have been making this damaging — well, this salutary — analysis of our motives and errors — our queer little ways. Yes. . . . You couldn’t have said a word of this forty years ago. . . . In my profession we say a sound diagnosis is halfway to a cure. Indicating the human mind is like sending a patient to bed for treatment. Maybe the treatment begins at that.’

‘Well?’ said Keppel.

‘Isn’t the time almost ripe for a new education that would clear the stuff from the creature’s eyes, stiffen his backbone, teach him to think straight and grow up? Make a man of him at last?’

Davis shook his head. He spoke rather to himself than to the others. ‘Man is what we’ve got. Humanity is humanity. Starry souls are born not made.’

6

‘In guessing about these coming people,’ said Keppel, ‘there is one thing we have to keep in mind. A hard, clear mind does not mean what we call a hard individual. What we call a hard man is a stupid man, who specializes in inflexibility to escape perplexity. But a hard, clear mind is a clear crystalline mind; it turns about like a lens, revealing and scrutinizing one aspect after another, one possibility after another, and this and that necessary correlation. But anyhow, let us do our best to imagine how this — this infiltration of intelligence is going to work. No mighty revolutionary conspiracy — no. They will begin to say things, question things, point things out. How will people respond?’

‘Dislike, certainly,’ said the doctor.

‘At first, I think, they will encounter what one might call hostile neglect. They will be said to be indecisive and ineffective. They will, you see, be up against the Common Fool, the Natural Man in either of his chief forms, either dispersed in mob form as the Masses, or concentrated as a Boss. But the new kind of man will be neither, as the phrase goes, leftish nor rightish. Then, to be colloquial, where the hell are they? They won’t be available for either side in the storm of silly wars and civil wars, the new Thirty Years’ War, massacres, revenges, and so on, Pro–Red, Anti–Red, into which we are plainly drifting. They won’t count.’

‘That should give them a spell for getting together,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding.

‘Not perhaps for very long. People will realize that these neutral things they say, these impartial suggestions they make, have a certain intrinsic power. They will be producing not fighting ideas but working ideas. Next, especially when the Boss side of the Common Man is in the ascendant, will come an attempt to annex their prestige and abilities in the interests of partisan governments. They will be asked to label their ideas for the Boss or against. If they refuse to be annexed, and they will refuse to be annexed, they will be said to be purely destructive, contented with nothing; accused of critical treachery. There are bad times ahead for uncompliant sane men. They will be hated by the right and by the left with an equal intensity.’

‘Then how,’ asked Dr. Holdman Stedding, ‘will they ever gain any sort of control of the world?’

‘How will sanity ever gain any sort of control of the world?’

‘Yes. If you think that is an identical question.’

‘I am not a prophet,’ said Keppel. ‘I am discussing probabilities. But given this constant seeping of clearer intelligences into our world, may not this sort of thing happen? May not all these clearer intelligences, confronted with the same world, confronted with the same problems; may they not, without any sort of political or religious organization, arrive at practically identical judgments about them — put similar values on the same things? Without much confabulation among themselves. I cling to the belief that for the human brain, properly working, there is one wisdom and not many. And if it is true, as Davis thinks, that one characteristic of this new type of mind is its resistance to crowd suggestions, crowd loyalties, instinctive mass prejudices, and mere phrases, then, without any political organization or party or movement or anything of the sort, may not these strongminded individualists everywhere begin doing sensible things and refusing to do cruel, monstrous, and foolish things — on their own?

‘We assume they are going to be very capable, self-reliant people, able to do all sorts of things. Quite a large proportion of the scientific, medical, mechanical, administrative positions in the world are likely therefore to fall into their hands as they spread and increase, and their ways of thinking and acting are likely to infect all sorts of subordinates, workers and so on, associated with them. Yes. You have suggested already, Doctor, that one might possibly Martianize even ordinary people by a saner education. . . .

‘Well, then suppose presently you find an aviator in a bomber to whom it occurs to ask: “Why in the name of blood and brains am I doing this cruel and idotic task? Why don’t I go off home again and drop this on those solemn homicides at G.H.Q.?” And then without further hesitation suiting the action to the thought. And when he comes down, suppose one or two men on the ground agree with him and are not in the least indignant? And in fact stand by him. Even the Roman gladiators had the wit to revolt. The Christian name of the new fighting experts we are training for the air in such quantities may prove to be Spartacus.

‘Suppose again you have a skilled worker doing some very delicate work upon a big gun and it comes quite clearly into his head that it will be better for the world if that gun does not shoot. Will it shoot? Or it is a chemist manufacturing explosives. That sort of thing will certainly become quite a problem as the Martians multiply. Your blustering demagogue or your blustering dictator feels ill and needs an operation, and there is either a disastrous patriotic quack who will make a mess of him anyhow, or some quiet, self-reliant, but incalculable man with knowledge and a needle or scalpel, able to kill or cure. Why should he cure?

‘The dictator will glare his cheap overpowering personality at him as far as his illness permits. Much a Martian will care. He for his part will be entirely unmelodramatic. It is your world against mine, he will say, and he will do what he thinks best for the world, and keep his own counsel. Power would be with the experts already, if only they had enough lucidity to take it. And it needs such a small step forward in lucidity.’

‘But this is — sabotage!’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding.

‘The only reasonably reply to unreasonable compulsion is sabotage.’

‘And you hint even at assassination.’

‘I don’t hint. Hint indeed! I speak plainly of assassination — if shooting mad dogs or rogue elephants is assassination. Assassination is the legitimate assertion of personal dignity in the face of dictatorship. It is not merely a right; it is a duty. A sacred duty. A dictator is an outlaw. He has outlawed himself. He exists and he degrades you by his mere existence. He imposes filthy tasks upon you. He can conscript you. He confronts you with a choice of evils. It is surely better to kill your dictator than let him make you kill other people — directly or indirectly. You can tell him: “You be damned” if you are strong enough; if that stops him, you can be merciful to him; but if you are not strong enough, you must kill. What else can you do? As a law-abiding man?’

‘Awful,’ said the doctor.

‘Plain common sense.’

‘No end of your Martians will get shot — if this is to be their line.’

‘They will be shot to good purpose,’ said Davis.

‘Shooting them will do the old order no good,’ said Keppel, ‘There will always be more of these cool-brained gentlemen now. Trust those cosmic rays now they have begun. Trust the undying intelligence behind our minds. In a fools’ world sane men will have a bad time anyhow; but they can help wind up the world of fools even if they cannot hope to see it out. One sane man will follow another; one sane man will understand another, more and more clearly. A sort of etiquette of the sane will come into operation. They will stand by each other. In spite of bad laws, in spite of foolish authority.’

‘A revolution — without even a revolutionary organization?’

‘No revolution. Something better than a revolution. A revolution is just a social turnover. A revolution changes nothing essential. What is a revolution really? There is an increasing disequilibrium of classes or groups, the centre of gravity shifts, the clumsy raft turns over, and a different side of the old stuff comes uppermost. That is all there is in a revolution. What I am talking about is not a revolution; it is a new kind of behaviour; it is daybreak.’

‘The Enlightenment,’ said Davis, trying a phrase.

‘Which is coming,’ said Keppel with sudden access of emphasis, ‘Martians or no Martians. . . . ’

‘But, my dear Keppel,’ said the doctor, ‘isn’t this stuff you are talking just anarchism?’

‘It would be anarchism, I suppose; it would mean “back to chaos,” if it were not true that all sane minds released from individual motives and individual obsessions move in the same direction towards practically the same conclusions. Human minds just as much as Martians’. Rational minds don’t disagree so much as people pretend. They have to follow quite definite laws. We misunderstand. We don’t pause to understand. We let life hustle us along. Every tyranny in the world lives — and such systems have always lived — in a perpetual struggle against plain knowledge and illuminating discussion. We are living — let us face the facts — in a lunatic asylum crowded with patients prevented from knowledge and afraid to go sane.’

He paused and pushed the cigar-boxes towards his guests. ‘A world gone sane,’ said Davis.

‘Planetary psycho-therapeutics,’ said the doctor. ‘A sane world, my masters — and then?’

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30