Star-Begotten, by H. G. Wells

Chapter Nine

Professor Keppel Is Inspired To Foretell the End Of Humanity

1

‘I wish, Keppel,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding, after a reflective pause, ‘I wish you would say something about the world these starry folk of yours — of ours — are likely to make here. In my way, as you know, I’m an amateur of Utopias and Future Worlds — and, God, how unpleasant they are! They come tumbling into my collection now, a score or so every year. I sometimes wish I hadn’t begun it. But if these star-men of yours do gradually spread a network of sanity about the world and stop what you call the Common Fool — Demos, Homo pseudo-sapiens — from ravening, grabbing, and destroying — just by barring his way, refusing to implement his silly impulses, and telling him plainly not to, then — can we, even in general terms, imagine the sort of world they are likely to make of it? What would a world of human beings that had, as Davis has put it, gone sane be like?’

‘Let us admit,’ said Keppel, ‘that this is attempting the most impossible of tasks. The hypothesis is that these coming supermen are strong-witted, better-balanced, and altogether wiser than we are. How can we begin to put our imaginations into their minds and figure out what they will think or do? If our intelligences were as tall as theirs, we should be making their world now.’

‘In general terms,’ persuaded Dr. Holdman Stedding, gently obstetric as ever. ‘Try.’

‘Well, perhaps, in general terms, we may be able to say a few things at least about what their world will not be. You — what do you find in all these Utopias and Visions of the Future of yours? I suppose you get the same stuff over and over again, first of all caricatures of current novelties — skyscrapers five thousand feet high, aeroplanes at two thousand miles an hour, radio receivers on your wrist-watch; secondly, discursive minor novelties along the lines of current research; thirdly, attempts to be startling in artistic matters by putting it all in an insanely unusual and extravagant decor; and, finally, odd little fancies about sex relations and a scornfully critical attitude towards the present time. But these people of the future are invariably represented as being — I put it mildly — prigs and damned fools. World peace is assumed, but the atmosphere of security simply makes them seem rather aimless, fattish, and out of training. They are collectively up to nothing — or they are off in a storm of collective hysteria to conquer the moon or some remote nonsense of that sort. Imaginative starvation. They have apparently made no advances whatever in subtlety, delicacy, simplicity. Rather the reverse. They never say a witty thing; they never do a charming act. The general effect is of very pink, rather absurdly dressed celluloid dolls living on taboids in the glass lavatory. That’s about true isn’t it?’

‘Lamentably so,’ smiled the doctor. ‘Nobody seems able to do much better. Some of ’em try to put it over portentously. Some make faces as they do it. But whether you preach about the Future or sneer about the Future, it remains, all the same; an empty sack that won’t stand up.’

‘Alternative to these progressive Utopias,’ said Keppel, carefully not looking at Davis, ‘the future world relapses into the romantic stench of a not very carefully preserved past? . . . You don’t believe either story of course; none of us do; but the trouble is that we have no material in our minds out of which we can build a concrete vision of things to come. How can we see or feel the future until we have made the future and are actually there? All the same —’

‘Yes?’

Dr. Holdman Stedding was amused to see his friend descending into the pit in which so many a prophet had preceded him and perished.

2

‘If we stick to general terms. Some things we may be sure of. At least — so far as my intelligence goes. This new starry race into which our own is passing is going to be clearer in every way — clearer — less moved, that is, by herd influences. Apart from their natural aptitudes they will have escaped all the mis-education and mental contagion that today nobody escapes completely. They will not only be abler people in themselves but they will be better educated. They will co-operate to make the world a world of peace. About that all sane minds must think alike. They will keep the peace. That Pax Mundi will not be any sort of repressive peace. Why should it be? At a certain stage in the — in the mental treatment of our world, there may have to be a certain amount of fighting and killing, police hunts for would-be dictators and gangsters and so forth, but I doubt if intelligences more and more able to control the genes will need to eliminate undesirable types by force. Sanity will ride this planet with fine hands. No spurs. No sawing at the bit.

‘Certainly there will be a World Pax. That is to say, except for the obstacles of Nature and the vagaries of climate, a man will be free to go anywhere he pleases and exercise the rights and duties of a citizen wherever he goes. An abundance system of economics and not a want system of pressures and exactions. Everywhere your needs will be satisfied. You will take not thought for the morrow so far as food, comfort, and dignity go. No burden of toil in that saner world, and very little work that is not pleasant and interesting. All that is possible even today. To suppose the world saner is to suppose such things will be brought about. One is merely expanding the word “sanity.”

‘But when it comes to visualizing the new world, the difficulties increase. To attempt that is in fact trying to anticipate all that will happen generation after generation in millions of brains, each one of them not only better than my own but better equipped. They will make a sort of garden of the planet. That seems reasonable. Probably they will leave some of it a wild garden. They will readjust the balance of life, which swings about nowadays with some very ugly variations. Who wants to see locusts swarming over cornfields, or weed-choked rivers flooding and rotting a forest district, or a plague of brown rats, or a lagoon crawling with crocodiles, or pastures smothered acre by acre, mile by mile, under blown sand? Making a garden of the world doesn’t mean bandstands, fountains, marble terraces, promenades; it doesn’t even mean the abolition of danger, but it does mean a firm control of old Nature in her filthier moods. And it does mean intelligence in economic life. No sane enterprise would give us ugly factories, hopeless industrial regions, intolerable noises, slag-heaps, overcrowding here and desolation there. Sanity is the antithesis of all that. It’s the ape has made this mess with our machinery. Today we are still such fools that none of us can solve the complicated but surely quite finite riddle of private property and money. That beats us — just as the common cold beats us — or cancer. It tangles up on us and chokes economic life. It inflames our instinct of self-preservation to an incessant acquisitive warfare. A little matter of distributing our products and we are defeated.

‘Serenity. Certitide means serenity. You may say what you like about this world to come, but rest assured that it will be not only a richer but a more beautiful world, as various as it is today and with all the beauty of land that is intelligently loved and cared for. Green slopes under trees. Glimpses of a proud and happy river. Mountains and the clear distances of great plains. I can see it all like that. Do you realize that in this world today there is hardly such a thing as an altogether healthy full-grown tree?

‘And then about the way they will live, while still sticking to general terms, we can say something. We can be sure of certain things; The universe is rhythm. Throughout. There is a music of the atoms as well as a music of the spheres. Every living creature is an intricately rhythmic thing. It rejoices in rhythms corresponding to the complexity of its sensibilities. These masterful people with their control over materials, over all the forces of the world and over their own nervous reactions, are not going to starve their aesthetic impulses. It is impossible that they should not have music and dancing in the normal course of their lives; that they should not have vigorous and beautiful bodies and that they should not be richly and variously clad. The variations will be subtle; you will have none of the clamorous grotesqueness of a fancy-dress ball. It is ridiculous even to try and picture that sort of thing now. Their music may not be our raucous bang, bang, bump stuff, their decorations may not be many repetitions of noughts and crosses, whirls and twiddles, but trust them nevertheless for music, architecture, and decoration.

‘And their social life? They are likely to be highly individualized, personally more varied, and so they are likely to find much more interest even than we do in assemblies, parties, and personal encounters. People who don’t find other people exciting will go into retirement and their sort will die out. Savages like gatherings; people like them just as much today; there are no intimations of any decline in social pleasure. I suppose these inheritors of our world will be what we call lovers, with keen appreciation of the beauties both of character and body. I suppose that, being born of women and living interdependently in a large society, they will want and find satisfactions in companionship, friendship, partnership, and caresses. Maybe they will pass through an emotional adolescence and have their storms of individual possessiveness, inflamed egotism, intense physical desire. The individual will repeat something of the romantic experiences of the race. That’s still sound developmental theory; isn’t it, Doctor? Why anticipate a bleak rationalism in these things? Blood that does not circulate festers; imaginations that are not stirred decay. But these people will be going through these experiences in an atmosphere of understanding and freedom, with a better morale about them, a lovelier poetry to guide them, a pervasive, penetrating contempt for ugliness, vanity, and mere mean competitiveness and self-assertion. How can we, who live in a whirl of sexual catch-as-catch-can — I score off you and you score off me — bounded on the north by what frightened people call “purity,” on the south by the tout nu ballet, on the east by a fear of offspring, and on the west by a sewer of envious ridicule, how can we imagine what the sexual life of sane men and women can be like?’

‘Phew!’ said the doctor.

‘You disagree with that description?’

‘I wish I could. But you draw with a heavy line, Keppel.’

‘Everybody wants to love,’ said Davis suddenly, ‘and everybody makes a mess of it. Every one. Suspicion. Misunderstanding. . . . ’

It was one of those sayings that leave nothing to be said.

3

‘You do give us,’ said the doctor, with the air of opening a new chapter, ‘some idea of these starry ladies and gentlemen, fine-living and full-living, who may inherit our earth. We don’t see them directly, I admit, but when you talk, Keppel, it is as if we saw and heard the grace and colour of their brightly lit movements, dimly reflected on a distant wall. But they go about their business out of sight of us. Their business? Business today is mainly getting the better of each other and getting things away from each other. All that apparently is to end. No Wall Street, no Exchange, no City, no Turf, no Casino. What will their business be, Keppel? What will occupy them? What will they be doing? Can you say anything of that?’

‘You make me feel like the sculptor’s dog trying to explain his master’s life to the musician’s cat.’

‘But — in general terms.’

‘Yes. I think one can even say something about that. Every living organ has in it an urge to exercise, and the greatest pleasure of a living thing comes through a satisfactory use of its powers. Our successors will have incessant minds. Even we poor creatures of today use our minds and bodies in games and exercises and all sorts of rather feeble amateurisms, as much as we can. We hate being unemployed.

‘But men who are keenly interested in scientific or creative work are very little addicted to games. Your games-player is a pervert who fiddles about with his mind because he is unable to use it, good and hard, for a definable natural end. Hunting was a great game in the past; and war, when you get down to it, is only a monstrously expensive and destructive hunting. For want of better imaginations. War will go when boredom goes. . . .

‘But you need not worry to find jobs for the new-comers now. These heirs of ours will have their impulses to exercise skill, to discover and impose new patterns upon life, much more powerfully developed and much more intelligently adjusted. They will be enormously interested by research and by making and controlling things. They will — it seems to be to go without saying — be much more alive to things. Immensely — I really mean immensely — amused. Research and artistic exploration are full of surprises. They will be constantly coming on unexpected things. They will be busy, laughing people. Nobody can know the extent of the unknown, but the interest we find in life is only limited by our physical and mental limitations. . . . The saner the merrier.’

Keppel paused and screwed up his face. ‘It is curious,’ he said, ‘that what I am saying now would arouse an intense antagonism in a great number of people if they could hear me. Here tonight we three are more or less in accord, because we have been travelling the same road together. Insensibly we have trained ourselves and each other. But bringing a human mind up against the living idea of progress is like bringing a badly trained dog into a house; its first impulse is to defile the furniture.

‘Stupid people are offended by anything they do not understand or cannot master. They become spiteful and want to destroy it and banish it from their thoughts. I suppose if there were no guardians and watchers in our picture galleries, there is not a masterpiece that would not be defaced maliciously within a year. And probably defaced — filthily.

‘But even contemporary man is emerging from that jealousy of what he cannot subdue. I am bound to believe our heirs will always find plenty to do and that this world community will be growing in knowledge, power, beauty, interest, steadily and delightfully. They will be capable of knowledge I cannot even dream about; they will gain powers over space, time, existence, such as we cannot conceive. Not even in general terms. There you are. In general terms — that is what I see before us. Like a great door beginning to open. Sanity coming, sanity growing, broadening power, quickening tempo, and such a great life ahead as will make the whole course of history up to the present day seem like a crazy, incredible nightmare before the dawn. That is what I believe in my bones.’

4

‘And that greater world,’ said the doctor, ‘really exists for you, Keppel? In such general terms as you use. But it exists?’

‘Practically.’

‘Away ahead — not so hopelessly far perhaps?’

‘Integral to this scheme of space and time.’

‘One might even, in certain moods, Keppel, feel a kind of nostalgia —?’

‘One might,’ agreed Keppel compactly. And then: ‘My God! one does.’

‘And that music of theirs we shall never hear, that perfect health they will have we shall never enjoy, those enhanced senses — they are not for us; the whole world cared for lovingly, the very beasts subdued and trained by kindness and every living man and woman with an intelligible purpose in life. That distant world. Have you never had a glimpse of that sane world of yours — in anything more than general terms? Nothing concrete with colour and substance, Keppel — not even in a dream?’

‘Yes. I do dream. I dream that I dream about it. I confess it. Often. And when I awake it escapes me, it vanishes. . . . Dissolves into the turbid current of present things and is lost altogether.’

For a moment Keppel spoke without restraint.

‘Lost altogether,’ he said. ‘Leaving not a wrack behind. . . . Well, something is left. A sense of life frustrated. A sense of irreparable loss. Oh! The life that might be — the life that may be — the life that will be! This life that is not for us! This life we might have had, instead of these mere compromises and consolations which make up life today.’

‘Keppel,’ said the doctor, ‘let us be plain about this — you are foretelling now the end of common humanity. No less. This would not be human life. This new world is something beyond all ordinary experience, something alien.’

‘Yes,’ said Keppel.

And then he said something that startled Davis.

‘That is where my hate goes,’ he said. ‘I hate common humanity. This oafish crowd which tramples the ground whence my cloud-capped pinnacles might rise. I am tired of humanity — beyond measure. Take it away. This gaping, stinking, bombing, shooting, throat-slitting, cringing brawl of gawky, under-nourished riff-raff. Clear the earth of them!’

‘You do not even pity poor humanity?’

‘I pity it in myself and everywhere. But I hate it none the less. I hate it. . . . ’

5

Davis sat deep in thought.

‘Keppel,’ he said abruptly. ‘Do you believe all this — about these coming people? Or are you just talking? Tell me that clearly. Are you sure the world, after a few more troubled decades, a troubled age or so at most, will go sane?’

Keppel hung fire for a moment. Then he said: ‘No’

‘H’m,’ said Davis, and then with a flash of intuition: ‘But do you disbelieve it?’

Keppel smiled the smile of a friendly and yet mischievous gnome. ‘No,’ he repeated with equal conviction.

‘And that also,’ said Dr. Holdman Stedding, after a moment’s deliberation, ‘is my position.’

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