Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Poison Rags and Irritated Cortices

H.G. Wells, affecting the position of a historian of the twenty-second century casting an eye back at the twentieth, wrote in The Shape of Things to Come that
the ordinary newspaper of that time was not so much a news sheet as a poison rag. Every morning the common man took in fresh suggestions of suspicion and resentment and gratified his spite with bad news and malicious gossip.
All that, of course, fed the problem of hatred--national, racial hatred and the like. He explained this in physiological terms that seem old-fashioned in our brain-scanning era. (This recent Scientific American piece discusses the possibility of a "hate circuit" physically much more extensive than in Wells' description.)

Still, what he wrote about the behavior continues to ring true, not least that it produces "a chronic condition of vindictive disapproval" toward the subject of one's hatred.
The patient seeks, often with the greatest ingenuity, occasion for offence, and finds a profound satisfaction in the nursing of resentment and the search for reprisals and revenges. He has what he calls his "proper pride." He disapproves of his fellow creatures and grudges them happiness.
Fortunately, hatred had come to play a much smaller part in human life. As he remarked afterward, where the mass media in that earlier "time subsisted by [hatred's] dissemination, in the interests of reactionary forces," in the later, more rational era,
Our current education is framed very largely to avert and anticipate this facile contagion . . . We are as sedulous now for cleanliness and ventilation in our mental as in our physical atmosphere.
Alas, this is one case where Wells' remarks remain relevant not for their description of what did change in the years that followed, but for their description of what has unfortunately not changed.

My Posts on H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come
Preview After the New Wave
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry

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