Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wells on "Spiritual" vs. Material Advance

Writing in The Shape of Things to Come Wells remarked the attitude of the mainstream in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries toward the reality that social and political arrangements were lagging behind technology. "The favourite formula," he observed,
was to declare that "spiritual"--for the naïve primordial opposition of spirit and matter was still accepted in those days--had not kept pace with "material" advance. This was usually said with an air of moral superiority to the world at large. Mostly there was a vague implication that if these other people would only refrain from using modern inventions so briskly, or go to church more, or marry earlier and artlessly, or read a more "spiritual" type of literature, or refrain from mixed bathing, or work harder and accept lower wages, or be more respectful and obedient to constituted authority, all might yet be well.
It is the view that the individual is the only valid unit or level of analysis, and that the insights of social science into even that are to be treated with indifference or contempt. ("No one's written anything worthwhile on these matters since Aristotle!") It is, frankly, a matter of moralizing, or better still, pseudo-moralizing, in a narrow, uninformed, and (especially if one is in a position of authority) exceedingly self-serving way.

Alas, this view, retrograde in Wells' time, is still very much with us. ("There is no such thing as society!" "Personal responsibility!") We have not even got past it in our science fiction, or we would not still be consuming an unhealthy amount of Frankenstein complex cliche in our genre diets.

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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