The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

Science - Destroyer of Life

by S. Fowler Wright

Daily Mirror

Where will it lead the World?

The world is strewn with the wreckage of dead civilisations. In Polynesia, in Central America, in the dense African forest, the rank growths of the vegetable worlds have overlaid the fallen stones of great cities, and now the wild beasts lurks where fallen palaces and temples stood.

        It does not appear that the civilisations of which these deserted ruins are the only enduring record were replaced by others which were superior. They must have been over swept by savage hordes who past leaving no trace of their visitations, or self-destroyed by their own complexities or degenerations.

        It is a riddle to which no certain answer has yet been found.

        Considering the desolation of these mighty ruins it is natural to ask ourselves if there be any fundamental law by which a race or a civilisation must age and die, as a man dies; or if there be any disease which may develop to its destruction, as a cancer may attack the flesh which is fed by the vitiated or weakening blood-stream of an individual life.

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        Can it be that when eat of the tree of knowledge it must always end in their exile from the Eden in which they have thought to dwell?

        Science is knowledge - knowledge, among other thing, if the hidden physical forces which control the universe, and which, we may pause to consider, were controlling it without our help, before we began to feel important because we have been able to penetrate a few steps within the temple of its mysteries.

        Are we fit to posses this knowledge - knowledge which we render accessible to the least wise and the least worthy among our kind? Or will it prove to be no better than a stick of dynamite in a child's hand?

A Dangerous Power.

        In the infancy of civilisations we may always observe that knowledge is in the hands of a controlling few - an esoteric and a guarded thing. So held, it may be a beneficial or sinister force, according to the characters and wisdom of those in whose hands it lies.

        It is the peculiarity, and may prove to be the peculiar danger, of our civilisation that "scientific" knowledge is universally accessible.

        Yet, in past days, especially when it sort to probe the secrets of physics and chemistry, it appears always to have stirred mankind to an instinctive dread.

        The old alchemists - the scientists of their times - reached a point in their investigations at which they realised that the transmutation of metals is theoretically possible, as we have rediscovered today.

        By exciting the cupidity of the financiers of their times they were sometimes able to raise the capital which their experiments required, but they were quite frequently burnt to death by people who thought it best and safest that metals should be left as they were.

        It is just possible that these people may have been wiser - even more far-sighted - than we are today?

        The first time that gunpowder was used in an Italian battle the soldiers of both armies combined very reasonably to massacre the regiment which was armed with the new weapon. Unfortunately, they could not reach the man who invented the explosive, nor root out the knowledge with which he had cursed the world.

Blind Progress.

        It is a true proverb that we can get almost anything if we want it sufficiently; but the price which must be paid is beyond control, and often beyond foreseeing.

        The leaders of the industrial revolution did not foresee that their machines would cause the disappearance of the happy, healthy crowds of hay makers and harvesters from a rural England which may never return while our civilisation stands.

        The inventors of the road-car did not foresee that they would not only cause an expenditure of unproductive time and treasure vast enough to embarrass the financial resources of the civilised world, till it has become bewildered by a trade depression the cause of which it is unwilling or unable to recognise, but would also cause the deaths and mutilations of hundreds of thousands of their fellow men, providing the world with the horrors of a major war, without its honours or mitigations.

        The scientists who have invented the powder of which professor Gilbert Murray spoke at the Congress of the League of Nations a year ago - a powder so deadly that one teaspoonful dropped above a city might cause a million deaths - what do they think they are doing when they pass out of their laboratories so fiendish a gift to men?

        We may be loth to believe that we shall ever lack wisdom to control to our own good the knowledge which we boast to gain, but are we not already somewhat less confident then we were?

        Have we not lost confidence in our own stability? If we build we build for today. Is it not of a possible significance that while our forefathers wrought with oak and stone, we are content with half-baked bricks and unseasoned pine?

        Who among us today would offer the help of his purse, or the labour of his hands, to commence a cathederal which would take too centuries to build? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

        Canada and Australia are half empty of men, and the Central African table-land is untilled, and their are Sarahran deserts to be irrigated, aand Amazonain forest to be cleared and drained, and we talk of the necessity fof preventing our children's lives! Sceince has already brought us to that.

        And even that does not make us hesitate to accept its guidance, or to questionto what unwxpected thing it may lead us next.

The Gadarene Swine.

        For its sake are we not throwing off every religous or other authority which has controlled the past, and, paradoxically enough, every individual liberty also?

        And, year by year, our boasted progress becomes more and more the developement of rapid motions which are about the most usless and aimless of all human activities. We may remember that the Gadarene swine experimented in the same way. Let us hope that we are doing so to a different end.

        But of one thing we may be sure.Civilisatoin may perish, but the human race will go no.

        It is even possible that in the Creator's site, it might not be a final clamity if the scattered surviors of posion-powders and posioned-gas should be exteminated in no distance generation by a simple and more virile race (the victims protesting in a plaintive bewilderment that they had all been sent tot the best schools), and the seas be clean again from the spreading of posionous oil, and the blackened earth be green again witha new hope, andthe horrors of flat and tenement, coal smoke and repetition work fade out even from the nightmares of men - and their might be a Merry England again.

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The End