Thursday, November 22, 2012

Anticipations by H. G. Wells Back in Print

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on September 1, 2008 ]
Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought, a book by H. G. Wells which was first published in 1901, has been reprinted by Dover Publications with an introduction by Martin Gardner.   Anticipations is an attempt to predict major developments, both sociological and technical, to come in the 20th century. 

In some areas, Wells seems to be overly cautious, writing that "long before the year A.D. 2000, and very probably before 1950, a successful aeroplane will have soared and come home safe and sound.   Directly that is accomplished the new invention will be most assuredly applied to war."  He foresaw little future for use of the submarine in warfare or otherwise.

Also, Wells did not foresee the computer.  He does, however, predict that there will be a device in most homes which will enable people to receive updated news every hour:  "One will subscribe to a news-agency which will wire all the stuff one cares to have . . . . into a phonographic recorder perhaps, in some convenient corner.  There the thing will be in every house, beside the barometer, to hear or ignore."

Wells also foresees what James Burnham, writing in 1940, calls "the managerial revolution," though he does not use that term.   He believes that the educated people -- scientists, engineers, doctors -- will rise to become the new ruling class.  Again, this has not come to pass, at least not in the USA, a nation still largely run by lawyers and financiers.  It will become apparent, one day, he writes, "that the whole apparatus of power in the country is in the hands of a new class of intelligent and scientifically-educated men."  If it has become so apparent, the implications of that fact have not become apparent to much of anyone.

H. G. Wells was a socialist, but he was a Fabian socialist, not a Marxist.  As such, he believed that the new discoveries of science should be incorporated into the understanding of humanity.  He stresses the significance of Malthus's population studies and Darwin's theory of evolution.   He explicitly rejects the Marxist dogma according to which all individuals and groups of people will become equal in their intellectual abilities once they are all subjected to a uniform environment.    Wells also supports eugenics, a stance for which Gardner upbraids him in his introduction. 

One must wonder what Wells would say about China today.  China is approaching being a state in which the apparatus of power is in the hands of scientifically educated men.   The evidence is just not there that China is about to become simply one more capitalist-dominated state.  China, moreover, now has a eugenics program established by its government.

Wells believed that a world state would emerge sometime after 2000.   It seems more likely, however, that for many more decades the world will be dominated by great powers. My surmise is that those great powers will include Germany, Russia, China, and Japan.   The survival of the USA, at least as one nation, is in doubt. 

Wells, of course, offers no such predictions.   He believes that the USA and Britain will draw more closely together, but does not predict a merger of the two countries. While it is true that the USA and Britain were allies in two world wars, both nations seem to have been drifting apart for at least sixty years.   Of all the foreign nations of the world, the USA now seems to be most closely linked to Israel.

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