Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Papers: Alfred Russel Wallace

"During the last century, and especially in the last thirty years (1869), our intellectual and material advancement has been too quickly achieved for us to reap the full benefit of it. Our mastery over the forces of nature has led to a rapid growth of population, and a vast accumulation of wealth; but these have brought with them such an amount of poverty and crime, and have fostered the growth of so much sordid feeling and so many fierce passions, that it may well be questioned, whether the mental and moral status of our population has not on the average been lowered, and whether the evil has not overbalanced the good.

Compared with our wondrous progress in physical science and its practical applications, our system of government, of administering justice, of national education, and our whole social and moral organization, remains in a state of barbarism. And if we continue to devote our chief energies to the utilizing of our knowledge of the laws of nature with the view of still further extending our commerce and our wealth, the evils which necessarily accompany these when too eagerly pursued, may increase to such gigantic dimensions as to be beyond our power to alleviate.

We should now clearly recognize the fact, that the wealth and knowledge and culture of the few do not constitute civilization, and do not of themselves advance us towards the "perfect social state." Our vast manufacturing system, our gigantic commerce, our crowded towns and cities, support and continually renew a mass of human misery and crime absolutely greater than has ever existed before. They create and maintain in life-long labour an ever-increasing army, whose lot is the more hard to bear by contrast with the pleasures, the comforts, and the luxury which they see everywhere around them, but which they can never hope to enjoy; and who, in this respect, are worse off than the savage in the midst of his tribe.

 This is not a result to boast of, or to be satisfied with; and, until there is a more general recognition of this failure of our civilization--resulting mainly from our neglect to train and develop more thoroughly the sympathetic feelings and moral faculties of our nature, and to allow them a larger share of influence in our legislation, our commerce, and our whole social organization--we shall never, as regards the whole community, attain to any real or important superiority over the better class of savages."

On the turntable:  Catherine Wheel, "Ferment"

On the nighttable:  Hickman Powell, "The Last Paradise"

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