Science And Morality
by Charles MacFarland
SCITECH III: THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE.
THE NEW WORLD OF SCITECH
Let's imagine that we're riding in a car down one of the many
highways of our modern world. We're in an ordinary car, and we're
going at a moderate speed, about 40 miles an hour. Nothing special
about that, you might say.
Yet it's worth remembering that we're doing something that no
one ever did throughout the entire history of humanity, until about
a century and a half ago. Travelling 40 mph. Not much by modern
standards. But no human being ever travelled so fast, in all of
history, until Scitech began -- unless someone fell off a cliff,
We human beings get used to things very quickly, and take things
for granted. But it's worth thinking about all the things that no
one ever did, in the whole history of humanity, until this century.
It's worth remembering all the gifts Scitech has given us.
Until the era of Scitech, no one ever flew. No one ever heard
a sound recording, or talked further than his voice could carry.
No one ever had light at night, except from a fire, and of course
no one ever saw that most entrancing of flickering nighttime flames,
the TV screen.
No one knew anything about disease. People died of the simplest
problems, like uncleaned cuts or unboiled water. People suffered
for lack of iodine and died for lack of lemon juice. No one ever
survived an attack of appendicitis, and surgery was almost unknown.
There was no relief from toothache but extraction, and no relief
from pain but opium.
Ordinary people live a life now which in previous centuries would
have been the envy of kings. Have you ever enjoyed an iced drink
in summer? That was a treat reserved for emperors in Roman times.
Have you ever eaten an orange in winter? The Medieval kings in their
splendour never did. Have you ever taken a hot shower? Even a century
ago that was a treat reserved for rich people.
People sometimes complain today that life is difficult, that we
have to work very hard to earn a life of few pleasures. But you
can hardly say that if you look at history. We live a life surrounded
by pleasures, and this has caused perhaps the greatest change which
Scitech has made in human attitudes.
Scitech has made it possible for life to be agreeable for everyone,
not just the privileged few. Pleasure, in fact, has become a ruling
passion in our lives, the way getting to heaven was in the Middle
Ages, or patriotic duty was for the Romans and for some Englishmen
in the last century. I call this the Pleasure Principle.
THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE
The Pleasure Principle is perhaps Scitech's greatest gift to humanity.
The greatest Scitech change in the way people behave, that is, in
their morality, is that people today can live for pleasure, and
they do. I don't say it's the only thing they live for, but it's
important. It is, in fact, a firm basis of society.
The reason it's so important is that if people have pleasure in
their lives, they are less likely to make trouble. Civilization
today rests on the idea that ordinary life can be agreeable. When
people find no pleasure in their lives, they are apt to turn to
savage ideals, and cause no end of trouble.
The Vikings, crowded out of their homeland by overpopulation,
terrorized and brutalized the civilized world. Devout but bored
and poverty-stricken Christians surged across Europe to the Holy
Land in the Crusades, causing an unholy chaos and slaughter wherever
they went, and unhappy Christians continued to iburn and pillage
Europe for centuries with their religious wars. The Germans, vindictively
punished by the Great Powers after World War I, and impoverished
by the Depression, turned to persecuting the Jews, and then made
war on nearly everybody, as we've seen.
Even today, horrible fighting is common in non-Scitech areas of
the world, like Africa and the Muslim countries. Wars have many
causes, like nationalism and the macho idea that "war makes a man
of you," but I often think that sheer lack of pleasure in people's
lives is a mainspring. As the two murderers in Macbeth put it:
FIRST MURDERER: I am one, my liege, Whom the vile blows
and buffets of the world Have so incensed that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world.
SECOND MURDERER; And I another So weary with disasters,
tugg'd with fortune, That I would set my life on any chance, To
mend it or be rid on't.
Of course, we still have discontented people today, and with the
help of Scitech they can make a disproportionate amount of trouble,
like the Unibomber or mass killers or the people who blew up the
government building in Oklahoma. But fortunately, many of us in
the Scitech world can live fairly tranquil lives -- if we wish to.
We can, and do, live according to the Pleasure Principle.
So this essay, and the nest one, discuss pleasure -- one of the
great gifts of Scitech. Often it takes a bit of getting used to,
the pleasure of life. We have to change our behaviour and our ideals.
But that's what Scitech always demands of us. That's what this
whole series of essays is about: the changes we need to make in
our attitudes because of Scitech. Surely getting used to a life
of pleasure shouldn't be hard.
It is for some people though, because of the attitudes of the
past. People find it hard to adapt to the Pleasure Principle because
of attitudes learned in Agsoc.
PRINCIPLES OF AGSOC.
Let's review the attitudes essential to Agsoc, in order to imagine
what life was like then. Agsoc societies introduced the following:
KINGS -- the strong man who was able to keep order in a
society too large for everyone to know everyone else.
OWNERSHIP -- of fields, herds, and houses, which meant
that those who owned got richer faster than those who didn't, accelerating
the difference between rich and poor.
INHERITANCE -- the rich gave their property to their sons,
and the king gave his political power to his sons, meaning it was
vital for men to know who their sons were, hence marriage and chastity
WAR -- the best and most practical way for kings to extend
their power and the rich to own more was to beat up on neighbouring
countries and steal all their property.
The history of the world -- which, as we said before, is basically
the history of Agsoc, since Agsoc created writing -- is almost entirely
about kings, ownership, inheritance, and war.
But what about common people? What was their life like? History
doesn't say much about them, but we can easily imagine.
ORDINARY LIFE IN AGSOC.
The life of common people was pretty much the same, whether we
are talking about peasants in ancient Egypt, or serfs in feudal
Europe, or farmers in nineteenth-century America. Or common people
in the third world today, for that matter.
The vast majority lived the miserable life of farmers. Indeed
it was not til 1910 that the number of Americans living on farms
went below 50% of the whole population.
Farmers work all day long, and most of the work is unpleasant:
plowing, sowing, fertilizing, weeding, harvesting, threshing, and
so on. It's hot work, out in the open sun, and hard work, even if
you have an animal like a horse or mule to help. The fields are
either muddy or dusty, and smelly too, considering what they used
Without modern science, the yields were generally meagre, and
the fields were generally too small too, because without birth control
there were always too many people. Natural disasters like floods,
drought, and bugs often cancelled all their labors. If they did
have a good harvest there were always the taxes of their own king
or the soldiers of a neighbouring king ready to take it away.
Disease was a problem, because of overpopulation, poor nutrition,
the proximity of animals, and consequent contamination of the water
supply. If you did get sick, or injured, there was almost no effective
medical care to help you, though doctors did take away a lot of
Pleasures were few. There were occasional feast days, with village
games and religious ceremonies, but even these depended on a good
harvest. You could have sex, and you could get drunk, but that was
about it, and both could have serious consequences.
There were no movies, or television, or even books, for most people
couldn't read. You couldn't go travelling, not for pleasure anyway,
because it was so difficult -- our very word "travel" comes from
the French "travail," which means hard work and suffering.
Because life was all hard work, with the constant threat of disease,
life was generally short. This was especially true for women, because
of the dangers of childbirth. Women's work was just as hard and
tedious as the men's: cooking, washing, tending children, making
PRINCIPLES OF AGSOC MORALITY.
Because life was like this for most people, the following principles
of morality came to be accepted in Agsoc:
HARD WORK -- since common people had to work so hard, hard
work was considered a virtue. This was enshrined in the concept
of duty, which is basically a way of getting people to do things
they don't want to. This virtue of hard work persists today in our
notion that everybody ought to have a job, and that anybody who
doesn't is somehow valueless, especially men. This make retirement
upsetting for many men.
SUFFERING -- since life was full of suffering, suffering
too was seen as a virtue. It had to be, for the sake of social stability.
The Christian religion makes this especially important, as we shall
see in Chapter VII.
SIN -- if we consider hard work and suffering to be virtues,
the natural next step is to invent the concept of sin. In Christianity,
all the pleasures were made into sins. Eating was called Gluttony,
sex was called Lust, and not doing your duty was called Sloth. Even
such innocent pleasures as singing and dancing were frowned upon.
PATRIOTISM -- since war was so important in Agsoc, the
common man had to be encouraged to fight by the concept of patriotism,
which like duty is basically a way of telling people that they had
to do things they didn't want to. Patriotism meant paying taxes
and training for the military and fighting, and for the women having
lots of sons, and being considered a failure if they didn't.
These principles of Agsoc have made the transition to the Pleasure
Principle of Scitech somewhat difficult for some people. Nowhere
is this more evident than in matters of sex.
Sex is one of the great battlefields of the transition from Agsoc
morality to Scitech morality. Indeed, if you ask anyone my age (I'm
a boomer) about the effects of science on morality, the very first
thing they think about is sex.
In the days of our youth the pill and other contraceptives, along
with medical advances like antibiotics and easy abortion, turned
sexual morality on its head. Those were exciting times, when we
thought anyone could make love with anyone, and generally did.
Of course, Scitech has had some setbacks since then, notably herpes
and AIDS, and promiscuity has had to draw its breath a bit. But
mostly the changes are still in place. It's worth looking back just
to see how much has changed.
People my age and older can remember a world in which the very
mention of sex was cause for embarrassment and laughter. People
were not supposed to have sex at all unless they were married, especially
if they were women. Masturbation was a perversion which could theoretically
take you into an asylum, and homosexuality was a crime which could
in fact take you into prison. And any attempt to prevent having
an unwanted child, or to avoid catching a loathsome disease, was
considered immoral and probably illegal.
To give some specific examples, anal intercourse was a crime in
Great Britain punishable by life imprisonment until 1959, even if
done between consenting adults, even if they were man and wife.
Condoms were illegal in Connecticut, my home state, until the year
I graduated from high school, 1962. Abortion was illegal in many
areas of the U. S. even later, til the famous Supreme Court decision
of Roe vs Wade in 1973.
This insane and self-destructive world was blown to smithereens
by Scitech in the 1960's. Of course, other factors helped. The Vietnam
War convinced most young people that the politicians in office were
both crazy and intent on destroying our youth. From there it was
only a step to realizing that Church authorities and givers of morality
were equally crazy. People like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot
seemed a lot more appealing as guides to morality.
Of course, we're using the word "morality" in the narrow sense
here. For this series of essays the word "morality" generally means
patterns of behaviour which lead to human happiness. But still,
for many people, the word "morality" tends to mean sexual morality.
Scitech requires us to change our morality in both senses of the
Why was Agsoc so restrictive about sex? Well, for one thing, as
we've seen, Agsoc created the ideas of ownership and inheritance,
and these concepts were vitally important to social stability. For
another, promiscuity was a serious threat to Agsoc. They had no
way to fight sexually-transmitted diseases, and they had only limited
means to prevent or terminate unwanted pregnancies. A child without
a father was a calamity in Agsoc.
The Agsoc answer was of course marriage. Sex had to be sanctioned
by a legal contract. This was especially true for women, and thus
began all the tedious fretting about virginity. A woman was horribly
trapped, with calamitious penalties if she had sex before marriage
or outside of it.
Women had this burden despite the fact that men constantly tried
to seduce them into sex, either pre-marital or extra-marital, which
are, of course, the two most delightful forms. Women were the victims
of a double standard, and were considered either virtuous or whores.
This was unfortunately essential in a world where inheritance
governed not only wealth but political power. Think of all the fuss
about Henry VIII, for example, and his frantic efforts to get a
legitimate male heir. The most important quality of a good king,
one sometimes thinks, was properly working genitals. The politics
of Europe, right up until the present century, were run along the
lines of a stud farm.
One curious result of the marriage perplex was that children were
regarded as non-sexual beings. They had to be, since children are
not old enough to sign a legal contract, and thus they couldn't
have marriage, and thus they couldn't have sex. Many people today
still believe that children are not interested in sex til they become
adults, an idea for which there is no evidence whatsoever. Even
a casual observer of children will quickly see that the notion is
Our system of film and TV censorship is a good example of how
people cling to the an old Agsoc notion. Sex is somehow supposed
to be unnatural or bad for children, and a film or TV show can be
categorized as being too sexy for children under 13 or 15 or 18.
The result is that children under 13 or 15 or 18 are obsessed with
getting to see such films, if they can.
Another curious result of the Agsoc fixation on marriage was that
all forms of sex other than marital sex were regarded as crimes.
This included prostitution, homosexuality, and masturbation. This
is, and always has been, one of the most distressing aspects of
Because of the double standard, the punishment for prostitution
landed on the women, who were not really the originators of the
act and who were often victims of society. Homosexuals were also
victims, if one accepts the idea that people are homosexual by birth
or other factors beyond their control. Masturbation is the only
one of these three "crimes" that might be practised by the male
establishment of Agsoc, but of course, masturbation is a "crime"
that is rarely caught.
The whole dreary panoply of sexual "crimes" in Agsoc doesn't end
there. Practices within marriage which did not lead to pregnancy,
like anal intercourse, cunnilingus, and fellatio, were also outlawed.
Birth control was also strictly forbidden, and that great bastion
of Agsoc mentality, the Catholic Church, still forbids it.
For sensible people all these sexual crimes seem ridiculous now,
but a man my age still cannot laugh at them with quite the same
ease as, say, laughing at the British royal family.
SCITECH SEX MORALITY.
Scitech has given us a whole new world of sexual morality. Though
some of the changes are under attack, many are undoubtedly permanent.
Sensible people no longer look down on masturbation or homosexuality,
especially since sensible people have realized that population growth
is such a serious problem. Public opinion is growing more tolerant
of prostitutes, even giving them a new name, "sex workers."
Hardly anyone now would criticize a young couple for living together,
and indeed any more virginal prelude to marriage would be regarded
as reckless and foolish. Some people even question nowadays whether
marriage is appropriate at all, for many people.
Sociobiologists claim that women naturally believe in marriage,
because a pregnant woman in most periods of human history was relatively
helpless, and needed a faithful husband to protect and feed her
and her child. Any woman who was promiscuous, they argue, would
not be likely to survive, and neither would her children. Thus any
genes for promiscuity would soon die out.
This argument does not take in to account the Tribal ecotype,
however. Women and children were protected and taken care of by
their tribe in most of human history, not solely by their husband
as in Agsoc. In our modern Scitech society, in any case, a woman
can be completely promiscuous, and have a great time doing it, especially
if she chooses not to have children. She can have men aplenty, and
they will have many good times together, if she wants that.
So far, it seems that women are inclined to be monogamous, but
that could just be the result of centuries of Agsoc rules. Under
Agsoc, a woman was disgraced if she was promiscuous, and was considered
a failure if she didn't have a husband and kids. It was a narrow
One of the great things about living into the 21st century will
be to see how many women start taking control of their lives, and
choosing how to live their lives sexually, and whether or not to
have children. Will most women continue to want children, despite
all the problems? And what about men?
The question is worth asking. Sex is potentially a source of great
pleasure, but perhaps we can never realize most of the pleasure
because of the limitations built into us. Only the future can tell.
Indeed, the future will show us about many human pleasures. Scitech
has given us enormous potential to enjoy ourselves. Perhaps we won't.
Perhaps we will be our own worst enemies, incapable of enjoying
the Pleasure Principle. The issue is so serious that we shall make
it the subject of the next essay.
Chapter 1 |
Chapter 2 |
Chapter 3 |
Chapter 4 |
Chapter 5 |
Chapter 6 |
Chapter 7 |
Chapter 8 |
Chapter 9 |
Chapter 10 |
Chapter 11 |