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Science And Morality

by Charles MacFarland
Chapter 4


SCITECH IV: DESPISING JOY.

THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE (CONTINUED).

It's worth looking back sometimes and thinking about all the wonderful changes Scitech has showered upon us. The wonders have come so quickly that it helps us to understand why we humans are still not fully acclimatized.

There are still people alive, for example -- though they would have to be over 80 -- who can remember the impact that radio made when it arrived, and talking pictures. People over 60 can probably remember the first time they saw television, which hit humanity like a whirlwind. People over 40 can remember when VCRs arrived, not to mention home computers, pocket calculators, microwave ovens, automatic teller machines, and photocopiers. Even if you're only 20, you've already lived long enough to see startling innovations, like compact disks, digital video disks, computer-generated movies, and ever smaller mobile phones.

In one sense, people get used to such changes rapidly. Computer games that seemed amazing only a couple of years ago now seem awkward and simple. Many video buffs scarcely remember that once video cameras had to have a separate recorder attached to them by a cord. But in fact camcorders -- camera and recorder combined -- have only been around about 15 years. We quickly take new inventions for granted.

But in another sense people do not get used to scientific changes quickly. Some scientific changes require a change in our ways of thinking and behaving. These changes are harder. People cling to their old ways of behaviour. That is, their morality does not change.

Driving is a good example of this. You would think that having a car would be a delight. To be in control of a valuable machine which would take you anywhere you like, anytime you like, and which would require only minimal care in return, would seem to be a wondrous dream come true. It's the stuff of fairy tales of the past, like the marvelous wooden flying horse that would take you anywhere you like with the turning of a wooden pin, or like the flying carpets of the Arabian Nights.

But in fact, driving is yet another good example of the way we abuse, refuse, and misuse the pleasures of Scitech. People seem to be incapable of enjoying the wonders of our modern world.

In fact, when I drive in the country, it seems to me people must hate driving. They want to get it over with so quickly.

This urge to go fast produces a paradox of modern car ads. Generally the car is shown travelling through beautiful scenery: national parks, winding mountain roads, etc. Monument Valley is the cliched favourite. But the car is going so fast that the people inside coundn't possibly see the views, much less savour and enjoy them. They must be bouncing around inside the car like pieces of angry candy in a box. What can possibly be the appeal of that?

And in the city -- well, just watch the traffic sometimes. They sit fuming at a red light, racing their engines and tapping their hands on the wheel, and as soon as the light changes they go roaring off so they can get to the next red light as soon as possible. Then they slam on their brakes so they can sit fuming again.

It is possible, of course, to drive slowly toward red lights, enjoying the relaxed pace and the views of things you pass by. The light might even change by the time you get there, so you wouldn't have to stop at all. That is, it would be possible, only someone is sure to jerk out around you and race past, risking your life and his so he can be sure to reach the next light while it's red so he can sit there and curse you.

If people had learned how to adjust to Scitech, it might be possible to enjoy driving. It might be possible to drive at a leisurely pace everywhere, especially through the countryside, enjoying the fields and farms and forests and streams. Only, once again, Mr. Risk-Your-Life is ferreting behind you, flashing his lights and cursing the very thought of your ancestors.

People create their own reality. People think of driving as miserable, and their thoughts make it so. This is especially true in the city, but even spills over into the country. We could have attractive country roads, with roadside rests and lots of pleasant places to stop, and friendly people enjoying travel. Instead people dirve at high-pressure speeds, and take insane chances to pass, and when they have their inevitable accidents, they talk of "killer roads."

Then they build freeways, so called, I suppose, because they are free of all enjoyment. They free us of the joys of travel and substitute high-speed tedium.

People not only damage their pleasure, they even damage their own possessions. One of the rules of Scitech is that every machine will wear out quickly if used at the height of its capacities. Cars are no exception. Cars are the most expensive machines most people ever own, and you'd think they would want to treat them kindly.

But look at any roundabout. The road is grooved and potholed by the force of cars' wheels as they tear around the turn. And if the cars' wheels are doing this to the road, what mustthe road be doing to the wheels? The force and stress on the cars' steering, brakes, and suspensions must be terrific.

Sometime when you're driving, watch the road for awhile. Wherever there's a turn, or a stop at the foot of a hill, the pavement is torn up and twisted. What is that doing to our cars? What is it doing to our lives?

THE ADDICTION PRINCIPLE.

The other major Scitech miracle that people constantly misuse is television.

Yeah, we know, I can hear you saying. Here he goes. Every modern intellectual abuses television, and says what a wasteland it is.

Well, why should I be any different?

But in fact I am different. I think television is wonderful. Every time I watch it, I think what a miracle it is.

I even like the programs, most of them. I admit some of them have more appeal than others. I like documentaries and science programs. I like shows about reality, rather than things people try to make up. I understand how difficult it must be to make up new and interesting stories 24 hours a day.

But that's just my personal taste. I understand how other people can like very different programs: quiz shows, talk shows, situation comedies (which I call unlikely situation comedies), even soaps. Everybody needs fantasy sometimes.

But I emphasize the "sometimes." I think the problem is that we don't take advantage of the wonderful variety of our modern Scitech world. We haven't adapted to Scitech. As always, the result is misery.

People become addicted. They find a pleasure that they like, such as TV, and they keep turning to it again and again. They wear it out, and make it boring. The human mind, like the human body, develops tolerance for every drug; that is, the drug has less and less effect the more you take of it. TV is no exception.

People forget how many other interests there are in this wonderful modern world. Computer games, the Internet, and videos, for example. Or if you want to avoid the tube, there's reading, and games at home, and conversation, and going to the pub, and gambling machines. Backyard cooking, and crafts, and hobbies, if you want something a little more strenous. Or for the really strenuous, there's sports, hiking, climbing, sky diving, swimming, and thinking.

Some of these pleasures are from Scitech, and others have been around a long time. But Scitech has given us the time, and in some cases the wealth, that are necessary to enjoy them. No longer does the average person have to slave all the daylight hours away, and then sit home in the dark. No longer do we have to work all the time just to scrape together enough food to survive, with a little left over for the other necessities.

Scitech has given us a whole world of pleasures, and the time and money to enjoy them. But as always, we have to change our habits, our morality. We have to handle them properly.

The important thing is not to fixate on things. Just because something gives you joy, like smoking, doesn't mean you should do it all the time. People turn again and again to the same pleasure, choosing simple-mindedness rather than imagination. The result is they get addicted.

American Indians had tobacco, but never got addicted, because for them smoking was a ritual, something special. And because they smoked infrequently, smoking was special for them. Like any drug, including TV, tobacco has a much stronger effect if you use it infrequently. So by treating it as a ritual, the Indians made it more powerful, made it a sacred experience. A good example of creating one's own reality.

THE CHANCE OF HAPPINESS.

There's an old Chinese proverb which says:

If you want to be happy for three days, get married. If you want to be happy for a week, kill your pig and eat it. If you want to be happy all your life, learn to fish.

I think this is true. Not because I'm a fisherman; far from it. For me, the magic in this proverb is in one word. The magical word is "learn."

We don't put much emphasis in our society on learning about pleasure. We still stick to the old Agsoc ideals, and one of these was a suspicion of pleasure. Pleasure wasn't taught because in Agsoc it was generally regarded as an evil.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing Agsoc ideals in themselves. They were perfectly right for Agsoc times.

The farming techniques of agricultural societies, such as ancient Egypt, or the Middle Ages, or even nineteenth-century America, were hopelessly inefficient by Scitech standards. It took 50% or even 80% of all the people slaving on dirt farms just to grow enough food for everyone. Only a few nobles and clergy could devote themselves to anything else.

As we said in the last chapter, farming without machines is a miserable life. You break your back to clear, plow, sow, harrow, and harvest the land, and the yield without fertilizers or modern techniques is miserable. What's worse, half the time you lose your crop to bugs or flood or drought.

Under these Agsoc conditions, you have to teach people to be suspicious of pleasure. You have to teach them that life here on earth is a misery, and that virtue consists in accepting that misery patiently. Agsoc people would go mad if they didn't believe that. Indeed, they sometimes did.

If people have to be poor, you'd better teach them that it's virtuous to be poor. At least they can have virtue in their lives, if nothing else.

But Scitech has changed all that. Scitech has given us a world of incredible abundance. With Scitech, our stores are filled to overflowing with goods. With Scitech, we have so much food that our problem is overeating, not starvation.

All of our food is grown today by about 2% or 3% of the population, not 50% or 80% as in Agsoc times. The rest of us are free to work at other things. Many of us produce the fantastic range of goods available today. Others devote their lives to human services.

Teachers are a good example. In Agsoc days, there was so little wealth that there were hardly any teachers at all. The sons of nobility could have tutors, and sometimes priests would help a promising village boy by teaching him to read and write. Most people never learned to read or write at all, and they certainly didn't study mathematics or history or geography. Even the kings didn't always know how to write, like Charlemagne, though, being one of the greatest kings in history, he did manage to learn how to read.

Other human services are ust as abundant. Compared to Agsoc, we have an abundance today of doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, and lawyers. Some people even think we have too many lawyers.

It's hard to imagine any goods or services that are not in abundant supply today. Of course, we work hard for them, but they worked hard in Agsoc days too, much harder than we do, probably. The abundance is due to Scitech.

We have so many goods and services we even need an industry to persuade us to buy them. The advertising industry grew up with Scitech, and never existed in the days of Agsoc. You don't have to beg people to buy food when they're starving.

What we don't have, curiously, is an advertising industry for pleasures. That is, we make very little effort to teach people about the joy of living.

In our schools, for example, we have classes in driver education, but how much time do we spend on teaching the joy of driving? The joy of travelling at a pleasant pace, and enjoying the scenes you pass by, and taking the time to stop in pleasant roadside rests.

Do we teach people the importance of having scenic, enjoyable roads, with lots of roadside rests? If so, we're not succeeding. Do we teach people the importance of designing our cities so driving is a pleasure, locating business and houses to avoid heart-rending commutes? I don't think so.

In our schools we also have courses in sex education, sometimes. But how many of these classes teach the enjoyment of sex? How many tell us the ways and means of truly pleasuring each other? How many tell us to go out and do homework on the subject?

And what about the other pleasures of life, like eating well, or hiking in national parks, or sport, or travelling, or creating beautiful surroundings? What about fishing? Do we teach ourselves the abundance of joys around us?

It's not surprising that people rely on manufactured pleasurss, and become addicted to whichever ones they happen to find they like. It's not surprising we're surrounded by unhappy addicts.

DRUGS.

Drugs are a fine example of the way we mishandle our modern world and spoil our pleasures. We mishandle drugs much the same way as we mishandle driving or TV. We don't achieve all the joys that they could offer in our lives.

Many people don't even think of drugs as a source of pleasure, because they're illegal. But obviously drugs are a real delight, since so many people risk so much to use them. Marijuana is used by a large section of our society for pleasure and relaxation. Stronger drugs are used by some for intense pleasure or spiritual values.

Drug-taking is a natural human activity. All societies have their various kinds of mind-altering activities. Some American Indians used peyote and tobacco and other plants for spiritual experiences. Others would fast or expose themselves to suffering for the same purpose, just as Christians once did in the days when Christianity was a spiritual religion.

Tribes all over the world, and even some Agsoc societies like Rome, had their Dionysiads and Saturnalias and rituals of transcendent delight. Even modern children love to spin themselves around or roll down hills to experience a new and whirling world in their minds.

Besides this, of course, there are the people who use drups as therapy, to relieve the pain of difficult lives. In this sense drugs are medicine, just as much as aspirin or penicillin.

Unfortunately, drugs run against the mindset of our times. Many people still cling to the old Agsoc idea that everyone has to work all the time and that being miserable is virtuous. Drugs offer so much pleasure, with so little effort, that many people have trouble accepting them. In this sense drugs are just like Scitech.

Scitech has added to the range of drugs. Of course, many drugs are natural. Tobacco, marijuana, peyote, and opium are natural plant products. Alcohol is easily made from several plants, and various forms of alcohol have been know to every society in the world. But Scitech gave us a new kind of alcohol, in the form of hard drinks like whiskey and rum, when distillation was developed in the 18th century. Heroin was developed from opium in 1898 by the same company that gave us aspirin the year before -- hence the similar endings to their names. Morphine and cocaine are also laboratory producets from plants. LSD and exstasy are laboratory products which are wholly the gift of chemistry.

All of these drugs except tobacco and alcohol are illegal today throughout the world. Why? Is it because drugs cause harm to others? Hardly. Most drugs cause people to withdraw into themselves and be completely harmless to others. Oddly enough, the only drug which sometimes causes people to become nasty and aggressive is alcohol, which is legal.

Is it because drug users are harmful to themselves? Well, they are sometimes. People grow thin and unhealthy and sometimes even die from drug use. The main reason is that drugs are illegal, and therefore expensive, so drug users have no money to spare on health care or even food. Also, since drugs are illegal, you never know how strong they are, or if they've been adulterated. Even penicillin and aspirin would be dangerous under circumstances like these.

But harm is also not the reason. Alcohol is harmful if used excessively. Tobacco is harmful even if used "properly." Purveyors of harm have our society's seal of approval.

Besides, we don't ban cars because they are harmful. We see cars as necessary and useful, but we don't see drugs this way. Pleasure and spiritual experiences are not seen as either necessary or useful in the mindset of our society.

Drugs are seen as unusually dangerous because they are seen as addictive, of course. As we've seen however, addiction is characteristic of people who don't learn about pleasures. Heroin is physically addictive if you use enough of it long enough, but people just have to learn that it's risky, and it's probably better to stick to non-addictive drugs like marijuana, LSD, exstasy, and (possibly) cocaine.

The people who do get addicted to heroin generally have such miserable lives they don't care what happens to them. That's a real problem for society, but it's not the real reason people support the drug laws. The kind of people who gsupport the drug laws generally don't give a damn about the miserable people at the bottom of society.

No, the real reason for the drug laws is different: drugs offend Agsoc morality. They offend the Agsoc notions that everybody has to work all the time, and that virtue involves being miserable.

There's a popular story in U. S. history about the very first settlers in Jamestown, led by Capt. John Smith. He admonished them that "Those who don't work, won't eat." It was a good idea for its time.

But today the idea is causing no end of trouble. As always when we fail to adapt to Scitech, the result is disaster.

Drug laws cause far more misery than the misery they seek to prevent. The drug laws have created a huge black market of drug sellers making enormous profits, and many enterprizing young people are drawn into it. Often they are killed in gang wars or in drug deals that go bad. Many wind up leading useless lives in prison, and costing the rest of us a fortune to keep them there.

The drug users also resort to crimes like burglary and credit card fraud and prostitution to pay the inflated prices which the drug laws cause. The drug laws also cause the drugs to be uncertain in dosage and content, which causes some drug users to wind up in hospitals, costing the rest of us another fortune.

The police are also turned toward crime by the drug laws. Policemen, after all, lead hard lives and get little pay. It's not surprising that the siren call of drug money reaches their ears too. After all, they have access to large quantities of drugs from drug seizures, and they know just who to sell the drugs to as well. And when they come on a roomful of drug money -- well, what would you do?

It's important to remember that drug crimes are different from any other kind of crime. In most crimes, like rape, burglary, and murder, there is one person committing the crime and someone else -- the victim -- who doesn't want it to happen. The police have natural allies in the victims and their friends.

But in drug crimes, both the seller and the buyer want the crime to happen. The police have no one on their side, except sometimes the neighbours, who are often too frightened to speak. The police often even have other policemen against them! And because of the harshness of the drug laws, both buyers and sellers can be quite dangerous if the police get near them.

To add to all this, drug crimes are unusual because they become more attractive when the police are successful. If the police make a drug haul, the prices of drugs rise because the supply is limited, so selling drugs becomes more profitable. Imagine if this were true of bank robbery! The more money was to be made, the more bank robbers were caught!

We've had sixty and more years of constant effort to enforce the drug laws, and thrown billions of dollars into the effort, and ruined countless lives, and put so many people in jail that the U. S. has by far the worst prison rate in the developed world, and the result of all our efforts is that people can buy any drugs they want, anytime they want, almost anywhere in America.

The people who support the drug war are rather like the man who was trying to cure his headache by hitting his head against the wall. It hadn't worked so far, he said, so he resolved to hit his head harder.

No amount of effort or misery is ever going to make the drug laws any more successful. It's hard to imagine any commodity more suited to smuggling and illegal distribution than drugs. Drugs are easy to conceal and a small quantity is worth a fortune. No amount of police surveillance is ever going to succeed, especially since some of the police will inevitably be on the side of the dealers. All we can possibly achieve with stronger measures is to ruin our civil liberties.

Even more importantly, the drug laws run counter to our times. The Agsoc age of slavish obedience is over. People are not going to give up their pleasures just because somebody tells them to. People today live by the Pleasure Principle. People deserve to -- they've waited throughout history for the chance.

We need to learn about drugs -- not ban them. We need to follow the sage advice of the old Chinese proverb. We need to learn about what drugs do, and what harm they may cause, through sensible observation. -- this is the Scitech way, It is pointless to follow the old Agsoc way of throwing up your arms in horror at pleasure.

After all, people are sensible. If some drugs are truly dangerous, people will tend to avoid them -- especially if they can turn to other, safer drugs. If some drugs truly are addictive, people will avoid those too.

The old Agsoc technique of trying to blind and terrify the people into obedience is neither sensible nor democratic -- and it won't work. It isn't working.

Agsoc mentality is causing nothing but misery, and will continue to do so, until the misery forces us to change. It's a pity that people find it so hard to make obvious changes. But as we said before, most people would rather die than give up their wrong ideas.

All across America, and all across the world, the drug laws are killing people and making people miserable, and it's all because we refuse to accept the wonderful life that Scitech is trying to give us.

 


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