Science And Morality
by Charles MacFarland
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
Chapter 1 |
Chapter 2 |
Chapter 3 |
Chapter 4 |
Chapter 5 |
Chapter 6 |
Chapter 7 |
Chapter 8 |
Chapter 9 |
Chapter 10 |
Chapter 11 |