Science And Morality
by Charles MacFarland
SCITECH VI: FRANKENSTEIN'S CHILDREN.
A PROPHETIC PARTY.
The year is 1800, once again. A group of young English expatriates
is touring France and has reached Chamonix, at the foot of Mount
Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. They've decided to spend
the winter there, and to amuse themselves during the long winter
nights, they decide to tell stories.
One of the young people is Lord Byron, the most famous poet of
the times and a real celebrity. Another is Shelley, a poet whose
work will one day come to be even more highly regarded than Byron's.
With Shelley is his wife Mary. She wasn't well known then and
even now is not especially famous. But the story she invented that
winter, and the creature at the heart of it, are far more well-known
than any of the real people there.
She expanded her story into a novel, and the name of that novel
Mary Shelley's novel was an immediate success and a source of
delicious terror all over the world. The monster has been seen in
many movies, and the idea of a science somehow accidently creating
a strange creature has been imitated again and again.
To be sure, the Frankenstein monster is more a figure of fun today
than a real terror. But what gave him this tremendous power to frighten
us, that endures in some ways even today?
We have only to look at Scitech to find the answer. Frankenstein
is a symbol. a mythos of our times. The monster embodies the fear
that Scitech will create some sort of device or process that will
get out of control. Frankenstein is the fear that Scitech will destroy
Scitech has given us genuine reasons to think that it might someday
go horribly out of control. The best example is the atomic bomb.
The atomic bomb has been used just twice, in the two explosions
that ended the war with Japan. People are still debating whether
it was right or wrong to use the bomb in those cases, but no one
questions the horrible suffering the bombs caused.
It's well worth reminding ourselves how horrible nuclear war would
be, especially since Scitech has given us hydrogen bombs of much
We have cities today of more than ten million people, like New
York and Mexico City, and we have cities that stretch across forty
miles and more, like Los Angeles and Cairo. It's worth remembering
that any one of these cities could be completely destroyed, and
everyone in it killed, by just four hydrogen bombs. These four bombs
could easily be carried in a single airplane or missile. Thousands
of these bombs exist today.
Fortunately, human beings have made a certain amount of progress
with this terror. When the bombs were new, the bestseller lists
fairly swarmed with novels of warning like On the Beach and Alas
Babylon. Films and books about the dangers of nuclear war still
occur occasionally, and the danger is ever at the back of everyone's
As long as these terrible weapons exist, modern life will always
have an accent of terror. But it's reassuring to one's faith in
human nature, at least, that so far these monsters have not gotten
out of control.
Scitech history is littered with other examples of monsters that
threatened to get out of control. Nuclear power, for example, was
a very promising technology that ultimately had to be rejected.
At first nuclear power seemed to offer a golden age, with electricity
so cheap that we wouldn't even need to meter it, just as water is
not metered in many areas. But scientists in their enthusiasm overlooked
the fact that these plants create huge amounts of radioactivity,
and radioactivity is insidious.
Radioactivity cannot be sensed in any way. You could have a bit
of radioactive matter in the room with you, or even in your food,
and you couldn't sense its radioactivity by sight, or sound, or
taste, or touch, or anything. Yet it could burn you so badly that
you would die a horrible death within hours. Even worse, perhaps,
it could bring on cancer years later.
Scientists were helpless before a threat to the human psyche like
that. It was quite useless for them to make safety claims, and talk
about how minimal leaks were likely to be, especially since it was
the small undetectable leaks that were likely to cause cancer years
The human psyche couldn't stand insidious risks like that, and
perhaps it's just as well.
Other Scitech failures, that looked so promising at the start,
and then proved to be so dangerous, are well known. Thalidomide
was given to especting mothers in the early 1960's to help ease
their pregnancy. Only after several thousand babies were born with
missing or deformed arms and legs did doctors realize thalidomide
was causing these birth defects.
DDT was spread across thousands of fields to kill insect pests,
and produced huge crop yields. Unfortunately, DDT never breaks down,
and is a cumulative poison, working its way up the food chain to
the insect-eating birds, killing them and thus paradoxically making
the insect plagues worse. Fortunately Rachel Carson brought out
a beautiful book called Silent Spring which warned us of the dangers
before it was too late.
The environment seems particularly prone to disasters under Scitech.
Modern fertilizers and pesticides wash into the rivers and kill
the fish. The fishing industry puts out nets which kill innocent
species, like dolphins and turtles. Mines and factories spill pollutants
which contaminate the landscape for miles around, and factories
give off gases which kill trees for hundreds of miles around. Our
world is demented with Frankenstein's children.
To be sure, Agsoc had its environmental disasters too. As the
American West was opened up in the late 1800's, huge forests were
cut down for their timber all across the headwaters of the Mississippi.
The result was that rainwater, which once the trees held back, gushed
out of the hills in wet seasons and caused huge floods all along
Farmers on the Great Plains plowed the soil, breaking the cover
the plains grasses had given and causing terrible erosion problems
and eventually a dust bowl. The farmers went broke and the land
was ruined, all for nothing.
Such Agsoc disasters have occurred throughout history. Petra,
for example, is an amazing stone city carved out of the living rock
in a canyon in Jordon. Once it was a great and powerful centre on
the trade routes between Europe, Arabia, and the Orient. But the
people cut down the trees for miles around, destroying their supplies
of water and turning the land into a desert. The beautiful city,
carved out of the rock with so much labor, had to be abandoned.
The Anasazi of the Colorado plateau in North America, as we mentioned
in Essay l, did much the same thing to their environment. Cutting
down the trees made a desert of their land, and the land remains
a desert to this day.
We can see the same thing happening today all over the Agsoc areas
of the Third World. The rainforests of Brazil, for example, are
constantly being attacked by farmers, who cut down and burn the
trees for the sake of a few years' farming til the soil is exhausted.
Then the farmers move on, still poor, to devastate the rainforest
The destruction of the world's rainforests is just one of many
threats to the environment of our world today. In fact, when we
think of Scitech becoming a Frankenstein today, most of the possible
disasters are environment.
Environmental pollution, for example, seems to be out of control
in many areas. Toxic wastes in many areas, acid rain destroying
the forests, agricultural runoffs killing fish in rivers and oceans,
and air pollution in the cities are problems we hear of every day
in the media.
A longer-term worry is energy. Scitech today depends on oil and
coal, but these are limited resources which are gradually getting
harder to find and thus more expensive. There is still lots of coal
in the world, but it seems likely that oil shortages will begin
to be serious in a decade or two.
Even more insidious and long-term is the greenhouse effect. The
carbon dioxide given off by burning coal and oil, not to mention
rainforests, is gradually increasing the percentage of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere. This makes the atmosphere better at trapping
the sun's heat, and our planet like a greenhouse is gradually getting
Just as nobody knew where Frankenstein's monster would go or what
he would do, so the greenhouse effect is unpredictable. One major
effect of global warming will be to melt the polar ice-caps and
thus raise the level of the oceans, but nobody knows how soon or
how high. Since nearly all the world's large cities are on the seacoast,
along with some densely populated river deltas such as the ones
in Egypt and Bangladesh, any rise in sea levels could be serious.
The energy of hurricanes comes from the warmth of the sea -- that's
why Carribean hurricanes are most common in September, at the end
of summer. So if the temperature of the oceans rises, we can probably
expect more and larger hurricanes. Rainfall patterns all over the
world will be changed by global warming, but no one knows for sure
Humanity, it seems, is in for an exciting time. But no one even
knows that for sure. There may be counterbalancing effects. Plants
thrive on warmth and carbon dioxide, for example, so perhaps they'll
catch some of the carbon dioxide Scitech gives out. Or, if the air
is warmer, there may be more clouds, which tend to reflect back
sunlight and thus cool the earth. Nobody knows.
The sensible thing, of course, would be to cut back on coal and
oil use. Quite aside from preventing the greenhouse effect, such
measures would have many other benefits, such as cutting down on
acid rain and air pollution, not to mention easing the global stress
on having to depend on Arab oil. These benefits would make the changes
worthwhile even if the greenhouse effect turned out to be false
We could, for example, turn to solar power for making electricity,
and even, perhaps, for synthesizing auto fuel in some way. Solar
energy is plentiful, especially in countries which are now desperately
poor, for example in the Saraha and the tropics. It would be a happy
way to balance the wealth of the world. The technical problems are
not serious, though it would take a large investment in design and
building. And there are many other possibilities, like wind power
or maybe even controlled fusion power.
Unfortunately, humanity is not doing a very good job of coming
to terms with this long-term impending problem. When a disaster
is clear and immediate, like the Y2K threat, people can act and
prevent it, but when it's as vague and unpredicable as the greenhouse
effect, they don't seem to do so well. And, of course, there are
vested interests to contend with, like the oil companies, who are
hard to defeat because they own the U.S. Congress, and sometimes
the Presidency too.
The greenhouse effect, like most environmental problems, is related
to the population problem. More people means more cars using more
oil, and more demand for electricity, most of which is made from
coal. If we could solve the population problem, and cut down the
world's numbers to, say, one-tenth what they are now, the environmental
problems would become more manageable or disappear altogether.
Within limits, individuals can make their own adaptations to Scitech,
and make their own lives immeasurably better. By now these essays
should be making that plain.
The slave-holders of Essay 2, for example, could have done well
for themselves by selling their slaves and finding a slave-free
way of life, for example by starting a factory with the money. The
young men of 1914 could have saved themselves a bad time by avoiding
the military and going away somewhere safe, like America, which
never had a draft. These decisions would not have solved slavery
or World War I, but they would have saved the clever individuals
anyway, who did the smart thing and adapted their lives to Scitech.
The same is true today. Anyone can live a much more prosperous
life today by (for one thing) learning the lesson of Essay 5 and
avoiding kids. Perhaps some people would feel that their lives are
not fulfilled without offspring, but even these people can adapt
to Scitech to some extent by having just one or two.
This is a particularly happy solution because, unlike the slave-
holder who sold his slaves, or the young man who avoided war, the
man or woman who controls his issue will in fact help the population
problem. Such people will be doing the planet as well as themselves
Individuals can counter the greenhouse effect in other ways that
help themselves as well. If you can control your urge for a gas-guzzling
egomobile, you will save money as well as oil. If you can cut down
on wasteful electricity use, you can save coal as well help the
air. You can conserve paper and many other resources that will help
the planet as well as giving you a better life.
Above all else, you will have the satisfaction of living well.
The spenders and the wasters may well be more show-offey than you,
but there is a quiet satisfaction in knowing that when you use things,
you use them well.
The whole point of these essays is to remind ourselves what a
magical world we live in, and that much of that magic comes from
the understanding of Scitech. We owe it to ourselves to use this
world well, and to care for it, because it is such a magical place.
We owe it to ourselves to adapt and be aware of Scitech.
The people who misuse and do not appreciate our world are boring
people, too close-minded and foolish to see the wonder all around
them. They waste and misuse because they are foolish, for example
by needing a huge and overbearing car because they have no real
understanding of what a magical thing a car simply is.
They make themselves addictions, and lead dull lives, because
they cannot see the magic and variety all around them. Such people
are miserable, because they cannot change. As we said before, when
people fail to adapt to Scitech, the result is generally calamity.
Individuals can improve their lives, and be much more prosperous
and happy, by adapting to Scitech. In the case of population, they
will also be helping solve the problem. Unfortunately, there are
We only have one atmosphere, just as we only have one planet.
If the majority of people go on causing population, pollution, and
the greenhouse effect, the results will affect all of us, even the
ones who have adapted to Scitech and behaved wisely. As we've said
several time, most people would rather die than change their wrong
ideas. It seems like the greenhouse effect is on its way.
No one knows just how bad the greenhouse effect will be, but it
seems likely that the world is in for a bumpy ride. We are all on
a roller-coaster, and we cannot get off. The most individuals can
do is make their lives better in some ways for awhile.
There's satisfaction in that, of course, just as there is always
satisfaction in living well. But sooner or later, other people --
and there are more and more of these -- are likely to impend. The
world's ever-expanding population seem mostly dedicated to making
a Frankenstein of Scitech.
Chapter 1 |
Chapter 2 |
Chapter 3 |
Chapter 4 |
Chapter 5 |
Chapter 6 |
Chapter 7 |
Chapter 8 |
Chapter 9 |
Chapter 10 |
Chapter 11 |