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Science And Morality

by Charles MacFarland
Chapter 6



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 is Frankenstein.

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 us.


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 greater power.

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 mind.

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 later.

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 the river.

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 still further.


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 warmer.

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 just how.

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 alarm.

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 a favour.

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 limits.

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.


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