This essay was first published in the January – February 1971 issues of The Objectivist and later anthologized in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971) and Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1999). A lecture version was delivered in November 1970 at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston. The audio lecture lasts 57 minutes, followed by a 55-minute Q&A.
Let us begin by translating an abstract idea into concrete, specific terms. A current trend proclaims that technology is man’s enemy and should be restricted or abolished. Let us project what this idea would mean in practice.
Suppose that you are a young man in the year 1975. You are married, have two children and own a modest home in the suburbs of a large city. Let us observe a normal, average day of your life.
You get up at five a.m., because you work in the city and must be at the office at nine. You always had a light breakfast, just toast and coffee. Your electric percolator is gone; electric percolators are not manufactured any longer, they are regarded as an item of self-indulgent luxury: they consume electric power, which contributes to the load of power stations, which contributes to air pollution. So you make your coffee in an old-fashioned pot on an electric — no, an oil-burning stove; you used to have an electric one, but they have been forbidden by law. Your electric toaster is gone; you make your toast in the oven; your attention wanders for a moment and you burn the toast. There is no time to make another batch.
When you had a car, it took you three-quarters of an hour to get to the office; but private automobiles have been outlawed and replaced by “mass transportation.” Now it takes you two hours and a half. The community bus can make the trip in a little over an hour, when it is on time; but you never know whether it will be on time, so you allow for half-an-hour’s delay. You trudge ten blocks through the bitter gusts of a cold morning wind to your community bus stop, and you stand waiting. You have no choice — there are no other means of transportation — and you know it; so does the bus company.
When you reach the city, you walk twelve blocks from the bus terminal to the office building. You make it on time. You work till noon, then eat, at your desk, the lunch you have brought from home. There used to be six restaurants in the two blocks around the building; but restaurants are notorious sources of pollution — they create garbage; now there is only one restaurant, and it is not too good, and you have to stand in line. Besides, you save money by packing your own lunch. You pack it in an old shoe-box; there are no metal boxes: the mining of metal has been severely curtailed; there are no plastic bags — a self-indulgent luxury; there are no Thermos bottles. Your sandwich is a little stale and your coffee is cold, but you are used to that.
In the later hours of the afternoon, you begin to watch the clock and to fight against the recurring attacks of your enemy: boredom. You have worked for the company for eight years; for the past three years, you have been office manager; there is no promotion to expect, no further place to go; business expansion has been arrested. You try to fight the boredom by telling yourself that you are an unusually lucky fellow, but it does not help much. You keep saying it because, under the boredom, there is a nagging fear which you don’t want to acknowledge: that the company might go out of business. You know that paper consumes trees, and trees are essential for the preservation of life on earth, and forests must not be sacrificed for the sake of self-indulgent luxuries. The company you work for manufactures paper containers.
By the time you reach the bus terminal again, on your way home, you reproach yourself for being exhausted; you see no reason for it. Your wife — you keep telling yourself — is the real victim. And she is.
Your wife gets up at six a.m. — you have insisted that she sleep until the coal furnace, which you lighted, has warmed the house a little. She has to cook breakfast for your son, aged 5; there are no breakfast cereals to give him, they have been prohibited as not sufficiently nutritious; there is no canned orange juice — cans pollute the countryside. There are no electric refrigerators.
She has to breast-feed your infant daughter, aged six months; there are no plastic bottles, no baby formulas. There are no products such as “Pampers”; your wife washes diapers for hours each day, by hand, as she washes all the family laundry, as she washes the dishes — there are no self-indulgent luxuries such as washing machines or automatic dishwashers or electric irons. There are no vacuum cleaners; she cleans the house by means of a broom.
There are no shopping centers — they despoil the beauty of the countryside. She walks two miles to the nearest grocery store and stands in line for an hour or so. The purchases she lugs home are a little heavy; but she does not complain — the lady columnist in the newspaper has said it is good for her figure.
Since there are no canned foods and no frozen foods, she starts cooking dinner three hours in advance, peeling and slicing by hand every slimy, recalcitrant bit of the vegetables. She does not get fruit very often — refrigerated freight cars have been discontinued.
When you get home, she is trying not to show that she is exhausted. It is pretty difficult to hide, particularly since there are no cosmetics — which are an extra-self-indulgent luxury. By the time you are through with dinner and dishwashing and putting the children to bed and a few other chores, you are both free. But what are you to do with your brief evening? There is no television, no radio, no electric phonograph, no recorded music. There are no drive-in movies. There is a movie theater in a town six miles away — if you catch the community bus in time. You don’t feel like rushing to catch it.
So you stay at home. You find nothing to say to your wife: you don’t want to depress her by discussing the kinds of things that crowd your mind. You know that she is keeping silent for the same reason. Junior did not eat much dinner: he has a sore throat; you remember vaguely that diphtheria had once been virtually eliminated, but epidemics of it have been recurring recently in schools around the country; seventy-three children died of it in a neighboring state. The last time you saw your father, he complained about pains in his chest; you hope desperately that it is not a heart ailment. Your mother died of a heart ailment at the age of fifty-five; the old doctor mentioned a device that could have saved her, but it was a product of a very, very advanced technology, which does not exist any longer: it was called a “pacemaker.”
You look at your wife; the light is dim — electricity is rationed and only one bulb per room is allowed — but you can see the slump of her shoulders and the lines at the comers of her mouth. She is only thirty-two; she was such a beautiful girl when you met her in college. She was studying to be a lawyer; she could have combined a career with the duties of a wife and mother; but she could not combine it with the duties of heavy industry; so she gave it up. In the fifteen hours of this day, she has done the work of a dozen machines. She has had to do it — so that the brown pelican or the white polar bear might not vanish from this earth.
By ten o’clock, you feel a desperate longing for sleep — and cannot summon any other desire. Lying in bed, by the side of your wife who feels as you do, you wonder dimly what it was that the advocates of a return to nature had been saying about the joys of an unrestrained sexuality; you cannot remember it any longer. As you fall asleep, the air is pure above the roof of your house, pure as arctic snow — only you wonder how much longer you will care to breathe it.
This, of course, is fiction.
In real life, there is no such thing as a gradual descent from civilization to savagery. There is a crash — and no recovery, only the long, drawn-out agony of chaos, helplessness and random death, on a mass scale. There is no such thing as retrogressing “a little.” There is no such thing as a “restrained progress.” You are hearing many voices today that object to an “unrestricted technology.” A restricted technology is a contradiction in terms.
What is not fiction, however, are the countless ways in which your life — and any meaning, comfort, safety or happiness you may find in life — depends on technology. The purpose of the far too brief example I gave you was to prompt you to make a similar, personal inventory of what you would lose if technology were abolished — and then to give a moment’s silent thanks every time you use one of the labor- and, therefore, time- and, therefore, life-saving devices created for you by technology.
If someone proposed to reduce you to the state I described, you would scream in protest. Why don’t you? It is being proposed loudly, clearly and daily all around you. What is worse, it is being proposed in the name of love for mankind.
There are three major reasons why you, and most people, do not protest. (1) You take technology — and its magnificent contributions to your life — for granted, almost as if it were a fact of nature, which will always be there. But it is not and will not. (2) As an American, you are likely to be very benevolent and enormously innocent about the nature of evil. You are unable to believe that some people can advocate man’s destruction for the sake of man’s destruction — and when you hear them, you think that they don’t mean it. But they do. (3) Your education — by that same kind of people — has hampered your ability to translate an abstract idea into its actual, practical meaning and, therefore, has made you indifferent to and contemptuous of ideas. This is the real American tragedy.
It is these three premises that you now have to check.
The attack on technology is being put over on you by means of a package deal tied together by strings called “ecology.” Let us examine the arguments of the ecologists; their motives will become clear as we go along.
Under the title “The Ravaged Environment,” a survey of the ecological crusade was published in Newsweek on January 26, 1970. In spite — or, perhaps, because — of its sympathy with that crusade, it is an accurate survey: it captures the movement’s essence, spirit and epistemological style.
The survey begins by declaring that man “has come face to face with a new man-made peril, the poisoning of his natural environment with noxious doses of chemicals, garbage, fumes, noise, sewage, heat, ugliness and urban overcrowding.”
Observe the odd disparity of the things listed as perils: noxious chemicals, along with noise and ugliness. This mixture occurs in all the arguments of the ecologists; we shall discuss its motives later.
The perils — the survey keeps stressing — are not merely local, but global, they affect the whole of the earth and threaten the survival of all living species. What kinds of examples are given and on the grounds of what evidence?
“In the shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean off Los Angeles, sea urchins — a small sea animal — are enjoying a population boom, thanks to the organic materials in sewage being washed out to sea. Normally, the sea urchins’ population levels are tied to the quantity of kelp on the ocean bottoms; the animals die off when they have eaten all the kelp, thus allowing new crops of the seaweed to grow. But now that the sewage is available to nourish the sea urchins, the kelp beds have not had a chance to recover. In many places the kelp, for which man has found hundreds of uses (it is an ingredient of salad dressing and beer) has disappeared altogether.
“There is, of course, no way of calculating the exact effects of the loss of kelp on its particular ecosystem.”
An “ecosystem” is defined as “the sum total of all the living and non-living parts that support a chain of life within a selected area.” How do the ecologists select this area? How do they determine its interrelationship with the rest of the globe, and over what period of time? No answer is given.
Another example: “Right now some ecologists are worried about the possible effect on the Eskimo of the great oil race on Alaska’s remote North Slope. Oil spills in the ever-frozen sea, they fear, would be trapped in the narrow space between water and ice, killing first the plankton, then the fish and mollusks that feed on the plankton, then the polar bears, walruses, seals and whales that feed off sea life, and finally threatening the Eskimos who live off these animals.
“The net outcome of the current research, hopefully, will be a better understanding of the potential consequences of man’s tampering with any ecosystem.”
Consider the actual consequences of this particular example. Without any effort on their part, the Eskimos are to receive fortunes in oil royalties, which will enable them to give up their backbreaking struggle for mere subsistence and to discover the comfort of civilized life and labor. If — and it is only an “if” — the ecologists’ fears came true, the Eskimos would have the means to move to a better background. Or are we to assume that the Eskimos prefer their way of life to ours? If so, why are they entitled to a preference, but we are not? Or shall we assume that the Eskimos have inalienable rights, but Thomas Edison does not? Or are the Eskimos to be sacrificed to the polar bears, walruses, seals and whales, which are to be sacrificed to the fish and mollusks, which are to be sacrificed to the plankton? If so, why? But we will come back to these questions later.
“Non-human environments,” the survey declares, “have a remarkable resiliency; as many as 25 or even 50 per cent of a certain fish or rodent population might be lost in a habitat during a plague or disaster, yet the species will recover its original strength within one or two years. It’s man-made interference — or pollution — that can profoundly disturb the ecosystem and its equilibrium.”
Bear this in mind: factories represent pollution — plagues do not.
“The worst fears of land conservationists concern not the accidental spoilage of land by wastes, but its exploitation by man to build mines, roads and cities. In time he may encroach so far on his greenery that he reduces the amount of air he has to breathe.”
Have you ever looked at a map of the globe and compared the size of the area of industrial sites and cities to the size of the area of untouched wilderness and primeval jungles? And what about the greenery cultivated by man? What about the grains, the fruit trees, the flowers that would have vanished long ago without human care and labor? What about the giant irrigation projects that transform deserts into fertile, green lands? No answer.
“Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, has vanished from its shores,” the survey laments, blaming the bird’s extinction on DDT.
The dinosaur and its fellow-creatures vanished from this earth long before there were any industrialists or any men — and environmental “resiliency” never brought them back. But this did not end life on earth. Contrary to the ecologists, nature does not stand still and does not maintain the kind of “equilibrium” that guarantees the survival of any particular species — least of all the survival of her greatest and most fragile product: man.
But love for man is not a characteristic of the ecologists. “Man has always been a messy animal,” the survey declares. “Ancient Romans complained of the sooty smoke that suffused their city, and in the first century Pliny described the destruction of crops from climate changes wrought by the draining of lakes or deflection of rivers.”
Such events did not occur in the period that followed the fall of Rome: the Dark Ages.
Would you regard the following as an expression of love for man? This deals with another alleged pollution created by cities: noise. “Nor can the harried urban inhabitant seek silence indoors. He merely substitutes the clamor of rock music for the beat of the steam hammers, the buzz of the air conditioner for the steady rumble of traffic. The modern kitchen, with its array of washing machines, garbage-disposal units and blenders, often rivals the street comer as a source of unwanted sound.”
Consider the fate of a human being, a woman, who is to become once again a substitute for washing machines, garbage-disposal units and blenders. Consider what human life and suffering were like, indoors and out, prior to the advent of air conditioning. The price you pay for these marvelous advantages is “unwanted sound.” Well, there is no unwanted sound in a cemetery.
Predictions of universal doom are interspersed with complaints of this kind. And nowhere, neither in this survey nor elsewhere, does one find any scientific evidence — no, not to prove, but even to support a valid hypothesis of global danger. But one does find the following.
“. . . some scientists,” the survey declares, “like to play with the notion that global disaster may result if environmental pollution continues unchecked. According to one scenario, the planet is already well advanced toward a phenomenon called ‘the greenhouse effect.’ Concentrations of carbon dioxide are building up in the atmosphere, it is said, as the world’s vegetation, which feeds on CO2, is progressively chopped down. Hanging in the atmosphere, it forms a barrier trapping the planet’s heat. As a result, the greenhouse theorists contend, the world is threatened with a rise in average temperature which, if it reached 4 or 5 degrees, could melt the polar ice caps, raise sea level by as much as 300 feet and cause a worldwide flood. Other scientists see an opposite peril: that the polar ice will expand, sending glaciers down to the temperate zone once again. This theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.”
This is what bears the name of “science” today. It is on the basis of this kind of stuff that you are being pushed into a new Dark Age.
Now observe that in all the propaganda of the ecologists — amidst all their appeals to nature and pleas for “harmony with nature” — there is no discussion of man’s needs and the requirements of his survival. Man is treated as if he were an unnatural phenomenon. Man cannot survive in the kind of state of nature that the ecologists envision — i.e., on the level of sea urchins or polar bears. In that sense, man is the weakest of animals: he is born naked and unarmed, without fangs, claws, horns or “instinctual” knowledge. Physically, he would fall an easy prey, not only to the higher animals, but also to the lowest bacteria: he is the most complex organism and, in a contest of brute force, extremely fragile and vulnerable. His only weapon — his basic means of survival — is his mind.
In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire.
It is not necessary to remind you of what human existence was like — for centuries and millennia — prior to the Industrial Revolution. That the ecologists ignore or evade it is so terrible a crime against humanity that it serves as their protection: no one believes that anyone can be capable of it. But, in this matter, it is not even necessary to look at history; take a look at the conditions of existence in the undeveloped countries, which means: on most of this earth, with the exception of the blessed island which is Western civilization.
The wisest words I read on the subject of pollution and ecology were spoken by the ambassador of one of those countries. At a United Nations symposium, Oliver Weerasinghe, ambassador from Ceylon, said: “The two-thirds of mankind who live in developing countries do not share the same concern for the environment as the other one-third in more affluent regions. The primary problem for these developing areas is the struggle for the bare necessities of life. It would, therefore, not be realistic to expect governments of these areas to carry out recommendations regarding environmental protection which might impede or restrict economic progress.” (Industry Week, June 29, 1970. Italics mine.)
In Western Europe, in the preindustrial Middle Ages, man’s life expectancy was 30 years. In the nineteenth century, Europe’s population grew by 300 percent — which is the best proof of the fact that for the first time in human history, industry gave the great masses of people a chance to survive.
If it were true that a heavy concentration of industry is destructive to human life, one would find life expectancy declining in the more advanced countries. But it has been rising steadily.
Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):
1900 — 47.3 years
1920 — 53 years
1940 — 60 years
1968 — 70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)
Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent “Thank you” to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.
No, of course, factories do not have to be grimy — but this is not an issue when the survival of technology is at stake. And clean air is not the issue nor the goal of the ecologists’ crusade.
The figures on life expectancy in different countries around the globe are as follows (from The New York Times Almanac, 1970):
England — 70 years
India — 50 years
East Africa — 43 years
Congo — 37 years
South Vietnam — 35 years
If you consider, not merely the length, but the kind of life men have to lead in the undeveloped parts of the world — “the quality of life,” to borrow, with full meaning, the ecologists’ meaningless catch phrase — if you consider the squalor, the misery, the helplessness, the fear, the unspeakably hard labor, the festering diseases, the plagues, the starvation, you will begin to appreciate the role of technology in man’s existence.
Make no mistake about it: it is technology and progress that the nature-lovers are out to destroy. To quote again from the Newsweek survey: “What worries ecologists is that people now upset about the environment may ultimately look to technology to solve everything . . .” This is repeated over and over again; technological solutions, they claim, will merely create new problems.
“. . . a number of today’s environmental reformers conclude that mankind’s main hope lies not in technology but in abstinence — fewer births and less gadgetry. . . . The West Coast has also spawned a fledgling ‘zero GNP growth’ movement. Harvey Wheeler, of Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, believes the U.S. may reach a point — perhaps in ten years — when ‘the present rate of growth is absolutely disastrous and economic growth may well have to be eliminated altogether.’”
And: “Russell Train [one of President Nixon’s advisers] warns that improving the quality of life will entail unpopular cutbacks on luxuries. ‘People have shown no inclination,’ he points out, ‘to give up the products of affluence — TV sets and gadgets.’”
You have probably seen on television, as I have, the younger adherents of the ecological crusade, the hippie types who scream, denouncing modern “luxuries,” with special emphasis on the electric toothbrush, which, they claim, contributes to pollution by consuming electricity. Leaving aside the fact that this toothbrush, as any dentist will tell you, is an extremely valuable tool of health care, because it provides gum massage, let us consider its consumption of electricity.
An average household light bulb consumes 100 watts of electricity. This bulb is used approximately 8 to 10 hours a day, which means a daily consumption of 800 to 1000 watt-hours. Compare this figure with the following: a General Electric Cordless Toothbrush consumes 2 watts of electricity when being recharged. Whatever the motives of those hippies’ attacks, concern for air pollution is not one of them.
The immediate — though not the ultimate — motive is made quite clear in the Newsweek survey. “To a man they [the ecologists] maintain that a national population plan must be invoked, primarily through a national land-use plan.” “The battle against pollution must also overcome the jurisdictional lines that carve the planet into separate sovereignties.” The ecologists’ programs cannot be accomplished “without some fairly important modifications of the American tradition of free enterprise and free choice.” The “obstacles to reform [are] man’s traditional notions of growth, sovereignty, individualism and time.” “What is needed, the ecologists suggest, is a rebirth of community spirit, not only among men but among all of nature.” How they intend to impose a “community spirit” on nature, where living species exist by devouring one another, is not indicated.
The immediate goal is obvious: the destruction of the remnants of capitalism in today’s mixed economy, and the establishment of a global dictatorship. This goal does not have to be inferred — many speeches and books on the subject state explicitly that the ecological crusade is a means to that end.
There are two significant aspects in this New Left switch of the collectivists’ line. One is the open break with the intellect, the dropping of the mask of intellectuality worn by the old left, the substitution of birds, bees and beauty — “nature’s beauty” — for the pseudoscientific, super-technological paraphernalia of Marx’s economic determinism. A more ludicrous shrinking of a movement’s stature or a more obvious confession of intellectual bankruptcy could not be invented in fiction.
The other significant aspect is the reason behind this switch: the switch represents an open admission — by Soviet Russia and its facsimiles around the world and its sympathizers of every political sort and shade — that collectivism is an industrial and technological failure; that collectivism cannot produce.
The root of production is man’s mind; the mind is an attribute of the individual and it does not work under orders, controls and compulsion, as centuries of stagnation have demonstrated. Progress cannot be planned by government, and it cannot be restricted or retarded; it can only be stopped, as every statist government has demonstrated. If we are to consider nature, what about the fact that collectivism is incompatible with man’s nature and that the first requirement of man’s mind is freedom? But observe that just as the ancient mystics of spirit regarded the mind as a faculty of divine origin and, therefore, as unnatural, so today’s mystics of muscle, observing that the mind is not possessed by animals, regard it as unnatural.
If concern with poverty and human suffering were the collectivists’ motive, they would have become champions of capitalism long ago; they would have discovered that it is the only political system capable of producing abundance. But they evaded the evidence as long as they could. When the issue became overwhelmingly clear to the whole world, the collectivists were faced with a choice: either turn to the right, in the name of humanity — or to the left, in the name of dictatorial power. They turned to the left — the New Left.
Instead of their old promises that collectivism would create universal abundance and their denunciations of capitalism for creating poverty, they are now denouncing capitalism for creating abundance. Instead of promising comfort and security for everyone, they are now denouncing people for being comfortable and secure. They are still struggling, however, to inculcate guilt and fear; these have always been their psychological tools. Only instead of exhorting you to feel guilty of exploiting the poor, they are now exhorting you to feel guilty of exploiting land, air and water. Instead of threatening you with a bloody rebellion of the disinherited masses, they are now trying — like witch doctors addressing a tribe of savages — to scare you out of your wits with thunderously vague threats of an unknowable, cosmic cataclysm, threats that cannot be checked, verified or proved.
One element, however, has remained unchanged in the collectivists’ technique, the element without which they would have had no chance: altruism — the appeal for self-sacrifice, the denial of man’s right to exist. But observe the shrinking of plausibility with the expansion of the scale: some forty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt exhorted this country to sacrifice for the sake of an underprivileged “one-third of a nation”; fifteen years later, the sacrifice was stretched to include the “underprivileged” of the whole globe; today, you are asked to sacrifice for the sake of seaweeds and inanimate matter.
To the credit of the American people, the majority do not take the ecology issue seriously. It is an artificial, PR-manufactured issue, blown up by the bankrupt left who can find no other grounds for attacking capitalism. But the majority, as in so many other issues, remain silent. And this, precisely, is the danger. “The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow.” They are accepted by default.
It is possible, however, that the leftists may have outsmarted themselves, this time. The issue may be stolen from them and dissolved by American common sense, which may take them at their word, accept the semiplausible bait and reject the rest of the ecological package deal.
What is the semiplausible bait? The actual instances of local pollution and dirt, which do exist. City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem — not a political one — and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.
As far as the role of government is concerned, there are laws — some of them passed in the nineteenth century — prohibiting certain kinds of pollution, such as the dumping of industrial wastes into rivers. These laws have not been enforced. It is the enforcement of such laws that those concerned with the issue may properly demand. Specific laws — forbidding specifically defined and proved harm, physical harm, to persons or property — are the only solution to problems of this kind. But it is not solutions that the leftists are seeking, it is controls.
Observe that industry has been made the scapegoat in this issue, as in all modern issues. But industry is not the only culprit; for instance, the handling of the sewage and garbage disposal problems, which is so frequently here denounced, has been the province of the local governments. Yet the nature-lovers scream that industry should be abolished, or regulated out of existence, and that more power should be given to the government. And as far as the visible dirt is concerned, it is not the industrial tycoons who strew beer cans and soda-pop bottles all over the highways of America.
Since the enormous weight of controls created by the welfare-state theorists has hampered, burdened, corrupted, but not yet destroyed American industry, the collectivists have found — in ecology — a new excuse for the creation of more controls, more corruption, more favor-peddling, more harassment of industry by more irresponsible pressure groups.
The industrialists, as usual, will be the last to protest. In a mixed economy, the industrialists will swallow anything and apologize for anything. Their abject crawling and climbing on the “environmental” bandwagon is consistent with their policy of the past four or five decades, inculcated by Pragmatism: they would rather make a deal with a few more bureaucrats than stand up and face the issue in terms of philosophical-moral principles.
The greatest guilt of modern industrialists is not the fumes of their factory smokestacks, but the pollution of this country’s intellectual life, which they have condoned, assisted and supported.
As to the politicians, they have discovered that the issue of pollution is pay dirt and they have gone all out for it. They see it as a safe, non-controversial, “public-spirited” issue, which can mean anything to anyone. Besides, a politician would not dare oppose it and be smeared from coast to coast as an advocate of smog. All sorts of obscure politicians are leaping into prominence and onto television screens by proposing “ecological” reforms. A wise remark on the subject was made by a politician with whom I seldom agree: Jesse Unruh of California. He said: “Ecology has become the political substitute for the word mother.”
The deeper significance of the ecological crusade lies in the fact that it does expose a profound threat to mankind — though not in the sense its leaders allege. It exposes the ultimate motive of the collectivists — the naked essence of hatred for achievement, which means: hatred for reason, for man, for life.
In today’s drugged orgy of boastfully self-righteous swinishness, the masks are coming down and you can hear all but explicit confessions of that hatred.
For example, five years ago, on the occasion of the East Coast’s massive power failure and blackout, Life magazine published the following in its issue of November 19, 1965: “It shouldn’t happen every evening, but a crisis like the lights going out has its good points. In the first place, it deflates human smugness about our miraculous technology, which, at least in the area of power distribution and control, now stands revealed as utterly flawed . . . and it is somehow delicious to contemplate the fact that all our beautiful brains and all those wonderful plans and all that marvelous equipment has combined to produce a system that is unreliable.”
Currently, the Newsweek survey criticizes the spectacular progress of the United States, as follows: “The society’s system of rewards favored the man who produced more, who found new ways to exploit nature. There were no riches or prestige for the man who made a deliberate decision to leave well enough alone — in this case, his environment.” Observe that this “system of rewards” is treated as if it were an arbitrary whim of society, not an inexorable fact of nature. Who is to provide the riches — or even the minimum sustenance — for the man who does not choose “to exploit nature”? What is “prestige” to be granted for — for nonproduction and nonachievement? For holding man’s life cheaper than his physical environment? When man had to “leave well enough alone” — in prehistoric times — his life expectancy was 15 to 20 years.
This phrase, “to leave well enough alone,” captures the essence of the deaf, blind, lethargic, fear-ridden, hatred-eaten human ballast that the men of the mind — the prime movers of human survival and progress — have had to drag along, to feed and to be martyred by, through all the millennia of mankind’s history.
The Industrial Revolution was the great breakthrough that liberated man’s mind from the weight of that ballast. The country made possible by the Industrial Revolution — The United States of America — achieved the magnificence which only free men can achieve, and demonstrated that reason is the means, the base, the precondition of man’s survival.
The enemies of reason — the mystics, the man-haters and life-haters, the seekers of the unearned and the unreal — have been gathering their forces for a counterattack, ever since. It was the corruption of philosophy that gave them a foothold and slowly gave them the power to corrupt the rest.
The enemies of the Industrial Revolution — its displaced persons — were of the kind that had fought human progress for centuries, by every means available. In the Middle Ages, their weapon was the fear of God. In the nineteenth century, they still invoked the fear of God — for instance, they opposed the use of anesthesia on the grounds that it defies God’s will, since God intended men to suffer. When this weapon wore out, they invoked the will of the collective, the group, the tribe. But since this weapon has collapsed in their hands, they are now reduced, like cornered animals, to baring their teeth and their souls, and to proclaiming that man has no right to exist — by the divine will of inanimate matter.
The demand to “restrict” technology is the demand to restrict man’s mind. It is nature — i.e., reality — that makes both these goals impossible to achieve. Technology can be destroyed, and the mind can be paralyzed, but neither can be restricted. Whether and wherever such restrictions are attempted, it is the mind — not the state — that withers away.
Technology is applied science. The progress of theoretical science and of technology — i.e., of human knowledge — is moved by such a complex and interconnected sum of the work of individual minds that no computer or committee could predict and prescribe its course. The discoveries in one branch of knowledge lead to unexpected discoveries in another; the achievements in one field open countless roads in all the others. The space exploration program, for instance, has led to invaluable advances in medicine. Who can predict when, where or how a given bit of information will strike an active mind and what it will produce?
To restrict technology would require omniscience — a total knowledge of all the possible effects and consequences of a given development for all the potential innovators of the future. Short of such omniscience, restrictions mean the attempt to regulate the unknown, to limit the unborn, to set rules for the undiscovered.
And more: an active mind will not function by permission. An inventor will not spend years of struggle dedicated to an excruciating work if the fate of his work depends, not on the criterion of demonstrable truth, but on the arbitrary decision of some “authorities.’’ He will not venture out on a course where roadblocks are established at every turn, in the form of the horrendous necessity to seek, to beg, to plead for the consent of a committee. The history of major inventions, even in semi-free societies, is a shameful record, as far as the collective wisdom of an entrenched professional consensus is concerned.
As to the notion that progress is unnecessary, that we know enough, that we can stop on the present level of technological development and maintain it, without going any farther — ask yourself why mankind’s history is full of the wreckage of civilizations that could not be maintained and vanished along with such knowledge as they had achieved; why men who do not move forward, fall back into the abyss of savagery.
Even a primitive, preindustrial economy, run primarily on muscle power, cannot function successfully through the mere repetition of a routine of motions by passively obedient men who are not permitted to think. How long would a modern factory last if it were operated by mechanics trained to a routine performance, without a single engineer among them? How long would the engineers last without a single scientist? And a scientist — in the proper meaning of the term — is a man whose mind does not stand still.
Machines are an extension of man’s mind, as intimately dependent on it as his body, and they crumble, as his body crumbles, when the mind stops.
A stagnant technology is the equivalent of a stagnant mind. A “restricted” technology is the equivalent of a censored mind.
But — the ecologists claim — men would not have to work or think, the computers would do everything. Try to project a row of computers programmed by a bunch of hippies.
Now observe the grim irony of the fact that the ecological crusaders and their young activist followers are vehement enemies of the status quo — that they denounce middle-class passivity, defy conventional attitudes, clamor for action, scream for “change” — and that they are cringing advocates of the status quo in regard to nature.
In confrontation with nature, their plea is: “Leave well enough alone.” Do not upset the balance of nature — do not disturb the birds, the forests, the swamps, the oceans — do not rock the boat (or even build one) — do not experiment — do not venture out — what was good enough for our anthropoid ancestors is good enough for us — adjust to the winds, the rains, the man-eating tigers, the malarial mosquitoes, the tsetse flies — do not rebel — do not anger the unknowable demons who rule it all.
In their cosmology, man is infinitely malleable, controllable and dispensable, nature is sacrosanct. It is only man — and his work, his achievement, his mind — that can be violated with impunity, while nature is not to be defiled by a single bridge or skyscraper. It is only human beings that they do not hesitate to murder, it is only human schools that they bomb, only human habitations that they burn, only human property that they loot — while they crawl on their bellies in homage to the reptiles of the marshlands, whom they protect from the encroachments of human airfields, and humbly seek the guidance of the stars on how to live on this incomprehensible planet.
They are worse than conservatives — they are “conservationists.’’ What do they want to conserve? Anything, except man. What do they want to rule? Nothing, except man.
“The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men,” said Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. It was published in 1943. Today, the moral inversion is complete; you can see it demonstrated in action and in explicit confessions.
The obscenity of regarding scientific progress as “aggression” against nature, while advocating universal slavery for man, needs no further demonstration.
But some of those crusaders’ vicious absurdities are worth noting.
Whom and what are they attacking? It is not the luxuries of the “idle rich,” but the availability of “luxuries” to the broad masses of people. They are denouncing the fact that automobiles, air conditioners and television sets are no longer toys of the rich, but are within the means of an average American worker — a beneficence that does not exist and is not fully believed anywhere else on earth.
What do they regard as the proper life for working people? A life of unrelieved drudgery, of endless, gray toil, with no rest, no travel, no pleasure — above all, no pleasure. Those drugged, fornicating hedonists do not know that man cannot live by toil alone, that pleasure is a necessity, and that television has brought more enjoyment into more lives than all the public parks and settlement houses combined.
What do they regard as luxury? Anything above the “bare necessities’’ of physical survival — with the explanation that men would not have to labor so hard if it were not for the “artificial needs” created by “commercialism” and “materialism.” In reality, the opposite is true: the less the return on your labor, the harder the labor. It is much easier to acquire an automobile in New York City than a meal in the jungle. Without machines and technology, the task of mere survival is a terrible, mind-and-body-wrecking ordeal. In “nature,” the struggle for food, clothing and shelter consumes all of a man’s energy and spirit; it is a losing struggle — the winner is any flood, earthquake or swarm of locusts. (Consider the 500,000 bodies left in the wake of a single flood in Pakistan; they had been men who lived without technology.) To work only for bare necessities is a luxury that mankind cannot afford.
Who is the first target of the ecological crusade? No, not big business. The first victims will be a specific group: those who are young, ambitious and poor. The young people who work their way through college; the young couples who plan their future, budgeting their money and their time; the young men and women who aim at a career; the struggling artists, writers, composers who have to earn a living, while developing their creative talents; any purposeful human being — i.e., the best of mankind. To them, time is the one priceless commodity, most passionately needed. They are the main beneficiaries of electric percolators, frozen foods, washing machines and labor-saving devices. And if the production and, above all, the invention of such devices is retarded or diminished by the ecological crusade, it will be one of the darkest crimes against humanity — particularly because the victims’ agony will be private, their voices will not be heard, and their absence will not be noticed publicly until a generation or two later (by which time, the survivors will not be able to notice anything).
But there is a different group of young people, the avant-garde and cannon fodder of the ecological crusade, the products of “Progressive” education: the purposeless. These are the concrete-bound, mentally stunted youths, who are unable to think or to project the future, who can grasp nothing but the immediate moment. To them, time is an enemy to kill — in order to escape a confrontation with inner emptiness and chronic anxiety. Unable to generate and carry out a goal of their own, they seek and welcome drudgery — the drudgery of mere physical labor, provided, planned and directed by someone else. You saw it demonstrated on their so-called “Earth Day,” when young people who did not take the trouble to wash their own bodies, went out to clean the sidewalks of New York.
These youths have some counterparts among the group they regard as their antagonists: the middle class. I once knew a hardworking housewife whose husband offered to buy her a dishwashing machine, which he could easily afford; she refused it; she would not name her reason, but it was obvious that she dreaded the emptiness of liberated time.
Combine the blank stare of that housewife with the unwashed face and snarling mouth of a hippie — and you will see the soul of the Anti-Industrial Revolution.
These are its followers. The soul of its leaders is worse. What do the leaders hope to gain in practice? I shall answer by quoting a passage from Atlas Shrugged. It was published in 1957 — and I must say that I am not happy about having been prophetic on this particular issue.
It is a scene in which Dagny Taggart, at a conference with the country’s economic planners, begins to grasp their motives.
Then she saw the answer; she saw the secret premise behind their words. . . . These men were moved forward, not by the image of an industrial skyline, but by the vision of that form of existence which the industrialists had swept away — the vision of a fat, unhygienic rajah of India, with vacant eyes staring in indolent stupor out of stagnant layers of flesh, with nothing to do but run precious gems through his fingers and, once in a while, stick a knife into the body of a starved, toil-dazed, germ-eaten creature, as a claim to a few grains of the creature’s rice, then claim it from hundreds of millions of such creatures and thus let the rice grains gather into gems.
She had thought that industrial production was a value not to be questioned by anyone; she had thought that these men’s urge to expropriate the factories of others was their acknowledgment of the factories’ value. She, born of the industrial revolution, had not held as conceivable, had forgotten along with the tales of astrology and alchemy, what these men knew in their secret, furtive souls: . . . that so long as men struggle to stay alive, they’ll never produce so little but that the man with the club won’t be able to seize it and leave them still less, provided millions of them are willing to submit — that the harder their work and the less their gain, the more submissive the fiber of their spirit — that men who live by pulling levers at an electric switchboard, are not easily ruled, but men who live by digging the soil with their naked fingers, are — that the feudal baron did not need electronic factories in order to drink his brains away out of jeweled goblets, and neither did the rajahs of the People’s State of India.