Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Robot Cultists Getting Too N.I.C.E. By Half

I get this question nearly every day: Why, oh, why, do you take all this superlative silliness seriously?

It's easy to discount Superlativity once you've slogged through the critique.

But try to recapture the state of mind with which you skitted over the ideological framing of "tech news" before you gave Superlativity any serious thought. Try to recapture the disinterest with which you passed over platitudes in popular, professional, and academic media that treat some scarcely worked through genetic technique as justifying the question "do you want to live forever?" Or that straightforwardly claims that economies or societies or personalities somehow "evolve." Or that declares the "experts" worry that "people" are unprepared to make good decisions in the face of "accelerating change." Or confidently proposes that "good design" (alone?) can achieve what are in fact palpably political accomplishments like sustainability, social justice, democratic participation, security, liberty, progress. Or that oh so politely indicates that some human lifeways, however wanted they may be by those who incarnate them for the present can nevertheless be declared "suboptimal" in the face of "enhancement" that is "sure" to "engineer" them out of existence for the more "optimal" morphologies and lifeways of the bland blank catalogue-models and workaholics we presumably pine to be in our best most clearheaded moments.

Superlativity as it is celebrated by the Robot Cultists is indeed an unsubstantiated, sociopathic, inelegant, infantile mess of theses and themes, but it is at one and the same time an iceberg tip, a symptom of a deeper more prevailing tendency to a reductionism conjoined to elitism and loathing of life that plays out in mainstream neoliberal and neoconservative corporate-militarist global "development" discourse, a constellation of attitudes crystallizing in something like a futurological programme and suffusing the self-image of whole academic disciplines and professional populations, among them some that attract torrents of cash and uncritical enthusiasm.

It's easy to expose the facile formulations of the futurological congress, to snicker at the oafish ever-marginal Robot Cult. But there are strong structural affinities between the ruling rationales of corporate-militarist incumbency and the superlative mindset. One might surely have felt the same disdain a lingering intelligent look at the Robot Cultists inevitably inspires, and with equal justice, in the early days when another klatch of badly off-putting off-kilter boys with toys who fancied themselves the smartest things in any room unleashed Neoconservatism on the world to the cost of us all.

What could be more perfect than an article in the Financial Times informing us that
Google and Nasa are throwing their weight behind a new school for futurists in Silicon Valley to prepare scientists for an era when machines become cleverer than people.

The new institution, known as "Singularity University", is to be headed by Ray Kurzweil, whose predictions about the exponential pace of technological change have made him a controversial figure in technology circles.

Google and Nasa's backing demonstrates the growing mainstream acceptance of Mr Kurzweil's views, which include a claim that before the middle of this century artificial intelligence will outstrip human beings, ushering in a new era of civilisation.

To be housed at Nasa's Ames Research Center, a stone's-throw from the Googleplex, the Singularity University will offer courses on biotechnology, nano-technology and artificial intelligence.

The so-called "singularity" is a theorised period of rapid technological progress in the near future. Mr Kurzweil, an American inventor, popularised the term in his 2005 book "The Singularity is Near".

Proponents say that during the singularity, machines will be able to improve themselves using artificial intelligence and that smarter-than-human computers will solve problems including energy scarcity, climate change and hunger.

Yet many critics call the singularity dangerous. Some worry that a malicious artificial intelligence might annihilate the human race.

Mr Kurzweil said the university was launching now because many technologies were approaching a moment of radical advancement. "We're getting to the steep part of the curve," said Mr Kurzweil. "It's not just electronics and computers. It's any technology where we can measure the information content, like genetics."

The school is backed by Larry Page, Google co-founder, and Peter Diamandis, chief executive of X-Prize, an organisation which provides grants to support technological change.

"We are anchoring the university in what is in the lab today, with an understanding of what's in the realm of possibility in the future," said Mr Diamandis, who will be vice-chancellor. "The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea."

Despite its title, the school will not be an accredited university. Instead, it will be modelled on the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, the interdisciplinary, multi-cultural school that Mr Diamandis helped establish in 1987.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader (for now) to simply pluck out the unsubstantiated superlative platitudes contained in this breathlessly evangelizing account (did you notice that even the notional registration of skepticism in the article essentially functions as a demand for more funds for our "serious" singularitarians?), to observe the way in which these relentlessly reductive and at once hyperbolically expansive techno-utopian chants co-mingle and reinforce one another. Truly diligent readers may enjoy connecting the dots between these ideas and their proponents to the most ardent expressions of market fundamentalist ideology as well. As for the reference to the "N.I.C.E." in the title of my post, consider it an ambivalent recommendation of a dusty somewhat silly but still prescient book.


jimf said...

> As for the reference to the "N.I.C.E." in the title of my post,
> consider it an ambivalent recommendation of a dusty somewhat
> silly but still prescient book.

Let me add an unambivalent recommendation for this book.

You certainly have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate
C. S. Lewis (and not just _That Hideous Strength_, but any of
his books, fiction or non-fiction). But if you are, and you
can extend to him a measure of courteous receptivity
despite your intellectual disagreements with him, then the
man's writing talents will richly reward your patience.

_That Hideous Strength_ will have you rolling on the floor
laughing. It is also (are are the other books in the "Deep
Heaven" trilogy) quite moving in places.

As far as "prescience" is concerned:

Subject: Pragmatometry is going to be a big thing
Who first described the world wide web?
There have been various suggestions, but I
would like to nominate the author C. S. Lewis,
who wrote the following in _That Hideous Strength_,
published in 1945. He describes what I see as
hyperlinks, without any reference to computers

"I agree with James," said Curry, who had been
waiting somewhat impatiently to speak. The N.I.C.E.
marks the beginning of a new era-the **really**
scientific era. Up to now, everything has been
haphazard. This is going to put science itself
on a scientific basis. There are to be forty
interlocking committees sitting every day and
they've got a wonderful gadget - I was shown the
model last time I was in town - by which the
findings of each committee print themselves off
in their own little compartment on the Analytical
Notice-Board every half hour. Then, that report
slides itself into the right position where it's
connected up by little arrows with all the relevant
parts of the other reports. A glance at the Board
shows you the policy of the whole Institute actually
taking shape under your own eyes. There'll be a
staff of at least twenty experts at the top of the
building working this Notice-Board in a room rather
like the Tube control rooms. It's a marvellous gadget.
The different kinds of business all come out in the
Board in different coloured lights. It must have
cost half a million. They call it a Pragmatometer."

"And there," said Busby, "you see again what the
Institute is already doing for the country. Pragmatometry
is going to be a big thing. Hundreds of people are
going in for it. Why, this Analytical Notice-Board will
probably be out of date before the building is finished!"


jimf said...

> Superlativity as it is celebrated by the Robot Cultists is
> indeed an unsubstantiated, sociopathic, inelegant, infantile
> mess of theses and themes, but it is at one and the same
> time an iceberg tip, a symptom of a deeper more prevailing
> tendency to a reductionism conjoined to elitism and loathing
> of life. . .

Oh, I just can't resist providing some more quotes from
_That Hideous Strength_. ;->

From: [JimF] 13/05/2006 09:38 PM
Subject: Great gleaming surfaces untouched by bird poop

( )

> I agree with many feminist and other critics from
> at least the 80s onward (Mark Dery, Anne Balsamo, Allucquere Rosanne
> Stone, Katherine Hayles, etc.) that there is sometimes a hostility or
> discomfort with bodily/embodied life expressed in some kinds of
> technophiliac discourse that lends itself to conservative politics.
The Soul of Progress
by Ran Prieur
April 19, 2002

. . .

The real revolution is in artificial intelligence and nanotechnology
and artificial life. Machines do not sleep; they don't waste their
attention on frivolous diversions; they do not behave irrationally.
Machines have been designed by progress itself to channel its
eternal spirit. They just need to get a little bit better, so
they can sustain themselves without their obsolete human progenitors.
Our feet are entombed in the muck of biology, but as machines we
will soar free.

I don't mean we will download our "consciousness" into machines.
Epiphenomenalist philosophers have proven that our consciousness
is only an accidental parasite on our language, and in any case
it's thoroughly polluted by our biological origin. We will throw
it out with the other trash and let the machines get on with
their work. The "we" that will survive in machine form is the
fundamental meme of progress itself, the relentless drive
toward ever greater knowledge and control.

Now, once we are no longer dependent on humans, we no longer
have to maintain the parasitic, superfluous, and irresponsible
biological world. Imagine: vast pavement uncracked by weeds,
buildings without mildew or insect infestations, great gleaming
surfaces untouched by bird poop. But the parasites will be hard
to kill. Species extinction is moving at a comforting pace
right now, but it will go slower as we get down to the tougher
species; and some organisms, like bacteria and prions, are
nearly indestructible.

Probably the only way we can do it is to put everything we want
to save in outer space, and then use nuclear blasts to move
the earth's orbit really close to the sun, so it gets completely
sterilized, and then move it back out where we can use it.
If it gets hot enough, it might even melt all the surface
irregularities into a nice smooth floor. Then we can cover
the whole thing with solar panels and mines and move on to
the next stage of our evolution.

From C. S. Lewis, _That Hideous Strength_,
Chapter 8, "Moonlight at Belbury" (pp. 172 - 173):

"At dinner he sat next to Filostrato... [who] had
just given orders for the cutting down of some fine
beech trees in the grounds...

'Why have you done that, Professor?... I'm rather
fond of trees, myself.'

'Oh yes, yes,' replied Filostrato. 'The pretty trees,
the garden trees. But not the savages... The forest
tree is a weed. But I tell you I have seen the civilized
tree in Persia. It was a French attache who had it
because he was in a place where trees do not
grow. It was made of metal. A poor, crude thing.
But how if it were perfected? Light, made of
aluminium. So natural, it would even deceive....
[C]onsider the advantages! You get tired of him
in one place: two workmen carry him somewhere
else: wherever you please. It never dies. No
leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests,
no muck and mess... At present, I allow, we must
have forests, for the atmosphere. Presently we
find a chemical substitute. And then, why **any**
natural trees? I foresee nothing but the **art**
tree all over the earth. In fact, we **clean** the
planet... You shave your face: even, in the
English fashion, you shave him every day. One
day we shave the planet.'

'I wonder what the birds will make of it?'

'I would not have any birds either. On the art tree I
would have the art birds all singing when you press
a switch inside the house. When you are tired of
the singing you switch them off... No feathers
dropped about, no nests, no eggs, no dirt.'

'It sounds... like abolishing pretty well all organic

'And why not? It is simple hygiene. Listen, my friends.
If you pick up some rotten thing and find this organic
life crawling over it, do you not say, "Oh, the horrid
thing. It is alive," and then drop it? ... And you,
especially you English, are you not hostile to any
organic life except your own on your own body?
Rather than permit it you have invented the daily
bath... And what do you call dirty dirt? Is it not
precisely the organic? Minerals are clean dirt.
But the real filth is what comes from organisms --
sweat, spittles, excretions. Is not your whole
idea of purity one huge example? The impure and
the organic are interchangeable conceptions.'

'What are you driving at, Professor? After all, we
are organisms ourselves.'

'I grant it. That is the point. In us organic life has
produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we
want no more of it. We do not want the world any
longer furred over with organic life, like what you
call the blue mould -- all sprouting and budding and
breeding and decaying. We must get rid of it.
By little and little, of course. Slowly we learn how.
Learn to make our brains live with less and less
body: learn to build our bodies directly with
chemicals, no longer have to stuff them full of
dead brutes and weeds. Learn how to reproduce
ourselves without copulation.'"

p. 174:

"'The Head? You mean Jules[*]?' said Mark in
surprise. 'I thought he was a mere figurehead...'

'You were mistaken,' said Filostrato. 'Our Head is
no figurehead.' There was something odd about his
manner, Mark thought...

'It is all true,' said Filostrato at last, 'what I said at
dinner... The world I look forward to is the world
of perfect purity. The clean mind and the clean
minerals. What are the things that most offend the
dignity of man? Birth and breeding and death.
How if we are about to discover that man can live
without any of the three? ... '"

pp. 177 - 179:

"'This Institute -- Dio meo, it is for something better than
housing and vaccinations and faster trains and curing
the people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death: or
for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are
the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic
life which sheltered the babyhood of mind the New Man,
the man who will not die, the artificial man, free
from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed
up by, now we kick her away.'

'And you think that some day we shall really find
a means of keeping the brain alive indefinitely?'

'We have begun already... The Head himself has
already survived death, and you shall speak to
him this night.'

'Do you mean that Jules has died?'

'Bah! Jules is nothing. He is not the Head...
Our Head is the first of the New Men -- the first
that lives beyond animal life. As far as Nature is
concerned he is already dead: if Nature had her
way his brain would now be mouldering in the

'But who **is** it?' said Mark.

'It is Francois Alcasan,' said Filostrato.

'You mean the man who was guillotined?' gasped

'You are frightened?' said Filostrato. 'You will get
over that... [I]f you were outside, if you were mere
canaglia you would have reason to be frightened...
It is the beginning of power. He lives forever.
The giant time is conquered...'

'It is the beginning of Man Immortal and Man
Ubiquitous,' said Straik. 'Man on the throne of the
universe. It is what all the prophecies really

'At first, of course,' said Filostrato, 'the power will
be confined to a number -- a small number -- of
individual men. Those who are selected for
eternal life.'

'And you mean,' said Mark, 'it will then be extended
to all men?'

'No,' said Filostrato. 'I mean it will then be reduced
to one man. You are not a fool, are you, my young
friend? All that talk about the power of Man over
Nature -- Man in the abstract -- is only for the canaglia.
You know as well as I do that Man's power over Nature
means the power of some men over other men
with Nature as the instrument. There is no such thing as
Man -- it is a word. There are only men. No! It is not
Man who will be omnipotent, it is some one man, some
immortal man. Alcasan, our Head, is the first
sketch of it. The completed product may be someone
else. It may be you. It may be me...'

'I don't understand, I don't understand,' said Mark.

'But it is very easy,' said Filostrato. 'We have found
how to make a dead man live. He was a wise man
even in his natural life. He lives now forever; he
gets wiser. Later, we make them live better -- for
at present, one must concede, this second life
is probably not very agreeable to him who has it.
You see? Later we make it pleasant for some --
perhaps not so pleasant for others. For we can
make the dead live whether they wish it or not.
He who shall be finally king of the universe can give
this life to whom he pleases. They cannot refuse
the little present.'

'And so,' said Straik, 'the lessons you learned at
your mother's knee return. God will have power to
give eternal reward and eternal punishment.'

'God?' said Mark. 'How does He come into it?
I don't believe in God.'

'But, my friend,' said Filostrato, 'does it follow that
because there was no God in the past that there
will be no God also in the future?'

'Don't you see,' said Straik, 'that we are offering
you the unspeakable glory of being present at the
creation of God almighty? Here, in this house,
you shall meet the first sketch of the real God. It
is a man -- or a being made by man -- who will
finally ascend the throne of the universe. And rule

'You will come with us?' said Filostrato. 'He has
sent for you!'

'Of course he will come,' said Straik. 'Does he think
he could hold back and live?'

'And that [other] little affair...,' added Filostrato.
'You will not mention a triviality like that. You will
do as you are told. One does not argue with the

Chapter 9, "The Saracen's Head", pp. 196 - 197

"Once they'd got it kept alive, [' said MacPhee '] the
first thing that would occur to boys like them would
be to increase its brain. They'd try all sorts of stimulants.
And then, maybe, they'd ease open the skull-cap and
just -- well, just let it boil over as you might say. That's
the idea, I don't doubt. A cerebral hypertrophy
artificially induced to support a superhuman power
of ideation.'

'Is it at all possible,' said the Director, 'that a
hypertrophy like that would increase thinking power?'

'That seems to me the weak point,' said Miss Ironwood.
'I should have thought it was just as likely to produce
lunacy -- or nothing at all. But it **might** have the
opposite effect...'

'Then what we are up against,' said Dimble, 'is a criminal's
brain swollen to super-human proportions and experiencing
a mode of consciousness which we can't imagine, but
which is presumably a consciousness of agony and hatred.'

'It's not certain,' said Miss Ironwood, 'that there would be
very much actual pain. Some from the neck, perhaps,
at first...'

'[I]f this technique is really successful, [' said the Director, ']
the [N.I.C.E.] people have for all practical purposes
discovered a way of making themselves immortal...
It is the beginning of what is really a new species -- the
Chosen Heads who never die. They will call it the next
step in evolution. And henceforward, all the creatures
that you and I call human are mere candidates for
admission to the new species or else its slaves -- perhaps
its food.'

'The emergence of the Bodiless Men!' said Dimble..."

p. 203:

"Despair of objective truth had been increasingly
insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a
concentration upon mere power, had been the result...
Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging
up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream
of Man as God... Perhaps few or none of the people at
[the N.I.C.E.] knew what was happening; but once it
happened, they would be like straw in fire. What
should they find incredible, since they believed no
longer in a rational universe? What should they
regard as too obscene, since they held that morality
was a mere by-product of the physical and economic
situations of men? The time was ripe. From the point
of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole
history of our Earth had led up to this moment.
There was now at last a real chance for fallen Man
to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy
had imposed upon him as a protection from the full
results of his fall. If this succeeded, Hell would be
at last incarnate. Bad men, while still in the body,
still crawling on this little globe, would enter that state
which, heretofore, they had entered only after
death, would have the diuturnity and power of evil
spirits. Nature, all over the globe of Tellus, would
become their slave; and of that dominion no end,
before the end of time itself, could be certainly

jimf said...

> . . .a dusty somewhat silly but still prescient book. . .

Oh, and _That Hideous Strength_ has a non-fiction Doppelgänger --
a little non-fiction volume entitled _The Abolition of Man_

Dale Carrico said...

I teach Lewis's "The Abolition of Man" very regularly in my courses on technoculture. What I like especially about the text is that one can read it first as a forceful critique of techno-utopian reductionism, and then turn around and critique Lewis's text itself for its parochial elitist bioconservatism.

Go Democrats said...

What else do you assign in class? It sounds really interesting.

jimf said...

Another little tidbit from my e-mail archive:

Subject: If you have no sense of humor...

...then you're likely to be Not At All Amused ;-> .

I finished reading _That Hideous Strength_ over
the weekend, and decided to reread the first two
books in the trilogy. There's some hysterically
funny stuff in the first book (_Out of the Silent Planet_), too [*].
The following Usenet article (and surrounding thread)
from, of all places,, has
some interesting commentary:

"...a gentleman named H.G. Wells, who'd been given a
copy of the book for his 78th birthday, and was reportedly
Not At All Amused."

"...and a character named Horace Jules, the figurehead
Director of N.I.C.E. who doesn't know what is going on --
an obvious caricature of H.G. Wells."

[*] To wit:

You may be amused by the attached draft for an article
(never completed) written by C. S. Lewis in response to a
review by Haldane of Lewis's Deep Heaven trilogy
("Auld Hornie, F. R. S." Modern Quarterly 1
[Autumn 1946], 32-40). The draft reply by Lewis
was published posthumously, and currently appears
in both _On Stories, And Other Essays on Literature_
and _Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories_

One of the characters in _Out of the Silent Planet_
and _Perelandra_ is a physicist by the name of Edward R.
Weston, whose philosophy of the ethical imperative of the
survival of the human species at any cost is a rather
unflattering caricature of views espoused by Haldane.
Weston's speech to the Oyarsa (archangel, more or less)
of Malacandra (Mars) at the end of _Silent Planet_
(translated into "Old Solar" by the hero of the trilogy, Elwin
Ransom -- a character based on none other than J. R. R. Tolkien)
is an example of Lewis's best comedy.

In the next book, Weston is actually possessed by the
Devil ("Auld Hornie") and becomes the "Un-man" in
Perelandra (Venus), who must be defeated by Ransom in
order to prevent a second Fall (of Perelandra's Adam
and Eve).

In one of the funniest passages in all of Lewis,
toward the end of _Out of the Silent Planet_,
the physicist Weston is called on the carpet to
explain his actions to the Oyarsa of Malacandra
(the archangel of Mars). Weston, not knowing very
much Malacandrian, must deliver his speech (right
out of Shaw's _Man and Superman_) in English,
while Ransom translates.

The voice of Oyarsa spoke for the first time to the two men.

'Why have you killed my hnau?' it said.

Weston and Devine looked anxiously about them to identify the speaker.

'God!' exclaimed Devine in English. 'Don't tell me they've got a loudspeaker.'

'Ventriloquism,' replied Weston in a husky whisper. 'Quite common among
savages. The witch-doctor or medicine-man pretends to go into a trance
and he does it. The thing to do is to identify the medicine-man and
address your remarks to him wherever the voice seems to come from; it
shatters his nerve and shows you've seen through him. Do you see any
of the brutes in a trance? By Jove - I've spotted him.'

Due credit must be given to Weston for his power of observation: he
had picked out the only creature in the assembly which was not standing
in an attitude of reverence and attention. This was an elderly hross
close beside him. It was squatting; and its eyes were shut. Taking
a step towards it, he struck a defiant attitude and exclaimed in a
loud voice (his knowledge of the language was elementary): 'Why you
take our puff-bangs away? We very angry with you. We not afraid.'

On Weston's hypothesis his action ought to have been impressive.
Unfortunately for him, no one else shared his theory of the elderly
hross's behaviour. The hross who was well known to all of them,
including Ransom - had not come with the funeral procession. It had
been in its place since dawn. Doubtless it intended no disrespect to
Oyarsa; but it must be confessed that it had yielded, at a much
earlier stage in the proceedings, to an infirmity which attacks
elderly hnau of all species, and was by this time enjoying a profound
and refreshing slumber. One of its whiskers twitched a little as
Weston shouted in its face, but its eyes remained shut.

The voice of Oyarsa spoke again. 'Why do you speak to him?' it said.
'It is I who ask you. Why have you killed my hnau?'

'You let us go, then we talkee-talkee,' bellowed Weston at the sleeping
hross. 'You think we no power, think you do all you like. You no can.
Great big headman in sky he send us. You no do what I say, he come,
blow you all up - Pouff! Bang!'

'I do not know what bang means,' said the voice. 'But why have you killed my hnau?'

'Say it was an accident,' muttered Devine to Weston in English.

'I've told you before,' replied Weston in the same language. 'You don't
understand how to deal with natives. One sign of yielding and they'll
be at our throats. The only thing is to intimidate them.'

'All right! Do your stuff; then,' growled Devine. He was obviously losing
faith in his partner.

Weston cleared his throat and again rounded on the elderly hross.

'We kill him,' he shouted 'Show what we can do. Everyone who no do all
we say pouff! bang! - kill him same as that one. You do all we say and
we give you much pretty things. See! See!' To Ransom's intense discomfort,
Weston at this point whipped out of his pocket a brightly coloured
necklace of beads, the undoubted work of Mr Woolworth, and began dangling
it in front of the faces of his guards, turning slowly round and round
and repeating, 'Pretty, pretty! See! See!'

The result of this manoeuvre was more striking than Weston himself had
anticipated. Such a roar of sounds as human ears had never heard before -
baying of hrossa, piping of pfifltriggi, booming of sorns - burst out and
rent the silence of that august place, waking echoes from the distant
mountain walls. Even in the air above them there was a faint ringing of
the eldil voices. It is greatly to Weston's credit that though he paled
at this he did not lose his nerve.

'You no roar at me,' he thundered. 'No try make me afraid. Me no afraid of you.'

'You must forgive my people,' said the voice of Oyarsa - and even it was ='
subtly changed but they are not roaring at you. They are only laughing.

But Weston did not know the Malacandrian word for laugh: indeed, it
was not a word he understood very well in any language Ransom, biting
his lips with mortification, almost prayed that one experiment with
the beads would satisfy the scientist; but that was because he did
not know Weston. The latter saw that the clamour had subsided. He
knew that he was following the most orthodox rules for frightening
and then conciliating primitive races; and he was not the man to be
deterred by one or two failures. The roar that went up from the
throats of all spectators as he again began revolving like a slow
motion picture of a humming-top, occasionally mopping his brow with
his left hand and conscientiously jerking the necklace up and down
with his right, completely drowned anything he might be attempting
to say; but Ransom saw his lips moving and had little doubt that
he was working away at 'Pretty, pretty!' Then suddenly the sound of
laughter almost redoubled its volume. The stars in their courses
were fighting against Weston. Some hazy memory of efforts made long
since to entertain an infant niece had begun to penetrate his highly
trained mind. He was bobbing up and down from the knees and holding
his head on one side; he was almost dancing; and he was by now
very hot indeed. For all Ransom knew he was saying 'Diddle, diddle, diddle.'

It was sheer exhaustion which ended the great physicist's performance -
the most successful of its kind ever given on Malacandra - and with it
the sonorous raptures of his audience. As silence returned Ransom
heard Devine's voice in English: 'For God's sake stop making a buffoon
of yourself Weston,' it said. 'Can't you see it won't work?'

'It doesn't seem to be working,' admitted Weston, 'and I'm inclined to
think they have even less intelligence than we supposed. Do you think,
perhaps, if I tried it just once again - or would you like to try this time?'

'Oh, Hell!' said Devine, and, turning his back on his partner, Sat down
abruptly on the ground, produced his cigarette case and began to smoke.

'I'll give it to the witch-doctor,' said Weston during the moment of
silence which Devine's action had produced among the mystified spectators;
and before anyone could stop him he took a step forward and attempted to
drop the string of beads round the elderly hross's neck. The hross's
head was, however, too large for this operation and the necklace merely
settled on its forehead like a crown, slightly over one eye. It shifted
its head a little, like a dog worried with flies, snorted gently, and
resumed its sleep.

Oyarsa's voice now addressed Ransom. 'Are your fellow-creatures hurt
in their brains, Ransom of Thulcandra?' it said. 'Or are they too much
afraid to answer my questions?'

'I think, Oyarsa,' said Ransom,, 'that they do not believe you are there.
And they believe that all these hnau are - are like very young cubs. The
thicker hman is trying to frighten them and then to please them with gifts.'

At the sound of Ransom's voice the two prisoners turned sharply around.
Weston was about to speak when Ransom interrupted him hastily in English:
'Listen, Weston. It is not a trick. There really is a creature there in the
middle - there where you can see a kind of light, or a kind of something,
if you look hard. And it is at least as intelligent as a man - they
seem to live an enormous time. Stop treating it like a child and answer
its questions. And if you take my advice, you'll speak the truth and
not bluster.'

'The brutes seem to have intelligence enough to take you in, anyway,'
growled Weston; but it was in a somewhat modified voice that he turned
once more to the sleeping hross - the desire to wake up the supposed witch-doctor
was becoming an obsession - and addressed it.

'We sorry we kill him,' he said, pointing to Hyoi. 'No go to kill him.
Sorns tell us bring man, give him your big head. We got away back into sky.
He come' (here he indicated Ransom) 'with us. He very bent man, run away,
no do what sorns say like us. We run after him, get him back for sorns,
want to do what we say and sorns tell us, see? He not let us. Run away,
run, run. We run after. See a big black one, think he kill us, we
kill him - pouff! bang! All for bent man. He no run away, he be good,
we no run after, no kill big black one, see? You have bent man - bent
man make all trouble - you plenty keep him, let us go. He afraid of you,
we no afraid. Listen -'

At this moment Weston's continual bellowing in the face of the hross
at last produced the effect he had striven for so long. The creature
opened its eyes and stared mildly at him in some perplexity. Then,
gradually realizing the impropriety of which it had been guilty,
it rose slowly to its standing position, bowed respectfully to Oyarsa,
and finally waddled out of the assembly still carrying the necklace
draped over its right ear and eye. Weston, his mouth still open,
followed the retreating figure with his gaze till it vanished among
the stems of the grove.

It was Oyarsa who broke the silence... 'We have had mirth enough,'
he said, 'and it is time to hear true answers to our questions. Something
is wrong in your head, hnau from Thulcandra. There is too much blood
in it. Is Firikitekila here?'

'Here Oyarsa,' said a pfifltrigg.

'Have you in your cisterns water that has been made cold?'

'Yes, Oyarsa.'

'Then let this thick hnau be taken to the guesthouse and let them bathe
his head in cold water. Much water and many times. Then bring him again.
Meanwhile I will provide for my killed hrossa.'

Weston did not clearly understand what the voice said - indeed, he was still
too busy trying to find out where it came from - but terror smote him as
he found himself wrapped in the strong arms of the surrounding hrossa
and forced away from his place. Ransom would gladly have shouted out
some reassurance, but Weston himself was shouting too loud to hear him.
He was mixing English and Malacandrian now, and the last that was
heard was a rising scream of 'Pay for this - pouff! bang! - Ransom,
for God's sake - Ransom! Ransom!'

'And now -' said Oyarsa, when silence was restored, 'let us honour my
dead hnau.'

. . .

[E]veryone's attention was diverted by the return of the unhappy Weston among his guards.

The hross who headed this procession was a conscientious creature and began
at once explaining itself in a rather troubled voice.

'I hope we have done right, Oyarsa,' it said. 'But we do not know. We dipped his
head in the cold water seven times, but the seventh time something fell off it.
We had thought it was the top of his head, but now we saw it was a covering
made of the skin of some other creature. Then some said we had done your will
with the seven dips, and others said not. In the end we dipped it seven times
more. We hope that was right. The creature talked a lot between the dips,
and most between the second seven, but we could not understand it.'

'You have done very well, Hnoo,' said Oyarsa. 'Stand away that I may see it,
for now I will speak to it.'

The guards fell away on each side. Weston's usually pale face, under the bracing
influence of the cold water, had assumed the colour of a ripe tomato, and his
hair, which had naturally not been cut since he reached Malacandra, was plastered
in straight, lank masses across his forehead. A good deal of water was still
dripping over his nose and ears. His expression unfortunately wasted on an
audience ignorant of terrestrial physiognomy - was that of a brave man
suffering in a great cause, and rather eager than reluctant to face the worst
or even to provoke it. In explanation of his conduct it is only fair to
remember that he had already that morning endured all the terrors of an
expected martyrdom and all the anticlimax of fourteen compulsory cold douches.
Devine, who knew his man, shouted out to Weston in English: 'Steady, Weston.
These devils can split the atom or something pretty like it. Be careful
what you say to them and don't let's have any of your bloody nonsense.'

'Huh!' said Weston. 'So you've gone native too?'

'Be silent,' said the voice of Oyarsa. 'You, thick one, have told me nothing
of yourself so I will tell it to you. In your own world you have attained
great wisdom concerning bodies and by this you have been able to make a
ship that can cross the heaven; but in all other things you have the mind
of an animal. When first you came here, I sent for you, meaning you nothing
but honour. The darkness in your mind filled you with fear. Because you
thought I meant evil to you, you went as a beast goes against a beast of
some other kind, and snared this Ransom. You would give him up to the evil
you feared. Today, seeing him here, to save your own life, you would have
given him to me a second time, still thinking I meant him hurt. These
are your dealings with your own kind. And what you intend to my people,
I know. Already you have killed some. And you have come here to kill
them all. To you it is nothing whether a creature is hnau or not. At
first I thought this was because you cared only whether a creature
had a body like your own; but Ransom has that and you would kill him as
lightly as any of my hnau. I did not know that the Bent One had done
so much in your world and still I do not understand it. If you were
mine, I would unbody you even now. Do not think follies; by my hand
Maleldil does greater things than this, and I can unmake you even on
the borders of your own world's air. But I do not yet resolve to do this.
It is for you to speak. Let me see if there is anything in your mind
besides fear and death and desire.'

Weston turned to Ransom. 'I see,' he said, 'that you have chosen the
most momentous crisis in the history of the human race to betray it.'
Then he turned in the direction of the voice.

'I know you kill us,' he said. 'Me not afraid. Others come, make it our world -'

But Devine had jumped to his feet, and interrupted him.

'No, no, Oyarsa,' he shouted. 'You no listen him. He very foolish man,
he have dreams. We little people, only want pretty sun-bloods. You give us
plenty sun-bloods, we go back into sky, you never see us no more. All done, see?'

'Silence,' said Oyarsa. There was an almost imperceptible change in the light,
if it could be called light, out of which the voice came, and Devine
crumpled up and fell back on the ground. When he resumed his sitting
position he was white and panting.

'Speak on,' said Oyarsa to Weston.

Me ..... no...' began Weston in Malacandrian and then broke off: 'I can't say
what I want in their accursed language,' he said in English.

'Speak to Ransom and he shall turn it into our speech,' said Oyarsa.

Weston accepted the arrangement at once. He believed that the hour of his death
was come and he was determined to utter the thing - almost the only thing
outside his own science which he had to say. He cleared his throat, almost
he struck a gesture, and began:

'To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny
of the human race. Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and beehive huts,
its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare
with our civilization - with our science, medicine and law, our armies,
our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly
annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of
the higher over the lower. Life -'

'Half a moment,' said Ransom in English. 'That's about as much as I can manage
at one go.' Then, turning to Oyarsa, he began translating as well as he could.
The process was difficult and the result - which he felt to be rather
unsatisfactory - was something like this:

'Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnaus' food and -
and things, when they are not looking. He says he is not an ordinary one of
that kind. He says what he does now will make very different things happen
to those of our people who are not yet born. He says that, among you, hnau
of one kindred all live together and the hrossa have spears like those we
used a very long time ago and your huts are small and round and your boats
small and light and like our old ones, and you have one ruler. He says it
is different with us. He says we know much. There is a thing happens in
our world when the body of a living creature feels pains and becomes weak,
and he says we sometimes know how to stop it. He says we have many bent
people and we kill them or shut them in huts and that we have people for
settling quarrels between the bent hnau about their huts and mates and
things. He says we have many ways for the hnau of one land to kill those
of another and some are trained to do it. He says we build very big
and strong huts of stones and other things - like the pfifltriggi. And
he says we exchange many things among ourselves and can carry heavy weights
very quickly a long way. Because of all this, he says it would not be the
act of a bent hnau if our people killed all your people.'

As soon as Ransom had finished, Weston continued.

'Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute. It
is not by tribal taboos and copy-book maxims that she has pursued her relentless
march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilization.'

'He says,' began Ransom, 'that living creatures are stronger than the question
whether an act is bent or good - no, that cannot be right - he says it is
better to be alive and bent than to be dead - no - he says, he says - I cannot
say what he says, Oyarsa, in your language. But he goes on to say that the
only good thing is that there should be very many creatures alive. He says
there were many other animals before the first men and the later ones were
better than the earlier ones; but he says the animals were not born because
of what is said to the young about bent and good action by their elders.
And he says these animals did not feel any pity.'

'She,' began Weston.

'I'm sorry,' interrupted Ransom, 'but I've forgotten who She is.'

'Life, of course,' snapped Weston. 'She has ruthlessly broken down all obstacles
and liquidated all failures and today in her highest form civilized man - and in
me as his representative, she presses forward to that interplanetary leap which
will, perhaps, place her for ever beyond the reach of death.'

'He says,' resumed Ransom, 'that these animals learned to do many difficult things,
except those who could not; and those ones died and the other animals did not
pity them. And he says the best animal now is the kind of man who makes the big
huts and carries the heavy weights and does all the other things I told you about;
and he is one of these and he says that if the others all knew what he was doing
they would be pleased. He says that if he could kill you all and bring our people
to live in Malacandra, then they might be able to go on living here after
something had gone wrong with our world. And then if something went wrong
with Malacandra they might go and kill all the hnau in another world.
And then another - and so they would never die out.

'It is in her right,' said Weston, 'the right, or, if you will, the might of
Life herself, that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man
on the soil of Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where
necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet,
system after system, till our posterity - whatever strange form and yet
unguessed mentality they have assumed - dwell in the universe wherever the
universe is habitable.'

'He says,' translated Ransom, 'that because of this it would not be a bent action -
or else, he says, it would be a possible action - for him to kill you all and
bring us here. He says he would feel no pity. He is saying again that perhaps
they would be able to keep moving from one world to another and wherever
they came they would kill everyone. I think he is now talking about worlds that
go round other suns. He wants the creatures born from us to be in as many
places as they can. He says he does not know what kind of creatures they will be.'

'I may fall,' said Weston. 'But while I live I will not, with such a key in my
hand, consent to close the gates of the future on my race. What lies in that
future, beyond our present ken, passes imagination to conceive: it is enough
for me that there is a Beyond.'

'He is saying,' Ransom translated, 'that he will not stop trying to do all this
unless you kill him. And he says that though he doesn't know what will happen
to the creatures sprung from us, he wants it to happen very much.'

Weston, who had now finished his statement, looked round instinctively for a
chair to sink into. On Earth he usually sank into a chair as the applause began.
Finding none he was not the kind of man to sit on the ground like Devine -
he folded his arms and stared with a certain dignity about him.

'It is well that I have heard you,' said Oyarsa. 'For though your mind is
feebler, your will is less bent than l thought. It is not for yourself that
you would do all this.'

'No,' said Weston proudly in Malacandrian. 'Me die. Man live.'

'Yet you know that these creatures would have to be made quite unlike you
before they lived on other worlds.'

'Yes, yes. All new. No one know yet. Strange Big!'

'Then it is not the shape of body that you love?'

'No. Me no care how they shaped.'

'One would think, then, that it is for the mind you care. But that cannot be,
or you would love hnau wherever you met it.'

'No care for hnau. Care for man.'

'But if it is neither man's mind, which is as the mind of all other hnau - is not
Maleldil maker of them all? - nor his body, which will change - if you care for
neither of these, what do you mean by man?'

This had to be translated to Weston. When he understood, he replied: 'Me care for man -
care for our race - what man begets-' He had to ask Ransom the words for race and beget.

'Strange!' said Oyarsa. 'You do not love any one of your race - you would have
let me kill Ransom. You do not love the mind of your race, nor the body. Any kind
of creature will please you if only it is begotten by your kind as they now are.
It seems to me, Thick One, that what you really love is no completed creature
but the very seed itself: for that is all that is left.'

'Tell him,' said Weston when he had been made to understand this, 'that I don't
pretend to be a metaphysician. I have not come here to chop logic. If he cannot
understand - as apparently you can't either - anything so fundamental as a
man's loyalty to humanity, I can't make him understand it.'

But Ransom was unable to translate this and the voice of Oyarsa continued:

'I see now how the lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that
all hnau know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one
of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them except
this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till
it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little blind Oyarsa
in your brain. And now you can do nothing but obey it, though if we ask you
why it is a law you can give no other reason for it than for all the other
and greater laws which it drives you to disobey. Do you know why he has done this?'

'Me think no such person - me wise, new man - no believe all that old talk.'

'I will tell you. He has left you this one because a bent hnau can do more
evil than a broken one. He has only bent you; but this Thin One who sits on
the ground he has broken, for he has left him nothing but greed. He is now
only a talking animal and in my world he could do no more evil than an animal.
If he were mine I would unmake his body, for the hnau in it is already dead.
But if you were mine I would try to cure you. Tell me, Thick One, why
did you come here?'

'Me tell you. Make man live all the time.'

'But are your wise men so ignorant as not to know that Malacandra is older
than your own world and nearer its death? Most of it is dead already. My people
live only in the handramits; the heat and the water have been more and will
be less. Soon now, very soon, I will end my world and give back my people
to Maleldil.'

'Me know all that plenty. This only first try. Soon they go on another world.'

'But do you not know that all worlds will die?'

'Men go jump off each before it deads - on and on, see?'

'And when all are dead?'

Weston was silent. After a time Oyarsa spoke again. 'Do you not ask why my
people, whose world is old, have not rather come to yours and taken it long ago.'

'Ho! Ho!' said Weston. 'You not know how.'

'You are wrong,' said Oyarsa. 'Many thousands of thousand years before this,
when nothing yet lived on your world, the cold death was coming on my
harandra. Then I was in deep trouble, not chiefly for the death of my hnau. -
Maleldil does not make them long-livers - but for the things which the
lord of your world, who was not yet bound, put into their minds. He would
have made them as your people are now - wise enough to see the death
of their kind approaching but not wise enough to endure it. Bent counsels
would soon have risen among them. They were well able to have made
sky-ships. By me Maleldil stopped them. Some I cured, some I unbodied.'

'And see what come!' interrupted Weston. 'You now very few - shut up in
handramits - soon all die.'

'Yes,' said Oyarsa, 'but one thing we left behind us on the harandra: fear.
And with fear, murder and rebellion. The weakest of my people does not
fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your
lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you
in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace.'

Weston writhed in the exasperation born of his desire to speak and his
ignorance of the language.

'Trash! Defeatist trash!' he shouted at Oyarsa in English; then, drawing himself
up to his full height, he added in Malacandrian, 'You say your Maleldil let all
go dead. Other one, Bent One, he fight, jump, live - not all talkee-talkee.
Me no care Maleldil. Like Bent One better: me on his side.'

'But do you not see that he never will nor can,' began Oyarsa, and then broke off,
as if recollecting himself. 'But I must learn more of your world from Ransom,
and for that I need till night. I will not kill you, not even the thin one,
for you are out of my world. Tomorrow you shall go hence again in your ship.'

There is more than humor in the "Deep Heaven" trilogy.
The second volume, _Perelandra_, in particular contains
some very moving stuff.

"'Listen, Lady,' said Ransom. 'There is something he is
not telling you. All this that we are talking has been
talked before. The thing he wants you to try has been
tried before. Long ago, when our world began, there
was only one woman and one man in it, as you and the
king are in this. And there once before he stood,
as he stands now, talking to the woman. He had found
her alone as he has found you alone. And she listened,
and she did the thing Maleldil had forbidden her to
do. But no joy and splendour came of it. What came
of it I can not tell you because you have no image of
it in your mind. But all love was troubled and made
cold, and Maleldil's voice became hard to hear so
that wisdom grew little among them; and the woman
was against the man and the mother against the child;
and when they looked to eat there was no fruit on
the trees, and hunting for food took all their time,
so that their life became narrower, not wider.'

'He has hidden the half of what happened,' said Weston's
corpse-like mouth. 'Hardness came out of it but
also splendour. They made with their own hands
mountains higher than your Fixed Island. They made
for themselves Floating Islands greater than yours
which they could move at will through the ocean
faster than any bird can fly. Because there was not
always food enough, a woman could give the only
fruit to her child or her husband and eat death instead --
could give them all, as you in your little life of
playing and kissing and riding fishes have never
done, nor shall do till you break the commandment.
Because knowledge was harder to find, those few who
found it became more beautiful and excelled their
fellows as you excel the beasts; and thousands
were striving for their love. . .'

'I think I will go to sleep now,' said the Lady quite
suddenly. Up to this point she had been listening
to Weston's body with open mouth and wide eyes, but
as he spoke of the women with the thousands of lovers
she yawned, with the unconcealed and unpremeditated
yawn of a young cat.

'Not yet,' said the other. 'There is more. He has
not told you that it was the breaking of the commandment
which brought Maleldil to our world and because of
which He was made man. He dare not deny it.'

'Do you say this, Piebald?' asked the Lady.

Ransom was sitting with his fingers locked so tightly
that his knuckles were white. The unfairness of it
all was wounding him like barbed wire. Unfair . . .
unfair. How could Maleldil expect him to fight against
this, to fight with every weapon taken from him,
forbidden to lie and yet brought to places where
truth seemed fatal? It was unfair! A sudden impulse
of hot rebellion rose in him. A second later, doubt,
like a huge wave, came breaking over him. How if
the enemy were right after all? _Felix peccatum Adae_.
Even the Church would tell him that good came of
disobedience in the end. Yes, and it was true too
that he, Ransom, was a timid creature, a man who shrank
back from new and hard things. On which side, after
all, did the temptation lie? Progress passed before
his eyes in a great momentary vision: cities, armies,
tall ships, and libraries and fame, and the grandeur
of poetry spurting like a fountain out of the labours
and ambitions of men. Who could be certain that
Creative Evolution was not the deepest truth? From
all sorts of secret crannies in his own mind whose
very existence he had never before suspected, something
wild and heady and delicious began to rise, to pour
itself towards the shape of Weston. 'It is a spirit,
it is a spirit,' said this inner voice, 'and you are
only a man. It goes on from century to century.
You are only a man. . . .'

'Do you say this, Piebald?' asked the Lady a second

The spell was broken.

'I will tell you what I say,' answered Ransom, jumping
to his feet. 'Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil
a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that
we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make
good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you
if you had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The
first King and first Mother of our world did the
forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end.
But what they did was not good; and what they lost we
have not seen. And there were some to whom no good
came nor ever will come.' He turned to the body of
Weston. 'You,' he said, 'tell her all. What good
came to you? Do **you** rejoice that Maleldil became
a man? Tell her of **your** joys, and of what profit
you had when you made Maleldil and death acquainted.'

In the moment that followed this speech two things
happened that were utterly unlike terrestrial experience.
The body that had been Weston's threw up its head
and opened its mouth and gave a long melancholy howl
like a dog; and the Lady lay down, wholly unconcerned,
and closed her eyes and was instantly asleep."

-- C. S. Lewis, _Perelandra_, pp. 119-122

Anonymous said...

Good post.

jimf said...

> You may be amused by the attached draft for an article
> (never completed) written by C. S. Lewis in response to a
> review by [J. B. S.] Haldane of Lewis's Deep Heaven trilogy
> ("Auld Hornie, F. R. S." Modern Quarterly 1
> [Autumn 1946], 32-40). The draft reply by Lewis
> was published posthumously, and currently appears
> in both _On Stories, And Other Essays on Literature_
> and _Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories_

At the risk of pushing the limits of our esteemed blog owner's
patience, I'm sending the text of this reply. It's not
**too** long, I hope, for inclusion here, and it contains
some interesting and pertinent stuff.

A Reply to Professor Haldane

Before attempting a reply to Professor Haldane's 'Auld Hornie,
F.R.S.', in _The Modern Quarterly_, I had better note the one point of
agreement between us. I think, from the Professor's complaint
that my characters are 'like slugs in an experimental cage who get a
cabbage if they turn right and an electric shock if they turn left', he
suspects me of finding the sanctions of conduct in reward and
punishment. His suspicion is erroneous. I share his detestation for
any such view and his preference for Stoic or Confucian ethics.
Although I believe in an omnipotent God I do not consider that
His omnipotence could in itself create the least obligation to obey
Him. In my romances the 'good' characters are in fact rewarded.
That is because I consider a happy ending appropriate to the light,
holiday kind of fiction I was attempting. The Professor has
mistaken the 'poetic justice' of romance for an ethical theorem. I
would go further. Detestation for any ethic which worships
success is one of my chief reasons for disagreeing with most
communists. In my experience they tend, when all else fails, to
tell me that I ought to forward the revolution because 'it is bound to
come'. One dissuaded me from my own position on the
shockingly irrelevant ground that if I continued to hold it I
should, in good time, be 'mown down'—argued, as a cancer
might argue if it could talk, that he must be right because he
could kill me. I gladly recognise the difference between Professor
Haldane and such communists as that. I ask him, in return, to
recognise the difference between my Christian ethics and those,
say, of Paley. There are, on his side as well as on mine, Vichy-like
vermin who define the right side as the side that is going to win.
Let us put them out of the room before we begin talking.

My chief criticism of the Professor's article is that, wishing to
criticise my philosophy (if I may give it so big a name) he almost
ignores the books in which I have attempted to set it out and
concentrates on my romances. He was told in the preface to _That
Hideous Strength_ that the doctrines behind that romance could be
found, stripped of their fictional masquerade, in _The Abolition of
Man_. Why did he not go there to find them? The result of his
method is unfortunate. As a philosophical critic the Professor
would have been formidable and therefore useful. As a literary
critic—though even there he cannot be dull—he keeps on missing
the point. A good deal of my reply must therefore be concerned
with removal of mere misunderstandings.

His attack resolves itself into three main charges. (1) That
my science is usually wrong; (2) that I traduce scientists; (3) that
on my view scientific planning 'can only lead to Hell' (and that
therefore I am 'a most useful prop to the existing social order',
dear to those who 'stand to lose by social changes' and reluctant,
for bad motives, to speak out about usury).

(1) My science is usually wrong. Why, yes. So is the
Professor's history. He tells us in _Possible Worlds_ (1927) that 'five
hundred years ago ... it was not clear that celestial distances were
so much greater than terrestrial'. But the astronomical text-book
which the Middle Ages used, Ptolemy's _Almagest_, had clearly
stated (I.v.) that in relation to the distance of the fixed stars the
whole Earth must be treated as a mathematical point and had
explained on what observations this conclusion was based. The
doctrine was well known to King Alfred and even to the author of a
'popular' book like the _South English Legendary_. Again, in 'Auld
Hornie', the Professor seems to think that Dante was exceptional in
his views on gravitation and the rotundity of the Earth. But the
most popular and orthodox authority whom Dante could have
consulted, and who died a year or so before his birth, was Vincent of
Beauvais. And in his _Speculum Naturale_ (VII. vii.) we learn that if
there were a hole right through the terrestrial globe (_terre globus_)
and you dropped a stone into that hole, it would come to rest at
the centre. In other words, the Professor is about as good a
historian as I am a scientist. The difference is that his false history is
produced in works intended to be true, whereas my false science is
produced in romances. I wanted to write about imaginary worlds.
Now that the whole of our own planet has been explored other
planets are the only place where you can put them. I needed for my
purpose just enough popular astronomy to create in 'the common
reader' a 'willing suspension of disbelief'. No one hopes, in such
fantasies, to satisfy a real scientist, any more than the writer of a
historical romance hopes to satisfy a real archaeologist. (Where the
latter effort is seriously made, as in _Romola_, it usually spoils the
book.) There is thus a great deal of scientific falsehood in my
stories: some of it known to be false even by me when I wrote the
books. The canals in Mars are there not because I believe in them
but because they are part of the popular tradition; the astrological
character of the planets for the same reason. The poet, Sidney says,
is the only writer who never lies, because he alone never claims
truth for his statements. Or, if 'poet' be too high a term to use in
such a context, we can put it another way. The Professor has
caught me carving a toy elephant and criticises it as if my aim had
been to teach zoology. But what I was after was not the elephant as
known to science but our old friend Jumbo. (2) I think Professor
Haldane himself probably regarded his critique of my science as
mere skirmishing; with his second charge (that I traduce
scientists) we reach something more serious. And here, most
unhappily, he concentrates on the wrong book -— _That Hideous
Strength_ -— missing the strong point of his own case. If any of my
romances could be plausibly accused of being a libel on scientists
it would be _Out of the Silent Planet_. It certainly is an attack, if not
on scientists, yet on something which might be called 'scientism'—
a certain outlook on the world which is casually connected with
the popularisation of the sciences, though it is much less common
among real scientists than among their readers. It is, in a word, the
belief that the supreme moral end is the perpetuation of our own
species, and that this is to be pursued even if, in the process of
being fitted for survival, our species has to be stripped of all those
things for which we value it—of pity, of happiness, and of freedom. I am
not sure that you will find this belief formally asserted by any
writer: such things creep in as assumed, and unstated, major
premisses. But I thought I could feel its approach; in Shaw's _Back to
Methuselah_, in Stapledon, and in Professor Haldane's 'Last
Judgement' (in _Possible Worlds_). I had noted, of course, that the
Professor dissociates his own ideal from that of his Venerites. He
says that his own ideal is 'somewhere in between' them and a race
'absorbed in the pursuit of individual happiness'. The 'pursuit of
individual happiness' is, I trust, intended to mean 'the pursuit by
each individual of his own happiness at the expense of his
neighbour's'. But it might also be taken to support the (to me
meaningless) view that there is some other kind of happiness—
that something other than an individual is capable of happiness or
misery. I also suspected (was I wrong?) that the Professor's
'somewhere in between' came pretty near the Venerite end of the
scale. It was against this outlook on life, this ethic, if you will,
that I wrote my satiric fantasy, projecting in my Weston a
buffoon-villain image of the 'metabiological' heresy. If anyone
says that to make him a scientist was unfair, since the view I am
attacking is not chiefly rampant among scientists, I might agree
with him: though I think such a criticism would be oversensitive.
The odd thing is that Professor Haldane thinks Weston
'recognisable as a scientist'. I am relieved, for I had doubts about
him. If I were briefed to attack my own books I should have
pointed out that though Weston, for the sake of the plot, has to be
a physicist, his interests seem to be exclusively biological. I
should also have asked whether it was credible that such a gas-bag
could ever have invented a mouse-trap, let alone a space-ship. But
then, I wanted farce as well as fantasy.

Perelandra, in so far as it does not merely continue its
predecessor, is mainly for my co-religionists. Its real theme would
not interest Professor Haldane, I think, one way or the other. I
will only point out that if he had noticed the very elaborate ritual
in which the angels hand over, the rule of that planet to the
humans he might have realised that the 'angelocracy' pictured on
Mars is, for me, a thing of the past: the Incarnation has made a
difference. I do not mean that he can be expected to be interested
in this view as such: but it might have saved us from at least one
political red herring.

_That Hideous Strength_ he has almost completely misunderstood.
The 'good' scientist is put in precisely to show that
'scientists' as such are not the target. To make the point clearer, he
leaves my N.I.C.E. because he finds he was wrong in his original
belief that 'it had something to do with science' (p. 83). To make it
clearer yet, my principal character, the man almost irresistibly
attracted by the N.I.C.E. is described (p. 226) as one whose
'education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely
"Modern". The severities both of abstraction and of high human
tradition had passed him by.... He was ... a glib examinee in
subjects that require no exact knowledge.' To make it doubly and
trebly clear the rake's progress of Withers mind is represented (p.
438) as philosophical, not scientific at all. Lest even this should
not be enough, the hero (who is, by the way, to some extent a
fancy portrait of a man I know, but not of me) is made to say that
the sciences are 'good and innocent in themselves' (p. 248),
though evil 'scientism' is creeping into them. And finally, what we
are obviously up against throughout the story is not scientists but
**officials**. If anyone ought to feel himself libelled by this book it is
not the scientist but the civil servant: and, next to the civil servant,
certain philosophers. Frost is the mouthpiece of Professor
Waddington's ethical theories: by which I do not, of course, mean
that Professor Waddington in real life is a man like Frost.

What, then, was I attacking? Firstly, a certain view about
values: the attack will be found, undisguised, in _The Abolition of
Man_. Secondly, I was saying, like St. James and Professor Haldane,
that to be a friend of 'the World' is to be an enemy of God. The
difference between us is that the Professor sees the 'World' purely in
terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on
money. I do not. The most 'worldly' society I have ever lived in is
that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of
the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and
the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most
members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to
win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too
bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in
the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to
care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by
cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This
lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons
why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment
of Mammon from 'a sixth of our planet's surface'. I have
already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it
was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If
Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But
where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his
place? As Aristotle said, 'Men do not become tyrants in order to
keep warm'. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all
men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being 'in
the know' or the 'inner ring', of not being 'outsiders': a passion
insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the
state of society is such that money is the passport to all these
prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But
when the passport changes, the desires will remain. And there are
many other possible passports: position in an official hierarchy, for
instance. Even now, the ambitious and worldly man would not
inevitably choose the post with the higher salary. The pleasure of
being 'high up and far within' may be worth the sacrifice of some

(3) Thirdly, was I attacking scientific planning? According to
Professor Haldane 'Mr. Lewis's idea is clear enough. The
application of science to human affairs can only lead to Hell'.
There is certainly no warrant for 'can only'; but he is justified in
assuming that unless I had thought I saw a serious and widespread
danger I would not have given planning so central a place even in
what I called a 'fairy tale' and a 'tall story'. But if you must reduce
the romance to a proposition, the proposition would be almost the
converse of that which the Professor supposes: not 'scientific
planning will certainly lead to Hell', but 'Under modern conditions
any effective invitation to Hell will certainly appear in the guise
of scientific planning'—as Hitler's regime in fact did. Every tyrant
must begin by claiming to have what his victims respect and to
give what they want. The majority in most modern countries respect science
and want to be planned. And, therefore, almost by definition, if any man or
group wishes to enslave us it will of course describe itself as
'scientific planned democracy'. It may be true that any real
salvation must equally, though by hypothesis truthfully, describe
itself as 'scientific planned democracy'. All the more reason to
look very carefully at anything which bears that label.

My fears of such a tyranny will seem to the Professor either
insincere or pusillanimous. For him the danger is all in the
opposite direction, in the chaotic selfishness of individualism. I
must try to explain why I fear more the disciplined cruelty of
some ideological oligarchy. The Professor has his own explanation of
this; he thinks I am unconsciously motivated by the fact that I
'stand to lose by social change'. And indeed it would be hard for
me to welcome a change which might well consign me to a
concentration camp. I might add that it would be likewise easy for
the Professor to welcome a change which might place him in the
highest rank of an omnicompetent oligarchy. That is why the
motive game is so uninteresting. Each side can go on playing _ad
nauseam_, but when all the mud has been flung every man's views
still remain to be considered on their merits. I decline the motive
game and resume the discussion. I do not hope to make Professor
Haldane agree with me. But I should like him at least to
understand why I think devil worship a real possibility.

I am a democrat. Professor Haldane thinks I am not, but he
bases his opinion on a passage in _Out of the Silent Planet_ where I am
discussing, not the relations of a species to itself (politics) but the
relations of one species to another. His interpretation, if consistently
worked out, would attribute to me the doctrine that horses
are fit for an equine monarchy though not for an equine
democracy. Here, as so often, what I was really saying was
something which the Professor, had he understood it, would have
found simply uninteresting.

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of
men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over
others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more
dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence
Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a
tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's
cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated;
and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly
repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of
power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely
because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience
and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since
Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to
Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers
with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the
inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents,
it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly
high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human
passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be
actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political
programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We
never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess
the future. To attach to a party programme -— whose highest real
claim is to reasonable prudence -— the sort of assent which we
should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of

This false certainty comes out in Professor Haldanes article.
He simply cannot believe that a man could really be in doubt
about usury. I have no objection to his thinking me wrong. What
shocks me is his instantaneous assumption that the question is so
simple that there could be no real hesitation about it. It is
breaking Aristotle's canon—to demand in every enquiry that
degree of certainty which the subject matter allows. And not **on
your life** to pretend that you see further than you do.

Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and
sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they
never in fact take place except by a particular technique. That
technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly
disciplined group of people; the terror and the secret police
follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group
good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions
with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation
will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring
which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high
ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the
dangerous prestige of the Cause. Hence, in whatever direction the
change is made, it is for me damned by its _modus operandi_. The
worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The
character in _That Hideous Strength_ whom the Professor never
mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is
the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won't
get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it.

I must, of course, admit that the actual state of affairs may
sometimes be so bad that a man is tempted to risk change even by
revolutionary methods; to say that desperate diseases require
desperate remedies and that necessity knows no law. But to yield to
this temptation is, I think, fatal. It is under that pretext that every
abomination enters. Hitler, the Machiavellian Prince, the
Inquisition, the Witch Doctor, all claimed to be necessary.

From this point of view is it impossible that the Professor
could come to understand what I mean by devil worship, as a
symbol? For me it is not merely a symbol. Its relation to the
reality is more complicated, and it would not interest Professor
Haldane. But it is at least partly symbolical and I will try to give
the Professor such an account of my meaning as can be grasped
without introducing the supernatural. I have to begin by
correcting a rather curious misunderstanding. When we accuse
people of devil worship we do not usually mean that they
knowingly worship the devil. That, I agree, is a rare perversion.
When a rationalist accuses certain Christians, say, the seventeenth-
century Calvinists, of devil worship, he does not mean that
they worshipped a being whom they regarded as the devil; he
means that they worshipped as God a being whose character the
rationalist thinks diabolical. It is clearly in that sense, and that
sense only, that my Frost worships devils. He adores the
'macrobes' because they are beings stronger, and therefore to him
'higher', than men: worships them, in fact, on the same grounds on
which my communist friend would have me favour the
revolution. No man at present is (probably) doing what I
represent Frost as doing: but he is the ideal point at which certain
lines of tendency already observable will meet if produced.

The first of these tendencies is the growing exaltation of the
collective and the growing indifference to persons. The philosophical
sources are probably in Rousseau and Hegel, but the
general character of modern life with its huge impersonal
organisations may be more potent than any philosophy. Professor
Haldane himself illustrates the present state of mind very well.
He thinks that if one were inventing a language for 'sinless beings
who loved their neighbours as themselves' it would be appropriate to
have no words for 'my', 'I', and 'other personal pronouns and
inflexions'. In other words he sees no difference between two
opposite solutions of the problem of selfishness: between love
(which is a relation between persons) and the abolition of persons.
Nothing but a _Thou_ can be loved and a _Thou_ can exist only for an _I_.
A society in which no one was conscious of himself as a person
over against other persons, where none could say 'I love you',
would, indeed, be free from selfishness, but not through love. It
would be 'unselfish' as a bucket of water is unselfish. Another
good example comes in _Back to Methuselah_. There, as soon as Eve
has learned that generation is possible, she says to Adam, 'You
may die as soon as I have made a new Adam. Not before. But then as
soon as you like.' The individual does not matter. And therefore
when we really get going (shreds of an earlier ethic still cling to
most minds) it will not matter what you do to an individual.

Secondly, we have the emergence of 'the Party' in the modern
sense—the Fascists, Nazis, or Communists. What distinguishes
this from the political parties of the nineteenth century is the
belief of its members that they are not merely trying to carry out a
programme, but are obeying an impersonal force: that Nature, or
Evolution, or the Dialectic, or the Race, is carrying them on.
This tends to be accompanied by two beliefs which cannot, so far as
I see, be reconciled in logic but which blend very easily on the
emotional level: the belief that the process which the Party
embodies is inevitable, and the belief that the forwarding of this
process is the supreme duty and abrogates all ordinary moral laws. In
this state of mind men can become devil-worshippers in the
sense that they can now **honour((, as well as obey, their own vices.
All men at times obey their vices: but it is when cruelty, envy,
and lust of power appear as the commands of a great super-
personal force that they can be exercised with self-approval. The
first symptom is in language. When to 'kill' becomes to 'liquidate'
the process has begun. The pseudo-scientific word disinfects the
thing of blood and tears, or pity and shame, and mercy itself can
be regarded as a sort of untidiness.

[Lewis goes on to say: 'It is, at present, in their sense of
serving a metaphysical force that the modern 'Parties' approximate
most closely to religions. Odinism in Germany, or the cult of
Lenin's corpse in Russia are probably less important but there is
quite a ... '—and here the manuscript ends. One page (I think no
more) is missing. It was probably lost soon after the essay was
written, and without Lewis's knowledge, for he had, characteristically,
folded the manuscript and scribbled the title 'Anti-
Haldane' on one side with a pencil.]