E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 1973.
The Greatest Resource -- Education
Throughout history and in virtually every part of the earth men have lived and multiplied, and have created some form of culture. Always and everywhere they have found their means of subsistence and something to spare. Civilisations have been built up, have flourished, and, in most cases, have declined and perished. This is not the place to discuss why they have perished; but we can say: there must have been some failure of resources. In most instances new civilisations have arisen, on the same ground, which would be quite incomprehensible if a had been simply the material resources that had given out before. How could such resources have reconstituted themselves?
All history -- as well as all current experience -- points to the fact that it is man, not nature, who provides the primary resource: that the key factor of all economic development comes out of the mind of man. Suddenly, there is an outburst of daring, initiative, invention, constructive activity, not in one field alone, but in many fields all at once. No-one may be able to say where it came from in the first place: but we can see how it maintains and even strengthens itself: through various kinds of schools, in other words, through education. In a very real sense, therefore, we can say that education is the most vital of all resources.
If western civilisation is in a state of permanent crisis, it is not far-fetched to suggest that there may be something wrong with its education. No civilisation, I am sure, has ever devoted more energy and resources to organised education, and if we believe in nothing else, we certainly believe that education is, or should be, the key to everything. In fact, the belief in education is so strong that we treat it as the residual legatee of all our problems. If the nuclear age brings new dangers; if the advance of genetic engineering opens the doors to new abuses; if commercialism brings new temptations -- the answer must be more and better education. The modern way of life is becoming ever more complex: this means that everybody must become more highly educated. 'By 1984.' it was said recently, 'it will be desirable that the most ordinary of men is not embarrassed by the use of a logarithm table, the elementary concepts of the calculus, and by the definitions and uses of such words as electron, coulomb, and volt. He should further have become able not only to handle a pen. pencil, and ruler but also a magnetic tape, valve, and transistor. The improvement of communications between individuals and groups depends on it.' Most of all, it appears, the international situation calls for prodigious educational efforts. The classical statement on this point was delivered by Sir Charles (now Lord) Snow in his 'Rede Lecture' some years ago: 'To say that we must educate ourselves or perish, is a little more melodramatic than the facts warrant. To say, we have to educate ourselves or watch a steep decline in our lifetime, is about right.' According to Lord Snow, the Russians are apparently doing much better than anyone else and will 'have a clear edge', 'unless and until the Americans and we educate our- selves both sensibly and imaginatively'.
Lord Snow, it will be recalled, talked about 'The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution' and expressed his concern that 'the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups.... At one pole we have the literary intellectuals ... at the other the scientists.' He deplores the 'gulf of mutual incomprehension' between these two groups and wants it bridged. It is quite clear how he thinks this 'bridging- operation is to be done; the aims of his educational policy would be, first, to get as many 'alpha-plus scientists as the country can throw up': second, to train 'a much larger stratum of alpha professionals' to do the supporting research, high-class design and development; third, to train 'thousands upon thousands' of other scientists and engineers; and finally, to train 'politicians, administrators, an entire community, who know enough science to have a sense of what the scientists are talking about'. If this fourth and last group can at ]east be educated enough to 'have a sense' of what the real people, the scientists and engineers, are talking about, so Lord Snow seems to suggest, the gulf of mutual incomprehension between the 'Two Cultures' may be bridged,
These ideas on education, which are by no means unrepresentative of our times, leave one with the uncomfortable feeling that ordinary people, including politicians, administrators, and so forth, are really not much use; they have failed to make the grade: but, at least, they should be educated enough to have a sense of what is going on, and to know what the scientists mean when they talk -- to quote Lord Snow's example -- about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is an uncomfortable feeling, because the scientists never tire of telling us that the fruits of their labours are 'neutral': whether they enrich humanity or destroy it depends on how they are used. And who is to decide how they are used? There is nothing in the training of scientists and engineers to enable them to take such decisions, or else, what becomes of the neutrality of science?
If so much reliance is today being placed in the power of education to enable ordinary people to cope with the problems thrown up by scientific and technological progress, then there must be something more to education than Lord Snow suggests. Science and engineering produce 'know-how'; but 'know-how' is nothing by itself; it is a means without an end, a mere potentiality, an unfinished sentence. 'Know-how' is no more a culture than a piano is music. Can education help us to finish the sentence, to turn the potentiality into a reality to the benefit of man?
To do so, the task of education would be, first and foremost, the transmission of ideas of value, of what to do with our lives. There is no doubt also the need to transmit know-how but this must take second place, for it is obviously somewhat foolhardy to put great powers into the hands of people without making sure that they have a reasonable idea of what to do with them. At present, there can be little doubt that the whole of mankind is in mortal danger, not because we are short of scientific and technological know how, but because we tend to use it destructively, without wisdom. More education can help us only if it produces more wisdom.
The essence of education, I suggested, is the transmission of values, but values do not help us to pick our way through life unless they have become our own, a part, so to say, of our mental make-up. This means that they are more than mere formulae or dogmatic assertions: that we think and feel with them, that they are the very instruments through which we look at, interpret. and experience the world. When we think, we do not just think: we think with ideas. Our mind is not a blank, a tabula rasa. When we begin to think we can do so only because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think. Ah through our youth and adolescence, before the conscious and critical mind begins to act as a sort of censor and guardian at the threshold, ideas seep into our mind, vast hosts and multitudes of them. These years are, one might say, our Dark Ages during which we are nothing but inheritors: it is only in later years that we can gradually learn to sort out our inheritance.
First of all, there is language. Each word is an idea. If the language which seeps into us during our Dark Ages is English, our mind is thereby furnished by a set of ideas which is significantly different from the set represented by Chinese, Russian, German, or even American. Next to words, there are the rules of putting them together: grammar, another bundle of ideas, the study of which has fascinated some modem philosophers to such an extent that they thought they could reduce the whole of philosophy to a study of grammar.
All philosophers -- and others -- have always paid a great deal of attention to ideas seen as the result of thought and observation; but in modern times all too little attention has been paid to the study of the ideas which form the very instruments by which thought and observation proceed. On the basis of experience and conscious thought small ideas may easily be dislodged, but when it comes to bigger. more universal, or more subtle ideas it may not be so easy to change them. Indeed, it is often difficult to become aware of them, as they are the instruments and not the results of our thinking -- just as you can see what is outside you, but cannot easily see that with which you see, the eye itself. And even when one has become aware of them it is often impossible to judge them on the basis of ordinary experience.
We often notice the existence of more or less fixed ideas in other people's minds -- ideas with- which they think without being aware of doing so. We then call them prejudices, which is logically quite correct because they have merely seeped into the mind and are in no way the result of a judgment. But the word prejudice is generally applied to ideas that are patently erroneous and recognisable as such by anyone except the prejudiced man. Most of the ideas with which we think are not of that kind at all. To some of them, like those incorporated in words and grammar, the notions of truth or error cannot even be applied; others are quite definitely not prejudices but the result of a judgment; others again are tacit assumptions or presuppositions which may be very difficult to recognise.
I say, therefore, that we think with or through ideas and that what we call thinking is generally the application of pre-existing ideas to a given situation or set of facts. When we think about, say, the political situation we apply to that situation our political ideas, more or less systematically, and attempt to make that situation 'intelligible' to ourselves by means of these ideas. Similarly everywhere else. Some of the ideas are ideas of value, that is to say, we evaluate the situation in the light of our value-ideas.
The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds. If they are mainly small, weak, superficial, and incoherent, life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty and chaotic. It is difficult to bear the resultant feeling of emptiness, and the vacuum of our minds may only too easily be filled by some big, fantastic notion -- political or otherwise -- which suddenly seems to illumine everything and to give meaning and purpose to our existence. It needs no emphasis that herein lies one of the great dangers of our time.
When people ask for education they normally mean something more than mere training, something more than mere knowledge of facts, and something more than a mere diversion. Maybe they cannot themselves formulate precisely what they are looking for; but I think what they are really looking for is ideas that would make the world, and their own lives, intelligible to them. When a thing is intelligible you have a sense of participation; when a thing is unintelligible you have a sense of estrangement. 'Well. I don't know, you hear people say, as an impotent protest against the unintelligibility of the world as they meet it. If the mind cannot bring to the world a set -- or, shall we say, a tool-box -- of powerful ideas, the world must appear to it as a chaos, a mass of unrelated phenomena, of meaningless events. Such a man is like a person in a strange land without any signs of civilisation, without maps or signposts or indicators of any kind. Nothing has any meaning to him; nothing can hold his vital interest; he has no means of making anything intelligible to himself.
All traditional philosophy is an attempt to create an orderly system of ideas by which to live and to interpret the world. 'Philosophy as the Greeks conceived it,' writes Professor Kuhn, 'is one single effort of the human mind to interpret the system of signs and so to relate man to the world as a comprehensive order within which a place is assigned to him.' The classical-Christian culture of the late Middle Ages supplied man with a very complete and astonishingly coherent interpretation of signs, i.e. a system of vital ideas giving a most detailed picture of man, the universe. and man's place in the universe. This system, however, has been shattered and fragmented, and the result is bewilderment and estrangement, never more dramatically put than by Kierkegaard in the middle of last century:
'One sticks one's finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger into existence -- it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into this thing and now leaves me there?.... How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted .... but was thrust into the ranks as though I had been bought of a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am compelled to take part in it, where is the director? ....Whither shall I turn with my complaint?'
Perhaps there is not even a director. Bertrand Russell said that the whole universe is simply 'the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms' and claimed that the scientific theories leading to this conclusion 'if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand.... Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.' Sir Fred Hoyle, the astronomer. talks of 'the truly dreadful situation in which we find ourselves. Here we are in this wholly fantastic universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance.'
Estrangement breeds loneliness and despair. the 'encounter with nothingness', cynicism, empty gestures of defiance, as we can see in the greater part of existentialist philosophy and general literature today. Or it suddenly turns -- as I have mentioned before -- into the ardent adoption of a fanatical teaching which, by a monstrous simplification of reality, pretends to answer all questions. So, what is the cause of estrangement? Never has science been more triumphant; never has man's power over his environment been more complete nor his progress faster. It cannot be a lack of know-how that causes the despair not only of religious thinkers like Kierkegaard but also of leading mathematicians and scientists like Russell and Hoyle. We know how to do many things, but do we know what to do? Ortega y Gasset put it succinctly: 'We cannot live on the human level without ideas. Upon them depends what we do. Living is nothing more or less than doing one thing instead of another.' What, then, is education? It is the transmission of
ideas which enable man to choose between one thing and another, or, to quote Ortega again, 'to live a life which is something above meaningless tragedy or inward disgrace'.
How could for instance a knowledge of the Second Law of Thermodynamics help us in this? Lord Snow tells us that when educated people deplore the 'illiteracy of scientists' he sometimes asks 'How many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics?' The response, he reports, is usually cold and negative. 'Yet,' he says, 'I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: have you read a work of Shakespeare's?' Such a statement challenges the entire basis of our civilisation. What matters is the tool-box of ideas with which, by which, through which, we experience and interpret the world. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is nothing more than a working hypothesis suitable for various types of scientific research. On the other hand -- a work by Shakespeare: teeming with the most vital ideas about the inner development of man, showing the whole grandeur and misery of a human existence. How could these two things be equivalent? What do I miss, as a human being, if I have never heard of the Second Law of Thermodynamics? The answer is: nothing.' And what do I miss by not knowing Shakespeare? Unless I get my understanding from another source, I simply miss my life. Shall we tell our children that one thing is as good as another -- here a bit of knowledge of physics, and there a bit of knowledge of literature? If we do so the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation, because that normally is the time it takes from the birth of an idea to its full maturity when it fills the minds of a new generation and makes them think by it.
Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses. useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world. If, therefore, a man seeks education because he feels estranged and bewildered, because his life seems to him empty and meaningless, he cannot get what he is seeking by studying any of the natural sciences, i.e. by acquiring 'know-how'. That study has its own value which I am not inclined to belittle; it tells him a great deal about how things work in nature or in engineering: but it tells him nothing about the meaning of life and can in no way cure his estrangement and secret despair.
Where, then, shall he turn? Maybe, in spite of all that he hears about the scientific revolution and ours being an age of science, he turns to the so-called humanities. Here indeed he can find, if he is lucky, great and vital ideas to NI his mind, ideas with which to think and through which to make the world, society, and his own life intelligible. Let us see what are the main ideas he is likely to find today, I cannot attempt to make a complete list; so I shall confine myself to the enumeration of six leading ideas, all stemming from the nineteenth century, which still dominate, as far as I can see, the minds of 'educated' people today,1. There is the idea of evolution -- that higher forms continually develop out of lower forms, as a kind of natural and automatic process. The last hundred years or so have seen the systematic application of this idea to all aspects of reality without exception.
2. There is the idea of competition, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest, which purports to explain the natural and automatic process of evolution and development.
3. There is the idea that all the higher manifestations of human life. such as religion, philosophy, art, etc. -- what Marx calls 'the phantasmagorias in the brains of men' -- are nothing but 'necessary supplements of the material life process', a super- structure erected to disguise and promote economic interests, the whole of human history being the history of class struggles.
4. In competition, one might think, with the Marxist interpretation of all higher manifestations of human life, there is, fourthly, the Freudian interpretation which reduces them to the dark stirrings of a subconscious mind and explains them mainly as the results of unfulfilled incest-wishes during child- hood and early adolescence.
5. There is the general idea of relativism, denying all absolutes, dissolving all norms and standards, leading to the total undermining of the idea of truth in pragmatism, and affecting even mathematics, which has been defined by Bertrand Russell as 'the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, or whether what we say is true'.
6. Finally there is the triumphant idea of positivism, that valid knowledge can be attained only through the methods of the natural sciences and hence that no knowledge is genuine unless it is based on generally observable facts. Positivism, in other words, is solely interested in 'know-how' and denies the possibility of objective knowledge about meaning and purpose of any kind.
No one, I think, will be disposed to deny the sweep and power of these six 'large' ideas. They are not the result of any narrow empiricism. No amount of factual inquiry could have verified any one of them. They represent tremendous leaps of the imagination into the unknown and unknowable. Of course, the leap is taken from a small platform of observed fact. These ideas could hot have lodged themselves as firmly in men's minds, as they have done, if they did not contain important elements of truth get their essential character is their claim of universality. Evolution takes everything into its stride, not only material phenomena from nebulae to home sapiens but also all mental phenomena, such as religion or language. Competition, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest are not presented as one set of observations among others, but as universal laws. Marx does not say that some parts of history are made up of class struggles; no, 'scientific materialism', not very scientifically, extends this partial observation to nothing less than the whole of 'the history of all hitherto existing society'. Freud, again, is not content to report a number of clinical observations but offers a universal theory of human motivation, asserting, for instance, that all religion is nothing but an obsession neurosis. Relativism and positivism, of course, are purely metaphysical doctrines with the peculiar and ironical distinction that they deny the validity of all metaphysics. including themselves.
What do these six 'large' ideas have in common, besides their non-empirical, metaphysical nature? They all assert that what had previously been taken to be something of a higher order is really 'nothing but' a more subtle manifestation of the 'lower' -- unless, indeed, the very distinction between higher and lower is denied. Thus man, like the rest of the universe, is really nothing but an accidental collocation of atoms. The difference between a man and a stone is little more than a deceptive appearance. Man's highest cultural achievements are nothing but disguised economic greed or the outflow of sexual frustrations. In any case, it is meaningless to say that man should aim at the 'higher' rather than the 'lower' because no intelligible meaning can be attached to purely subjective notions like 'higher' or 'lower', while the word 'should' is just a sign of authoritarian megalomania.
The ideas of the fathers in the nineteenth century have been visited on the third and fourth generations living in the second half of the twentieth century. To their originators, these ideas were simply the result of their intellectual processes. In the third and fourth generations, they have become the very tools and instruments through which the world is being experienced and interpreted. Those that bring forth new ideas are seldom ruled by them. But their ideas obtain power over men's lives in the third and fourth generations when they have become a part of that great mass of ideas, including language, which seeps into a person's mind during his 'Dark Ages'.
These nineteenth-century ideas are firmly lodged in the minds of practically everybody in the western world today, whether educated or uneducated. In the uneducated mind they are still rather muddled and nebulous, too weak to make the world intelligible. Hence the longing for education, that is to say, for something that will lead us out of the dark wood of our muddled ignorance into the light of understanding.
I have said that a purely scientific education cannot do this for us because it deals only with ideas of know-how, whereas we need to understand why things are as they are and what we are to do with our lives. What we learn by studying a particular science is in any case too specific and specialised for our wider purposes. So we turn to the humanities to obtain a clear view of the large and vital ideas of our age. Even in the humanities we may get bogged down in a mass of specialised scholarship furnishing our minds with lots of small ideas just as unsuitable as the ideas which we might pick up from the natural sciences. But we may also be more fortunate (if fortunate it is) and find a teacher who will 'clear our minds', clarify the ideas -- the 'large' and universal ideas already existent in our minds -- and thus make the world intelligible for us.
Such a process would indeed deserve to be called 'education'; And what do we get from it today? A view of the world as a wasteland in which there is no meaning or purpose, in which man's consciousness is an unfortunate cosmic accident, in which anguish and despair are the only final realities. If by means of a real education man manages to climb to what Ortega calls 'the Height of Our Times' or 'the Height of the Ideas of our Times', he finds himself in an abyss of nothingness. He may feel like echoing Byron:
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
In other words, even a humanistic education lifting us to the height of the ideas of our time cannot 'deliver the goods', because what men are quite legitimately looking for is life more abundant, and not sorrow.
What has happened? How is such a thing possible?
The leading ideas of the nineteenth century, which claimed to do away with metaphysics, are themselves a bad, vicious, life- destroying type of metaphysics. We are suffering from them as from a fatal disease. It is not true that knowledge is sorrow. But poisonous errors bring unlimited sorrow in the third and fourth generation. The errors are not in science but in the philosophy put forward in the name of science. As Etienne Gilson put it more than twenty years ago:
'Such a development was by no means inevitable, but the progressive growth of natural science had made it more and more probable. The growing interest taken by men in the practical results of science was in itself both natural and legitimate, but it helped them to forget that science is knowledge, and practical results but its by-products .... Before their unexpected success in finding conclusive explanations of the material world, men had begun either to despise all disciplines in which such demonstrations could not be found, or to rebuild those disciplines after the pattern of the physical sciences. As a consequence, metaphysics and ethics had to be either ignored or, at least, replaced by new positive sciences; in either case, they would be eliminated. A very dangerous move indeed, which accounts for the perilous position in which western culture has now found itself.'
It is not even true the metaphysics and ethics would be eliminated. On the contrary, all we got was bad metaphysic sand appalling ethics.
Historians know that metaphysical errors can lead to death. R. G. Collingwood wrote:The Patristic diagnosis of the decay of Greco-Roman civilisation ascribes that event to a metaphysical disease .... It was not barbarian attacks that destroyed the Greco-Roman world .... The cause was a metaphysical cause. The "pagan" world was failing to keep alive its own fundamental convictions, they (the patriotic writers) said, because owing to faults in metaphysical analysis it had become confused as to what these convictions were .... If metaphysics had been a mere luxury of the intellect, this would not have mattered.'
This passage can be applied. without change, to present-day civilisation. We have become confused as to what our convictions really are. The great ideas of the nineteenth century may fill our minds in one way or another, but our hearts do not believe in them all the same. Mind and heart are at war with one another, nor as is commonly asserted, reason and faith. Our reason has become beclouded by an extraordinary, blind and unreasonable faith in a set of fantastic and life-destroying ideas inherited from the nineteenth century. It is the foremost task of our reason to recover a truer faith than that,
Education cannot help us as long as it accords no place to meta- physics. Whether the subjects taught are subjects of science or of the humanities, if the teaching does not lead to a clarification of metaphysics. that is to say, of our fundamental convictions, it cannot educate a man and, consequently, cannot be of real value to society.
It is often asserted that education is breaking down because of over-specialisation. But this is only a partial and misleading diagnosis. Specialisation is not in itself a faulty principle of education. What would be the alternative -- an amateurish smattering of all major subjects? Or a lengthy studium generale in which men are forced to spend their time sniffing at subjects which they do not wish to pursue, while they are being kept away from what they want to learn? This cannot be the right answer, since it can only lead to the type of intellectual man, whom Cardinal Newman castigated -'an intellectual man, as the world now conceives of him. ,..one who is full of "views" on all subjects of philosophy, on all matters of the day'. Such 'viewiness' is a sign of ignorance rather than knowledge. 'Shall I teach you the meaning of knowledge?' said Confucius. 'When you know a thing to recognise that you know it, and when you do not, to know that you do not know -- that is knowledge.'
What is at fault is not specialisation, but the lack of depth with which the subjects are usually presented, and the absence of meta- physical awareness. The sciences are being taught without any awareness of the presuppositions of science, of the meaning and significance of scientific laws, and of the place occupied by the natural sciences within the whole cosmos of human thought. The result is that the presuppositions of science are normally mistaken for its findings. Economics is being taught without any awareness of the view of human nature that underlies present-day economic theory. In fact, many economists are themselves unaware of the fact that such a view is implicit in their teaching and that nearly all their theories would have to change if that view changed. How could there be a rational teaching of politics without pressing all questions back to their metaphysical roots? Political thinking must necessarily become confused and end in 'double-talk' if there is a continued refusal to admit the serious study of the meta- physical and ethical problems involved. The confusion is already so great that it is legitimate to doubt the educational value of studying many of the so-called humanistic subjects. I say 'so- called' because a subject that does not make explicit its view of human nature can hardly be called humanistic.
All subjects, no matter how specialised, are connected with a centre; they are like rays emanating from a sun. The centre is constituted by our most basic convictions, by those ideas which really have the power to move us. In other words, the centre consists of-metaphysics and ethics, of ideas that -whether we like it or not -- transcend the world of facts. Because they transcend the world of~ facts, they cannot be proved or disproved by ordinary scientific method. But that does not mean that they are purely 'subjective' or 'relative' or mere arbitrary conventions. They must be true to reality, although they transcend the world of facts -- an apparent paradox to our positivistic thinkers. If they are not true to reality, the adherence to such a set of ideas must inevitably lead to disaster.
Education can help us only if it produces 'whole men'. The truly educated man is not a man who knows a bit of everything, not even the man who knows all the details of all subjects (if such a thing were possible): the 'whole man', in fact, may have little detailed knowledge of facts and theories, he may treasure the En- cyclopaedia Britannica because 'she knows and he needn't', but he will be truly in touch with the centre. He will not be in doubt about his basic convictions, about his view on the meaning and purpose of his life. He may not be able to explain these matters in words, but the conduct of his life will show a certain sureness of touch which stems from his inner clarity.
I shall try to explain a little bit further what is meant by 'centre'. Ah human activity is a striving after something thought of as good. This is not more than a tautology, but it helps us to ask the right question: 'Good for whom?' Good for the striving person; So, unless that person has sorted out and co-ordinated his manifold urges, impulses, and desires, his strivings are likely to be confused, contradictory, self-defeating, and possibly highly destructive. The 'centre', obviously, is the place where he has to create for himself an orderly system of ideas about himself and the world, which can regulate the direction of his various strivings. If he has never given any thought to this (because he is always too busy with more important things, or he is proud to think 'humbly' of himself as an agnostic), the centre will not by any means be empty: it will be ~fled with all those vital ideas which, in one way or another. have seeped into his mind during his Dark Ages. I have tried to show what these ideas are likely to be today: a total denial of meaning and purpose of human existence on earth, leading to the total despair of anyone who really believes in them. Fortunately, as I said, the heart is often more intelligent than the mind and refuses to accept these ideas in their full weight. So the man is saved from despair, but landed in confusion. His fundamental convictions are confused; hence his actions, too, are confused and uncertain. If he would only allow the light of consciousness to fall on the centre and face the question of his fundamental convictions, he could create order where there is disorder. That would 'educate' him, in the sense of leading him out of the darkness of his metaphysical confusion.
I do not think, however, that this can be successfully done unless he quite consciously accepts -- even if only provisionally -- a number of metaphysical ideas which are almost directly opposite to the ideas (stemming from the nineteenth century) that have lodged in his mind. I shall mention three examples.
While the nineteenth-century ideas deny or obliterate the hierarchy of levels in the universe, the notion of an hierarchical order is an indispensable instrument of understanding. Without the recognition of 'Levels of Being' or 'Grades of Significance' we cannot make the world intelligible to ourselves nor have we the slightest possibility to define our own position, the position of man, in the scheme of the universe. It is only when we can see the world as a ladder, and when we can see man's position on the ladder, that we can recognise a meaningful task for man's life on earth. Maybe it is man's task -or simply, if you like, man's happiness -- to attain a higher degree of realisation of his potentialities, a higher level of being or 'grade of significance' than that which comes to him 'naturally': we cannot even study this possibility except by re- cognising the existence of a hierarchical structure, To the extent that we interpret the world through the great, vital ideas of the nineteenth century, we are blind to these differences of level, because we have been blinded.
As soon, however, as we accept the existence of 'levels of being', we can readily understand, for instance, why the methods of physical science cannot be applied to the study of politics or economics, or why the findings of physics -- as Einstein recognised -- have no philosophical implications.
If we accept the Aristotelian division of metaphysics into ontology and epistemology, the proposition that there are levels of being is an ontological proposition; I now add an epistemological one: the nature of our thinking is such that we cannot help thinking in opposites.
It is easy enough to see that all through our lives we are faced with the task of reconciling opposites which, in logical thought, cannot be reconciled. The typical problems of life are insoluble on the level of being on which we normally find ourselves. How can one reconcile the demands of freedom and discipline in education? Countless mothers and teachers, in fact, do it, but no-one can write down a solution. They do it by bringing into the situation a force that belongs to a higher level where opposites are transcended -- the power of love.
G. N. M. Tyrell has put forward the terms 'divergent' and 'convergent' to distinguish problems which cannot be solved by logical reasoning from those that can. Life is being kept going by divergent problems which have to be 'lived' and are solved only in death. Convergent problems on the other hand are man's most useful invention; they do not, as such, exist in reality, but are created by a process of abstraction. When they have been solved, the solution can be written down and passed on to others, who can apply it without needing to reproduce the mental effort necessary to find it. If this were the case with human relations -- in family life, economics, politics, education. and so forth -- well, I am at a loss how to finish the sentence, There would be no more human relations but only mechanical reactions; life would be a living death. Divergent problems, as it were, force man to strain himself to a level above himself; they demand, and thus provoke the supply of, forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty. goodness, and truth into our lives. It is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites can be reconciled in the living situation.
The physical sciences and mathematics are concerned exclusively with convergent problems. That is why they can progress cumulatively, and each new generation can begin just where their forbears left off. The price, however, is a heavy one. Dealing exclusively with convergent problems does not lead into life but away from it.'Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it', wrote Charles Darwin in his autobiography, 'poetry of many kinds ... gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music.... My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. ... The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.'
This impoverishment, so movingly described by Darwin, will overwhelm our entire civilisation if we: permit the current tendencies to continue which Gilson calls 'the extension of positive science to social facts'. All divergent problems can be turned into convergent problems by a process of 'reduction'. The result how- ever, is the loss of all higher forces to ennoble human Life. and the degradation not only of the emotional part of our nature, but also, as Darwin sensed, of our intellect and moral character. The signs are everywhere visible today,
The true problems of living -- in politics, economics, education, marriage, etc. -- are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. They demand of man not merely the employment of his reasoning powers but the commitment of his whole personality. Naturally, spurious solutions, by way of a clever formula, are always being put forward; but they never work for long, because they invariably neglect one of the two opposites and thus lose the very quality of human life. In economics, the solution offered may provide for freedom but not for planning, or vice versa. In industrial organisation, it may provide for discipline but not for workers' participation in management, or vice versa. In politics, it might provide for leadership without democracy or, again, for democracy without leadership.
To have to grapple with divergent problems tends to be exhausting, worrying, and wearisome. Hence people try to avoid it and to run away from it. A busy executive who has been dealing with divergent problems all day long will read a detective story or solve a crossword puzzle on his journey home. He has been using his brain all day: why does he go on using it? The answer is that the detective story and the crossword puzzle present convergent problems, and that is the relaxation. They require a bit of brainwork. even difficult brainwork, but they do not call for this straining and stretching to a higher level which is the specific challenge of a divergent problem, a problem in which irreconcilable opposites have to be reconciled. It is only the latter that are the real stuff of life.
Finally, I turn to a third class of notions, which really belong to metaphysics, although they are normally considered separately: ethics.
The most powerful ideas of the nineteenth century, as we have seen, have denied or at least obscured the whole concept of 'levels of being' and the idea that some things are higher than others. This, of course, has meant the destruction of ethics which is based on the distinction of good and evil, claiming that good is higher than evil. Again, the sins of the fathers are being visited on the third and fourth generations who now find themselves growing up without moral instruction of any kind. The men who conceived the idea that 'morality is bunk' did so with a mind well-stocked with moral ideas. But the minds of the third and fourth generations are no longer well-stocked with such ideas: they are well- stocked with ideas conceived in the nineteenth century, namely, that 'morality is bunk', that everything that appears to be 'higher' is really nothing but something quite mean and vulgar.
The resulting confusion is indescribable. What is the Leitbird, as the Germans say, the guiding image, in accordance with which young people could try to form and educate themselves? There is none, or rather there is such a muddle and mess of images that no sensible guidance issues from them. The intellectuals, whose function it would be to get these things sorted out, spend their time proclaiming that everything is relative -- or something to the same effect, Or they deal with ethical matters in terms of the most unabashed cynicism.
I shall give an example already alluded to above. It is significant because it comes from one of the most influential men of our time, the late Lord Keynes. 'For at least another hundred years' he wrote, 'we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still.'
When great and brilliant men talk like this we cannot be surprised if there arises a certain confusion between fair and foul, which leads to double talk as long as things are quiet, and to crime when they get a bit more lively. That avarice, usury, and pre caution (i.e. economic security) should be our gods was merely a bright idea for Keynes: he surely had nobler gods. But ideas are the most powerful things on earth, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that by now the gods he recommended have been enthroned.
In ethics, as in so many other fields, we have recklessly and wilfully abandoned our great classical-Christian heritage. We have even degraded the very words without which ethical discourse cannot carry on, words like virtue, love, temperance. As a result, we are totally ignorant, totally uneducated in the subject that of all conceivable subjects, is the most important, We have no idea- to think with and therefore are only too ready to believe that ethics is a held where thinking does no good. Who knows anything today of the Seven Deadly Sins or of the Four Cardinal Virtues? Who could even name them? And if these venerable. old ideas are thought not to be worth bothering about, what new ideas have taken their place?
What is to take the place of the soul- and life-destroying metaphysics inherited from the nineteenth century? The task of our generation, I have no doubt, is one of metaphysical reconstruction. It is not as if we had to invent anything new: at the same time, it is not good enough merely to revert to the old formulations. Our task -- and the task of all education -- is to understand the present world, the world in which we live and make our choices.
The problems of education are merely reflections of the deepest problems of our age. They cannot be solved by organization, administration, or the expenditure of money, even though the importance of all these is not denied. We are suffering from a metaphysical disease, and the cure must therefore be meta- physical. Education which fails to clarify our central convictions is mere training or indulgence. For it is our central convictions that are in disorder, and, as long as the present anti-metaphysical temper persists. the disorder will grow worse. Education, far from ranking as man's greatest resource, will then be an agent of destruction, in accordance with the principle corruptio optimi pessima.
1. Note: Incidentally, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that heat cannot of itself pass from a colder to a hotter body, or, more vulgarly, "that "You cannot warm yourself on something that is colder than you" -- a familiar though not very inspiring idea, which has been quite illegitimately extended to the pseudo-scientific notion that the universe must necessarily end in a kind of "heat death" when all temperature differences will have ceased.Out, out brief candle!The words were Macbeth's when he met his final disaster. They are repeated today on the authority of science when the triumphs of that same science are greater than ever before.
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
2. Charles Darwin's Autobiography, edited by Nora Barlow (Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, 1958)
The Proper Use of Land
Among material resources, the greatest, unquestionably, is the land, Study how a society uses its land, and you can come to pretty reliable conclusions as to what its future will be.
The land carries the topsoil, and the topsoil carries an immense variety of living beings including man. In 1955, Tom Dale and Vernon Gill Carter, both highly experienced ecologists, published a book call ed Topsoil and Civilisation. I cannot do better, for the purposes of this chapter, than quote some of their opening paragraphs:'Civilised man was nearly always able to become master of his environment temporarily. His chief troubles came from his delusions that his temporary master ship was permanent. He thought of himself as "master of the world", while failing to understand fully the laws of nature.
'Man, whether civilised or savage, is a child of nature -- he is not the master of nature. He must conform his actions to certain natural laws if he is to maintain his dominance over his environment. When he tries to circumvent the laws of nature, he usually destroys the natural environment that sustains him. And when his environment deteriorates rapidly, his civilisation declines.
'One man has given a brief outline of history by saying that "civilised man has marched across the face of the earth and left a desert in his footprints". This statement may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but it is not without foundation. Civilised man has despoiled most of the lands on which he has lived for long. This is the main reason why his progressive civilisations have moved from place to place. It has been the chief cause for the decline of his civilisations in older settled regions. It has been the dominant factor in determining all trends of history.
'The writers of history have seldom noted the importance of land use. They seem not to have recognised that the destinies of most of man's empires and civilisations were determined largely by the way the land was used. While recognising the influence of environment on history, they fail to note that man usually changed or despoiled his environment.
'How did civilised man despoil this favourable environment? He did it mainly by depleting or destroying the natural resources. He cut down or burned most of the usable timber from forested hillsides and valleys. He overgrazed and denuded the grasslands that fed his livestock. He killed most of the wildlife and much of the fish and other water life. He permitted erosion to rob his farm land of its productive topsoil. He allowed eroded soil to clog the streams and fill his reservoirs, irrigation canals, and harbours with silt. In many cases, he used and wasted most of the easily mined metals or other needed minerals. Then his civilisation declined amidst the despoliation of his own creation or he moved to new land. There have been from ten to thirty different civilisations that have followed, this road to ruin (the number depending on who classifies the civilisations).''
The 'ecological problem', it seems, is not as new as it is frequently made out to be. Yet there are two decisive differences: the earth is now much more densely populated than it was in earlier times and there are, generally speaking, no new lands to move to; and the rate of change has enormously accelerated, particularly during the last quarter of a century.
All the same, it is still the dominant belief today that, whatever may have happened with earlier civilisations, our own modem, western civilisation has emancipated itself from dependence upon nature. A representative voice' is that of Eugene Rabinowitch. editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.The only animals.' he says (in The Times of 29 April 1972), 'whose disappearance may threaten the biological viability of man on earth are the bacteria normally inhabiting our bodies. For the rest there is no convincing proof that mankind could not survive even as the only animal species on earth! If economical ways could be developed for synthesising food from inorganic raw materials -- which is likely to happen sooner or later -- man may even be able to become independent of plants, on which he now depends as sources of his food...,
I personally -- and, I suspect, a vast majority of mankind -- would shudder at the idea (of a habitat without animals and plants). But millions of inhabitants of "city jungles" of New York, Chicago, London or Tokyo have grown up and spent their whole lives in a practically "azoic" habitat (leaving out rats, mice, cockroaches and other such obnoxious species) and have survived.'
Eugene Rabinowitch obviously considers the above a 'rationally justifiable' statement. He deplores that 'many rationally unjustifiable' things have been written in recent years -- some by very reputable scientists -- about the sacredness of natural ecological systems, their inherent stability and the danger of human interference with them'.
What is 'rational' and what is 'sacred'? Is man the master of nature or its child? If it becomes 'economical' to synthesise food from inorganic materials -- 'which is likely to happen sooner or later' -- if we become independent of plants, the connection between topsoil and civilisation will be broken. Or will it? These questions suggest that 'The Proper Use of Land' poses, not a technical nor an economic, but primarily a metaphysical problem. The problem obviously belongs to a higher level of rational thinking than that represented by the last two quotations.
There are always some things which we do for their own sakes, and there are other things which we do for some other purpose. One of the most important tasks for any society is to distinguish between ends and means-to-ends, and to have some sort of cohesive view and agreement about this. Is the land merely a means of production or is it something more, something that is an end in itself? And when I say 'land', I include the creatures upon it.
Anything we do just for the sake of doing it does not lend itself to utilitarian calculation. For instance, most of us try to keep ourselves reasonably clean. Why? Simply for hygienic reasons? No, the hygienic aspect is secondary; we recognise cleanliness as a value in itself. We do not calculate its value; the economic calculus simply does not come in. It could be argued that to wash is uneconomic: it costs time and money and produces nothing -- except cleanliness. There are many activities which are totally uneconomic, but they are carried on for their own sakes. The economists have an easy way of dealing with them: they divide all human activities between 'production' and 'consumption'. Anything we do under the head of 'production' is subject to the economic calculus, and anything we do under the heading of 'consumption' is not. But real life is very refractory to such classifications, because man-as-producer and man-as-consumer is in fact the same man, who is always producing and consuming all the same time. Even a worker in his factory consumes certain 'amenities', commonly referred to as 'working conditions', and when insufficient 'amenities' are provided he cannot -- or refuses to -- carry on. And even the man who consumes water and soap may be said to be producing cleanliness.
We produce in order to be able to afford certain amenities and comforts as 'consumers'. If, however, somebody demanded these same amenities and comforts while he was engaged in 'production', he would be told that this would be uneconomic, that it would be inefficient, and that society could not afford such inefficiency. In other words, everything depends on whether it is done by man-as-producer or by man-as-consumer. If man-as- producer travels first-class or uses a luxurious car, this is called a waste of money: but if the same man in his other incarnation of man-as-consumer does the same, this is called a sign of a high standard of life.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more noticeable than in connection with the use of the land. The farmer is considered simply as a producer who must cut his costs and raise his efficiency by every possible device, even if he thereby destroys -- for man-as-consumer -- the health of the soil and beauty of the landscape, and even if the end effect is the depopulation of the land and the overcrowding of cities. There are large-scale farmers, horticulturists, food manufacturers and fruit growers today who would never think of consuming any of their own products. 'luckily, they say, 'we have enough money to be able to afford to buy products which have been organically grown, without the use of poisons.' When-they are asked why they themselves do not adhere to organic methods and avoid the use of poisonous substances, they reply that they could not afford to do so. What man-as-producer can afford is one thing; what man-as-consumer can afford is quite another thing. But since the two are the same man, the question of what man -- or society -- can really afford gives rise to endless confusion.
There is no escape from this confusion as long as the land and the creatures upon it are looked upon as nothing but 'factors of production'. They are, of course, factors of production, that is to say, means-to-ends, but this is their secondary, not their primary, nature. Before everything else, they are ends-in-themselves; they are meta-economic, and it is therefore rationally justifiable to say, as a statement of fact, that they are in a certain sense sacred. Man has not made them, and it is irrational for him to treat things that he has not made and cannot make and cannot recreate once he has spoilt them, in the same manner and spirit as he is entitled to treat things of his own making.
The higher animals have an economic value because of their utility; but they have a meta-economic value in themselves. If I have a car, a man-made thing, I might quite legitimately argue that the best way to use it is never to bother about maintenance and simply run it to ruin. I may indeed have calculated that this is the most economical method of use. If the calculation is correct, nobody can criticise me for acting accordingly, for there is nothing sacred about a man-made thing like a car. But if I have an animal -be it only a calf or a hen -- a living, sensitive creature, am I allowed to treat it as nothing but a utility? Am I allowed to run it to ruin?
It is no use trying to answer such questions scientifically. They are metaphysical, not scientific, questions. It is a metaphysical error, likely to produce the gravest practical consequences, to equate 'car' and 'animal' on account of their utility, while failing to recognize the most fundamental difference between them, that of 'level of being'. An irreligious age looks with amused contempt upon the hallowed statements by which religion helped our for- bears to appreciate metaphysical truths. 'And the Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden' -- not to be idle, but 'to dress it and keep it'. 'And he also gave man dominion over the fish in the sea and the fowl in the air, and over every living being that moves upon the earth.' When he had made 'the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind', he saw that it was 'good'. But when he saw everything he had made, the entire biosphere, as we say today, 'behold, it was very good'. Man, the highest of his creatures, was given 'dominion', not the right to tyrannise, to ruin and exterminate. It is no use talking about the dignity of man without accepting that noblesse oblige. For man to put himself into a wrongful relationship with animals, and particularly those long domesticated by him, has always, in all traditions, been considered a horrible and infinitely dangerous thing to do. There have been no sages or holy men in our or in anybody else's history who were cruel to animals or who looked upon them as nothing but utilities, and innumerable are the legends and stories which link sanctity as well as happiness with a loving kindness towards lower creation.
It is interesting to note that modem man is being told, in the name of science, that he is really nothing but a naked ape or even an accidental collocation of atoms. 'Now we can define man', says Professor Joshua Lederberg. 'Genotypically at least, he is six feet of a particular molecular sequence of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorous atoms.'2 As modern man thinks so 'humbly' of himself, he thinks even more 'humbly' of the animals which serve his needs: and treats them as if they were machines. Other, less sophisticated -- or is it less depraved? -- people take a different attitude. As H. Fielding Hall reported from Burma:'To him (the Burmese) men are men, and animals are animals, and men are far the higher. But he does not deduce from this that man's superiority gives him permission to ill-treat or kill animals. It is just the reverse. It is because man is so much higher than the animal that he can and must observe towards animals the very greatest care, feel for them the very greatest compassion, be good to them in every way he can. The Burmese's motto should be noblesse oblige. He knows the meaning, he knows not the words.'
In Proverbs we read that the just man takes care of his beast, but the heart of the wicked is merciless, and St Thomas Aquinas wrote: 'It is evident that if a man practises a compassionate affection for animals, he is all the more disposed to feel compassion for his fellowmen.' No-one ever raised the question of whether they could asked to live in accordance with, these convictions. At the level of values, of ends-in-themselves, there is no question of 'affording'.
What applies to the animals upon the land applies equally, and without any suspicion of sentimentality, to the land itself. Although ignorance and greed have again and again destroyed the fertility of the soil to such an extent that whole civilisations foundered, there have been no traditional teachings which failed to recognise the meta-economic value and significance of 'the generous earth'. And where these teachings were heeded. not only agriculture but also of all other factors of civilisation achieved health and wholeness. Conversely, where people imagined that they could not 'afford' to care for the soil and work with nature, instead of against it, the resultant sickness of the soil has invariably imparted sickness to all the other factors of civilisation.
In our time, the main danger to the soil, and therewith not only to agriculture but to civilisation as a whole, stems from the towns- man's determination to apply to agriculture the principles of industry. No more typical representative of this tendency could be found than Dr Sicco I.. Mansholt, who, as Vice-President of the European Economic Community, launched the Mansholt Plan for European Agriculture. He believes that the farmers are 'a group that has still not grasped the rapid changes in society'. Most of them ought to get out of farming and become industrial labourers in the cities, because 'factory workers, men on building sites and those in administrative jobs -- have a five-day week and two weeks' annual holiday already. Soon they may have a four-day week and four weeks' holiday per year. And the farmer: he is condemned to working a seven day week because the five day cow has not yet been invented, and he gets no holiday at ail." The Mansholt Plan, accordingly, is designed to achieve, as quickly as humanely possible, the amalgamation of many small family farms into large agricultural units operated as if they were factories, and the maximum rate of reduction in the community's agriculture population. Aid is to be given 'which would enable the older as well as the younger farmers to leave agriculture'."
In the discussion of the Mansholt Plan, agriculture is generally referred to as one of Europe's 'industries'. The question arises of whether agriculture is, in fact, an industry, or whether it might be something essentially different. Not surprisingly, as this is a metaphysical -- or meta-economic -- question, it is never raised by economists.
Now, the fundamental 'principle' of agriculture is that it deals with life, that is to say, with living substances. Its products are the results of processes of life and its means of production is the living soil. A cubic centimetre of fertile soil contains milliards of living organisms, the full exploration of which is far beyond the capacities of man. The fundamental 'principle' of modern industry, on the other hand, is that it deals with man-devised processes which work reliably only when applied to man-devised, non-living materials. The ideal of industry is the elimination of living substances. Man-made materials are preferable to natural materials, because we can make them to measure and apply perfect quality control. Man-made machines work more reliably and more predictably than do such living substances as men. The ideal of industry is to eliminate the living factor, even including the human factor, and to turn the productive process over to machines. At Alfred North Withehead defined life as 'an offensive directed against the repetitious mechanism of the universe', so we may define modern industry as 'an offensive against the unpredictability, un- punctuality, general waywardness and cussedness of living nature, including man'.
In other words, there can be no doubt that the fundamental 'principles' of agriculture and of industry, far from being compatible with each other, are in opposition. Real life consists of the tensions produced by the incompatibility of opposites, each of which is needed, and just as life would be meaningless without death, so agriculture would be meaningless without industry. It remains true, however, that agriculture is primary, whereas industry is secondary, which means that human life can continue with- out industry, whereas it cannot continue without agriculture. Human life at the level of civilisation, however, demands the balance of the two principles, and this balance is ineluctably destroyed when people fail to appreciate the essential difference between agriculture and industry -- a difference as great as that between life and death -- and attempt to treat agriculture as just another industry.
The argument is, of course, a familiar one. It was put succinctly by a group of internationally recognised experts in A Future for European Agriculture:Different parts of the world possess widely differing advantages for the production of particular products, depending on differences in climate, the quality of the soil and cost of labour. All countries would gain from a division of labour which enabled them to concentrate production on their most highly productive agricultural operations. This would result both in higher income for agriculture and lower costs for the entire economy, particularly for industry. No fundamental justification can be found for agricultural protectionism.6
It this were so it would be totally incomprehensible that agricultural protectionism, throughout history, has been the rule rather than the exception. Why are most countries, most of the time, unwilling to gain these splendid rewards from so simple a prescription? Precisely because there is more involved in 'agricultural operations' than the production of incomes and the lowering of costs: what is involved is the whole relationship between man and nature, the whole life-style of a society, the health, happiness and harmony of man, as well as the beauty of his habitat. If all these things are left out of the experts' considerations, man himself is left out -- even if our experts try to bring him in, as it were, after the event, by pleading that the community should pay for the 'social consequences' of their policies. The Mansholt Plan. say the experts, 'represents a bold initiative. It is based on the acceptance of a fundamental principle: agricultural income can only be maintained if the reduction in the agricultural population is accelerated, and if farms rapidly reach an economically viable size.''7 Or again: 'Agriculture, in Europe at least is essentially directed towards food-production.... It is well known that the demand for food increases relatively slowly with increases in real income. This causes the total incomes earned in agriculture to rise more slowly in comparison with the incomes earned in industry; to maintain the same rate of growth of incomes per head is only possible if there is an adequate rate of decline in the numbers engaged in agriculture."8 ...'The conclusions seem inescapable: under circumstances which are normal in other advanced countries, the community would be able to satisfy its own needs with only one third as many farmers as now.'9
No serious exception can be taken to these statements if we adopt -- as the experts have adopted -- the metaphysical position of the crudest materialism, for which money costs and money incomes are the ultimate criteria and determinants of human action, and tile living world has no significance beyond that of a quarry for exploitation.
On a wider view, however, the land is seen as a priceless asset which it is man's task and happiness 'to dress and to keep'. We can say that man's management of the land must be primarily orientated towards three goals -health, beauty, and permanence. The fourth goal -- the only one accepted by the experts -- productivity, wilt then be attained almost as a by-product. The crude materialist view sees agriculture as 'essentially directed towards food-production', A wider view sees agriculture as having to fulfil at least three tasks:
- to keep man in touch with living nature, of which he is and remains a highly vulnerable part;
- to humanise and ennoble man's wider habitat; and
- to bring forth the foodstuffs and other materials which are needed for a becoming life.
I do not believe that a civilisation which recognises only the third of these tasks, and which pursues it with such ruthlessness and violence that the other two tasks are not merely neglected but systematically counteracted, has any chance of long-term survival. Today, we take pride in the fact that the proportion of people engaged in agriculture has fallen to very low levels and continues to fall. Great Britain produces some sixty per cent of its food requirements while only three per cent of its working population are working on farms. In the United States, there were still twenty- seven per cent of the nation's workers in agriculture at the end of World War I, and fourteen per cent at the end of World War II: the estimate for 1971 shows only 4-4 per cent. These declines in the proportion of workers engaged in agriculture are generally associated with a massive flight from the land and a burgeoning of cities. At the same time, however, to quote Lewis Herber:
Metropolitan life is breaking down. psychologically, economically and biologically. Millions of people have acknowledged this breakdown by voting with their feet, they have picked up their belongings and left, If they have not been able to sever their connections with the metropolis, at least they have tried. As a social symptom the effort is significant.10
In the vast modern towns, says Mr Herber, the urban dweller is more isolated than his ancestors were in the countryside: 'The city man in a modern metropolis has reached a degree of anonymity, social atomisation and spiritual isolation that is virtually unprecedented in human history.'11
So what does he do? He tries to get into the suburbs and becomes a commuter. Because rural culture has broken down, the rural people are fleeing from the land~ and because metropolitan life is breaking down, urban people are fleeing from the cities. 'Nobody, according to Dr Mansholt, 'can afford the luxury of not acting economically",12 with the result that everywhere life tends to become intolerable for anyone except the very rich.
I agree with Mr Herber's assertion that 'reconciliation of man with the natural world is no longer merely desirable, it has become a necessity'. And this cannot be achieved by tourism, sightseeing, or other leisure-time activities, but only by changing the structure of agriculture in a direction exactly opposite to that proposed by Dr Mansholt and supported by the experts quoted above: instead of searching for means to accelerate the drift out of agriculture, we should be searching for policies to reconstruct rural culture, to open the land for the gainful occupation to larger numbers of people, whether it be on a full-time or a part-time basis, and to orientate all our actions on the land towards the threefold ideal of health, beauty, and permanence.
The social structure of agriculture, which has been produced by -- and is generally held to obtain its justification from -- large-scale mechanisation and heavy chemicalisation. makes it impossible to keep man in real touch with living nature; in fact, it sup- ports all the most dangerous modern tendencies of violence, alienation, and environmental destruction Health, beauty and permanence are hardly even respectable subjects for discussion, and this is yet another example of the disregard of human values -- and this means a disregard of man -- which inevitably results from the idolatry of economism.
If 'beauty is the splendour of truth', agriculture cannot fulfil its second task, which is to humanise and ennoble man's wider habitat, unless it clings faithfully and assiduously to the truths revealed by nature's living processes. One of them is the law of return; another is diversification -- as against any kind of monoculture; another is decentralisation, so that some use can be found for even quite inferior resources which it would never be rational to transport over long distances. Here again, both the trend of things and the advice of the experts is in the exactly opposite direction -- towards the industrialisation and depersonalisation of agriculture, towards concentration, specialisation, and any kind of material waste that promises to save labour. As a result, the wider human habitat, far from being humanised and ennobled by man's agricultural activities, becomes standardised to dreariness or even degraded to ugliness.
All this is being done because man-as-producer cannot afford 'the luxury of not acting economically', and therefore cannot produce the very necessary 'luxuries' -- like health, beauty, and permanence -- which man-as-consumer desires more than anything else. It would cost too much; and the richer we become, the less we can 'afford'. The aforementioned experts calculate that the 'burden' of agricultural support within the Community of the Six amounts to 'nearly three per cent of Gross National Product', an amount they consider 'far from negligible'. With an annual growth rate of over three per cent of Gross National Product, one might have thought that such a 'burden' could be carried without difficulty: but the experts point out that 'national resources are largely committed to personal consumption, investment and public services.... By using so large a proportion of resources to prop up declining enterprises, whether in agriculture or in industry, the Community foregoes the opportunity to undertake,-, necessary improvements'' in these other fields.
Nothing could be clearer. If agriculture does not pay, it is just a 'declining enterprise'. Why prop it up? There are no 'necessary improvements' as regards the land, but only as regards farmers' incomes, and these can be made if there are fewer farmers. This is the philosophy of the townsman. alienated from living nature, who promotes his own scale of priorities by arguing in economic terms that we cannot 'afford' any other. In fact, any society can afford to look after its land and keep it healthy and beautiful in perpetuity. There are no technical difficulties and there is no lack of relevant knowledge. There is no need to consult economic experts when the question is one of priorities. We know too much about ecology today to have any excuse for the many abuses that are currently going on in the management of the land, in the management of animals, in food storage, food processing, and in heedless urbanisation. If we permit them, this is not due to poverty, as if we could not afford to stop them; it is due to the fact that, as a society, we have no firm basis of belief in any meta-economic values, and when there is no such belief the economic calculus takes over. This is quite inevitable. How could it be otherwise? Nature, it has been said, abhors a vacuum, and when the avail- able 'spiritual space' is not filled by some higher motivation, then it will necessarily be filled by something lower -- by the small, mean, calculating attitude to life which is rationalised in the economic calculus.
I have no doubt that a callous attitude to the land and to the animals thereon is connected with, and symptomatic of, a great many other attitudes, such as those producing a fanaticism of rapid change and a fascination with novelties- technical, organisational, chemical, biological, and so forth -which insists on their application long before their long-term consequences are even remotely understood. In the simple question of how we treat the land, next to people our most precious resource, our entire way of life is involved, and before our policies with regard to the land will really be changed, there will have to be a great deal of philosophical, not to say religious, change. It is not a question of what we can afford but of what we choose to spend our money on. If we could return to a generous recognition of meta-economic values, our landscapes would become healthy and beautiful again and our people would regain the dignity of man, who knows himself as higher than the animal but never forgets that noblesse oblige.
1. Topsoil and Civilisation by Tom Dale and Vernon Gill Carter (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Okla., 1955)
2. Man and His Future, edited by Gordon Wolsten-holme (A Ciba Foundation Volume, J. & A. Churchill Ltd., London, 1963)
3. The Soul of a People by H. Fielding Hall (Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London, 1920)
4. Our Accelerating Century by Dr. S. L. Mansholt (The Royal Dutch/Shell Lectures on Industry and Society, London, 1967)
5. A Future for European Agriculture by D. Bergmann, M. Rossi-Doria, N. Kaldor, J. A. Schnittker, H. B. Krohn, C. Thomsen, J. S. March, H. Wilbrandt, Pierre Uri (The Atlantic Institute, Paris, 1970)
10. Our Synthetic Environment by Lewis Herber (Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, 1963)
12. Op. cit.
13. Op. cit.
Resources for Industry
Long quotation from Prospect for Coal by E. F. Schumacher, published by the National Coal Board, London, April 1961.
The most striking thing about modern industry is that it requires so much and accomplishes so little. Modern industry seems to be inefficient to a degree that surpasses one's ordinary powers of imagination. Its inefficiency therefore remains unnoticed.
Industrially, the most advanced country today is undoubtedly the United States of America. With a population of about 207 million, it contains 5-6 per cent of mankind; with only about fifty- seven people per square mile -- as against a world average of over seventy -- and being situated wholly within the northern temperate zone, it ranks as one of the great sparsely populated areas of the world. It has been calculated that if the entire world population were put into the United States, its density of population would then be just about that of England now. This may be thought to be an 'unfair' comparison; but even if we take the United Kingdom as a whole, we find a population density that is more than ten times that of the United States (which means that the United States could accommodate more than half the present world population before it attained a density equal to that of the United Kingdom now), and there are many other industrialised countries where densities are even higher. Taking the whole of Europe, exclusive of the USSR, we find a population density of 2427 persons per square mile, or 4.25 times that of the United States. It cannot be said, therefore, that -relatively speaking -- the United States is disadvantaged by having too many people and too little space.
Nor could it be said that the territory of the United States was poorly endowed with natural resources. On the contrary, in all human history no large territory has ever been opened up which has more excellent and wonderful resources, and, although much has been exploited and ruined since, this still remains true today.
All the same, the industrial system of the United States cannot subsist on internal resources alone and has therefore had to extend its tentacles right around the globe to secure its raw material supplies. For the 5-6 per cent of the world population which live in the United States require something of the order of forty per cent of the world's primary resources to keep going. Whenever estimates are produced which relate to the next ten, twenty, or thirty years, the message that emerges is one of ever-increasing dependence of the United States economy on raw material and fuel supplies from outside the country. The National Petroleum Council, for instance, calculates that by 1985 the United States will have to cover fifty-seven percent of its total oil requirements from imports, which would then greatly exceed -- at 800 million tons -- the total oil imports which Western Europe and Japan currently obtain from the Middle East and Africa.
An industrial system which uses forty per cent of the world's primary resources to supply less than six per cent of the world's population could be called efficient only if it obtained strikingly successful results in terms of human happiness, well-being, culture, peace, and harmony. I do not need to dwell on the fact that the American system fails to do this, or that there are not the slightest prospects that it could do so if only it achieved a higher rate of growth of production, associated, as it must be, with an even greater call upon the world's finite resources. Professor Waiter Heller, former Chairman of the US President's Council of Aluminium Economic Advisers, no doubt reflected the opinion of the most Chromium modern economists when he expressed this view:
'We need expansion to fulfil our nation's aspirations. In a fully employed, high-growth economy you have a better chance to free public and private resources to fight the battle of land, air, water and noise pollution than in a low-growth economy.
'I cannot conceive,' he says, 'a successful economy without growth.' But if the United States' economy cannot conceivably be successful without further rapid growth, and if that growth depends on being able to draw ever-increasing resources from the rest of the world, what about the other 94-4 per cent of mankind which are so far 'behind' America?
If a high-growth economy is needed to fight the battle against pollution, which itself appears to be the result of high growth, what hope is there of ever breaking out of this extraordinary circle? In any case, the question needs to be asked whether the earth's resources are likely to be adequate for the further development of an industrial system that consumes so much and accomplishes so little.
More and more voices are being heard today which claim that they are not. Perhaps the most prominent among these voices is that of a study group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which produced The Limits to Growth, a report for the Club of Rome's project on the predicament of mankind. The report contains, among other material, an interesting table which shows the known global reserves; the number of years known global reserves will last at current global consumption rates; the number of years known global reserves will last with consumption continuing to grow exponentially; and the number of years they could meet growing consumption if they were five times larger than they are currently known to be: all this for nineteen non-renewable natural resources of vital importance to industrial societies. Of particular interest is the last column of the table which shows 'US Consumption as % of World Total'. The figures are as follows:
Gold 26 %
Iron 28 %
Lead 25 %
Mercury 24 %
Natural Gas 63%
Nickel 38 %
Petroleum 33 %
Platinum Group 31%
In only one or two of these commodities is US production sufficient to cover US consumption. Having calculated when, under certain assumptions, each of these commodities will be exhausted, the authors give their general conclusion, cautiously, as follows:Given present resource consumption rates and the projected increase in these rates, the great majority of the currently important non-renewable resources will be extremely costly 100 years from now.
In fact, they do not believe that very much time is left before modern industry, 'heavily dependent on a network of international agreements with the producing countries for the supply of raw materials' might be faced with crises of unheard-of proportions,
Added to the difficult economic question of the fate of various industries as resource after resource becomes prohibitively expensive is the imponderable political question of the relationships between producer and consumer nations as the remaining resources become concentrated in more limited geographical areas. Recent nationalisation of South American mines and successful Middle Eastern pressures to raise oil prices suggest that the political question may arise long before the ultimate economic one.
It was perhaps useful, but hardly essential, for the MIT group to make so many elaborate and hypothetical calculations. In the end, the group's conclusions derive from its assumptions, and it does not require more than a simple act of insight to realise that infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility. Nor does it require the study of large numbers of commodities, of trends, feedback loops, system dynamics, and so forth, to come to the conclusion that time is short. Maybe it was useful to employ a computer for obtaining results which any intelligent person can reach with the help of a few calculations on the back of an envelope, because the modern world believes in computers and masses of facts, and it abhors simplicity. But it is always dangerous and normally self-defeating to try and cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.
For the modern industrial system is not gravely threatened by possible scarcities and high prices of most of the materials to which the MIT study devotes such ponderous attention. Who could say how much of these commodities there might be in the crust of the earth; how much will be extracted, by ever more ingenious methods, before it is meaningful to talk of global exhaustion; how much might be won from the oceans; and how much might be recycled? Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and the inventiveness of industry, marvellously supported by modem science, is unlikely to be easily defeated on these fronts.
It would have been better for the furtherance of insight if the MIT team had concentrated its analysis on the one material factor the availability of which is the precondition of all others and which cannot be recycled -energy.
I have already alluded to the energy problem in some of the earlier chapters. It is impossible to get away from it. It is impossible to overemphasise its centrality. It might be said that energy is for the mechanical world what consciousness is for the human world. If energy fails, everything fails.
As long as there is enough primary energy -- at tolerable prices -- there is no reason to believe that bottlenecks in any other primary materials cannot be either broken or circumvented. On the other hand, a shortage of primary energy would mean that the demand for most other primary products would be so curtailed that a question of shortage with regard to them would be unlikely to arise.
Although these basic facts are perfectly obvious, they are not yet sufficiently appreciated. There is still a tendency, supported by the excessively quantitative orientation of modern economics, to treat the energy supply problem as just one problem alongside countless others -- as indeed was done by the MIT team. The quantitative orientation is so bereft of qualitative understanding that even the quality of 'orders of magnitude' ceases to be appreciated. And this, in fact, is one of the main causes of the lack of realism with which the energy supply prospects of modern industrial society are generally discussed. It is said, for instance, that 'coal is on the way out and will be replaced by oil', and when it is pointed out that this would mean the speedy exhaustion of all proved and expected (i.e. yet-to-be-discovered) oil reserves, it is blandly asserted that 'we are rapidly moving into the nuclear age', so that there is no need to worry about anything, least of all about the conservation of fossil fuel resources. Countless are the learned studies, produced by national and international agencies, committees, research institutes, and so forth, which purport to demonstrate, with a vast array of subtle calculation, that the demand for western European coal is declining and will continue to decline so quickly that the only problem is how to get rid of coal miners fast enough. Instead of looking at the total situation, which has been and still is highly predictable, the authors of these studies almost invariably look at innumerable constituent parts of the total situation, none of which is separately predictable, since the parts cannot be understood unless the whole is understood.
To give only one example, an elaborate study by the European Coal and Steel Community, undertaken in 1960-1, provided precise quantitative answers to virtually every question anyone might have wished to ask about fuel and energy in the Common Market countries up to 1975. I had occasion to review this report shortly after publication, and it may not be out of place to quote a few passages from this review':
It may seem astonishing enough that anyone should be able to predict the development of miners' wages and productivity in his own country fifteen years ahead: it is even more astonishing to find him predicting the prices and transatlantic freight rates of American coal. A certain quality of US coal, we are told, will cost "about $1450 per ton" free North Sea port in 1970, and "a little more" in 1975. "About $14-50." the report says, should be taken as meaning "anything between $13-75 and $15-25", a margin of uncertainty of $1.50 or +/- five per cent.
(In fact, the c.i.f.* price of US coal in European ports rose to between $24 and $25 per ton for new contracts concluded in October 1970!)
Similarly, the price of fuel oil will be something of the order of $17-19 per ton, while estimates of various kinds are given for natural gas and nuclear energy. Being in the possession of these (and many other) "facts", the authors find it an easy matter to calculate how much of the Community's coal production will be competitive in 1970, and the answer is "about 125 million, i.e. a little over half the present production",
'It is fashionable today to assume that any figures about the future are better than none. To produce figures about the unknown, the current method is to make a guess about something or other -- called an "assumption" -- and to derive an estimate from it by subtle calculation. The estimate is then presented as the result of scientific reasoning, something far superior to mere guesswork. This is a pernicious practice which can only lead to the most colossal planning errors, because it offers a bogus answer where, in fact, an entrepreneurial judgment is required.
'The study here under review employs a vast array of arbitrary assumptions, which are then, as it were, put into a calculating machine to produce a "scientific" result. It would have been cheaper, and indeed more honest, simply to assume the result'
As it happened, the 'pernicious practice' did maximise the planning errors; the capacity of the western European coal industry was virtually cut down to half its former size, not only in the Community but in Britain as well. Between 1960 and 1970 the dependence on fuel imports of the European Community grew from thirty per cent to over sixty per cent and that of the United Kingdom, from twenty-five per cent to forty-four per cent. Although it was perfectly possible to foresee the total situation that would have to be met during the 1970s and thereafter, the governments of western Europe, supported by the great majority of economists, deliberately destroyed nearly half of their coal industries, as if coal was nothing but one of innumerable marketable commodities, to be produced as long as it was profitable to do so and to be scrapped as soon as production ceased to be profitable. The question of what was to take the place of indigenous coal supplies in the long term was answered by assurances that there would be abundant supplies of other fuels at low prices 'for the foreseeable future', these assurances being based on nothing other than wishful thinking.
It is not as if there was -- or is now -- a lack of information, or that the policy-makers happened to have overlooked important facts. No, there was perfectly adequate knowledge of the current situation and there were perfectly reasonable and realistic estimates of future trends. But the policymakers were incapable of drawing correct conclusions from what they knew to be true. The arguments of those who pointed to the likelihood of severe energy shortages in the foreseeable future were not taken up and refuted by counter-arguments but simply derided or ignored. It did not require a great deal of insight to realise that, whatever the long term future of nuclear energy might be, the fate of world industry during the remainder of this century would be determined primarily by oil. What could be said about oil prospects a decade or so ago? I quote from a lecture delivered in April 1961.
'To say anything about the long-term prospects of crude oil availability is made invidious by the fact that some thirty or fifty years ago somebody may have predicted that oil supplies would give out quite soon, and, look at it, they didn't. A surprising number of people seem to imagine that by pointing to erroneous predictions made by somebody or other a long time ago they have somehow established that oil will never give out no matter how fast is the growth of the annual take. With regard to future oil supplies, as with regard to atomic energy, many people manage to assume a position of limitless optimism, quite impervious to reason.
'I prefer to base myself on information coming from the oil people themselves. They are not saying that oil will shortly give out; on the contrary, they are saying that very much more oil is still to be found than has been found to date and that the world's oil reserves, recoverable at a reasonable cost, may well amount to something of the order of 200,000 million tons, that is about 200 times the current annual take. We know that the so-called "proved" oil reserves stand at present at about 40,000 million tons; and we certainly do not fall into the elementary error of thinking that that is all the oil there is likely to be. No, we are quite happy to believe that the almost unimaginably large amount of a further 160,000 million tons of oil will be discovered during the next few decades. Why almost unimaginable? Because, for instance, the great recent discovery of large oil deposits in the Sahara (which has induced many people to believe that the future prospects of oil have been fundamentally changed thereby) would hardly affect this figure one way or another. Present opinion of the experts appears to be that the Saharan oil fields may ultimately yield as much as 1,000 million tons. This is an impressive figure when held, let us say, against the present annual oil requirements of France; but it is quite insignificant as a contribution to the 160,000 million tons which we assume will be discovered in the foreseeable future. That is why I said "almost unimaginable", because 160 such discoveries as that of Saharan oil are indeed difficult to imagine. All the same, let us assume that they can be made and will be made.
'It looks therefore as if proved oil reserves should be enough for forty years and total oil reserves for 200 years -- at the current rate of consumption. Unfortunately, however, the rate of consumption is not stable but has a long history of growth at a rate of six or seven per cent a year. Indeed, if this growth stopped from now on, there could be no question of oil displacing coal; and everybody appears to be quite confident that the growth of oil -- we are speaking on a world scale -- will continue at the established rate. Industrialisation is spreading right across the world and is being carried forward mainly by the power of oil. Does anybody assume that this process would suddenly cease? If not, it might be worth our while to consider, purely arithmetically, how long it could continue.
'What I propose to make now is not a prediction but simply an exploratory calculation or, as the engineers might call it, a feasibility study. A growth rate of seven per cent means doubling in ten years. In 1970, therefore, world oil consumption might be at the rate of 2,000 million tons per annum. (In the event, it amounted to 2,3-73 million tons.) The amount taken during the decade would be roughly 15,000 million tons. To maintain proved reserves at 40,000 million tons new proving during the decade would have to amount to about 15,000 million tons. Proved reserves, which are at present forty times annual take, would then be only twenty times, the annual take having doubled. There would be nothing inherently absurd or impossible in such a development. Ten years, however, is a very short time when we are dealing with problems of fuel supply. So let us look at the following ten years leading up to about 1980.
If oil consumption continued to grow at roughly seven per cent per annum, it would rise to about 4,000 million tons a year in 1980. The total take during this second decade would be roughly 30,000 million tons. If the "life'' of proved reserves were to be maintained at twenty years -- and few people would care to engage in big investments without being able to look to at least twenty years for writing them off- it would not suffice merely to replace the take of 30,000 million tons: it would be necessary to end up with proved reserves at 80,000 million tons (twenty times 4,000). New discoveries during that second decade would therefore have to amount to not less than 70,000 million tons. Such a figure, I suggest, already looks pretty fantastic. What is more, by that time we would have used up about 45,000 million tons out of our original 200,000 million tons total. The remaining 155,000 million tons, discovered and not- yet-discovered, would allow a continuation of the 1980 rate of consumption for less than forty years. No further arithmetical demonstration is needed to make us realise that a continuation of rapid growth beyond 1980 would then be virtually impossible.
'This, then, is the result of our "feasibility study": if there is any truth at all in the estimates of total oil reserves which have been published by the leading oil geologists, there can be no doubt that the oil industry will be able to sustain its established rate of growth for another ten years; there is considerable doubt whether it will be able to do so for twenty years; and there is almost a certainty that it will not be able to continue rapid growth beyond 1980. In that year, or rather around that time, world oil consumption would be greater than ever before and proved oil reserves, in absolute amount, would also be the highest ever. There is no suggestion that the world would have reached the end of its oil resources; but it would have reached the end of oil growth. As a matter of interest, I might add that this very point appears to have been reached already today with natural gas in the United States. It has reached its ail-time high; but the relation of current take to remaining reserves is such that it may now be impossible fur it to grow any further.
'As far as Britain is concerned -- a highly industrialised country with a high rate of oil consumption but without indigenous supplies -- the oil crisis will come, not when all the world's oil is exhausted, but when world oil supplies cease to expand, If this point is reached, as our exploratory calculation would suggest that it might, in about twenty years' time, when industrialisation will have spread right across the globe and the underdeveloped countries have had their appetite for a higher standard of living thoroughly whetted, although still finding themselves in dire poverty, what else could be the result but an intense struggle for oil supplies, even a violent struggle, in which any country with large needs and negligible indigenous supplies will find itself in a very weak position.
'You can elaborate the exploratory calculation if you wish, varying the basic assumptions by as much as fifty per cent: you will find that the results do not become significantly different. If you wish to be very optimistic, you may find that the point of maximum growth may not be reached by 1980 but a few years later. What does it matter? We, or our children, will merely be a few years older.
'All this means that the National Coal Board has one over- riding task and responsibility, being the trustees of the nation's coal reserves: to be able to supply plenty of coal when the world-wide scramble for oil comes. This would not be possible if it permitted the industry, or a substantial part of the
industry, to be liquidated because of the present glut and cheapness of oil, a glut which is due to all sorts of temporary causes....
'What, then, will be the position of coal in, say, 1980? All indications are that the demand for coal in this country will then be larger than it is now. There will still be plenty of oil. but not necessarily enough to meet all requirements. There may be a world-wide scramble for oil, reflected possibly in greatly enhanced oil prices. We must all hope that the National Coal Board will be able to steer the industry safely through the difficult years that lie ahead, maintaining as well as possible its power to produce efficiently something of the order of 200 million tons of coal a year. Even if from time to time it may look as if less coal and more imported oil were cheaper or more convenient for certain users or for the economy as a whole, it is the longer-term prospect that must rule national fuel policy. And this longer-term prospect must be seen against such worldwide developments as population growth and industrialisation. The indications are that by the 1980s we shall have a world population at least one-third bigger than now and a level of world industrial production at least two-and-a-half times as high as today, with fuel use more than doubled. To permit a doubling of total fuel consumption it will be necessary to increase oil fourfold: to double hydro-electricity: to maintain natural gas production at least at the present level; to obtain a substantial (though still modest) contribution from nuclear energy, and to get roughly twenty per cent more coal than now. No doubt, many things will happen during the next twenty years which we cannot foresee today. Some may increase the need for coal and some may decrease it. Policy cannot be based on the unforeseen or unforeseeable. If we base present policy on what can be foreseen at present, it will be a policy of conservation for the coal industry, not of liquidation....
These warnings, and many others uttered throughout the 1960s, did not merely remain unheeded but were treated with derision and contempt -- until the general fuel supplies scare of 1970. Every new discovery of oil, or of natural gas, whether in the Sahara, in the Netherlands, in the North Sea, or in Alaska, was hailed as a major event which 'fundamentally changed all future prospects', as if the type of analysis given above had not already assumed that enormous new discoveries would be made every year. The main criticism that can today be made of the exploratory calculations of 1961 is that all the figures are slightly understated. Events have moved even faster than I expected ten or twelve years ago.
Even today, soothsayers are still at work suggesting that there is no problem. During the 1960s, it was the oil companies who were the main dispensers of bland assurances, although the figures they provided totally disproved their case. Now, after nearly half the capacity and much more than half the workable reserves of the western European coal industries have been destroyed, they have changed their tune. It used to be said that OPEC -- the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries -- would never amount to anything, because Arabs could never agree with each other, let alone with non-Arabs: today it is clear that OPEC is the greatest cartel-monopoly the world has ever seen. It used to be said that the oil exporting countries depended on the oil importing countries just as much as the latter depended on the former; today it is clear that this is based on nothing but wishful thinking, because the need of the oil consumers is so great and their demand so inelastic that the oil exporting countries, acting in unison, can in fact raise their revenues by the simple device of curtailing output. There are still people who say that if oil prices rose too much (whatever that may mean) oil would price itself out of the market: but it is perfectly obvious that there is no ready substitute for oil to take its place on a quantitatively significant scale, so that oil, in fact, cannot price itself out of the market.
The oil producing countries, meanwhile, are beginning to realise that money alone cannot build new sources of livelihood for their populations. To build them needs, in addition to money, immense efforts and a great deal of time. Oil is a 'wasting asset', and the faster it is allowed to waste, the shorter is the time available for the development of a new basis of economic existence. The conclusions are obvious: it is in the real longer-term interest of both the oil exporting and the oil importing countries that the 'life-span' of oil should be prolonged as much as possible. The former need time to develop alternative sources of livelihood and the latter need time to adjust their oil-dependent economies to a situation -- which is absolutely certain to arise within the lifetime of most people living today -- when oil will be scarce and very dear. The greatest danger to both is a continuation of rapid growth in oil production and consumption throughout the world. Catastrophic developments on the oil front could be avoided only if the basic harmony of the long-term interests of both groups of countries came to be fully realised and concerted action were taken to stabilise and gradually reduce the annual Bow of oil into consumption.
As far as the oil importing countries are concerned, the problem is obviously most serious for western Europe and Japan. These two areas are in danger of becoming the 'residuary legatees' for oil imports. No elaborate computer studies are required to establish this stark fact. Until quite recently, western Europe lived in the comfortable illusion that 'we are entering the age of limit- less, cheap energy' and famous scientists, among others, gave it as their considered opinion that in future 'energy will be a drug on the market'. The British White Paper on Fuel Policy, issued in November 1967, proclaimed that
'The discovery of natural gas in the North Sea is a major event in the evolution of Britain's energy supplies. It follows closely upon the coming of age of nuclear power as a potential major source of energy. Together, these two development will lead to fundamental changes in the pattern of energy demand and supply in the coming years.'
Five years later, all that needs to be said is that Britain is more dependent on imported oil than ever before. A report presented to the Secretary of State for the Environment in February 1972, introduces its chapter on energy with the words:
'There is deep-seated unease revealed by the evidence sent to us about the future energy resources, both for this country and for the world as a whole. Assessments vary about the length of time that will elapse before fossil fuels are exhausted, but it is increasingly recognised that their life is limited and satisfactory alternatives must be found. The huge incipient needs of developing countries, the increases in population, the rate at which some sources of energy are being used up without much apparent thought of the consequences, the belief that future resources will be available only at ever-increasing economic cost and the hazards which nuclear power may bring in its train are all factors which contribute to the growing concern.' 'It is a pity that the 'growing concern' did not show itself in the 1960s, during which nearly half the British coal industry was abandoned as 'uneconomic' -- and, once abandoned, it is virtually lost for ever -- and it is astonishing that, despite 'growing concern', there is continuing pressure from highly influential quarters to go on with pit closures for 'economic' reasons.
1. The Economic Journal, March 1964, p. 192
Nuclear Energy -- Salvation or Damnation?
Based on The Des Voeux Memorial Lecture, 1967, "Clean Air and Future Energy -- Economics and Conservation," published by the National Society for Clean Air, London, 1967.
The main cause of the complacency -- now gradually diminishing -- about future energy supplies was undoubtedly the emergence of nuclear energy, which, people felt had arrived just in time. Little did they bother to inquire precisely what it was that had arrived. It was new, it was astonishing, it was progress, and promises were freely given that it would be cheap. Since a new source of energy would be needed sooner or later, why not have it at once?
The following statement was made six years ago. At the time, it seemed highly unorthodox, '
The religion of economics promotes an idolatry of rapid change, unaffected by the elementary truism that a change which is not an unquestionable improvement is a doubtful blessing. The burden of proof is placed on those who take the "ecological viewpoint": unless they can produce evidence of marked injury to man, the change will proceed. Common sense, on the contrary, would suggest that the burden of proof should lie on the man who wants to introduce a change; he has to demonstrate that there cannot be any damaging consequences. But this would take too much time, and would therefore be uneconomic. Ecology, indeed, ought to be a compulsory subject for all economists, whether professionals or laymen, as this might serve to restore at least a modicum of balance. For ecology holds "that an environmental setting developed over millions of years must be considered to have some merit. Anything so complicated as a planet, inhabited by more than a million and a half species of plants and animals, all of them living together in a more or less balanced equilibrium in which they continuously use and re-use the same molecules of the soil and air, cannot be improved by aimless and uninformed tinkering. All changes in a complex mechanism involve some risk and should be undertaken only after careful study of all the facts available. Changes should be made on a small scale first so as to provide a test before they are widely applied. When information is incomplete, changes should stay close to the natural processes which have in their favour the indisputable evidence of having supported life for a very long time".''
The argument, six years ago, proceeded as follows: Of all the changes introduced by man into the household of nature, large-scale nuclear fission is undoubtedly the most dangerous and profound. As a result, ionising radiation has become the most serious agent of pollution of the environment and the greatest threat to man's survival on earth. The attention of the
layman, not surprisingly, has been captured by the atom bomb, although there is at least a chance that it may never be used again. The danger to humanity created by the so-called peaceful uses of atomic energy may be much greater. There could indeed be no clearer example of the prevailing dictatorship of economics. Whether to build conventional power stations, based on coal or oil, or nuclear stations, is being decided on economic grounds, with perhaps a small element of regard for the 'social consequences' that might arise from an over-speedy curtailment of the coal industry. Put that nuclear fission represents an incredible, incomparable, and unique hazard for human life does not enter any calculation and is never mentioned. People whose business it is to judge hazards, the insurance companies, are reluctant to insure nuclear power stations anywhere in the world for third party risk, with the result that special legislation has had to be passed whereby the State accepts big liabilities. Yet, insured or not, the hazard remains, and such is the thraldom of the religion of economics that the only question that appears to interest either governments or the public is whether 'it pays'.
It is not as if there were any lack of authoritative voices to warn us. The effects of alpha, beta, and gamma rays on living tissues are perfectly well known: the radiation particles are like bullets tearing into an organism, and the damage they do depends primarily on the dosage and the type of cells they hit. As long ago as 1927, the American biologist, H. J. Muller, published his famous paper on genetic mutations produced by X-ray bombardment.' and since the early 1930s the genetic hazard of exposure has been recognised also by non-geneticists. It is clear that here is a hazard with a hitherto inexperienced 'dimension', endangering not only those who might be directly affected by this radiation but their offspring as well.
A new 'dimension' is given also by the fact that while man now can -- and does -- create radioactive elements, there is nothing he can do to reduce their radioactivity once he has created them. No chemical reaction, no physical interference, only the passage of time reduces the intensity of radiation once it has been set going. Carbon-14 has a half -life of 5,900 years, which means that it takes nearly 6,000 years for its radioactivity to decline to one-half of what it was before. The half-life of strontium-90 is -twenty-eight years. But whatever the length of the half-life, some radiation continues almost indefinitely, and there is nothing that can be done about it, except to try and put the radioactive substance into a safe place.
But what is a safe place, let us say, for the enormous amounts of radioactive waste products created by nuclear reactors? No place on earth can be shown to be safe. It was thought at one time that these wastes could safely be dumped into the deepest parts of the oceans, on the assumption that no life could subsist at such depths." But this has since been disproved by Soviet deep-sea exploration. Wherever there is life, radioactive substances are absorbed into the biological cycle. Within hours of depositing these materials in water, the great bulk of them can be found in living organisms. Plankton, algae, and many sea animals have the power of concentrating these substances by a factor of 1,000 and in some cases even a million. As one organism feeds on another, the radio- active materials climb up the ladder of life and find their way back to man.
No international agreement has yet been reached on waste disposal. The conference of the international Atomic Energy Organisation at Monaco, in November 1959, ended in disagreement, mainly on account of the violent objections raised by the majority of countries against the American and British practice of disposal into the oceans. 'High level' waste continue to be dumped into the sea, while quantities of so-called intermediate' and 'low-level' wastes are discharged into rivers or directly into the ground. An AEC report observes laconically that the liquid wastes 'work their way slowly into ground water, leaving all or part (sic!) of their radioactivity held either chemically or physically in the soil.
The most massive wastes are, of course, the nuclear reactors themselves after they have become unserviceable. There is a lot of discussion on the trivial economic question of whether they will last for twenty, twenty-five, or thirty years. No-one discusses the humanly vital point that they cannot be dismantled and cannot be shifted but have to be left standing where they are, probably for centuries, perhaps for thousands of years, an active menace to all life, silently leaking radioactivity into air, water and soil. No-one has considered the number and location of these satanic mills which will relentlessly accumulate. Earthquakes, of course, are not supposed to happen, nor wars, nor civil disturbances, nor riots like those that infested American cities. Disused nuclear power stations will stand as unsightly monuments to unquiet man's assumption that nothing but tranquillity, from now on, stretches before him, or else -- that the future counts as nothing compared with the slightest economic gain now.
Meanwhile, a number of authorities are engaged in defining 'maximum permissible concentrations' (MPCs) and 'maximum permissible levels' (MPLs) for various radioactive elements. The MPC purports to define the quantity of a given radioactive substance that the human body can be allowed to accumulate. But it is known that any accumulation produces biological damage. 'Since we don't know that these effects can be completely recovered from,' observes the US Naval Radiological Laboratory, 'we have to fall back on an arbitrary decision about how much we will put up with; i.e. what is "acceptable" or "permissible" -- not a scientific finding, but an administrative decision.'" We can hardly be surprised when men of outstanding intelligence and integrity, such as Albert Schweitzer, refuse to accept such administrative decisions with equanimity: 'Who has given them the right to do this? Who is even entitled to give such a permission?'" The history of these decisions is, to say the least, disquieting. The British Medical Research Council noted some twelve years ago that
'The maximum permissible level of strontium-90 in the human skeleton. accepted by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, corresponds to ].000 micro-micro- curies per gramme of calcium (= 1,000 SU). But this is the maximum permissible level for adults in special occupations and is not suitable for application to the population as a whole or to the children with their greater sensitivity to radiation.'
A little later, the MPC for strontium-90, as far as the general population was concerned, was reduced by ninety per cent, and then by another third. to sixty-seven SU. Meanwhile, the MPC for workers in nuclear plants was raised to 2,000 SU.'s
We must be careful, however, not to get lost in the jungle of controversy that has grown up in this field. The point is that very serious hazards have already been created by the 'peaceful uses of atomic energy', affecting not merely the people alive today but all future generations, although so far nuclear energy is being used only on a statistically insignificant scale. The real development is yet to come, on a scale which few people are incapable of imagining. If this is really going to happen, there will be a continuous traffic in radioactive substances from the 'hot' chemical plants to the nuclear stations and back again; from the stations to waste- processing plants; and from there to disposal sites. A serious accident, whether during transport or production, can cause a major catastrophe; and the radiation levels throughout the world will rise relentlessly from generation to generation.
Unless all living geneticists are in error, there will be an equally relentless, though no doubt somewhat delayed, increase in the number of harmful mutations. K. Z. Morgan, of the Oak Ridge Laboratory, emphasises that the damage can be very subtle, a deterioration of all kinds of organic qualities, such as mobility, fertility, and the efficiency of sensory organs. 'If a small dose has any effect at all at any stage of the life cycle of an organism, then chronic radiation at this level can be more damaging than a single massive dose.... Finally, stress and changes in mutation rates may be produced even when there is no immediately obvious effect on survival of irradiated individuals.'"
Leading geneticists have given their warnings that everything possible should be done to avoid any increases in mutation rates:' leading medical men have insisted that the future of nuclear energy must depend primarily on researches into radiation biology which are as yet still totally incomplete;" leading physicists have suggested that 'measures much less heroic than building ... nuclear reactors' should be tried to solve the problem of future energy supplies -- a problem which is in no way acute at pre- sent;" and leading students of strategic and political problems, at the same time, have warned us that there is really no hope of preventing the proliferation of the atom bomb, if there is a spread of plutonium capacity, such as was 'spectacularly launched by President Eisenhower in his "atoms for peace proposals" of 8 December 1953'.
Yet all these weighty opinions play no part in the debate on whether we should go immediately for a large 'second nuclear programme' or stick a bit longer to the conventional fuels which, whatever may be said for or against them, do not involve us in entirely novel and admittedly incalculable risks. None of them are even mentioned: the whole argument, which may vitally affect the very future of the human race, is conducted exclusively in terms of immediate advantage, as if two rag and bone merchants were trying to agree on a quantity discount,
What, after all, is the fouling of air with smoke compared with the pollution of air, water, and soil with ionising radiation? Not that I wish in any way to belittle the evils of conventional air and water pollution: but we must recognise 'dimensional differences' when we encounter them: radioactive pollution is an evil of an incomparably greater 'dimension' than anything mankind has known before. One might even ask: what is the point of insisting on clean air, if the air is laden with radioactive particles? And even if the air could be protected, what is the point of it, if soil and water are being poisoned?
Even an economist might well ask: what is the point of economic progress, a so-called higher standard of living, when the earth, the only earth we have, is being contaminated by substances which may cause malformations in our children or grand- children? Have we learned nothing from the thalidomide tragedy? Can we deal with matters of such a basic character by means of bland assurances or official admonitions that 'in the absence of proof that (this or that innovation) is in any way deleterious, it would be the height of irresponsibility to raise a public alarm? Can we deal with them simply on the basis of a short-term profitability calculation?
'It might be thought.' wrote Leonard Beaten, 'that all the resources of those who fear the spread of nuclear weapons would have been devoted to heading off these developments for as long as possible. The United States, the Soviet Union and Britain might be expected to have spent large sums of money trying to prove that conventional fuels, for example, had been underrated as a source of-power.... In fact ... the efforts which have followed must stand as one of the most inexplicable political fantasies in history. Only a social psychologist could hope to explain why the possessors of the most terrible weapons in history have sought to spread the necessary industry to produce them.... Fortunately,... power reactors are still fairly scarce.
In fact, a prominent American nuclear physicist, A. W. Weinberg, has given some sort of explanation: 'There is.' he says, 'an understandable drive on the part of men of good will to build up the positive aspects of nuclear energy simply because the negative aspects are so distressing.' But he also adds the warning that 'there are very compelling personal reasons why atomic scientists sound optimistic when writing about their impact on world affairs. Each of us must justify to himself his preoccupation with instruments of nuclear destruction (and even we reactor people are only slightly less beset with such guilt than are our weaponeering colleagues).'
Our instinct of self-preservation, one should have thought, would make us immune to the blandishments of guilt-ridden scientific optimism or the unproved promises of pecuniary advantages. 'It is not too late at this point for us to reconsider old decisions and make new ones,' says a recent American commentator 'For the moment at least, the choice is available.'
Once many more centres of radioactivity have been created, there will be no more choice, whether we can cope with the hazards or not.
It is clear that certain scientific and technological advances of the last thirty years have produced, and are continuing to produce, hazards of an altogether intolerable kind, At the Fourth National Cancer Conference in America in September 1960, Lester Breslow of the California State Department of Public Health reported that tens of thousands of trout in western hatcheries suddenly acquired liver cancers, and continued thus:
'Technological changes affecting man's environment are being introduced at such a rapid rate and with so little control that it is a wonder man has thus far escaped the type of cancer epidemic occurring this year among the trout.'
To mention these things, no doubt, means laying oneself open to the charge of being against science, technology, and progress. Let me therefore, in conclusion, add a few words about future scientific research. Man cannot live without science and technology any more than he can live against nature. What needs the most careful consideration, however, is the direction of scientific research. We cannot leave this to the scientists alone. As Einstein himself said.z1 'almost all scientists are economically completely dependent' and 'the number of scientists who possess a sense of social responsibility is so small' that they cannot determine the direction of research. The latter dictum applies, no doubt, to all specialists, and the task therefore falls to the intelligent layman, to people like those who form the National Society for Clean Ah and other, similar societies concerned with conservation. They must work on public opinion, so that the politicians, depending on public opinion, will free themselves from the thraldom of economism and attend to the things that really matter. What matters, as I said, is the direction of research, that the direction should be towards nonviolence rather than violence: towards an harmonious cooperation with nature rather than a warfare against nature; towards the noiseless, low-energy, elegant, and economical solutions normally applied in nature rather than the noisy, high-energy, brutal, wasteful, and clumsy solutions of our present-day sciences.
The continuation of scientific advance in the direction of ever increasing violence, culminating in nuclear fission and moving on to nuclear fusion, is a prospect of terror threatening the abolition of man. Yet it is not written in the stars that this must be the direction. There is also a life-giving and life-enhancing possibility, the conscious exploration and cultivation of all relatively non- violent, harmonious, organic methods of co-operating with that enormous, wonderful, incomprehensible system of God-given nature, of which we are a part and which we certainly have not made ourselves.
This statement, which was part of a lecture given before the National Society for Clean Air in October 1967. was received with thoughtful applause by a highly responsible audience, but was subsequently ferociously attacked by the authorities as 'the height of irresponsibility'. The most priceless remark was reportedly made by Richard Marsh, then Her Majesty's Minister of Power, who felt it necessary to 'rebuke' the author. The lecture, he said, war one of the more extraordinary and least profitable contributions to the current debate on nuclear and coal cost. (Daily Telegraph, 21 October 1967.)
However, times change. A report on the Control of pollution, presented in February 1972, to the Secretary of State for the Environment by an officially appointed Working Party, published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office and entitled Pollution: Nuisance or Nemesis?, has this to say:
'The main worry is about the future, and in the international context. The economic prosperity of the world seems to be linked with nuclear energy. At the moment, nuclear energy provides only one per cent of the total electricity generated in the world. By the year 2000, if present plans go ahead, this will have increased to well over fifty per cent and the equivalent of two new 500 MWe reactors -- each the size of the one at Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia -- will be opened every day.'
On radioactive wastes of nuclear reactors:
'The biggest cause of worry for the future is the storage of the long-lived radioactive wastes.... Unlike other pollutants, there is no way of destroying radioactivity.... So there is no alternative to permanent storage....
'In the United Kingdom, strontium-90 is at the present time stored as a liquid in huge stainless steel tanks at Windscale in Cumberland. They have to be continually cooled with water, since the heat given off by the radiation would otherwise raise the temperature to above boiling point. We shall have to go on cooling these tanks for many years, even if we build no more nuclear reactors. But with the vast increase of strontium-90 expected in the
future, the problem may prove far more difficult. Moreover, the expected switch to fast breeder reactors will aggravate the situation even further, for they produce large quantities of radioactive substances with very long half-lives.
'In effect, we are consciously and deliberately accumulating a toxic substance on the off-chance that it may be possible to get rid of it at a later date. We are committing future generations to tackle a problem which we do not know how to handle.' Finally, the report issues a very clear warning:
'The evident danger is that man may have put all his eggs in the nuclear basket before he discovers that a solution cannot be found. There would then be powerful political pressures to ignore the radiation hazards and continue using the reactors which had been built. It would be only prudent to slow down the nuclear power programme until we have solved the waste disposal problem.... Many responsible people would go further. They feel that no more nuclear reactors should be built until we know how to control their wastes.' And how is the ever-increasing demand for energy to be satisfied?
'Since planned demand for electricity cannot be satisfied without nuclear power, they consider mankind must develop societies which are less extravagant in their use of electricity and other forms of energy. Moreover, they see the need for this change of direction as immediate and urgent.'
No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make 'safe' and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilisation could sustain itself on the basis of such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economic affairs of man as if people really did not matter at all.
1. Basic Ecology by Ralph and Mildred Buchsbaum (Boxwood Press, Pittsburgh, 1957)
2. "Die Haftung für Strahlenschaden in Grossbritannien" by C. T. Highton, in Die Atomwirtschaft: Zeitschrift für wirtschaftliche Fragen der Kernumwandlung, 1959
3. Radiation: What It Is and How It Affects You by Jack Schubert and Ralph Lapp (The Viking Press, New York, 1957). Also, Die Strahlengefährdung des Menschen durch Atomenergie by Hans Marquardt and Gerhard Schubert (Hamburg, 1959); Vol. XI of Proceedings of the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva, 1955; and Vol. XXII of Proceedings of the Second United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva, 1958
4. "Changing Genes: Their Effects on Evolution" b H. J. Muller, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1947
5. Statement by G. Failla, Hearings before the Special Sub-Committee on Radiation, of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, 86th Congress of the United States, 1959. "Fallout from Nuclear Weapons," Vol. H (Washington, D.C., 1959)
6. "Oceanic Research Needed for Safe Disposal of Radioactive Wastes at Sea" by R. Revelle and M. B. Schaefer, and "Concerning the Possibility of Disposing of Radioactive Waste in Ocean Trenches" by V. G. Bogorov and E. M. Kreps, both in Vol. XVIII of Proceedings, Geneva Conference, 1958
7. "Biological Factors Determining the Distribution of Radioisotopes in the Sea" by B. H. Ketchum and V. T. Bowen, ibid.
8. Conference Report by W. H. Levi, in Die Atomwirtschaft, 1960
9. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Annual Report Congress, Washington, D.C., 1960
10. U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory Stat ment in Selected Materials on Radiation Protection Criter and Standards: Their Basis and Use
11. Friede oder Atomkrieg by Albert Schweitzer, 1958
12. The Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Raditions (British Medical Research Council)
13. Lewis Herber, op. cit.
14. "Summary and Evaluation of Environmental Fact That Must Be Considered in the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes" by K. Z. Morgan, in Industrial Radioactive Disposal, Vol. III
15. "Natiirliche und kiinstliche Erbanderungen" by H. Marquardt, in Probleme der Mutationsforschung (Hamburg, 1957)
16. Schubert and Lapp, op. cit.
17. "Today's Revolution" by A. M. Weinberg, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1956
18. Must the Bomb Spread? by Leonard Beaton (Penguin Books Ltd., in association with the Institute of Strategic Studies, London, 1966)
19. "From Bomb to Man" by W. O. Caster, in Fallout, edited by John M. Fowler (Basic Books, New York, 1960)
20. Op. cit.
21. Op. cit.
22. "The Atom's Poisonous Garbage" by Walter Schneir, in The Reporter, 1960
23. Lewis Herber, op. cit.
24. Einstein on Peace, edited by O. Nathan and H. Norden (Schocken Books, New York, 1960)
25. Pollution: Nuisance or Nemesis? (HMSO, London, 1972)
Technology with a Human Face
Based on a lecture given at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Teilhard Centre for the Future of Man, London, 23rd October 1971.
The modern world has been shaped by its metaphysics, which has shaped its education, which in turn has brought forth its science and technology. So, without going back to metaphysics and education, we can say that the modern world has been shaped by technology. It tumbles from crisis to crisis; on all sides there are prophecies of disaster and, indeed, visible signs of breakdown.
If that which has been shaped by technology, and continues to be so shaped, looks sick, it might be wise to have a look at technology itself. If technology is felt to be becoming more and more inhuman, we might do well to consider whether it is possible to have something better -- a technology with a human face.
Strange to say, technology, although of course the product of man, tends to develop by its own laws and principles, and these are very different from those of human nature or of living nature in general. Nature always, so to speak, knows where and when to stop. Greater even than the mystery of natural growth is the mystery of the natural cessation of growth. There is measure in all natural things -- in their size, speed, or violence. As a result, the system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self- balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology, or perhaps I should say: not so with man dominated by technology and specialisation. Technology recognises no self-limiting principle -- in terms, for instance, of size, speed, or violence. It therefore does not possess the virtues of being self-balancing, self- adjusting, and self-cleansing. In the subtle system of nature, technology, and in particular the super-technology of the modern world, acts like a foreign body, and there are now numerous signs of rejection.
Suddenly, if not altogether surprisingly, the modern world, shaped by modern technology, finds itself involved in three crises simultaneously. First, human nature revolts against inhuman technological, organisational, and political patterns, which it experiences as suffocating and debilitating; second, the living environment which supports human life aches and groans and gives signs of partial breakdown; and, third, it is clear to anyone fully knowledgeable in the subject matter that the inroads being made into the world's non-renewable resources, particularly those of fossil fuels, are such that serious bottlenecks and virtual exhaustion loom ahead in the quite foreseeable future.
Any one of these three crises or illnesses can turn out to be deadly. I do not know which of the three is the most likely to be the direct cause of collapse. What is quite clear is that a way of life that bases itself on materialism, i.e. on permanent, limitless expansionism in a finite environment, cannot last long, and that its life expectation is the shorter the more successfully it pursues its, expansionist objectives. If we ask where the tempestuous developments of world industry during the last quarter-century have taken us, the answer is somewhat discouraging. Everywhere the problems seem to be growing faster than the solutions. This seems to apply to the rich countries just as much as to the poor. There is nothing in the experience of the last twenty-five years to suggest that modem technology, as we know it, can really help us to alleviate world poverty, not to mention the problem of unemployment which already reaches levels like thirty per cent in many so-called developing countries, and now threatens to become endemic also in many of the rich countries. In any case, the apparent yet illusory successes of the last twenty-five years cannot be repeated: the threefold crisis of which I have spoken will see to that. So we had better face the question of technology -- what does it do and what should it do? Can we develop a technology which really helps us to solve our problems -- a technology with a human face?
The primary task of technology, it would seem, is to lighten the burden of work man has to carry in order to stay alive and develop his potential. It is easy enough to see that technology fulfils this purpose when we watch any particular piece of machinery at work -- a computer, for instance, can do in seconds what it would take clerks or even mathematicians a very long time. if they can do it at all. It is more difficult to convince oneself of the truth of this simple proposition when one looks at whole societies. When I first began to travel the world, visiting rich and poor countries alike, I was tempted to formulate the first law of economics as follows: 'The amount of real leisure a society enjoys tends to be in inverse proportion to the amount of labour-saving machinery it employs.' It might be a good idea for the professors of economics to put this proposition into their examination papers and ask their pupils to discuss it. However that may be, the evidence is very strong indeed. If you go from easy-going England to, say, Ger- many or the United States, you find that people there live under much more strain than here. And if you move to a country like Burma, which is very near to the bottom of the league table of industrial progress, you find that people have an enormous amount of leisure really to enjoy themselves. Of course, as there is so much less labour-saving machinery to help them, they
'accomplish' much less than we do; but that is a different point. The fact remains that the burden of living rests much more lightly on their shoulders than on ours.
The question of what technology actually does for us is therefore worthy of investigation. It obviously greatly reduces some kinds of work while it increases other kinds. The type of work which modern technology is most successful in reducing or even eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands. in touch with real materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has become exceedingly rare, and to make a decent living by doing such work has become virtually impossible. A great part of the modern neurosis may be due to this very fact; for the human being, defined by Thomas Aquinas as a being with brains and hands, enjoys nothing more than to be creatively, usefully, productively engaged with both his hands and his brains. Today, a person has to be wealthy to be able to enjoy this simple thing, this very great luxury: he has to be able to afford space and good tools; he has to be-lucky enough to find a good teacher and plenty of free time to learn and practise. He really has to be rich enough not to need a job: for the number of jobs that would be satisfactory in these respects is very small indeed.
The extent to which modern technology has taken over the work of human hands may be illustrated as follows. We may ask how much of 'total social time' -- that is to say, the time all of us have together, twenty-four hours a day each -- is actually engaged in real production, Rather less than one-half of the total population of this country is, as they say, gainfully occupied, and about one-third of these are actual producers in agriculture, mining, construction, and industry. I do mean actual producers, not people who tell other people what to do, or account for the past, or plan for the future, or distribute what other people have produced. In other words, rather less than one-sixth of the total population is engaged in actual production; on average, each of them supports five others beside himself, of which two are gainfully employed on things other than real production and three are not gainfully employed. Now, a fully employed person, allowing for holidays, sickness, and other absence, spends about one-fifth of his total time on his job. It follows that the proportion of 'total social time' spent on actual production -- in the narrow sense in which I am using the term -- is, roughly, one-fifth of one-third of one-half, i.e. 33 per cent. The other 96 per cent of 'total social time' is spent in other ways, including sleeping, eating, watching television, doing jobs that are not directly productive, or just killing time more or less humanely.
Although this bit of figuring work need not be taken too literally, it quite adequately serves to show what technology has enabled us to do: namely, to reduce the amount of time actually spent on production in its most elementary sense to such a tiny percentage of total social time that it pales into insignificance, that it carries no real weight, let alone prestige. When you look at industrial society in this way, you cannot be surprised to find that prestige is carried by those who help fill the other 96t per cent of total social time. primarily the entertainers but also the executors of Parkinson's Law. In fact, one might put the following proposition to students of sociology: 'The prestige carried by people in modern industrial society varies in inverse proportion to their closeness to actual production.'
There is a further reason for this. The process of confining productive time to 31 per cent of total social time has had the inevitable effect of taking all normal human pleasure and satisfaction out of the time spent on this work. Virtually all real production has been turned into an inhuman chore which does not enrich a man but empties him. 'From the factory,' it has been said, 'dead matter goes out improved, whereas men there are corrupted and degraded.'
We may say, therefore, that modern technology has deprived man of the kind of work that he enjoys most, creative, useful work with hands and brains, and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of which he does not enjoy at all. It has multiplied the number of people who are exceedingly busy doing kinds of work which, if it is productive at all, is so only in an indirect or 'roundabout' way, and much of which would not be necessary at all if technology were rather less modem. Karl Marx appears to have foreseen much of this when he wrote: 'They want production to be limited to useful things, but they forget that the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.' to which we might add: particularly when the processes of production are joyless and boring. All this confirms our suspicion that modern technology, the way it has developed, is developing, and promises further to develop, is showing an increasingly inhuman face, and that we might do well to take stock and reconsider our goals.
Taking stock, we can say that we possess a vast accumulation of new knowledge, splendid scientific techniques to increase it further, and immense experience in its application. All this is truth of a kind. This truthful knowledge, as such, does not commit us to a technology of gigantism, supersonic speed, violence, and the destruction of human work-enjoyment. The use we have made of our knowledge is only one of its possible uses and, as is now becoming ever more apparent, often an unwise and destructive use.
As I have shown, directly productive time in our society has already been reduced to about 3) per cent of total social time, and the whole drift of modern technological development is to reduce it further, asymptotically* to zero. Imagine we set ourselves a goal in the opposite direction -- to increase it six fold, to about twenty per cent, so that twenty per cent of total social time would be used for actually producing things, employing hands and brains and, naturally, excellent tools. An incredible thought! Even children would be allowed to make themselves useful, even old people. At one-sixth of present-day productivity, we should be producing as much as at present. There would be six times as much time for any piece of work we chose to undertake -- enough to make a really good job of it, to enjoy oneself, to produce real quality, even to make things beautiful. Think of the therapeutic value of real work: think of its educational value. No-one would then want to raise the school-leaving age or to lower the retirement age, so as to keep people off the labour market. Everybody would be welcome to lend a hand. Everybody would be admitted to what is now the rarest privilege, the opportunity of working usefully, creatively, with his own hands and brains, in his own time, at his own pace -- and with excellent tools. Would this mean an enormous extension of working hours? No, people who work in this way do not know the difference between work and leisure. Unless they sleep or eat or occasionally choose to do nothing at all, they are always agreeably, productively engaged. Many of the 'on-cost jobs' would simply disappear; I leave it to the reader's imagination to identify them. There would be little need for mindless entertainment or other drugs, and unquestionably much less illness,
Now, it might be said that this is a romantic, a utopian, vision. True enough. What we have today, in modern industrial society, is not romantic and certainly not utopian, as we have it right here. But it is in very deep trouble and holds no promise of survival. We jolly well have to have the courage to dream if we want to survive and give our children a chance of survival. The threefold crisis of which I have spoken will not go away if we simply carry on as before. It will become worse and end in disaster, until or unless we develop a new life-style which is compatible with the real needs
of human nature, with the health of living nature around us, and with the resource endowment of the world.
Now. this is indeed a tall order, not because a new life-style to meet these critical requirements and facts is impossible to conceive, but because the present consumer society is like a drug addict who, no matter how miserable he may feel, finds it extremely difficult to get off the hook. The problem children of the world -- from this point of view and in spite of many other considerations that could be adduced -- are the rich societies and not the poor,
It is almost like a providential blessing that we, the rich countries, have found it in our heart at least to consider the Third World and to try to mitigate its poverty. In spite of the mixture of motives and the persistence of exploitative practices, I think that this fairly recent development in the outlook of the rich is an honourable one. And it could save us: for the poverty of the poor makes it in any case impossible for them successfully to adopt our technology. Of course, they often try to do so, and then have to bear the more dire consequences in terms of mass unemployment, mass migration into cities, rural decay, and intolerable social tensions. They need, in fact, the very thing I am talking about, which we also need: a different kind of technology, a technology with a human face, which instead of making human hands and brains redundant, helps them to become far more productive than they have ever been before.
As Gandhi said, the poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the masses. The system of mars production, based on sophisticated, highly capital- intensive, high energy-input dependent, and human labour-saving technology, presupposes that you are already rich, for a great deal of capital investment is needed to establish one single workplace. The system of production by the masses mobilises the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skilful hands, and supports them with first-class tools. The technology of mass production is inherently violent, ecologically damaging, self-defeating in terms of non-renewable resources, and stultifying for the human person. The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralisation, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce re- sources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines. I have named it intermediate technology to signify that it is vastly superior to the primitive technology of
bygone ages but at the same time much simpler, cheaper, and freer than the super-technology of the rich. One can also call it self-help technology, or democratic or people's technology -- a technology to which everybody can gain admittance and which is not reserved to those already rich and powerful. It will be more fully discussed in later chapters.
Although we are in possession of all requisite knowledge, it still requires a systematic, creative effort to bring this technology into active existence and make it generally visible and available. It is my experience that it is rather more difficult to recapture directness and simplicity than to advance in the direction of ever more sophistication and complexity. Any third-rate engineer or researcher can increase complexity; but it takes a certain flair of real insight to make things simple again. And this insight does not come easily to people who have allowed themselves to become alienated from real, productive work and from the self-balancing system of nature, which never fails to recognise measure and limitation. Any activity which fails to recognise a self-limiting principle is of the devil. In our work with the developing countries we are at least forced to recognise the limitations of poverty, and this work can therefore be a wholesome school for all of us in which, while genuinely trying to help others, we may also gain knowledge and experience how to help ourselves.
I think we can already see the conflict of attitudes which will decide our future. On the one side, I see the people who think they can cope with our threefold crisis by the methods current, only more so; I call them the people of the forward stampede. On the other side, there are people in search of a new life-style, who seek to return to certain basic truths about man and his world; I call them home-comers. Let us admit that the people of the forward stampede, like the devil, have all the best tunes or at least the most popular and familiar tunes. You cannot stand still, they say; standing still means going down; you must go forward; there is nothing wrong with modern technology except that it is as yet incomplete: let us complete it. Dr Sicco Mansholt, one of the most prominent chiefs of the European Economic Community, may be quoted as a typical representative of this group. 'More, further, quicker, richer,' he says, 'are the watchwords of present-day society.' And he thinks we must help people to adapt 'for there is no alternative'. This is the authentic voice of the forward stampede, which talks in much the same tone as Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor: 'Why have you come to hinder us?' They point to the population explosion and to the possibilities of world hunger. Surely, we must take our flight forward and not be fainthearted. If people start protesting and revolting, we shall have to have more police and have them better equipped. If there is trouble with the environment, we shall need more stringent laws against pollution, and faster economic growth to pay for anti-pollution measures. If there are problems about natural resources, we shall turn to synthetics; if there are problems about fossil fuels, we shall move from slow reactors to fast breeders and from fission to fusion. There are no insoluble problems. The slogans of the people of the forward stampede burst into the newspaper headlines every day with the message, 'a breakthrough a day keeps the crisis at bay'.
And what about the other side? This is made up of people who are deeply convinced that technological development has taken a wrong turn and needs to be redirected. The term 'home-comer' has, of course, a religious connotation. For it takes a good deal of courage to say 'no' to the fashions and fascinations of the age and to question the presuppositions of a civilisation which appears destined to conquer the whole world; the requisite strength can be derived only from deep convictions. If it were derived from nothing more than fear of the future, it would be likely to disappear at the decisive moment. The genuine 'homecomer' does not have the best tunes, but he has the most exalted text, nothing less than the Gospels. For him, there could not be a more concise statement of his situation, of our situation, than the parable of the prodigal son. Strange to say, the Sermon on the Mount gives pretty precise instructions on how to construct an outlook that could lead to an Economics of Survival.
- How blessed are those who know that they are poor: the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
- How blessed are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation.
- How blessed are those of a gentle spirit; they shall have the earth for their possession.
- How blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied;
- How blessed are the peacemakers; God shall call them his sons.
It may seem daring to connect these beatitudes with matters of technology and economics. Bur may it not be that we are in trouble precisely because
we have failed for so long to make this connection? It is not difficult to discern what these beatitudes may mean for us today:
- We are poor, not demigods.
- We have plenty to be sorrowful about, and are not emerging into a golden age. -- We need a gentle approach, a non-violent spirit, and small is beautiful.
- We must concern ourselves with justice and see right prevail.
-And all this, only this, can enable us to become peace- makers.
The home-comers base themselves upon a different picture of man from that which motivates the people of the forward stampede. It would be very superficial to say that the latter believe in 'growth' while the former do not. In a sense, everybody believes in growth, and rightly so, because growth is an essential feature of life. The whole point, however, is to give to the idea of growth a qualitative determination; for there are always many things that ought to be growing and many things that ought to be diminishing.
Equally, it would be very superficial to say that the home- comers do not believe in progress, which also can be said to be an essential feature of all life. The whole point is to determine what constitutes progress. And the home-comers believe that the direction which modern technology has taken and is continuing to pursue -- towards ever-greater size, ever-higher speeds, and ever- increased violence, in defiance of all laws of natural harmony -- is the opposite of progress. Hence the call for taking stock and finding a new orientation. The stocktaking indicates that we are destroying our very basis of existence, and the reorientation is based on remembering what human life is really about.
In one way or another everybody will have to take sides in this great conflict. To 'leave it to the experts' means to side with the people of the forward stampede. It is widely accepted that politics is too important a matter to be left to experts. Today, the main content of politics is economics, and the main content of economics is technology. If politics cannot be left to the experts, neither can economics and technology.
The case for hope rests on the fact that ordinary people are often able to take a wider view, and a more 'humanistic' view, than is normally being taken by experts. The power of ordinary people, who today tend to feel utterly powerless, does not lie in starting new-lines of action, but in placing their sympathy and support with minority groups which have already started. I shall give two examples, relevant to the subject here under discussion. One relates to agriculture, still the greatest single activity of man on earth, and the other relates to industrial technology.
Modern agriculture relies on applying to soil, plants, and animals ever-increasing quantities of chemical products, the long- term effect of which on soil fertility and health is subject to very grave doubts. People who raise such doubts are generally con- fronted with the assertion that the choice lies between 'poison or hunger'. There are highly successful farmers in many countries who obtain excellent yields without resort to such chemicals and without raising any doubts about long-term soil fertility and health. For the last twenty-five years, a private, voluntary organisation, the Soil Association, has been engaged in exploring the vital relationships between soil, plant, animal, and man; has undertaken and assisted relevant research: and has attempted to keep the public informed about developments in these fields. Neither the successful farmers nor the Soil Association have been able to attract official support or recognition. They have generally been dismissed as 'the muck and mystery people', because they are obviously outside the mainstream of modern technological progress. Their methods bear the mark of non-violence and humility towards the infinitely subtle system of natural harmony, and this stands in opposition to the life style of the modern world. But if we now realise that the modern life-style is putting us into mortal danger, we may find it in our hearts to support and even join these pioneers rather than to ignore or ridicule them.
On the industrial side, there is the Intermediate Technology Development Group. It is engaged in the systematic study on how to help people to help themselves. While its work is primarily concerned with giving technical assistance to the Third World, the results of its research are attracting increasing attention also from those who are concerned about the future of the rich societies. For they show that an intermediate technology, a technology with a human face, is in fact possible; that it is viable: and that it re- integrates the human being, with his skilful hands and creative brain, into the productive process. It serves production by the masses instead of mass production. Like the Soil Association, it is a private, voluntary organisation depending on public support.
I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful. To go for gigantism is to go for self-destruction. And what is the cost of a reorientation? We might remind ourselves that to calculate the cost of survival is perverse. No doubt, a price has to be paid for anything worth while: to redirect technology so that it serves man instead of destroying him requires primarily an effort of the imagination and an abandonment of fear.