22 November 2003

My father was in the Merchant Marines in the 1940s. He died a few years ago and I got a stackof magazines he kept in the attic. It's interesting to read what people were saying in the late 40s.

To the Class of '47
By O. Istris
June 1947 Vol 1, No 4
47 - The Magazine of the Year
published by Associated Magazine Contributors, Inc

It is almost impossible, is it not, for you to play with the possibility that, for some ages to come, yours may be the last generation of civilized Western man. Yet unless you play with that possibility and incorporate it into your thinking, you are unprepared for life. Unless you realize that you are part of a civilization, which during your own time must either change or die, you are unprepared for life.
Here, as some see it, is one possible future, sketchily outlined in three general statements:
1. A fairly large proportion of the world's children, women and men, including particularly those who by accident inhabit the planetary area roughly 30N by 50N latitude, 70W by 125W longitude, will during the next decade or two die premature and unnatural deaths.
2. The technical and industrial base on which 'advanced' people like ourselves rest will be gravely and perhaps fatally disrupted.
3. The system of ideas and incentives (call it Western Civilization) which is want really sustains us will be wrecked, to be replaced by a new system. This new system - which is as old as the Egypt of the Pharaohs, for it is merely tyranny in modern clothes - will offer the richest nourishment to two extreme types of living organisms: near paranoiacs and human automata.
Toward these three statements - actually they are indivisible - you may adopt one of three attitudes, each involving a particular line of conduct. First, you may reject them as absurd. Second, you may accept them with resignation or approval. Third, you may investigate them.
If you should welcome these statements, not with resignation but with approval, you need have no fear of standing alone. There are quantities of people, known as realists, in all countries who have already in their minds written books suavely explaining both the inevitability and the propriety of the ant heap state. The German, Oswald Spengler, was such a professor, and we have some of them in our own country. Generals have calmly accepted the probability of the death of 25,000,000 of our population as the unfortunate but necessary result of a sudden attack. Publishers and journalists of the Goebbels type - a type not in the least peculiar to Germany - look forward with interest to a social order in which the minds of human beings may be manipulated at will. They are already warming up to the game.
It is a grave error to assume that all men love freedom. Many have a deep passion for dictatorship, whether it be the small dictatorship of the family, or the vast dictatorship of a whole country. Many more have a deep passion for servility. The first group loves irresponsibility; the second, no responsibility. Both groups - how expensively this was rehearsed for us in Germany between 1933 and 1945 - must hate detached thought and what is loosely called culture.
The reason is clear: if one thinks long enough one is bound to conclude that freedom is a good. Plato said it long ago: "As there are misanthropists or haters of men, so there are also misologists, or haters of ideas.: And the two, you might add, are one.
Perhaps you are such a misanthropist-misologist. Do not hesitate to confess it, for you will find yourself in the company of some of the greatest and most famous men in history. Indeed, for long intervals the world has been owned and operated by such men, the powermen, the strong men, the shrewd men, the angle-figurers, the accumulators.
If you feel in yourself an irrepressible dislike of, or contempt for, people who do not resemble you in race, color, religion, manners, economic background, social behaior; if to your inward vision humanity seems to be or should be arranged in a fixed, hierarchical order; if you are confident that the application of sufficient force will solve any problem; if the idea of violence subtly fills some of your unconfessed daydreams; if the notion of obeying a "superior" supplies you with a secret comfort; if in your judgment mankind has worked itself into such a complicated mess that salvation can come about only through the imposition of "order" if you are heartily sick of words nobody understands, such as democracy, freedom, justice; if you are intrigued by the words everybody understands, such as success, power, security; if in the depths of your heart you feel that the idea men, from Socrates to Jesus down to your own philosophy professor, are but a procession of futile windbags; if these suppositions awaken in you a positive response, then you will probably be happy and useful citizen of that future state so well characterized by H.G. Wells as a human termitaruim.
But in your proper zeal to destroy the foreign enemy, do not lose sight of the more insidious enemy at home. That enemy is the detached intelligence, and you must do everything you can to lower its prestige.
You must, for example, vigorously attack those men and women who are subject to the absurd delusion that there is some nobility in every individual. You must - but you hardly need specific counsels; your own sound, healthy instincts will tell you which side to choose, which men to cultivate, which phrases to utter, which measures to support, and which office-seekers to elect. And, should the atomic bombs miss you, and the killing emanations and germs and poison passes and clouds of fire - should you survive all this, I predict for you a brilliant future. You will end up as master or slave and in either case you will feel just dandy.