Why H.G. Wells’ ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ Has Arrived Today

By Cynthia Chung

“It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future, to other masses, that they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with power as the superior peoples are trusted, that their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and detrimental to the civilizing fabric, and that their range of incapacity tempts and demoralizes the strong. To give them equality is to sink to their level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped in their fecundity. “

– H.G. Wells’ in “Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical
and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought” 1901

In “The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution” (published in 1933), H.G. Wells writes of the future predicting, rather optimistically, that there will be another world war in just a few years, followed by epidemic and famine. In this fictional future, war continues for thirty years into the 1960s, despite the people having forgotten why they started fighting. Humanity enters a new Dark Age. In a last bid for victory, the enemy deploys a biological weapon resulting in the “wandering sickness,” producing the first zombies, and by 1970 the global population has dropped to a little under one billion.

Though this is depicted as horrific, it is at the same time depicted as a necessity – a “great reset,” to restore the “balance” so to speak. It is only with this reduced population size that the world can begin to build itself back together from the chaos that it was, and enter into its new phase of evolution as a biologically superior species (the inferior having been culled by war and disease), managed by a bureaucratic system under the form of a world government.

This is the sci-fi fantasy of H.G. Wells and is the central theme to everything he wrote including his works of non-fiction. The subject on ways to reduce the world population was a troubling dilemma for Wells…not the reducing part, but the thought that there would be those so foolish as to forbid it.

You see, it was considered by some that the human species had found itself in a crisis by the 1900s. Europe, up until the 17th century had a population size that never exceeded roughly 100 million. But nearly doubled to 180 million in the 18th century, and doubled again to 390 million in the 19thcentury. H.G. Wells wrote of this “the extravagant swarm of new births” as “the essential disaster of the nineteenth century.” (1) Not war, not disease, not starvation, not abject poverty, but population growth was determined as the disaster of an entire century.

The Ghosts of Wells’ Past

“The knowledge of today is the ignorance of tomorrow”

-H.G. Wells

The Wells that we have come to know today started his journey as a young boy winning a scholarship to study at the prestigious Normal School of Science (now called the Royal College of Science). His subject of choice was biology and his teacher, and quickly thereafter mentor, was none other than Thomas Huxley, otherwise known as “Darwin’s bulldog” (his words).

Through Huxley, Wells’ conception of the nature of humankind was formed with its foundation built upon the philosophies of Charles Darwin and Thomas Malthus.

Because Wells is so very influenced by these men, in fact they form the very basis for his ethics; I thought it apt to share with you a few quotes.

In Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population” (1799), he wrote:

We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague.” [emphasis added]

This approach seems not too different from a proposal to crowd people into a building with kindling and then proceed to light it on fire. After all, fire is a natural phenomenon. A much quicker and more effective remedy, I would think, if one is to take such an approach…

In Charles Darwin’s “The Descent of Man” (no not his autobiography! Though he was very much spiritually conflicted with the social consequences of his philosophies…) stated his thoughts on directed breeding as such:

No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man itself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” [emphasis added]

To the credit of Darwin (though the damage was already done), he included a disclaimer in his “The Descent of Man,” that if humankind were to take upon itself the enforcement of the so-called “forces of nature,” it would be at the cost of our “most noble qualities”, as Darwin states:

Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.” [emphasis added]

Out of Malthus, Huxley and Wells, Darwin was by far the most troubled by the social consequences of what he believed to be an unavoidable necessity. Yet he could never resolve why something necessary could be so morally destructive and this failure to rectify the two opposing veins of thought would cost him dearly. In his later years he described his spiritual crippling inability to find joy in anything he once did, as he states in his autobiography:

I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays…music [was a] 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 almost lost my taste for…music…My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, 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.” (2)

What is the value of life, if in striving for our supposed “survival” we lose our most noble qualities? Why should we sacrifice our best qualities in a humiliating trade-off for a “contingent benefit” and “an overwhelming evil”?

Britain’s Ministry of Propaganda

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War (1914), the British government discovered that Germany had a Propaganda Agency- and thus it was only reasonable that a British War Propaganda Bureau be established. David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to head the task.

On Sept. 2nd, 1914, H.G. Wells (who was 48 by then) was invited amongst twelve other participants (including Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling) to discuss ways of best promoting Britain’s interests during the war. All the writers present at the conference agreed to the utmost secrecy and it was not until 1935 that the activities of the War Propaganda Bureau became known to the general public. It was agreed that pamphlets and books would be written to promote the government’s view of the situation.

Other than writing books for the Ministry of Propaganda, Wells also did some dabbling as a journalist under the supervision of Lord Northcliffe, the owner of The Times and the Daily Mail (the largest circulating newspaper in the early 20th century), among other newspapers.

Northcliffe’s newspapers propagandized for creating a Minister of Munitions, which was held first by David Lloyd George (1915), and played an instrumental role in getting him appointed as Prime Minister of Britain in 1916. Lloyd George then appointed Lord Northcliffe as Director of Propaganda. (3)

Thus, H.G. Wells not only participated in the British War Propaganda Bureau but worked directly under the Director of Propaganda. And thus, much of his writing from 1914 on, should be regarded in service (and certainly not counter) to the interests of the British Empire.

Among the plethora of books Wells wrote, was “The New World Order,” (1940). It appears that Wells was indeed the first to pioneer the now-infamous term.

Wells’ Vision for a New Republic vs the People of the Abyss

In Wells’ “Anticipations” published in 1901, he writes the “vicious, helpless and pauper masses” have appeared, spreading as the railway systems have spread, and representing an integral part of the process of industrialization, like the waste product of a healthy organism. For these “great useless masses of people” he adopts the term “People of the Abyss” and he predicts that the “nation that most resolutely picks over, educates, sterilizes, exports or poisons its People of the Abyss” will be in the ascendant. (4)

The ethical system laid out in Wells’ New Republic forbids the further growth of the “People of the Abyss”. In the past, Nature killed these off, and in some cases killing will still be necessary. And we should not be appalled by this task, as per Mr. Wells. Death for such people will mean merely “the end of the bitterness of failure, the merciful obliteration of weak and silly and pointless things.” Clearly the effecting of this will be morally justifiable according to Wells:

The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully and efficiently will be to die. For a multitude of contemptible and silly creatures, fear-driven and helpless and useless, unhappy or hateful happy in the midst of squalid dishonour, feeble, ugly, inefficient, born of unrestrained lusts, and increasing and multiplying through sheer incontinence and stupidity, the men of the New Republic will have little pity and less benevolence.” (5) [emphasis added]

If “the whole tenor of a man’s actions” shows him to be unfit to live, the New Republicans will exterminate him. They will not be squeamish about inflicting death because they will have a fuller sense of the possibilities of life. “They will have an ideal that will make killing worth the while.” The killing, Wells explains, will not be needlessly brutal. “All such killing will be done with an opiate.” Whether this will be administered forcibly or whether the victim will be persuaded to swallow it, he does not reveal. Selected criminals will be destroyed by the same means. The death penalty will also be used to prevent the transmission of genetic disorders. People suffering from genetically transmissible diseases will be forbidden to propagate, and will be killed if they do. (6)

As for the “swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people”, who do not meet the new needs of efficiency, will, he insists “have to go”. It is “their portion to die out and disappear”. (7)

In 1938, Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was broadcasted as a radio drama in New York, and was narrated by Orson Welles. Though it was announced at the beginning that it was a drama, the narration in Part 1 was meant to sound as a series of news bulletins, such that those who came in partway took it as the actual news. Suffice to say the reporting of a man-eating alien invasion caused quite the panic in its New York boroughs, and I am sure the British Propaganda Bureau got quite the chuckle out of it. It was great news for them, for it showed how easy it would be to control the narrative even if it were to be carried out to an absurd degree. It confirmed to them that the public will believe anything.

Wells wrote of the panic-stricken reaction to the alien invasion in his book “The War of the Worlds”:

If one could have hung that June morning in a balloon in the blazing blue above London, every northward and eastward road running out of the infinite tangle of streets would have seemed stippled black with the streaming fugitives, each dot a human agony of terror and physical distress…Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together…without order and with a goal, six million people, unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.” (8) [emphasis added]

I think it no coincidence that our entertainment industry today, so heavily saturated with the influence of Wells’ propaganda, is obsessed with the theme of a post-apocalyptic world, the ever-revolving death game where its avatars are tested on their ability to survive at all cost. Through these adventures, we the audience are brought along and are taught how to feel the thrill of the hunt, the catharsis of the bludgeoning, the release that comes from mayhem. For we are the children of the ultimate revolution… the dawn of the great Purge.

Modern Religion: A Collective Orwellian Mind

In H.G. Wells’ “Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution”, he makes no qualms in declaring his trilogy: “The Outline of History” (1919), “The Science of Life” (1929), and “The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind” (1932) as the new Bible:

I have told already how I have schemed out a group of writings to embody the necessary ideas of the new time in a form adapted to the current reading public; I have made a sort of provisional “Bible,” so to speak, for some factors at least in the Open Conspiracy.” (9)

The reader should be aware that Julius Huxley was a co-author of “The Science of Life”. Julian was also a prominent member of the British Eugenics Society, serving as its Vice-President from 1937-1944 and its President from 1959-1962. Interesting life choices from the authors of the new Bible.

Of Wells’ vision for a “Modern Religion” he wrote:

…if religion is to develop unifying and directive power in the present confusion of human affairs it must adapt itself to this forward-looking, individuality-analyzing turn of mind; it must divest itself of its sacred historiesThe desire for service, for subordination, for permanent effect, for an escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life, is the undying element in every religious system.

The time has come to strip religion right down to that [service and subordination is all Wells wants to keep of the old relic of religion]The explanation of why things are is an unnecessary effort…The essential fact…is the desire for religion and not how it came about…The first sentence in the modern creed must be, not “I believe,” but “I give myself.” ‘ (10) [emphasis added]

And to what are we to “give ourselves” to without any questions asked, but with a blind faith to worship what we are told is the good?

Wells explains it to us thus:

The character of the Open Conspiracy will now be plainly displayed. It will have become a great world movement as wide-spread and evident as socialism or communism. It will have taken the place of these movements very largely. It will be more than they were, it will be frankly a world religion. This large, loose assimilatory mass of movements, groups, and societies will be definitely and obviously attempting to swallow up the entire population of the world and become the new human community.” (11)

Conclusion

In Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Rope” (1948), two Harvard students murder one of their friends as an experiment in committing the “perfect murder” and a display of their intellectual superiority. They stuff the body in a large chest in the middle of the dining room and hold a party, the idea being that all of their guests will be too daft as to figure out that they are dinning in a room with a fresh corpse, that is, everyone except Rupert Cadell (played by James Stewart), a former teacher of theirs. Rupert, they recognise will be their real challenge and their greatest proof of intellectual superiority if they succeed in pulling the wool over his eyes.

In fact, it was Rupert who taught the two men this manner of thinking that “murder is a crime for most men, but a privilege for the few.” This is reasoned by the belief that “moral concepts of good and evil do not pertain to the superior being.”

This subject is discussed at the dinner party, the guests think at first Rupert is kidding, but he assures them that the world would be a better place if the superior were permitted to commit murder, and that such a murder would be an “art form.” He states “think of what this would mean for unemployment, poverty, waiting in long lines.” He thinks open season for murder would be too much, and suggests shorter durations such as “cut a throat week” or “strangulation day.”

As the evening progresses, Rupert, the astute man that he is, observes a series of odd behaviour from the two men. David (the murdered young man) was in fact invited to the party, his father and his fiancé are amongst the guests and there is a growing concern for why David has not shown up.

Long story short – after all the guests had left, only Rupert and the two young killers remain in the apartment. Rupert discovers that they have murdered David (who was also a student of Rupert’s), and he opens the chest to find the body. Horrified and disgusted, he asks “why did you do it?” They of course responded, “we simply acted out what you always talked about.”

Confronted with the reality of his words, Rupert is ashamed at being partially responsible for this macabre scene. However, Rupert states, “there was always something deep within me that prevented me from ever acting out my words,” in other words, he never thought it possible that anyone would actually have it in them to act them out.

It is in this moment that Rupert realises that it is not in fact the superior being who is capable of committing murder, but the criminally insane. That the idea of purging the world of its “inferiors,” would in fact rid the world of its most loving and moral beings, their traits regarded as intolerably foolish and weak.

In the end, we would be left with the worst of humankind, a human race that had cannibalised itself.

Footnotes

(1) H.G. Wells, Kipps, Fontana Books, London, 1961, p. 240
(2) Darwin’s Autobiography, pg 26
(3) James K. Boyce “Democratizing Global Economic Governance” 2004
(4) H.G. Wells’ “Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought,” Chapman and Hall, London, 1901, pg 81-2, 211-12.
(5) Ibid. pg 298-9.
(6) Ibid. pg 300-301
(7) Ibid. pg 280, 317.
(8) H.G. Welles’ “The War of the Worlds,” Pan Books, London, 1975, p112
(9) H.G. Wells’ “Open Conspiracy” pg 50
(10) Ibid
(11) Ibid, pg 58

This article was originally published with Strategic Culture Foundation.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Joe says:

    Thank you. This was very well written. An enjoyable read. Or atleast, as enjoyable as it ought to be!

    I particularily like how you have the “things to come” painting on the left, whilst one is reading the article. It helps set the mood throughout.

    Liked by 1 person

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