Socialist Utopia: A pleasant stop on the road to Dystopian Hell

While I strongly disagree with many of the expressed opinions of the famous author H.G. Wells, I must give credit where credit is due.  In particular, I refer to his science fiction novel The Time Machine, published in 1895.  Although Wells professed to be a socialist, an atheist, and (with notable exceptions) a pacifist, his fictional predictions of the destiny of mankind have, in my view, discredited the socialist ideal of how society should work.  If he had an unintended message in his famous novel, it was that the socialist version of utopian bliss is but a waypoint, albeit a seemingly pleasant one, on the road that leads inevitably to a dystopian hell.

In the novel, the main character, the Time Traveler (the only name provided to him by Wells), builds a machine that transports him nearly eight hundred thousand years into the future.  Scientific verisimilitude is provided by an amazingly clear summary of what would later be further elucidated by Albert Einstein.  

Upon arriving in the English countryside of circa 800,000 A.D., the traveler finds that the world is populated by humans who seem happy, well fed and provided for, in the apparent utopian existence sought by socialists.  One of the curious things the traveler notes is that, over the millennia, the men and the women have become far more similar to each other (in both appearance and behavior) than one might expect.  He offers an explanation as to how this came about:

"Seeing the ease and security in which these people were living, I felt that this close resemblance of the sexes was, after all, what one would expect; for the strength of a man and the softness of a woman, the institution of the family, and the differentiation of occupations [division of labor by sex] are mere militant necessities of an age of physical force."  He also notes that mankind's eight thousand centuries of peace and prosperity have not produced overpopulation.  "[Excessive]childbearing becomes an evil rather than a blessing to the State; where violence comes but rarely and offspring are secure, there is less necessity — indeed there is no necessity — of an efficient family."   

After some further local color description, Wells continues with this: "It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane.  The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind.  For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present [1895] engaged.  And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough.  Strength is the outcome of need[.]"

Skipping again:  

But with this change in condition comes inevitably adaptations to the change. What, unless biological science is a mass of errors, is the cause of human intelligence and vigor? Hardship and freedom: conditions under which the active, strong, and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall [i.e., are genetically eliminated]; conditions that put a premium upon the loyal alliance of capable men, upon self-restraint, patience, and decision. And the institution of the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the fierce jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion, all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers of the young. Now, [in 800K] where are those imminent dangers? There is a sentiment arising, and it will grow, against connubial jealousy, against fierce maternity.

Wells concludes:  

This has ever been the fate of [human] energy in security; it takes to art and to eroticism, and then come languor and decay. ... We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.

Those familiar with the novel understand how the gentle, weak, and infantilized people of Wells's future milieu are provided with all their necessities and comforts, without laboring for them.  For in Wells's future vision, there are two societies, two human species, one on the surface, called the Eloi, and the other living underground, called the Morlocks.  The Morlocks cultivate the Eloi, much as a farmer or rancher cultivates his livestock, providing for them, but also, occasionally culling the herd for food.  Thus, there is a perverse symbiosis, from which both the Eloi and the Morlocks may be said to, if I may brutalize the word, benefit.  

Finally, excerpting one last time, Wells notes, "We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete."

Image: Chris Dodds via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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