The end of everything we call life is close at hand and cannot be evaded. Ours is a closed universe, yet we need something beyond it… Man must go steeply up or down and the odds seem to be all in favour of his going down and out. If he goes up, then so great is the adaptation demanded of him that he must cease to be a Man.

- H.G. Wells: Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945).

H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells

Herbert George Wells is probably one of my favourite authors of all time, widely popular for his classic Sci Fi stories such as ‘The War of the Worlds‘ and ‘The Time Machine‘. But anyone who truly knew Wells as an author, will better understand him through the his political writings. In fact, I would go as far as to say that his politics made his science fiction great, (rather than the other way around!). The War of The Worlds was not only a great story about martian invaders, but by speculating about the resulting social breakdown, Wells was able to illustrate how these very social structures that seem to define us, can quickly fall apart in the face of a terror that would kill indiscriminately. Equally, ‘The Time Machine’ wasn’t just about an eccentric time travelling inventor, but also tells the tale of a human race perverted into two distinct classes and races, one who have enslaved the other, both of which having almost de-evolved back to a much more bestial state.

It was these quite unique and subtle observations about human nature that – I believe – set these stories apart, and in many chilling twists he often ended up foretelling the future of war and politics. ‘A War in the Air‘ (1907) delivered exactly what the title promised, years before two wars that would be more or less decided by who had control of the sky. In ‘The World Set Free‘ (1914) He foresaw the Atomic Bomb that was eventually used against Nagasaki (é•·å´Ž) and Hiroshima (広島), Japan more than two decades later. But, what I find most chilling of all is one of his last works he left before departing this world. In 1945, one year before his death he wrote ‘A Mind at the End of Its Tether‘ in which Wells paints a very bleak future for Mankind.

A Mind At The End Of It’s Teather

I had attributed this jaded cynicism to a mind that had been forced to endure, observe (and write about!) two world wars, a mind that he had become disillusioned with the character content of humanity, having seen what it is capable of under extreme conditions. Like a saying often wrongly attributed to Jeff Frieden – “A pessimist is an informed optimist” – Humanities shortcomings have been all to obvious to me in recent times, and a careful re-reading of Wells’ words helped me realise this was sheer wisdom and unbiased knowledge of the human condition that had caused him to write an inconvenient truth.

We can try to blame the British MPs for their greed making those expenses claims, for helping the BNP get into Euro Parliament, or blame the pathetic Gordon Brown for a set of policies that have led Britain to the verge of collapse, once as Chancellor and once as Prime Minister.

The Fault Lies Closer To Home

We could even blame the British weather for all the good this would do, because the fault lies much closer to home. It does not matter whether we employ communism, capitalism, conservatism, nationalism, liberalism, socialism, whether we are a republic or a theocracy, or are any combination of some or none (or any) of the above – whoever ends up in charge is still only human, is still fallible – likely to end up as bloated and corrupt as the pigs who pretend to lead our country today, but who’s interest in such matters disappears the moment they decide to give themselves a big fat pay rise.

Power and Money – Inherent Liabilities to the Human Condition

We say that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely‘ and that ‘money is the root of all evil‘ (as though these inanimate objects can take responsibility for our misdeeds with them!) – but the ugly truth is that we do not need money to be evil, and we do not need absolute power to be corrupted! The slightest amount of either renders us a danger to ourselves and everyone else around us which recent events have helped me to see.

So long as we have a mouth, we will need food. So long as we need food, there will be people with food, and some without. There will be greed, jealously and war. No, I see clearly today that these flaws lie in the human condition itself, and are simply expressed in monetary or political terms. Blaming anything other than our humanity, would be like me blaming my bedroom mirror for the extra pound or twenty I may be carrying.

But despite all my ranting, I share Wells’ hint of optimism that there is hope. Difficult times have taught us to adapt, and struggles to survive have often brought out the very best in us, pushing us to achieve things we didn’t think possible under normal conditions. For all the depressing news, I draw some comfort knowing that if things don’t improve externally, we will be forced to face our inner beasts. And that our slaying of them, will render us better people.

Either that, or we will just abdicate and put the computer in charge!