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Another reason for not spending lives and treasure to prevent war in the Future, is that besides entailing war in the present, we do not know what or how the future will be, except this much : that new incalculable and unsuspected elements will go to its making ; and make it in so far different from, perhaps inconceivable by, the Present; even as this Present was quite inconceivable by even a near Past; as this war was inconceivable (or at least not conceived of ) at the moment of its declaration. We intellectuals, especially, have got into the habit of thinking, or at least talking, too much of the future. The craving for an aim, a goal, a direction, which is an aesthetic, a quasi-organic, craving like that for symmetry and rhythm, makes us uncomfortable when we are at a loose end, and replaces the After Life, we no longer actively believe in, by the Future of Mankind. The more so because those who train—if it may be called training—and guide our thoughts are but the unfrocked successors of a priesthood which trafficked in after-life. The men of sedentary, unadventurous habits of life, also the men who require to be Sir Oracles, lastly the men with the natural belief (allied to powers of verbal exression) in phrases and formulae, who formerly would have É. priests, preachers, medicine men, now find it pay to be men of letters. The notion of living for the future, of testing the claims of an (alas) too-too solid present by the cloudy needs of an imagined, a problematic future, is therefore natural to people of our stamp, who toil not neither do we spin; or rather, who consider that our nets of ideas and words can hold Reality in their meshes and haul up miraculous draughts from the unplumbed abyss. This much may be brought forward in our defence: that there always really has been, and is, too little consideration for the remoter future in all the practical half of mankind; a ruthless expropriation, confiscation and devastation by the hurried, hustling, starving, or otherwise vacuous present, like the destructive agriculture, called by German geographers Rauf-Bau, which cuts down the tree to get the fruit, deforests and desiccates a country in order to make railway-sleepers, or (as happened in the Maremma under Napoleon) spreads malaria to manufacture potash. That way of treating forests, rivers, mines, and also small children and women in factories, explains why latter-day intellectuals are setting up a worshi of the Future; although this barbarous hand-to-mout racticality had no doubt been fostered by the former universal identification of the future with the life beyond the grave, wherein there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, nor anybody who minds barren mountains, waterless deserts, or malaria. Be this as it may, our guides and philosophers have made the future into their protectorate. Indeed when we find ourselves suddenly carried away by primitive passions or harnessed to superannuated institutions (it was Tarde, I think, who said that we should have no wars if we had not inherited armies and the belief in them), as in the present war, we intellectuals, thus taken by surprise, hasten to justif such unexpected upsetting of all our cherished notions ğ. of J. M. Robertson and the various Peace Societies) by deliberate concern for the future. And, in another field, do not sundry sociologists, for instance Kidd and better minds than he, counsel obscurantism lest mankind commit “Race Suicide" by eating of the (Neo-Malthusian) apples of knowledge Now why, since we are not to sacrifice the future to the present, should we, on the other hand, sacrifice the present to the future ? Why should one claim be worse than the other, the claim which is certain than the claim which is less certain Why should we kill, starve, ruin ourselves and others to-day, in order to avoid killing, starving, and ruining tomorrow Are we quite sure that what we call the future is the future, indeed anything except an imaginative (and imaginary) Annexe to our Present Moreover, is it not high time to insist that, when all is said and done, the least hypothetical, the most experimentally ascertained, item about the relations between Present and Future happens to be that a good, prosperous, healthy, wise, humane, and happy, future is born of men living prosperously, wisely, healthily, humanely, happily in the present; rather than of those who, like the 216 SATAN THE WASTER
fanatics alluded to in the Gospel of Matthew, have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven for that City of God, which could be a reality only in the progeny they were mutilating away.
And since I have spoken of our intellectuals as the latter-day successors of more picturesque priesthoods, I may as well add a word about the Religion of the Future they are attempting to set up at our expense; and the cognate attempt of some of them to renovate the old commandment “Increase and multiply.” as part of that religion, which is also frequently described as a worship of “Life.” All of which leads some of them to declare or insinuate that it might be just as well to use some of the old temples and cathedrals as, at all events, temporary conveniences for that new (and true) form of belief and worship.
Now it seems to me that the old religions whose laws and sanctions were efficacious in regulating human conduct [indeed in proportion to their efficacy] did most of whatever they really accomplished by an appeal to selfishness. Ghosts and Gods had most unpleasant methods of claiming obedience to their regulations; the Deluge, the fiery overwhelming of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Plagues of Egypt, the pestilences punishing the incest of Oedipus and the abduction of Chryseis, did not appeal to the Higher Feelings only; they were not in the Future, but in the Present and a most disagreeable Present. On the other hand the After-Life which replaced such (occasionally unpunctual) chastisements in the moralizing machinery of later creeds like Christianity and Islam, was also, however conducive to solidarity and decent behaviour, an appeal first and foremost to selfishness. The after-life, which was thus efficacious, was not the life of our unknown descendants, but of our very intimate selves; and hence came, I venture to think, its substantial power sufficient to have left a powerful shadow (moral habit and taste) when the substance of the belief was gone.
But the Life of the Future is by no means the same thing as the Future Life. It is not our life, but other people’s life; and that can never have a hold, a weight sufficient to compete successfully with the more pressing temptations and inconveniences of our own poor existence. At best those capable of feeling such imperious imaginative concern for unborn generations must (and probably ought to) remain a minority; a minority more and more j and critical as it becomes more and more swayed by such ideal motives. And among the results of this minority’s increased intelligence and scepticism may quite well be some such views as the following: that the cultus of “Life” as such is a mere superstition; the cultus of altruism, solidarity, what we call “good" not much better sanctioned; except, and in so far, as the “life” be happier life; and except, and in so far as, “good * represents an increase of happiness. Also that the adjective “higher ” applied to motives and habits will be recognized as vanity and vexation unless the “heights” referred to be defined no longer as frozen peaks, to which ascetics and supermen take flight, but Elysian valleys for ordinary mortals and their offspring.
Should these points be recognized, there will follow this corollary: Happiness for happiness, there can be no imperative bidding us sacrifice the evident happiness of the present generation for the hypothetical happiness of a future one; that alleged imperative frequently cloaking the “constructive thinker’s ” insistence that the future shall be “constructed ” on his plans, and the Present furnish the wherewithal, the price, of such construction.
And before leaving our Intellectuals and the Worship of the Future they are preaching to this miserable present, let me submit to them what follows: that among the many surprises of the future (the real future which will have become the present) there may arise out of increasing possibilities and habits and purpose of tolerable existence, and out of a gradual better understanding of Man and Nature and their relations, a new faith, justified or not, but like the old faiths mainly unreasoned, rule-of-thumb, intuitive, emotional, made out of the repeated experience, the vague expectation, that happiness breeds happiness and misery breeds misery. Such would be the faith of fairly happy men. But our past and present faiths are born of wretchedness; they are the justification of misery, the consolation for misery. And the worship of the Future, with its ritual of sacrifice, its promise of remote compensation, is surely just such another one, an expression not of man’s power to do, but rather of his failure. Let me sum up the gist of the foregoing notes and of the passages to the same effect in my little allegoric play. . I distrust, and want to make my readers to distrust, any turning of the future into an object of worship, whether a Moloch calling for sacrifices, or a companionable Consoler, something like the insipid Jesus of later Christianity, who can be trusted to settle everything to our taste and to tell us that we were always in the right. The Future is neither. It is a part of Reality; a continuation of the Present, which itself is a continuation of the Past. And it is mysterious for the prosaic reason that we cannot yet recognize all the factors which have gone to make it (and us) in the past, still less the factors which are making it in the present. †. mystery, however prosaic, should be respected; moreover, we had better not take its name in vain, lest it smite us. There are actions which, convenient to the Present, are manifestly a sacrifice of the Future. There are not many sacrifices of the Present which can be proved to be proportionately beneficial to the Future. So, returning to the Ballet of the Nations, this war happens to be a sacrifice of the Present and of a portion of the Future visibly contained in the Present, namely the Present’s best life and most of its wealth, let alone the Present’s good-will and good-sense, which are also part of the Future's inheritance. And if we want future peace, we had better stop the present war, which is accumulating the obstacles to peace, namely misery, vindictiveness and delusion of all sorts.