When Two Tribes Go to War: Reflections on Bertrand Russell’s Chilling Blueprint for Humanity

BERTRAND Russell’s 1931 work, The Scientific Outlook, may be somewhat obscure in relation to his more famous philosophical works but one might be forgiven for imaging that it had been taken from the pages of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Indeed, Huxley’s own volume appeared several months later and is clearly influenced by Russell. The former, of course, had produced a work of fiction and the latter an entirely serious work aimed at the British intelligentsia.

A member of the notorious Fabian Society, an organisation which has involved itself in matters pertaining to social conditioning and mass control for the best part of a century, Russell was one of a number of leading twentieth-century ideologues who wished to clip the wings of a ‘troublesome’ working class. In short, he was a leading propagandist for the ruling elite and The Scientific Outlook is a eugenicist blueprint designed to help facilitate a more totalitarian society under the guise of humanitarian progress:

In like manner, the scientific rulers will provide one kind of education for ordinary men and women, and another for those who are to become holders of scientific power. Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile, industrious, punctual, thoughtless, and contented. Of these qualities probably contentment will be considered the most important. In order to produce it, all the researches of psycho-analysis, behaviourism, and biochemistry will be brought into play.

This was to involve separating boys and girls at the age of three and encouraging them to emulate their peers right down to the very last detail, thus eradicating every trace of individuality and securing absolute loyalty to a World State:

Initiative will be discouraged in these children, and insubordination, without being punished, will be scientifically trained out of them. Their education thought will be in great part manual, and when their school years come to an end they will be taught a trade. In deciding what trade they are to adopt, experts will appraise their aptitudes. […] As for the manual workers, they will be discouraged from serious thought: they will be made as comfortable as possible, and their hours of work will be much shorter than they are at present; they will have no fear of destitution or of misfortune to their children. […] If the youth is content to abandon his previous associates and to throw in his lot whole-heartedly with the rulers, he may, after suitable tests, be promoted, but if he shows any regrettable solidarity with his previous associates, the rulers will reluctantly conclude that there is nothing to be done with him except to send him to the lethal chamber before his ill-disciplined intelligence has had time to spread revolt. This will be a painful duty to the rulers, but I think they will not shrink from performing it.

This, remember, does not come from a work of fiction but a serious academic work. Those selected to become part of the ruling elite, on the other hand, would be encouraged to develop the kind of intelligence and will-power that strengthens the ranks of an existing hereditary class. More alarmingly, Russell proposed the creation of two distinct types:

Gradually, by selective breeding, the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species. A revolt of the plebs would become as unthinkable as an organised insurrection of sheep against the practice of eating mutton.

Russell, like many other Fabians, wished to apply his dystopian vision to the entirety of humankind, but however chilling these initiatives sound – and let’s not pretend that they are not already being widely implemented – I believe that a positive strain of rebellion nonetheless continues to endure and that Russell’s nightmarish theory is undermined by a comparatively healthier version of two separate tribes that survives among life’s great eccentrics and outsiders.

In Lucio’s Confession (1913), written by the great Portuguese poet and novelist, Mário de Sá-Carneiro, a bohemian character by the name of Ricardo de Loureiro speaks at length to the book’s narrator about his own unique traits:

In fact its singularity consists not in the fact that there are elements in it that cannot be found in normal lives, but in its lack of any of the elements that are thought to be common to all lives.

One might compare this startling originality to a bottle of superior wine that, whilst containing the surface traits that one may distinguish in lesser wines – texture or bouquet, for example – has none of the things one might ordinarily associate with wine itself. Perhaps a brand of great character and bearing can get by without a bottle to contain it, or even cope without the chattering opinions of a professional wine-taster?

At a time when the vast majority of people seem content to believe everything they hear in the mass media, it does appear that a small tribe of dissenters – almost a different species, it seems – is busy fulfilling Russell’s prophecy in a way that would have led him to demand their immediate liquidation in the “lethal chamber”.

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