Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Grindstone

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 vigour? Hardship and freedom: conditions under which the active, strong, and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall; conditions that put a premium upon the loyal alliance of capable men, upon self-restraint, patience, and decision.

We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity, and, it seemed to me, that here was that hateful grindstone broken at last!

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, (Public Domain Books, 2006), Kindle Locations (400-403) & (409-20).
The Victorian Era for the United Kingdom uniquely coincides with the Gilded Age of the United States. Both periods, for their respective countries, were marked by their increase in prosperity as well as technological advances making life "easier" in a lot of regards. Of course, rapid urbanization lead to pockets of high poverty and horrible slum conditions, but overall the period is well known for its descent into decadence for those at the "top" of society. It was during this era that H.G. Wells' masterpiece, The Time Machine, was written and published. Like many of the great 'classics' of English literature, The Time Machine combines solid writing, good story telling and intriguing social commentary into one nifty package. As a result, while reading it you not only are entertained but you get the real sense of life in that society.

I can recall seeing the 1960 film version of the The Time Machine when I was a kid, but until this week I had never read the novel. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with it and look forward to reading more H.G. Wells. Without going into the story line too deeply, the 'Time Traveler' is the protagonist who communicates the story throughout the book. He had built a time machine to travel through the fourth dimension which he explained was time. In traveling forward to the year 802,701 he comes in contact with an advanced age society of which most of the book discusses. In his first attempt at explaining one portion of that future society (the Eloi) he observes the laziness and lack of hard-work by the 'people'. It is from this observation he made the quotes as I posted above.

Hardship & freedom. Pain & necessity. I am blown away by Wells' keen observation of how critical these things are for humanity. In particular, the ideals of hardship & pain stand out as critical factors that are often overlooked. Much like the Victorian Era or Gilded Age, modern society has pushed the envelope of technology further and further while increasing the luxury and comforts for the high end social classes. Life has, in many ways, never been easier. And yet much like the Time Traveler's initial views of the Eloi, this should not immediately give us comfort. What is the cause of human intelligence and vigour? It is hardship. Pain. Self-restraint. Patience. Solid decision making. Doing things only out of necessity. The results of the 'active, strong, and subtle' pushing forward. And yet, it is hard to see these characteristics anymore. More and more they are thought of as archaic as modern conveniences and luxuries have made us loathe the difficult and embrace the easy. In many ways, the idea of effort has dissolved. This is especially seen in the younger generations which I am very much a part of.

So is all hope lost? That becomes the question. The picture we have seen and continue to see is certainly bleak. However, that being said, I still believe that anything is possible. Change will take time and the push-back on hard work will always exist. But human intelligence and vigour are needed as much today as they were in 1895. And if we believe in them still then we must fight forward with the very same weapons of hardship, pain, self-restraint, patience and solid decision making. The future is ours to make - what it will actually look like depends on the here and now.