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The Impact of Science on Society: Bertrand Russell

“Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.” – Bertrand Russell

“I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology … Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called ‘education.’ Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part … It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment.

The subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship … The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black.

… the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray.”  (pg 40)



“Scientific societies are as yet in their infancy … It is to be expected that advances in physiology and psychology will give governments much more control over individual mentality than they now have even in totalitarian countries. Fitche laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished … Diet, injections, and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible …

“The Nazis were more scientific than the present rulers of Russia … If they had survived, they would probably have soon taken to scientific breeding. Any nation which adopts this practice will, within a generation, secure great military advantages. The system, one may surmise, will be something like this: except possibly in the governing aristocracy, all but 5 per cent of males and 30 per cent of females will be sterilised. The 30 per cent of females will be expected to spend the years from eighteen to forty in reproduction, in order to secure adequate cannon fodder. As a rule, artificial insemination will be preferred to the natural method …

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.”  (pgs 49,50)

“After all, most civilised and semi-civilised countries known to history and had a large class of slaves or serfs completely subordinate to their owners. There is nothing in human nature that makes the persistence of such a system impossible. And the whole development of scientific technique has made it easier than it used to be to maintain a despotic rule of a minority. When the government controls the distribution of food, its power is absolute so long as they can count on the police and the armed forces. And their loyalty can be secured by giving them some of the privileges of the governing class. I do not see how any internal movement of revolt can ever bring freedom to the oppressed in a modern scientific dictatorship.”   (pg 54)

“I do not pretend that birth control is the only way in which population can be kept from increasing. There are others, which, one must suppose, opponents of birth control would prefer. War, as I remarked a moment ago, has hitherto been disappointing in this respect, but perhaps bacteriological war may prove more effective. If a Black Death could be spread throughout the world once in every generation survivors could procreate freely without making the world too full. There would be nothing in this to offend the consciences of the devout or to restrain the ambitions of nationalists. The state of affairs might be somewhat unpleasant, but what of that? Really high-minded people are indifferent to happiness, especially other people’s. However, I am wandering from the question of stability, to which I must return.

There are three ways of securing a society that shall be stable as regards population. The first is that of birth control, the second that of infanticide or really destructive wars, and the third that of general misery except for a powerful minority. All these methods have been practiced: the first, for example, by the Australian aborigines; the second by the Aztecs, the Spartans, and the rulers of Plato’s Republic; the third in the world as some Western internationalists hope to make it and in Soviet Russia … Of these three, only birth control avoids extreme cruelty and unhappiness for the majority of human beings. Meanwhile, so long as there is not a single world government there will be competition for power among the different nations. And as increase of population brings the threat of famine, national power will become more and more obviously the only way of avoiding starvation. There will therefore be blocs in which the hungry nations band together against those that are well fed. That is the explanation of the victory of communism in China.” (pgs 103,104)

“The need for a world government, if the population problem is to be solved in any humane manner, is completely evident on Darwinian principles.”  (pg 105)

“A society is not stable unless it is on the whole satisfactory to the holders of power and the holders of power are not exposed to the risk of successful revolution.”  (pg 110)

“First, as regards physical conditions. Soil and raw materials must not be used up so fast that scientific progress cannot continually make good the loss by means of new inventions and discoveries … If raw materials are not to be used up too fast, there must not be free competition for their acquisition and use but an international authority to ration them in – such quantities as may from time to time seem compatible with continued industrial prosperity. And similar considerations apply to soil conservation.

Second, as regards population … To deal with this problem it will be necessary to find ways of preventing an increase in world population. If this is to be done otherwise than by wars, pestilences, and famines, it will demand a powerful international authority. This authority should deal out the world’s food to the various nations in proportion to their population at the time of the establishment of the authority. If any nation subsequently increased its population it should not on that account receive any more food. The motive for not increasing population would therefore be very compelling.”  (pgs 110, 111)


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“EDUCATION has two purposes: on the one hand to form the mind, on the other hand to train the citizen. The Athenians concentrated on the former, the Spartans on the latter. The Spartans won, but the Athenians were remembered.

Education in a scientific society may, I think, be best conceived after the analogy of the education provided by the Jesuits. The Jesuits provided one sort of education for the boys who were to become ordinary men of the world, and another for those who were to become members of the Society of Jesus. 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. Children will be educated from their earliest years in the manner which is found least likely to produce complexes.”