While science has brought about much great advancement in human history, it has also had the potential to be destructive. In his article Icarus, or The Future of Science, Bertrand Russell argues that humanity would use scientific advances for darker purposes, such as to “…facilitate centralization and propaganda,” and as a result, “…groups become more organized, more disciplined, more group-conscious, and more docile to leaders” (Russell). He argues that through technological developments, governments are able to have more control over all aspects of peoples’ lives. These ideas almost predict the practices of Soviet Russia under the rule of Stalin, where the government closely monitored the people and punished those whose ideals did not agree with those of the state. Russell’s fears are echoed in the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, in which a mad psychiatrist develops a means for a somnambulist to carry out murders for him.
One of the main themes of both the film and the article was human passion. When describing his progress with the somnambulist in his journal, Caligari writes that “the irresistible passion of my life is being fulfilled.” In the conclusion to his essay, Russell discusses the idea that science doesn’t give man passions, but it does give him the means to follow that which is already within him. What struck me about this focus upon passion however was how both sources described human passion as if it is a terrible thing, focusing only upon evil fixations and how they could be driven out of control. Usually, a passion is thought of as something good, and advancements in science could be used to turn these passions into realities as well.
Another aspect of Russell’s article that fascinated me was his idealization of a “world government,” a concept which he glosses over its flaws. He takes the stance that it would eventually rid the world of all its overarching problems, however I find myself disagreeing with this stance. Wouldn’t the entire world coming together under one government cause some problems to occur on a larger scale? His passion about this idea deviates from the cynical tone of the rest of the article.
Discussion Question: Do you think that the goals of Russell’s hypothetical world government are similar to those of Nazi Germany?