Freud is a very relevant figure to this discussion. The limits of progress are in the flaws and divisions of human nature, which are integral to being human. The way Freud represents this in a number of his works, including Civilisation and Its Discontents, is to say that there are a variety of instincts – a very unpopular term now which may not be scientifically valid – from benevolence and love on the one hand to violence and aggression on the other, which are equally part of the human animal.
This is very much a big theme of post-apocalyptic sci-fi of the 40’s and 50’s. Check out the rest of the interview of more, including JG Ballard and medieval apocalyptic thinking.
…if you’ve read the Hunger Games trilogy (however many times), bought your ticket for the movie, and still need more dystopian teenage angst, we heartily recommend The Chyrsalids: “KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD; WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT.”
If you like this kind of post-apocalyptic fiction, The Chrysalids is definitely required reading.
On the 75th anniversary of the writer’s death, a look at his influence.
While the Cthulhu Mythos never featured prominently in King’s novels, It is generally regarded as his most Lovecraftian work. King’s declaration of Lovecraft as “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale” is found on the jacket of nearly every compendium of Lovecraft “best of” volumes.
As I’ve been mulling over science’s role in our lives as a mediator between us and nature, and how it fails in that role in a post-apocalyptic setting, I am struck by this comment by David Hume:
We are placed in this world, as in a great theatre, where the true springs and causes of every event are entirely concealed from us; nor have we either sufficient wisdom to foresee, or power to prevent those ills, with which we are continually threatened. We hang in perpetual suspense between life and death, health and sickness, plenty and want; which are distributed amongst the human species by secret and unknown causes, whose operation is oft unexpected, and always unaccountable. These unknown causes, then, become the constant object of our hope and fear; and while the passions are kept in perpetual alarm by an anxious expectation of the events, the imagination is equally employed in forming ideas of those powers, on which we have so entire a dependence.
In the face of this suspense, this fear of nature’s unpredictability, we resort to science to render nature predictable, manipulatable, and controllable. Of course our ability to predict and control is imperfect, but our highly technologized society gives us the illusion that we are in control, that we dominate, and are not dominated by nature. In a post-apocalyptic world, the illusion has gone up in smoke with the rest of civilization.
It’s the post-apocalyptic 1990’s, thanks to a late 70’s nuclear third world war brought on by the giant computers that had been delegated by humans to handle geopolitics. (They sound a little like the micro-trading computers that now handle the much of high finance.) It turns out that the computers weren’t any better at keeping the peace than humans were.
Neurosurgeon and former Mormon Dr. Martine has spent the last 18 post-war years hiding out on an uncharted island somewhere in the Indian Ocean, integrated with the natives, but events draw him back home to what’s left of the United States. What he finds, built upon the slag heaps of both the former United States and Soviet Union, is a cyborg civilization filled with men who’ve renounced war, cut off their limbs, and replaced them with nuclear-powered prostheses. To his shock, Martine find out that he unwittingly had something to do with this bizarre state of affairs.
Bernard Wolfe’s 1952 Limbo, is a disturbing but weirdly compelling proto-cyberpunk behemoth that combines an edgy, in-your-face language that compares with the best of Alfred Bester, with long, Heinlein-style philosophical digressions that are about as subtle as a kick to the head, to create one long, entertaining rant against… well, something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what.