When the previous century began, optimism was in the air. Mankind could finally control its own destiny. Man could be progressively perfected and Paradise would break forth. All of his problems could be solved by correcting external influences. Evil and sin would be progressively removed by enlightened policies of social and human re-tooling.
The first change agent off the rank was Socialism. If wealth were redistributed and the poor were given other people's money virtually every social problem would disappear immediately. The second cab was science. The more technological advances made, the more disease would be conquered; the more Nature exploited, the more resources to distribute.
These hopes proceeded on the belief that the Christian doctrines of Original Sin and human depravity were ignorant superstitions of a dark past.
Since God did not exist, Man was perfectible. There was nothing in the cosmos to prevent man evolving to a superman--particularly if he used his own intelligence and knowledge to co-operate with evolutionary forces to create an speeded up, virtuous circle of progress.
To this grand false optimism was added the "promise" of psychology and psychoanalytic "science". By diagnosing the psyche, human nature could be progressively improved. Consider the following triumphalistic nonsense from one health official in 1946, subsequently circulated in pamphlet form:
A pamphlet entitled The Psychiatry of Enduring Peace and Social Progress, which is a reprint of a lecture delivered by Dr Chisholm when Deputy Minister of Health for Canada . . . . exhorts [scientists] to "accept our own responsibility to remodel the world in bolder, clearer, more honest lines". For human nature is limitlessly malleable and "within the possible expressions of human nature are the personalities of a Caligula or a Franklin Roosevelt, a female guard at Belsen camp or a Florence Nightingale, a Hitler or, almost, a Christ."Whilst the pamphlet created a good deal of animated discussion, one proposition was not challenged: it was science which was empowered and capable of correcting whatever is deficient in human nature.
Dr Chisholm proceeds to argue that it depends upon the psychological and physical environment in which children grow up which of these various possibilities will be realised. It is the task of psychiatry to devise the right environment, for the art of life is something that psychology and psychology alone can teach. "Psychiatrists", in fact, ". . . must become specialists in living." [C. E. M. Joad, The Recovery of Belief (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), p. 62. Emphasis, ours.)
Such pretensions for psychology are now muted beyond foreseeable recovery. But a second member of the triumphalistic trinity was also worshipped at the time: eugenics. Calls for selective breeding to "purify" the gene pool were commonplace and "normal". If society comes to believe that mankind can be enhanced by science and that improvement is due to the "survival of the fittest"--as the West widely believed in the early twentieth century--then eugenics becomes a rational policy. Selective breeding to speed up the survival of the fittest and remove undesirables was increasingly seen as natural.
Then came the Nazis, who not only took eugenics seriously, but practised it on a grand scale. Suddenly it became offensive--not the ideology, mind, but the dirty business entailed in its practice. Gas chambers and camp ovens are scarcely congenial topics at soirees. But eugenics has lingered on. Pre-natal screening for defects and diseases has been used to justify abortions--simply eugenics by another name. But now eugenics is making a comeback because of the "technology" available through genetic screening and manipulation. Designer babies are once again fashionable.
The third member of the triumphalistic trinity leading mankind to achieve perfection was education. This last nonsense has survived and prospered and remains regnant. We have argued that redistribution of property to overcome human and social problems is so deeply ingrained now that it is beyond question. The promise of education to make and mould the perfect man has also remained and triumphed--to where it has become the universal reflexive solution to all social maladies. Is there crime? More and better education will fix it. Is obesity a problem? Effective education is the answer. Are we plagued by intergenerational welfare dependence? Education will break the cycle.
None of these problems deal with the root cause: human sin. Evil, to the modern world, does not exist. There is only the unfortunate cluster of external circumstances, so that the criminal is just as much a victim of his circumstances as the victim he preys upon. If we only had more effective redistribution of wealth and more compelling education, with a bit of science, technology, eugenics, and psychology thrown in nirvana would break out in our lifetimes.
Do you really believe that? Or as Joad put it:
. . . am I really to believe that the passions, the rages, the callous indifference to human suffering, the unbridled lust for domination and display exhibited by man of restless energy and dominating will who have fought their way to power during the last forty years, are adequately to be explained as the by-produces of a feeling of inferiority engendered by neglect in school? (Ibid., p. 64)Deny the doctrine of original sin and, yes, you really have to believe such nonsense. There is nothing else.