Disturbing Hindsight

What are the odds that such a passage from such a book come to my attention, me, the jaded iconoclast, the "Doomer" ?

It's a used 'pocket size' soft cover I got at my local library liquidation sale for one lousy Canadian dollar. It's a 1970 print of a 1953 edition of the Aldous Huxley's translated in french novel Point Counterpoint.

I went in the library to escape a hot and disgustingly humid summer day, baited by hand made advertising boards hung outside the building. Shuffling through all the books, it was the only one that could potentially have been of interest to me, since I had fond memories of Huxley's 'Brave New Word' I read in college.

A couple of years went by and I've never gotten around to reading it, until summer of 2018 where I've gotten half way through it.

I'm bringing it up in this post first and foremost because the excerpt I present her, I consider to be a very flavorful little nugget of history, despite being written as fiction. Secondly, I'm bringing it up in the hope it can be shared as widely as possible in the collapse blogosphere, possibly as a post. To be honest, not so much because it would tickle my fancy (though it might a little) but mostly because I think it gives an invaluable perspective in and of itself to the timeline of the history of thought on matters of ... the finite nature of our world. Truth be told, I am really curious of the reactions it could spark if diffused to a sufficient extent.

The Context:

The setting of this particular moment in the plot is a 'Soirée Mondaine', a 'diner party' given by an 'old money' family at the beginning of 20th century England (presumably after WW1 if I remember correctly). It's attended by the usual suspect: Aristocrats, politicians, generals, prominent artists (painter, writers), literary publisher, rich industrialist, you get the gist of it...

Three characters in this excerpt:

Lord Edwards: an 'old money' patriarch on whose estate the party is happening. His wife's initiative. He's an old man devoting his whole time to science, ... has a lab upstairs the mansion\manor where the 'soirée' is taking place.

Illidge: His lab assistant -- a touch of cynicism and resentment from the lower classes...

Webley: The clueless politician at this very tumultuous time in history.

(I've since found THE ORIGINAL English version on the Internet, thanks to India's Digital Library ! )

So without further blabbering, here's the excerpt:


Harassed, like a bear in a pit set upon by dogs, Lord Edward turned uneasily this way and that, pivoting his bent body from the loins. ‘ But I ’m not interested in pol . . He was too agitated to be able to finish the word. ‘ But even if you ’re not interested in politics,’ Webley persuasively continued, ‘ you must be interested in your fortune, your position, the future of your family. Remember, all those things will go down in the general destruction.’ ‘

Yes, but . . . No. . . Lord Edward was growing desperate. ‘ I . . . I ’m not interested in money.’

Once, years before, the head of the firm of solicitors to whom he left the entire management of his affairs, had called, in spite of Lord Edward’s express injunction that he was never to be troubled with matters of business, to consult his client about a matter of investments. There were some eighty thousand pounds to be disposed of. Lord Edward was dragged from the fundamental equations of the statics of living systems. When he learned the frivolous cause of the interruption, the ordinarily mild Old Man became unrecognizably angry. whose voice was loud and whose manner confident, had been used, in previous interviews, to having things all his own way. Lord Edward’s fury astonished and appalled him. It was as though, in his rage, the Old Man had suddenly thrown back atavistically to the feudal past, had remembered that he was a Tantamount, talking to a hired servant. He had given orders ; they had been disobeyed and his privacy unjustifiably disturbed. It was insufferable. If this sort of thing should ever happen again, he would transfer his affairs to another solicitor. And with that he wished Mr. Figgis a very good afternoon. ‘

I ’m not interested in money,’ he now repeated.

Illidge, who had approached and was hovering in the neighborhood, waiting for an opportunity to address the Old Man, overheard the remark and exploded with inward laughter. ‘ These rich ! ’ he thought. ' These bloody rich ! '' They were all the same. ‘ But if not for your own sake,’ Webley insisted, attacking from another quarter, ‘ for the sake of civilization, of progress.’ Lord Edward startled at the word. It touched a trigger, it released a flood of energy.

‘ Progress ! ’ he echoed, and the tone of misery and embarrassment was exchanged for one of confidence. ‘ Progress ! You politicians arc always talking about it. As though it were going to last. Indefinitely. More motors, more babies, more food, more advertising, more money, more everything, for ever. You ought to take a few lessons in my subject. Physical biology. Progress, indeed ! What do you propose to do about phosphorus, for example ? ’ His question was a personal accusation. ‘ But all this is entirely beside the point,' said Webley impatiently. ' On the contrary,' retorted Lord Edward, ' it's the only point.'

His voice had become loud and severe. He spoke with a much more than ordinary degree of coherence. Phosphorus had made a new man of him ; he felt very strongly about phosphorus and, feeling strongly, he was strong. The worried bear had become the worrier. ‘ With your intensive agriculture,’ he went on, ‘ you ’re simply draining the soil of phosphorus. More than half of one per cent, a year. Going clean out of circulation. And then the way you throw away hundreds of thousands of tons of phosphorus pentoxide in your sewage ! Pouring it into the sea. And you call that progress. Your modern sewage systems ! ’ His tone was witheringly scornful. ‘ You ought to be putting it back where it came from. On the land.’ Lord Edward shook an admonitory finger and frowned. ‘ On the land, I tell you.’

‘ But all this has nothing to do with me,’ protested Webley. ‘ Then it ought to,’ Lord Edward answered sternly. ' That ’s the trouble with you politicians. You don’t even think of the important things. Talking about progress and votes and Bolshevism and every year allowing a million tons of phosphorus pentoxide to run away into the sea. It ’s idiotic, it ’s criminal, it ’s . . . it's fiddling while Rome is burning.’

He saw Webley opening his mouth to speak and made haste to anticipate what he imagined was going to be his objection. ‘ No doubt,’ he said, ‘ you think you can make good the loss with phosphate rocks. But what ’ll you do when the deposits arc exhausted ? ’ He poked Everard in the shirt front. ‘ What then ? Only two hundred years and they ’ll be finished. You think we ’re being progressive because we ’re living on our capital Phosphates, coal, petroleum, nitre... —squander them all. That ’s your policy. And meanwhile you go round trying to make our flesh creep with talk about revolutions.’

‘ But damn it all,’ said Webley, half angry, half amused, ' your phosphorus can wait. This other danger imminent. Do you want a political and social revolution ? '

' Will it reduce the population and check production ? ' asked Lord Edward.

' Of course. '

' Then certainly I want a revolution. ' The Old Man thought in terms of geology and was not afraid of logical conclusions.

' Certainly. '

Illidge could hardly contain his laughter.

‘ Well, if that ’s your view . . ' began Webley ; but Lord Edward interrupted him.

‘ The only result of your progress, ' he said, ' will be that in a few generations there 'll be a real revolution — a natural, cosmic revolution. You 're upsetting the equilibrium. And in the end, nature will restore it. And the process will be very uncomfortable for you. Your decline will be as quick as your rise. Quicker, because you'll be bankrupt, you'll have squandered your capital. It takes a rich man a little time to realize all his resources. But when they've all been realized, it takes him almost no time to starve. '

Webley shrugged his shoulders. ‘ Dotty old lunatic ! ' he said to himself, and aloud, ‘ Parallel straight lines never meet, Lord Edward. So I 'll bid you goodnight. ' He took his leave.

A minute later the Old Man and his assistant were making their way up the triumphal staircase to their world apart.


On a final note, I'd like to point out an interesting fact. As I was reading this passage for the first time in the car with my old folks in route to visit my sister 150 km from here, I suddenly became agitated. I looked at the date of publishing, as mentioned, the first print of that translation was in 1953. As soon as I got home I looked up the date of the original novel. It turns out, it was the novel written right before Huxley's famous 1932 'Brave New World'.

Point Counterpoint was written in 1928.

Food for thought in my humble opinion...