Wednesday, June 13, 2012

H.G. Wells, The Outer Limits, and Contemporary Culture

War of the Worlds pg 59

Several years ago I bought a collection of all the short stories written by H.G. Wells.  They were entertaining, of course, but aside from the ridiculous caricatures of scientists (particularly in "The First Men in the Moon"), a serious flaw became obvious as essentially the only theme explored in his stories:  the denial that man has a nature that sets him apart from the rest of the animals.  G.K. Chesterton dealt with this flaw much more charity than I am inclined to show, noting, "His philosophy in some sense amounts to a denial of the possibility of philosophy itself. At least, he maintains that there are no secure and reliable ideas upon which we can rest with a final mental satisfaction."

The same thing was evident when I saw The Outer Limits, particularly the new incarnation of that series.  Once again, every episode seemed to be about how human beings aren't at all special, we're just like dogs and cats, or maybe cattle, or maybe mosquitoes.  The writers somehow failed to pick up on the fact that this makes for really uninteresting stories.  It may be true that in an episode of Gunsmoke one could always be sure that Marshall Dillon would come out on top, the only question being how, but at least one got the feeling that both Marshall Dillon and the ideas he represented really mattered.  The Outer Limits was just as predictable, only the human protagonist was guaranteed to fail, and the "moral of the story" was that none of the characters or ideas mattered a whit.  If that's the case, why should anyone bother watching?  The ideas that all life on earth is doomed to extinction, that the earth itself will be vaporized in a few billion years when the sun goes through its giant phase just before its fires are extinguished and it begins the slow process of cooling to absolute zero, and eventually the Heat Death of the Universe will destroy all matter and meaning -- all these ideas can suit a certain mopey blue mood, but they don't make for gripping drama. 

This is not to deny that there is a role for stories that, for example, rebuke mankind for being less faithful than a loyal hound, or for the heart-rending stories of elephants clearly grieving for their dead.  However, far from dismissing the importance of loyalty or the loss of death, they reinforce it; they do not suppress human nature, they elevate the nature of certain animals.  There is a qualitative difference. 

It seems to me that the preoccupation with denying the reality and importance of human nature can be explained in large part by the desire to reject our natures and re-invent ourselves.  This is what I meant in my earlier post about Psalm 100:3.  This is evident not only in the "gay marriage" movement -- the number of active homosexuals, let alone those who wish to enter into some kind of "gay marriage", is far too small to explain the changing political environment unless this has something to do with the desires of those who are not homosexual -- it is also visible in the push for using human embryos as experimental matter.  Modern man is like Brother Cavil from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, unhappy and angry at the fact of his own creation and willing to do terrible things as a result.


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  2. Fr. James Schall commented on the same problem from a different perspective in a recent article for Crisis Magazine: