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272 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1872
Who shall limit the right of society except society itself? And what consideration for the individual is tolerable unless society is the gainer thereby? Wherefore should a man be so richly rewarded for having been son to a millionaire, were it not clearly provable that the common welfare is thus better furthered? We cannot serious detract from a man’s merit in having been the son of a rich father without imperilling our own tenure of things which we do not wish to jeopardise; if this were otherwise we should not let him keep his money for a single hour; we would have it ourselves at once. For property is robbery, but then, we are all robbers or would-be robbers together, and have found it essential our thieving, as we have found it necessary to organise our lust and our revenge.
I would repeat that I fear none of the existing machines; what I fear is the extraordinary rapidity with which they are becoming something very different to what they are at present. No class of beings have in any time past made so rapid a movement forward. Should not that movement be jealously watched, and checked while we still can check it? [...] We cannot calculate on any corresponding advance in man’s intellectual or physical powers which shall be a set-off against the far greater development which seems in store for the machines. Some people may say that man’s moral influence will suffice to rule them; but I cannot think it will ever be safe to repose such much trust in the moral sense of any machine.
Surely if a machine is able to reproduce another machine systematically, we may say that it is a reproductive system. What is a reproductive system, if it not be a system for reproduction? And how few of the machines are there which have not been produced systematically by other machines? But it is man that makes them do so. Yes; but is it not insects that make many of the plants reproductive, and would not whole families of plants not die out if their fertilization was not effected by a class of agents utterly foreign to themselves? Does any one say that the red clover has no reproductive system because the humble bee (and the humble bee only) must aid and abet it before it can reproduce? No one. The humble bee is a part of the reproductive system of the clover. Each one of ourselves has sprung from minute animalcules whose identity was entirely distinct from our own, and which acted after their kind with no thought or heed of what we might think about it. These little creatures are part of our own reproductive system; then why not we part of that of the machines?
“Why,” asked one Professor, “should a man want to be better than his neighbours? Let him be thankful if he is no worse.”
I ventured feebly to say that I did not see how progress could be made in any art or science, or indeed in anything at all, without more or less self-seeking, and hence unamiability.
“Of course it cannot,” said the Professor, “and therefore we object to progress.”