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Monday, January 19, 2015

Yusuke Tsurumi Meets H.G. Wells

I just gained a new respect for H.G. Wells, as portrayed in this interview by Yusuke Tsurumi.  They had no idea what was coming . . . .  Wells died in 1946.  Epitaph: "I told you so. You damned fools."

(After mentally correcting for 1920's era sexism) I particularly like:

"All educated men are citizens of one state — the Republic of Mankind, H. G. Wells, Sept. 16, 1920,"
"The difference of human ability is not so great. Shakespeare may have had perhaps a 50 per cent better brain than the average."
"I believe the present educational system is fundamentally wrong. In the first place history is taught in a mistaken manner. The teaching of history is responsible for the prevailing strong enmity between nations and races. In England the history lesson commences with England, and they teach children that England is the best country in everything in the world, causing the pupils to think others are their inferiors. Thus they become patriotic in a wrong sense, which inevitably works badly and in many instances gives rise to national enmity."
"I think a different and stronger ideal will take place of the nationality and religion of the past. How was religion taught? They applied the word 'love' to it. But 'love' implies a feeling of self, — I will love you and you should love me, — and I don't like to use this word. I take the words 'sense of service' instead. Every human mind wants to serve others in some way. This is the groundwork of the new civilization. By extension of this feeling they can have a new kind of enthusiasm without depending on old one — Nation and Religion."
We don't seem to be any closer to Wells's hope for a better "mankind" -- one that would exalt humanity's innate "sense of service" over ill-founded patriotism or outdated and oppositional religion -- than we were when he had that conversation, so many years ago.

From A JAPANESE LOOKS AT THE WORLD

by Yusuke Tsurumi, published in The Living Age, April 1, 1922.

H. G. Wells

With a thrilling heart I went up in the lift to the apartment of Mr. H.G. Wells. I found the great writer had just come in.

"Good morning, come in," he hailed me. He looked at least ten years younger than his age, with keen blue eyes and light hair. His well-marked eyebrows and unstrained looks gave me a pleasant first impression.

"I thank you for giving me part of your time just before leaving for Russia," I began. " Though it may be disagreeable to you, I am a hero worshiper, and one of the greatest attractions of my visit to England was the hope of seeing you personally, as I have long been an ardent reader of your works."

"Thanks," he replied.

"I admire Japan from the points of view of both peace and war. Japan did not fight for three hundred years. Finding, however, the necessity of taking arms in self-defense,she rose and showed admirably excellent talent. Just as you came here in European clothes, Japan defended herself with Western armament against China and Russia. If Japan had failed to do so, she would have had the fate of India." 
Cordial words flowed from his lips and the courtesy and simplicity forming the groundwork of genius seemed to create quietness in the room. I did not forget to present my autograph book.

"I shall be glad if you will write something besides your signature."

"With pleasure, but it is difficult to get an inspiration at once."  Saying this, he smiled, and moving round wrote, "All educated men are citizens of one state — the Republic of Mankind, H. G. Wells, Sept. 16, 1920," in beautiful writing.

"I wonder," I said, "how could we retain the aristocracy, which, I believe, is indispensable to make human life noble. In this respect I am with Matthew Arnold and I want to hear your valuable opinions on this."

"Have you read my Research Magnificent?"

"No, I have not," I replied. Then Mr. Wells wrote the title of the book on a slip of paper, and turning again to me said: "The age of great men is past."

These words impressed me very deeply; I repeated it in my mind. He continued:
"Generally men have been looking on human greatness with exaggerated respect. Shakespeare was thought to possess one hundred and fifty times as much brain as ordinary men, only because his literary works were so grand. But I think people are mistaken in this. The difference of human ability is not so great. Shakespeare may have had perhaps a 50 per cent better brain than the average. The idea that a great man is necessary to lead and guide the world is a conception found only among uneducated people; it has no significance today. As history shows, the ancient times and the Middle Ages were the times of emperors, great statesmen, and powerful soldiers. But the history of modern times should be one of the people."
"Then what will control society?"
"The people themselves."
"But I wonder if they can do that, having no great philosophy, no good religion. Can they really be capable of producing a great civilization? In fact, I have been disappointed to find the mutual enmity of belligerent people so extremely strong in Europe. I think the Orient has gone a step further than Europe in the spirit of tolerance."
"You are right. But in England not everybody hated the Germans. In Kent where I lived people used to go to give flowers to Germans, and it was found very hard to put down this custom.

"Now," he went on speaking with a graver look,

"I believe the present educational system is fundamentally wrong. In the first place history is taught in a mistaken manner. The teaching of history is responsible for the prevailing strong enmity between nations and races. In England the history lesson commences with England, and they teach children that England is the best country in everything in the world, causing the pupils to think others are their inferiors. Thus they become patriotic in a wrong sense, which inevitably works badly and in many instances gives rise to national enmity.
"I want to change this system and begin with the history of the universe. For instance I would teach the relative position of the earth in space; that of living creatures on the earth; the relation of man with the progress of animals; and so forth. It was long my desire to have someone write a history on this basis. But as none would try it, so I had to do it myself, though I am no historian.
"While preparing for the book I made many discoveries of false ideas hitherto taught as correct. I want to teach children that each nation has its own merits, while all people are in relation with the whole universe; Englishmen, therefore, ought to serve mankind in the way they know best. By this method I think we could make children conscious that they are members of human society, though they belong to different nations. Feelings of exclusiveness might be replaced by nobler thinking. This is the most essential need in the social progress of man.
"Another point I want in the way of education is the teaching of what you may call "rules of conduct." European schools have been very indifferent toward this. The Bible taught it during the past hundred years. But many of the sayings in the Holy Book are not in accordance with modern life.
"While the Bible advises us not to keep goats and sheep in the same place, Englishmen — especially Londoners of today — have neither of them. There should be some good substitute which would teach conduct to children."

"But how about the moral enthusiasm with which men sacrificed themselves for the sake of their cause during the war?" I inquired, having some doubts of his explanation.

"Well, I think a different and stronger ideal will take place of the nationality and religion of the past. How was religion taught? They applied the word "love" to it. But "love" implies a feeling of self, — I will love you and you should love me, — and I don't like to use this word. I take the words "sense of service" instead. Every human mind wants to serve others in some way.
"This is the groundwork of the new civilization. By extension of this feeling they can have a new kind of enthusiasm without depending on old one — Nation and Religion."
"I have been impressed against my expectations to find social thinkers regarding life very materially. How can they build up a new civilization with only material things?"
"But you must remember that the material that the socialists want is not the material itself, but the opportunity or freedom that it can afford. Now you are in London. How did you manage to come here? By money. It is not money, but the opportunity and freedom that money gives that I value. If I have not the money I could not leave London now. With money I can go round the world. This is what socialists want.
"Then what do they want this freedom for? The creative instinct that lies in the heart of man. Every man has a keen desire to create something in this world. This is the most acute want to man and leads to the desire for freedom, and again it turns on the want of material things. That is how I see it."

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