Tomorrow and Tomorrow?
by Marshall McLuhan
Within the next few weeks Canadian universities will dispatch several thousand fresh graduates into the world of affairs. In the States and in Europe many more thousands will leave cloistral retreats and attempt to conform themselves to conditions which, even to the casual glance, appear ugly, stupid and savagely ironical. Things are actually so bad that they cannot be parodied. And in some there is an irrepressible inclination for howls of maniacal laughter.
There is one worse thing which could befall men than the swift process of degeneration and savage reversion which is acting on the hearts of city-dwellers in every land. That worse thing would be the success of the remedies urged by socialists and politicians. Better a swift and gory dissolution followed by a new start, than a drivelling, paralytic longevity in the path that leads to the grim and dessicated world-state. The world-state presupposes the servile state or the society which is based on the sound atheistic principles of efficiency and sanitation.
It has fallen to the lot of those alive in the twentieth century to expiate the consequences of the insane individualism engendered during the Renaissance and perpetuated by the Reformation. Within a century the authors of this anarchic individualism inaugurated the commercial policy which in our time has completely subjugated life and sex to the whims of business and industry. The strenuous and spirited opposition evoked by a policy at once sordid and disastrous met political defeat on Culloden Field in 1745. But since that time every man of generous impulses or imagination has combated the ascendant forces and recognized tendencies of Western society.
Johnson and Burke struggled furiously against these forces and great Cobbett rode into the counties and denounced the stock-jobbers and money-lenders who had begun to draw English politics into their net. The Reform Bill of 1837 [sic, 1832] finally gave them complete power as Coleridge knew and wrote.
A little later Carlyle and Ruskin exposed the tawdry sham and tinsel of our ideas and of our buildings. And William Morris and G. K.Chesterton have continued to uphold the traditions of a greater time, as touchstones whereby we may detect the cheap insincerity of the whole fabric of society.
Fortunately, there is a point where the moral tenacity of men weakens and crumbles under a weight of injustice and lies. Today that point is hopefully near. Stupid captains of industry without a single idea of how things came about, or why they should be altered or maintained, men without a sincere conviction or an unselfish motive and without any sense of the mystery or value of individual life, could not be suffered forever.
These men thoughtfully accumulated, as a legacy for us, a towering garbage-heap of problems and reproductive errors. They huddled men into cities and forced them to unhealthy toil. Men lost the creative and regenerating secrets of labor, and forgot the wonder of daybreak and of daily bread. Men are no longer interested in life and so have fallen under the vulgar despotism of those who cannot interest them but can at least amuse them. And the radio and the movie are even more potent than "bread and circuses" to produce in men that fatigue which is fatal to a civilization.
At last many are coming to perceive that if every citizen of the world could be perpetually provided with five thousand a year, everyone would be much worse off. If all of us had a taste for Beethoven and Shakespeare, and anything else mentioned in the touchingly innocent maunderings of H.G. Wells, we should be simply accelerating our pace towards the abyss that yawns ample and conveniently for capitalist, socialist and communist alike.
The Fascists, despite many deficiencies, were the first to perceive this abyss. They were eager to circumvent it any cost, and that is the reason that they fight so fiercely against the materialistic and emasculating assumptions of socialism and the conception of internationalism based on expansive appetite. Amidst many extravagances they have asserted that, in some strange way, a man is capable of greater things than Simlesian [sic, Smilesian] self-help and close attention to his individual self-interests. They believe that men are capable of daily heroism and sacrifice without becoming units in a war-machine.
It has been the effort of the past century to make men disinterested by appealing to their selfishness. But great tasks can be done only if the incentives are correspondingly great. Greed and fear are not the motives which encourage men to battle with stupendous odds. And great work will be done and abundance of great leaders forthcoming only when men believe and know that every man is great. Then they will not look for a chance to lead.
Such beliefs are now clashing with the stupid materialism of the Marxists. And new hope for bewildered and tired nations has come of this struggle. A new and inspiriting banner has been unfurled which promises to sustain men until they have devacinated [sic, deracinated] the insidious metropolism that oppressed [sic oppresses] their souls with dusty death.