« AnteriorContinuar »
THE CONTROL OF WEALTH
impossible compromise between this and the old mixed mythologies.
Let us glance at the change that has come over the world with regard to the relations of man to energy and matter. Instead of being between these two as between a steam-hammer and an anvil, he has climbed to the controlling gear and has his hand upon the valve. And the hand on this valve is the hand of the chemist and physicist and their executive officer, the engineer.
Power, before running to waste and making at best but an idle show, at the bidding of these three now works, battering raw materials into life-giving commodities; and so it is throughout the length and breadth of the busy world to-day. Science has its hand on the lever controlling the major physical factors of our existence.
Just as you see that a properly authenticated banker has the control of your money, see to the hand that has control of your wealth. If it be in the hands of an honest, well-trained and capable chemist, you will be surprised what unimagined wealth is slipping past your very doors to waste itself, as waterfalls used to do, though rarely so inoffensively and picturesquely. But science-the knowledge of things outside of and independent of our own poor selves and our imaginings-though it has made the world wealthy, is no soulless materialism. Those who think so can know nothing of science, little indeed of wealth, less still of the want of it, and of all that the want of wealth has meant for humanity in its upward progress towards control. "They have but fed on the roses and lain on the lilies of life."
There is just this much sardonic justification for the sedulously fostered confusion between creative science and sordid materialism. In the old days the genius of the pure thinker and lover of wisdom for its
own sake did not directly contribute to the immediate material prosperity of the community. In these days of experimental science it is this type which governs it. Starving, in the time-honoured manner, a great pioneer of religion, reason or art was cheap. But starve the same type of mind in science now and the community starves with him. It cannot possibly compete, either in war or peace, with any modern nation that treasures as its most fertile asset the original mind of the discoverer and inventor and the bold exploring spirit of the scientific investigator.
It is true that society may, like an old-established firm, carry on in dignified rottenness in the ways of a bygone generation and live for a while upon its established reputation, if its rivals and competitors are obliging enough to do the same. It is true that ruin may apparently be staved off by the growing power of money and the law to enslave the creators of wealth in the community. Huge individual fortunes may so be built up, but at an ultimate cost to the country altogether disproportionate to the private gain. No quicker road to general impoverishment could well be chosen than the treatment habitually accorded in this country to the poor discoverer and inventor, preyed upon by rascals of every description who flourish under the protective majesty of the law, and in the grip of a commercialism that deems it the highest wisdom not to pay for anything it can get by other means. A country that so mistakes the making of money for the creation of wealth is going to pay in its pocket as well as in its prestige. So is the whirligig of time fast bringing its revenges!
In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about chemists and the training of chemists. The chemist, if he is a genuine pioneer, is not usually a very worldly-wise person, and he suffers grievously in any sort of beggar-my-neighbour competition.
THE TRAINING OF PIONEERS
He may be able to put on half a sheet of notepaper that which will keep in prosperity a whole class in the community for a generation. But, being a chemist and not a business man, at the end of that time he will be lucky if he is still outside the poorhouse, and still more lucky if he can still call any shred of his discoveries his own. He is no individualist. He knows that every step on the long road leading up to his discoveries, except the last little step he made himself, was laboriously taken by his predecessors and colleagues and presented to him as a free gift in the past.
This sort of chemist, the real discovering person, is a very rare bird, but a few of them would go a very long way. It is almost needless to say that this is not the sort of chemist that is specially catered for by university curricula. In fact, from the business point of view he is a thoroughly bad investment. He pays no more fees than his far more numerous class-mates, his training is preposterously expensive, if he is to know his subject and not merely to know about it, and, worse still, when he is hatched, no one, scarcely even his own professor, can really be quite sure whether he is a swan or a goose.
Obviously, with universities whose finances are managed by business men, the good staple lines of chemical students are far more attractive. You can turn them out in large numbers relatively cheaply; there is always a steady demand, their fees aggregate to a considerable sum and bear an appreciable proportion to the costs of their education. The firstyear medical students are the most numerous and uniform in their requirements in the Scottish universities. Then there are those who are going to be teachers, and take chemistry for a year as one of the science subjects they are allowed, in strict moderation, to take for an Arts degree. Lastly, there are the
science students, who take chemistry as one of the three subjects required for the B.Sc. And of this last, relatively very small class, one-third, perhaps, intend to take up the study of chemistry seriously, and at the end of their training have made any real beginning at all towards the qualification of a trained chemist.
Speaking, not even purely as a chemist, and gauging the relative value to the nation of all this teaching, it is to my mind in the inverse ratio to that in which it would be regarded if numbers, or revenue earned to the university, were the criteria. You need the small army of professionally-trained students to keep the machine going. But a machine that just keeps itself going is not a prime mover. A university that does not provide training, the best it can afford, at whatever seemingly unremunerative expenditure, for those who are to be pioneers, who are to stand erect for the first time and know their way, where all before have been befogged, in whose solitary footsteps the small army can follow, such a university is to my mind oblivious to the more important and more repaying side of its dual function.
SCIENCE AND THE STATE
I WISH to discuss with you to-night some of the relations between Science and the State. I want to show how, in the particular question we are considering, one is brought up instantly against the democratic idea as it is applied, falsely, as I think, to education, the idea of equal educational opportunities to all, not in the narrow sense to which later I wish to subscribe a hearty enough adherence, but in the practical sense in which it finds application in the schools and universities of this country. I have to make what I know must appeal to many of you as a very bold, not to say provocative, statement at the outset, and it is simply this. Educate your millions, and bring to every boy and girl in this country the benefits of as sound and thorough an education as you can afford. The fact remains that, for sheer practical value to the community, and hard cash in the pockets of each member of it, there are a few, say one in every million, who are worth as much to the community as the rest of the million put together, and whom, if you miss or merge with the rest, the education of the million will avail you little indeed. I know, in these democratic days, it sounds like a restatement of the doctrine of a privileged class, living at the expense of the community. But be assured the statement is democratic enough in this,
1 Address to the Independent Labour Party, Aberdeen, Ist October 1916.