John W. Campbell
It has been said that “technology we can’t understand appears to be magic.” Actually, this applies only to technology more advanced than our own— for frequently we see some great technological device and, by familiarity, fail to recognize it for what it is.
Perhaps the Grade A No. 1 prime example is one which is now generally considered the perfect symbol of non-technology—the epitomization of the failure to develop technology.
The peasant-farmer, plodding along behind his horse-drawn plow as he sweats to till his fields, does seem, to us, about as untechnical as you can get. Yet in that pastoral scene is a technical breakthrough that properly ranks slightly behind harnessing fire, and perhaps a bit ahead of the wheel. (After all, all the native American civilizations got along without the wheel!)
It might be described in modem terms as “a solid-state power-handling device for coupling a heavy duty power source to heavy tractive loads.” Or, more simply, as the device that freed human slaves from service as draft animals.
One of the reasons the Romans and Greeks needed so many slaves was that there was no known way of harnessing animals to heavy draft loads. Man, because of his bipedal posture and his hands, could have a harness slipped over his chest and shoulders, and by leaning into it, exert all his strength in pulling the load. It was literally true that a man could exert more pull than a 1,500-pound horse.
A horse’s sloping chest, and lack of shoulders or grasping hands, made it impossible to tie him to a load except by putting a rope around his neck. Do that, and as soon as he pulls, he’s choked by the rope at his throat; he can pull only lightly before his wind is cut off and he has to stop. True, some powerful horses can exert enough pull to move a relatively light chariot at a good speed that way— but as a coupling device it’s exceedingly inefficient. The horse couldn’t pull a plow, or a heavy dray.
Oxen, equipped by nature with some well-anchored horns, could do considerably better—but it was extremely tiring on even an ox’s heavy neck muscles to hold his head down against the backward pull of the load.
Rapid, Heavy Transport
The horse collar, invented somewhere, sometime during the Middle Ages in Europe, was Man’s first really successful device for harnessing powerful animal muscles to do the heavy hauling work that was needed. It made possible heavy transport—even on the horrible mud ruts they called roads. It vastly increased the amount of agricultural land that could be prepared and used during a single growing season; there was far more food available for men and motive power. Where before, horses and other animals had transported goods primarily as pack animals, transportation was expanded, quite suddenly, as greatly as it was a few centuries later with the invention of the steampow-ered railroad.
Naturally, with the potential of heavy, relatively rapid transportation available, the sedan chair went out of use as the coach came in, and pack-trains were replaced by loaded wagons. Inevitably the demand for more roads wide enough—and good enough!—for horse-drawn vehicles came, and the entire economy began speeding up.
The contact with the highly sophisticated and educated society of Islam was undoubtedly a tremendous factor in the development of the renaissance in the seacoast regions of the Mediterranean, where water transport made transportation reasonably effective. But it was the horse collar that brought an economic renaissance to most of Europe.
It’s not at all easy to recognize technological importance—particularly when we’re used to it. Certainly a horse collar seems a simple enough idea. . . .
Most modems haven’t actually seen and handled one, or studied one closely. Take a good look at the structure of a horse’s chest and shoulders, and without studying a horse collar, try devising a form that will fit snugly onto those sloping curves and planes, allow the horse free movement of neck and forelegs, avoid concentrating the load on prominent bony areas, and so distribute it that the horse can exert his full strength without painful chafing. Then make it stay in place without aid of adhesive tapes, glue, or surgical implants!
The agricultural technicians of the Middle Ages who developed that gadget were not fools, even if they hadn’t ever had a course in mechanical engineering, or force-analysis. And they did achieve something that the learned Greeks and the great Roman engineers did not; they harnessed the most effective power source in the world at the time.
And be it noted that that animal power source is still used as the basis for measuring our mechanical tractive engines—as Watt originally defined it in his sales-promotion literature for his new steam engines.
However, two horses can do a lot more plowing than a two-horsepower gasoline-engined tractor can; the gas job can't slow down in a tough spot, dig in. its hooves, bellydown to the earth, and lunge with half a ton of hard-tensed muscle to drag the plow through.
Of course, the tractor is also not capable of selfrepair, automatic routine maintenance, living off the fields it works, self-replication, or sense enough not to destroy itself by ramming itself over a cliff. In addition to operating on locally-available fuels, a horse is approximately twice as efficient as a tractor in conversion of chemical to mechanical energy.
The moral of this little story is not to be applied just to humans visiting alien planets; it applies very cruelly to situations right here on our own crazy, confused world. Backward nations—I will not be euphemistic and call them “underdeveloped” because they’ve had the same thousands of years to develop that Europe and America had, and simply didn’t do so—do not recognize the importance of what could be called “the Horse Collar Revolution.”
Those economically depressed nations want, most ardently, to join “the modem world”—i.e., to achieve the industrially-developed status of the high-level technological nations.
Now there are two kinds of “status”; one is what your neighbors think you are, and the other is what you actually have and can do. The first type of status is, of course, far and away the most popular, and the most eagerly sought.
One type of individual, if he happens to inherit a few thousand dollars, or hit it lucky in gambling, promptly puts it into fancy new clothes, a down payment on a fancy new car, and a fancy new woman or two, and has himself a whee of a time being admired and respected because man, he’s got all the symbols of Status!
So in three months the fancy car is repossessed, the fancy woman moves off, and the fancy clothes prove to have poor durability.
Another approach is to spend the little inheritance on getting a small business started—maybe a neighborhood grocery, or a newsstand. Doesn’t get you much Status, of course, and not much spectacular fun . . . but put to work that way a few thousand can support you for life.
It’s just that it is not as much fun, and a few thousand won’t do it unless you get in and work just as hard yourself, and that makes the whole idea much less popular.
The national equivalent now showing up among the backward nations is that foreign aid—winning the numbers game, in the international lottery!— is spent on fancy Status projects. Hydroelectric plants are Status Symbols, man! That means you’ve got it!
Even if you don’t have many electric lights or power machines in grass huts and fields plowed by men and women pulling wooden stick plows through the earth.
Steel mills are great international Status Symbols, too. Of course, what would really make one of those nations have Status with all its neighbors would be to have something really technical and ultra-fancy, like a few nuclear bombs.
Trouble is, nobody, except a few experts, in a few major Western nations, have the wisdom to see that the horse collar is one of the greatest technical developments of human history.
The basic plot in Christopher Anvil’s “Royal Road” stemmed from an actual disaster of WW II; it didn’t have the comfortable ending Anvil’s story did. The lesson, bitterly learned then, is being relearned most reluctantly by the backward countries today.
The Allies had a tremendous military need for roads and barracks and airfields in an area where there simply were none. It was a remote area; shipping simply wasn’t to be had for sending in earth-moving machinery, bulldozers, power shovels, and so on. So local natives were hired, at high pay, to do the work.
The men who set up that operation didn’t know what a subsistence-level economy was; they found out that fall and winter. The men they’d hired to work at such fine wages were, of course, the native farmers—who therefore didn’t farm that year.
In Anvil’s story, the thing was planned, and the aftermath was part of the plan; in the real event it wasn’t planned that way—it just happened. There was no shipping to bring in food that winter, just as there had been no shipping to bring in earth-moving machinery. It was a horribly grim demonstration of the oft-repeated remark of philosophers that “you can’t eat gold.” There was a lot of money around—but no crops.
Repeating the Error
What’s happening again and again in backward countries today is of the same order. The magnificent new dams and hydroelectric plants employ thousands of workers at good wages—and hire them away from food-production in a near-subsistence economy. The result is inadequate food production, incipient famine, and a desperate plea for help to feed the starving millions. But they sure have a great Status dam!
Oh, they get irrigation water, too—only sometimes the results haven’t been any better thought out than the economic disaster of famine was. Many areas of the world have fairly fertile land lying on top of extremely saline under-soil—practically salt beds. When rain falls, the fresh water seeps downward, and keeps washing the salt back down to the under-soil where it is harmless. But run in irrigation water—the salt from below dissolves, and evaporation from the surface soil pulls the now-saline water up, where it in turn evaporates, and thus rapidly builds up a salt crust on the surface.
It takes several years of non-irrigation, and no crops, for natural rainfall to wash the salt back down so the land can be used again.
But don’t you forget—that big irrigation dam and project is an international Status Symbol of high value!
If a nation has a primitive subsistence-level economy, this simply means that its food-and-goods production has economic value just barely sufficient to keep the population from starvation. And that in crop-failure years, there will be famine, and people will die of starvation.
In many, many such subsistence-level areas, if such famines occurred, there was literally nothing whatever anyone could do to help them. The thing happened repeatedly in India and in China; India, under the British, had railways and His Majesty’s government did everything humanly possible to relieve the starvation. But the food needed to feed 300,000,000 starving people can’t be gathered from the surrounding areas; they’re subsistence-level economies, too. And the railroads weren’t vast, heavy-traffic networks such as Europe and America had developed; they didn’t have enough cars or engines. And shipping from half around the world took so long that even if the transport and grain were freely donated, it wouldn’t get there in time to be very helpful.
In China, because of bad roads and no railroads at the time, there were huge areas where the only possible transport was by porters. (Mules can’t climb ladders, and some of the routes required ladders to get up mountain “passes.”) Since porters had to start in carrying their own food for the round trip, it was fairly easy to figure what distance of penetration was possible before the porter had consumed his total load in his own round-trip supply. No food whatever could be shipped into any more distant point. People in those inner areas simply starved to death because help was physically impossible.
Breaking the Habit
In subsistence-level economy areas today, what sort of help can the industrial nations give?
Well, first is the fact that Step no. 1 is to break down the cultural pattern of the people that holds them at the subsistence level. And at this step, naturally, the people will do all they can to destroy the vile invaders who are seeking to destroy their Way of Life, which is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and Holy Way.
You can’t do it by telling them that they should stop growing those inefficient crops, those crops that produce protein malnutrition, and learn how to raise these new and far more efficient nutritive crops.
There are problems involved that aren’t economic or technical. The Israeli, for instance, have worked out techniques for growing watermelons, wheat, various fruits, and grains on sandy gravel irrigated with salt water. They can make the barren Negev Desert produce fine crops of excellent food—techniques that can be applied anywhere there are sand dunes, gravel, and sea water, or saltwater springs. It would work fine in huge areas of the Sahara. No vast irrigation dams needed for this project!
Unfortunately, the Arabs don’t seem enthusiastic about accepting and applying this Jewish technique.
Even if it were an Arab development, the peoples of the area are tradition-oriented; it would take at least a generation to put over the idea of doing precisely those things which they know are wrong. For every farmer knows that salt water kills plants, and you can’t grow plants in sand and stony gravel.
The odd thing is that the salt-water irrigation can not be used in “good soil”; it works only in the worst kind of gravel-sand soil.
Resistance to Change
The proper development of the backward areas requires recognition that the people don’t want to change. They want their results to change—they want to have the fine things other nations have, but not to build them.
To pull up from a subsistence-level economy, the first step is building better roads, and a more efficient agriculture. Not irrigation projects, not tractor manufacturing plants and hydroelectric projects and establishing an internationally known air line, complete with twenty or so Boeing 707 jets. Man, those are real Status Symbols!
What’s needed is the Horse Collar Revolution and its results. Draft animals can live off the local fields; they don’t require exchanging scarce goods for foreign fuel supplies and replacement parts.
The road network has to be built up slowly; too many farmers diverted to vast construction projects and you have famine.
You need schools—schools that teach agriculture and medicine and veterinary medicine and simple local-irrigation techniques and public hygiene and basic nutrition. Not electronics, industrial chemistry, and jet-engine maintenance—not for a generation will that be valid. The few natives who are really cut out for that sort of work can be taught in other nations, where schools of that order are needed, and already exist. But don’t expect them to come home—there will be nothing for them to come home to for a generation.
But no High Status schools?
Sorry—getting out of a subsistence system can’t be achieved on Status—it has to be achieved by Status, the hard-work-and-practical-leaming kind of real accomplishment.
The ancient truth prevails: God helps those who help themselves. Because even God can’t help someone who won’t help himself—that’s what the ancient concept of Free Will implies!
The more developed nations can help effectively only where the national leaders have the wisdom to work for real accomplishment, not for high Status projects.
And be it noted—that “more developed nations” does not mean the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and other Western nations alone, by any means. One example has been cited; Israel has a technique that could immensely aid many backward nations right now.
The Philippines have developed a spectacularly productive new breed of rice by careful botanical research; they’ve done a bang-up job of it, and have a strain that yields three to four times as much food from a given area. It’s a breed that could release two out of three rice-farmers in a subsistence-level nation to work on those needed roads and dams and other projects, without bringing starvation to the country.
The water buffalo is an extremely economic animal; it’s one beastie that the Western world needs to accept and use as a domestic animal— and is needed far more widely in the world. The water buffalo yields high-quality milk, high-quality meat, and is an enormously powerful draft animal capable of working under muddy conditions which ruin the feet of most creatures. Moreover, the critter can yield meat, milk, and power when fed on an incredible diet consisting solely of rice stubble! The Thais have carried on a careful program of breeding for some decades, and now have breeds of water buffalo that run over a ton in weight.
Rather surprisingly, about the only area outside of the Southeast Asia region where water buffaloes are used in any numbers is in Italy, where some 40,000 of them are kept. The familiar Mozzarella Italian cheese—in its original, genuine form—is made from water-buffalo milk.
Only when many thousands, or millions, of agricultural workers can leave the farms for work without producing the inevitable famine—only when the agricultural economy gets above the subsistence level—can any nation become “advanced.” Argentina isn’t an industrial power—but has a highly developed agricultural economy. All of the highly industrialized nations first became highly successful agricultural nations.
Yet we—and unfortunately the backward nations!—see the horsedrawn plow and the farmer as symbols of low-status, nonindustrial economies.
The great trouble is that people don't want to change. It’s not just the peoples in backward countries; the great economic advantages of the water buffalo have been around for centuries, yet only Italy among all the Western nations has accepted them. Why aren’t they being raised in southern Louisiana, for instance, where there’s plenty of land and climate of the type they particularly love?
In Africa, millions of children die of protein malnutrition because the natives raise traditional crops that do not provide the essential amino acids—and can’t be induced to change their customs.
Indians in Central America suffered the same type of protein malnutrition; their one and only staple was corn—maize. And com, like most grains, is deficient in lysine to an extent human beings can’t live on it.
Anthropologists and nutritionists could get nowhere changing their dietary habits; finally, botanists succeeded in breeding a strain of com that did contain adequate lysine, so the natives could go on doing as they’d always done—eating com—and still get the food they needed to live.
That is not a solution to the problem.
Sure, it keeps the children alive—but it does not achieve the crucially important necessity. Those people will remain forever backward people unless they change.
A change in government does no good, for a government cannot remain in power if the people actively hate it. And so long as people insist on not changing their Good, Beautiful, Familiar, and Holy Traditional Way of Life—even if it’s killing them!—the social system will not change. And they’ll kill anyone, any government, that seeks to change them, if they possibly can. Only a powerfully entrenched and ruthlessly determined dictatorship can impose on them the basic changes they, the people, must make.
If, that is, you insist the change must be made in this generation.
Otherwise, you’ll have to have patience, and wait while slow, steady, continuing pressures alter the Established Way of Things decade by decade.
And the greatest, fastest progress will be made in the backward nations which gain least Technological Industrial Status Projects—and develop their agriculture most.
In a rice-eating nation, if one third of the rice-growers, raising high-production strains, using new and more efficient techniques, can sell twice as much rice for only seventy-five per cent of the cost—the rice farmer who would not change his traditional ways will be forced out of agriculture. His poor harvest won’t be wanted. He’ll lose his land, his home, all the things he has lived by and with.
Here, the ruthless dictator who forces him to change his way of life is not human—it’s economic. It’s even more ruthless and relentless. But it, too, has the same compelling message: “You must learn a new way of life—or die!”
At the same time, of course, the fine surplus of cheap rice means that industrial workers, road and dam builders, all sorts of people in all sorts of newly developing occupations, are living much better. The old near-starvation level of rice is gone—there’s plenty to eat, at last.
Look, friends—industry didn’t produce a high standard of living. A high standard of agriculture forced people to learn a new high standard of living and industry.
And that’s the only way it will be—unless a completely ruthless, dedicated tyrant oppresses his helpless people into learning the new way of life fast.
Now that the whole nation is talking about the communist threat to the country—at home and abroad— it seems a good time to ask what is really wrong with Marxism.