February 2, 2011

The Condition of England

C. F. G. Masterman held a somewhat pessimistic view of how mankind was using new technologies.  He was not alone in observing a marked "speeding up" of life, but he also commented that a wasteful lifestyle was becoming fashionable.  The raised standard of living, however, did not mean more comfort but rather more ostentation.  In this way, it was difficult for those on low incomes to keep up with a lifestyle that was slowly becoming the norm.
"But life will be no happier and no richer for such an acceptance; it will merely have become more impossible for those who […] are unequal to the demands of such a standard.  And the same is true of the multiplication of meals; of the rise in the price of rent in certain districts in London, for example, because every one wants to live there; of numberless exactions and extortions which have grown up in a society whose members are ‘like wealthy men who care not how they give’."

Masterman denigrates the new car owners for "driving abroad in furious guise," breaking the speed limit, and destroying English rural tranquility.  He attributes their behaviour to the motorists' need to alleviate boredom.  The competition in consumption won't stop until everyone (that can afford it) has a car, house, abundant food, clothes, flowers, etc. etc.  In this respect, he likens the race to consume with the armaments race.  He concludes, of course, that such an obsession with material possessions does not bring happiness, nor does it make for a better economy.  (Hasn't Masterman read 'The Fable of the Bees'?)

One only needs to glimpse at Masterman's background (social-family connections, political involvement, wartime activities, and so on) to understand why he wrote what he did.  By way of example, he moved into a working-class London tenement to learn first hand what conditions were like.  After such an 'experiment,' no wonder he freely censures middle class profligacy.

This is why I believe Masterman is not merely objecting to technology on the grounds of being opposed to 'progress' and all things new.  His objections to this rampant consumerism and affinity for materialism are based on moral considerations.

C. F. G. Masterman, The Condition of England. 1909

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