Friday, February 09, 2007

Dissatisfaction with The Time Traveler’s Analyses

In The Time Machine, Herbert George Wells makes a profound proposition of life on Earth some 800,000 years into the future. He attempts to explain the evolution—rather de-evolution—of man into the Eloi and Morlock people as well as the social relationship between these people through a combination of Darwinian and Marxian concepts. As time has honored, both of these schools of thought provide, arguably, some of the most popular and accepted theories for explaining biological and social change. However, they should not be viewed as a “Complete Guide to Life on Planet Earth;” they fail to fully account for much of the things Wells presents in his fantasy, future world.

Perhaps I am being overly critical, or petty; or maybe I just wish that Wells, through the words of the Time Traveler, had spent more time discussing his analyses of how the Elois and Morlocks came to be as they were. While reading The Time Machine, I was irked by a constant feeling of incomplete satisfaction with his somewhat cursory reasoning; I felt it was possible, but not very probable.

He attributes the Elois’ feebleness and lack of sexual specialization to a lack of necessity. I agree with this. Sexual specialization in humans evolved as a necessity when humans began walking upright, narrowing birth canals and leading to prolonged pregnancies. Women needed men to commit themselves as providers in order to ensure birth. This familial structure was then needed after birth in order to teach the young skills needed to survive in an increasingly complex world. In a world where there is little danger and plenty of easily picked food, there is no need for hunting, gathering, and nurturing. Therefore physical strength is also not needed. Neither is intellect. “Like the Carlovingian Kings, [who] had decayed to a mere beautiful futility”(48), the comfortable, safe, and nourished Eloi did not need much intelligence to survive.

But I argue, the need for something is not the only reason for it to exist; there is also DESIRE. The desire to know, to understand, to create, and once self-aware, to find purpose in one’s existence. It was not because of necessity that man deciphered astronomy, created calculus, formulated the laws of physics, and painted the Sistine Chapel. Man inherently possesses the desire to do more than just eat, sleep, and procreate. Once we had evolved to a being with the ability to think beyond instinctual levels, I doubt that we would ever stop using our minds for these purposes, even if there was no effort required for survival. In fact, many of the Renaissance men who pioneered these great leaps in intellect and creation lived comfortable lives afforded by wealth. It was their desire that compelled them to think. I just don’t completely buy that these same humans de-evolved and allowed their minds to wane simply because of a lack of necessity. If man became extinct after having rid the world of all its evils (disease, overpopulation, etc. as told by the Time Traveler) and the Eloi evolved from some other lesser animal, I would be more inclined to believe.

The predator and prey relationship between Morlock and Eloi people also lacks an acceptable and complete explanation. With his basis in Marxian and Darwinian social and evolutionary theories, The Time Traveler speculates that the Elois were the aristocratic “Haves,” and the Morlocks, the oppressed “Have-Nots.” And that as the vegetarian Elois enjoyed their utopian comforts (and grew weak and dumb as a result), the carnivorous Morlocks grew savage underground, only surfacing during the night to hunt for their Eloi meals. If the Elois were able to de-evolve into the delicate creatures that they were meant that there was no need for them to keep their strength and intellect. This suggests that the Morlocks did not look to them as a source of food until recently. The Morlocks would have had to have had other sources of meat that recently went extinct, or that they, in relatively recent generations, just decided to include their Eloi cousins in their diet. It may be argued that mice have been eaten by birds of prey for millennia, yet mice have not evolved to defend themselves in any meaningful way. But this relationship of predatory bird and preyed rodent exists because of progressive evolution; it occurred from the bottom up (if that makes sense). But to de-evolve into this relationship seems unlikely to me unless the Morlock and Eloi peoples were completely isolated from each other for many millennia to allow for them to arrive at their current evolutionary states. But that cannot be true, since the Elois wear clothing manufactured by the Morlocks.

Which leads me to wonder one final thought. What do the Elois barter for their clothing? They have nothing to offer.



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