45. Of men and galaxies
What is the most influential factor in any human society?
In man’s early days, competition with other creatures must have been critical. But this phase of our development is now finished. Indeed, we lack practice and experience nowadays in dealing with primitive conditions. I am sure that, without modern weapons, I would make a very poor show of disputing the ownership of a cave with a bear, and in this I do not think that I stand alone. The last creature to compete with man was the mosquito. But even the mosquito has been subdued by (man’s) attention to drainage and by chemical sprays.
Competition between ourselves, person against person, community against community, still persists, however, and it is as fierce as it ever was. But the competition of man against man is not the simple process envisioned in biology. It is not a simple competition for a fixed amount of food determined by the physical environment, because the environment that determines our evolution is no longer essentially physical. Our environment is chiefly conditioned by the things we believe. Morocco and California are bits of the Earth in very similar latitudes, both on the west coasts of continents with similar climates, and probably with rather similar natural resources. Yet their present development is wholly different, not so much because of different people even, but because of the different thoughts that exist in the minds of their inhabitants. This is the point I wish to emphasize. The most important factor in our environment is the state of our own minds.
It is well known that where （=if） the white man has invaded a primitive culture, the most destructive effects have come not from physical weapons but from ideas. Ideas are dangerous. The Holy Office knew this full well when it caused heretics to be burned in days gone by. Indeed, the concept of free speech only exists in our modern society because you are inside a community, you are conditioned by the conventions of the community to such a degree that it is very difficult to conceive of anything really destructive. It is only someone looking on from outside that can inject the dangerous thoughts. I do not doubt that it would be possible to inject ideas into the modern world that would utterly destroy us. I would like to give you an example, but fortunately I cannot do so. Perhaps it will suffice to mention the nuclear bomb. Imagine the effect on a reasonably advanced technological society, one that still does not possess the bomb, of making it aware of the possibility, of supplying sufficient details to enable the thing to be constructed. 20 or 30 pages of information handed to any of the major world powers around the year 1925, would have been sufficient to change the course of world history. It is a strange thought, but I believe a correct one, that twenty or thirty pages of ideas and information would be capable of turning the present-day world upside down, or even destroying it. I have often tried to conceive of what those pages might contain, but of course I cannot do so because I am a prisoner of the present-day world just as all of you are. We cannot think outside the particular patterns that our brains are conditioned to, or, to be more accurate we can think only a very little way outside and then only if we are very original.
dispute: ~ sth. with sb.
~ about/over sth. with sb.
subdue: conquer, overwhelm
envision: en-vison: imagine, conceive of
deceive, deception, receive, reception
it suffices for sb. to do sth.
critical: crucial, essential, necesary
make a poor show of: make a bad exhibition / display / spectacle of …
make a(n) good / excellent show of …
I do not think that I stand alone in this (point).
I am in good company in this (point).
the physical environment: the real / objective environment
bits: small places
not so much because of …, but because of … 与其说，。。。 不如说。。。
where there is a will, there is a way. 有志者事竟成
Where there is smoke, there is a fire. 有因必有果，无风不起浪
cause sb. to do: make sb. do
in days (gone by): in the past days
in the days to come
look on: 观望
a prisoner of the present-day world: 一般而言，英文多用名词，汉语多用动词，所以会经常出现转化。
The skyscrapers are lavish consumers and wasters of electric power.