Machines and Emotions Summary


In this essay, Bertrand Russell describes some of humanity’s natural instincts, desires and cultural practices. Then he explains how machines are beneficial or harmful to our general nature and our nurtured or learned cultural practices. The writer says that the machines have made the life of their owners comfortable but those of the workers miserable. Machines demand the qualities of regularity, punctuality, and exactness while there is no scope for the workers to do anything different or new. Their desire to do something is never satisfied and they become rebellious. They find their satisfaction in world wars. The writer makes some suggestions so as to avoid the possibility of a third world war by making the workers happy.

About the Writer

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) lived most of his life in the twentieth century and personally witnessed the ferocity and agony of the two world wars. He has also been a witness to the great industrial progress of his time made by the machines. It is therefore natural that he takes up the question of the cause of these wars and comes to attack the machines which are intensely hated. Russell is prominently noted for his anti-war and anti-nuclear campaign.

Bertrand Russell is a controversial writer. He has written on a number of subjects which include, apart from science and humanities, history, political theory, religion and education. He has made an important contribution to philosophy and logic. Some of his principal works are The Principles of Mathematics, (1903) and Principia Mathematica which he wrote with Whitehead (1909). In 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Summary of the Essay

According to Bertrand Russell, there should be no opposition between machines and emotions. The machines were invented by the West for increasing their wealth and prosperity and the people of the East are jealous of the West because the West had machinery but the East did not have it. The people of the East also love machines now.

The important question for Russell is why people love machines. The answer is that machines give power and money to the man and with money a man can satisfy his physical needs like food, clothes, house etc. No doubt, machines can reduce poverty but the problem is that those who love machines have already enough to provide them against poverty. If people love machines and money for reducing poverty and destitution, there is a justification for them. But what justification is there for those people who have enough to meet their physical needs, and yet want to increase their money? They want more money because they want to have the power to do good, not to themselves but to cause pain to others. They feel happy with the idea that those who have to work with machines have to live in dust and dirt caused by machines while they themselves sit away from them and from the dirt and dust in which the workers have to work.

The writer says that there is no harm if the wealth that machines create is needed for meeting the physical necessities of life and to that limit, the use of machines is perfectly acceptable. There is nothing objectionable about machines if these are used for reducing poverty and destitution among people and nations. But how to account for the love of money for money’s sake only? Those whose physical needs are totally satisfied yet they want more and more money. The answer to it is that people want power through money and machines. They want to live a life better than others. In other words, they want to be admired and appreciated because they have more than they need so that others who do not have as much money should feel jealous of them. The writer says that for such people happiness is in proportion to their wealth. They have so much that they do not know what to do with their excess money and so they spend it on things in which they are in the least interested. But they do so, so that others may feel jealous of them. Thus the happiness that money gives to them is in proportion to the pain that others feel in being jealous of them and it is for this reason that people want more money. If by law it is decided that everyone will have the same amount of money, neither more nor less, the competitive advantage that money gives will not be there and people will not want more money and more machinery.

The reason is that the desire for admiration and appreciation that everyone has is natural in man and this desire is the source of competitive spirit in man. The disadvantage with working on machines is that man is unable to satisfy his competitive instinct. Machines demand machine like qualities in man—regularity, punctuality and exactness. Being dissatisfied with regularity their instincts become rebellious. They want spontaneity and variety and these are the qualities discouraged by machines. The workers want to do something new, different and unusual. But they have no opportunity for doing so. Consequently, their instincts seek their expression and relief in war. This is the reason for the modern costly world wars in our days. The writer says that something needs to be done to curb these rebellious and anarchic tendencies in man. One method is to provide workers with opportunities for doing something unusual and new. For this, the workers may be given one month’s leave on full pay to do what they like to satisfy their natural instincts. They may climb the Alps mountains or work on an aeroplane and the like. All this will give them relief and the desire for war will disappear. Psychology has not made the study of human nature from this point of view. In this way, the desire for collecting too much wealth will naturally disappear and man will be happier. Then there will be no opposition between machines and human emotions.


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