... since there is no way of eradicating man’s destructive drive—which is the price he pays for the faculty of invention—we should try to direct it toward books instead of gadgets. Literature can mitigate this drive without much risk. ... Unlike the scientific civilization that has made us more fragile than our ancestors were before they learned to fight the tiger, under a literary civilization more impractical, passive, and dreamy men would be born. But at least these men would be less dangerous to their fellows than we have grown to be since we voted for the gadgets and against the book.
A good essay, but with some dunderheaded conclusions.
If the reason "the scientific civilization that has made us more fragile than our ancestors were before they learned to fight the tiger" is because we have the bomb now and we didn't then, that's an amazingly blinkered way to look at history. Back then, a meteor strike would have obliterated us all just as surely as any warhead; now, we have half a fighting chance to recognize something like that and head it off. (We're not spending nearly enough money or effort on watching the skies, if you ask me, but that's another story.)
That's not even taking into account how we do have plenty of social pressure to keep science from becoming nothing but war's handmaiden. It can't prevent it from happening, but again, that's kind of the point of any discovery: it's neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral,and the fact that it has been used unwisely in the past should not be a blanket rejection of our ability to use it wisely now, or in the future. We haven't blown ourselves up yet, and while we shouldn't assume that will always be the case, we should also not assume the ultimate and inevitable cost of moving forward will be to blow ourselves up. The solution isn't to deprecate science; it's to bolster our moral obligation to be wise about how we use it.
There's no dichotomy between books and science; we can have them both. We ought to. The two need each other desperately. Each gives the other imagination they do not possess alone. Why does it always come down to having to choose between Shakespeare or the bomb?