Generation of Vipers by Phillip Wylie

Generation of Vipers

Author: Philip Wylie

Published: 1942


Philip Wylie was a newspaper columnist for the Miami Herald (Florida) in the mid-1900s and he took a critical look at America and many of its institutions, facets and components. He examines America’s myths, attitudes (much of it on American attitudes towards sex), education, and its medical establishment, the common man, the uncommon man, the common woman, businessmen, statesmen, professors, congressmen, military men and religion in America. He is caustic, sarcastic and most unkind to them but he calls it as he saw it and he saw it frighteningly accurate. He warns of what would happen and any reader will think, with a few exceptions such as when he talks of WWII which was being fought as he wrote, it had been written in the last few years. He did not hit the nail on the head; he hit a spike with a sledgehammer. What gets anyone with a modicum of intelligence is what is happening today was predicted by many renowned and educated people and their warnings were ignored. We are paying a heavy price for our ignoring and denying reality and the “balloon payment” is rapidly approaching.


The book is out of print but is available on Amazon, Ebay and in many used book stores usually at a reasonable price. If you only read 10 books in your lifetime this should be one of them if you want to make sense of a senseless world which America had a large hand in shaping. Again I have taken excerpts rather than dilute the essence with a report and my feeble attempt to convey the essence.


In the INTRODUCTION to the 1955 edition he spoke of his attempt to convey a message of what was wrong and gave suggestions to improve the situation(s) and how many were upset or angry at him. A bit of the introduction:


“That many things are “right” is acknowledged – and ignored. For if the “wrongs” I see be great enough (left unexamined) to undo us all (and I believe they may be), they deserve our concentrated attention.”


“That deliberate fixation of my mind appalled many readers. They could see no “hope” in a book written to indicate which way real hope lay. “If what you say is true,” a great many wrote me, “there is no use going on.” And those same people often continued with the statement that they agreed with what I said! Three or four times, in the past thirteen years I have had to rush to the telephone or to the telegraph office to get in touch with correspondents whose despondency, after reading this book, was so great that I honestly feared they meant to carry out plans for suicide described in their letters. I talked to one young lady for an hour while she sat on the windowsill of a high floor of a Manhattan skyscraper with a copy of “Vipers” on her lap!”


“It was necessary to persuade such people that a mere vista of difficulties, however huge and horrid, is not an excuse for abandoning human effort – let alone life itself. Such reactions are extremely childish. Unfortunately, many people are just that infantile.”




“Here, I merely wish to indicate that science built the world of engines and laboratories in which man lives has grown up apart from man himself. Science has not instructed man – it has only implemented him.”


“Communism broke down because men are not created equal, do not work equally, cannot be paid equally, do not have equal social and financial deserts, will not produce their best effort in a society that is not competitive, and cannot be made to work long or hard or with brilliance if they are not permitted to own, possess, buy, sell, and do business with each other.”


“The economic system of theft has one immense advantage: it works. But it also has one great disadvantage: it works only while there is something to steal.”




“The school, except for its sedulous care in teaching the basic principles of the physical sciences – interesting, necessary, and pertinent though they are – is the instrument of stupidity and lies.”


“American history of the school brand is a disgrace to the human cerebrum. It is taught as if America, an infallible nation, rose through heroism from dire persecution, with a shining and untarnished escutcheon.”


“America was founded by a multitude of discontented colonists and a handful of well-intentioned men and women who took advantage of a European war to free themselves of taxation. It was partly a godly land, but in larger part, a slave-trading, rum-tippling, whoring melee of lawless opportunists who couldn’t get along in a more conventionally organized society.”


“The conquest of the West was, again, the most brutal brawling page of exploitatious and irresponsible rapine yet written by any nation upon its own population. Just in the process, a whole cross-section of ethnology was pushed off the map: the Indians.”


“We are a ”literate” nation. But there are not a million adults in America today who could comprehend even this casual treatise. There are hardly a million who voluntarily read nonfiction books.”


“The way to teach English would be to divide pupils by aptitude rather than by age, to insist on grammatical precision from the start, and to see to it that errors in grammar and in usage, as well as vocabulary failures, brought punitive deprivations.”…….” a man clumsy and syntax cannot express himself. A man ignorant of terms cannot learn anything.”


“Children who are unable to learn or who will not learn the exact use of the only tongue in which, probably, they will ever try to articulate their ideas should not be permitted to listen to radios, go to movies, or otherwise amuse themselves with the ideo-onanisms of our society. If this restraining practice is instituted early enough and sternly enough – if it is attended to at school and followed up at home – most youngsters will by the age of twelve have a sufficient sense of ease and confidence with their native tongue to proceed more or less of their own momentum in the employment of reading as a means of self-advancement, an augmentation of consciousness and an interesting pleasure. The rest will behave foolishly all their lives, vote badly, risk wars, aid the unscrupulous, and so menace your peace, safety, and life.”


“There is no way to pound such an exacting skill as reading into the brain of the yapping barbarian which a ten year old is-save by physical deprivation or punishment. No motive but the physical will make sense to his undeveloped brain.”


“Since there flows in our veins largely the blood of generations of people who have managed to survive by the low cunning and treachery necessitated by the unnatural aspect of all past society, some kids will be unamenable even to the physical system of compulsory education. Taking away their desserts or knocking them on the head will not enliven them to any effectual effort at serious learning, even of their own language. These people should not be permitted to continue their schooling along general lines. An effort might be made to reclaim some of them after they reach maturity. But most should be prepared at once for the sedentary handicrafts – work in the trades, in the factories, in the iron seats of farm machines, and at the pump handles of filling stations. They have no aptitude for learning, make no use of what they do manage to be taught, and are a waste of tax money. A group of that group, the least stable and reasonable, should be politically disenfranchised. No one in the entire multitude should ever be permitted to hold public office. And a certain small percentage of this dreadful offal, much of which regularly accumulates in the bleachers of our ballparks, should be quietly put to sleep.”


“That is, of course, real democracy. That is the true application of the plan to give every man an equal opportunity. Any other is a fascism of sentimentality, forever handicapping the abler majority with an incompetent minority, artificially made equal – the feeble-minded, warped, stupid, cruel, mean, perverse, deluded, hysterical, dull, depraved, and silly. There must be reason in our collective behavior soon, as all can perceive. There must be an end to a government of boobs, by boobs, for boobs. Because there are already more boobs in our society than wise men, or even than scrupulous men, and the machines devised by science are so exact, so productive, and so powerful that a government which is in the hands of boobs will as surely commit national suicide as a 16-year-old kid, blind drunk on a blind curve, doing eighty in a twelve cylinder sedan.”


“The idea of universal education sounded sensible to the founding fathers. Universal education consisted, then, in teaching everybody the language, simple arithmetic, and the structure of eighteenth-century society. Science was elementary. Industry was nil, as we know it. There is no such society today. Only a third of contemporary people, at a generous guess, are even potentially educable to the degree at which their judgment would be of any value to the rest of man, politically, socially, morally, economically, or any other way.”


“An educated man does not go on all his life believing American history was hearts and flowers. He does not go on thinking that the Romans were purely ornamental people who wore togas and spoke ponderously in their senate. He does not learn his native tongue so badly that he makes errors in the use of it, does not know the main words in it, and has no adult wish, ever, to read any book printed in it except such stuff as wet dreams are made of.”


“………………. if we go on trying to educate saps and thereby make saps of the intelligent. The result will be chaos. The result is chaos, in fact.”


—-The next is from the footnote he added to the 1955 reprint:


“To pretend to educate people – which we do – to “pass” every student (for the presumed sake of “personality”) is to give all the USA a gradual lobotomy, destined finally to produce vegetables, not men. By such means we are not even keeping abreast of the prejudicial system called “education” in Russia.”




“Now the words, to me, conjure up the fine things that have been said honestly about some common people and the fine deeds that certain common people have done. But they also suggest the terrible capacity that common people possess to be wrong and to do evil. It is common people who run off our many annual lynchings. It is common people who scream for blood at prize fights. It is common people who, acting concertedly, and the state legislatures. It is common people who fill the insane asylums. Common people massacre each other on our highways. Common people, mostly, fill our penitentiaries. Common people run our rackets. Common, no good sons of bitches.”


“For it is our American common people, and not the highly educated ones, who have chucked overboard the critical method and thereby cut loose the ship of state from its sounding machinery, its rudder, its glass, and its keel, leaving the whole business to drift where the blather of common men blows it.”


“The imposition of disciplines by the state is called fascism, or tyranny, by common man, and he hates it. By the same token, any nation which subscribes to liberty and then attempts to maintain a majority who have no discipline of themselves, is destined soon to be without freedom.”


“Apparently, as soon as a society, or a state, or a city, achieves sufficient organization to make its existence profitable in money to large numbers of its people a process of deterioration sets in among them. They turned from the hard idealism of the founders to the golden pursuits of the incumbents and presently, there is not enough discipline, or integrity, or asceticism, in the whole entity to maintain the positive forces and prohibitions essential for collective life.”


“Sometimes, as this process begins, the halls of state quibble while the common people ride around in chariots, and lo, the slaves rebel. Sometimes a barbarian horde descends and sacks the debilitated community. Sometimes a technological disruption brings a plague that kills the inhabitants: the engineers have no longer been able to build the proper sewers because of prior land claims of the merchants. Occasionally a heartier near-by race on the upswing of honest endeavor, sickened or sullied by a decadent neighbor, moves in and cleans up. Sometimes a nation merely passes stately into nothingness, so that its population moves from well-engineered cities to huts, and lives forever in view of the ruins of what it once was.”


“And all these cycles of decay, common man plays the only significant role. The humanitarian impulses of his first leaders spur him to more idealistic efforts – which, presently, become mere economic efforts.”


“Men collectively, for instance, have never had a joint creative impulse, and rarely, any kind of joint positive impulse, except when it is instilled into them by one man. A crowd of people never painted a picture, wrote a book, composed a song, or spontaneously hit upon the idea of doing much of anything else that was constructive. Even in primitive societies, doing or building is the result of conference in which individuals speak their minds. The acts of crowds, when crowds act at all, are almost wholly negative. Lynching and murder, torture, arson, stampede, stoning, persecution, heckling, fugue, rage, and other destructive processes are the frequent manifestations of gatherings of common people that, often enough, start for other purposes. True, mass rape and orgy could be construed as a creative act, but aside from that it is axiomatic that crowd behavior, if it takes any objective form, will take a fiendish one.”


“A crowd of course, consists of individuals. The behavior of a crowd is the behavior many individuals.”


“The behavior of a mob in bloody panic is, however, simply a gross and extroverted evidence of all the other aspects of collective human behavior.”




“The male is an attachment of the female in our civilization. This we have seen through our survey of money, manufactories, transportation, art, mores, and instinct. He does most of what he does – eighty per cent, statistically – to supply whatever women have defined as their necessities, comforts, and luxuries.”


“The American businessman, the tweedy, corpulent, horn-rimmed dollar chaser (whom Europe would have understood even less if it had learned that he chased dollars to appease women), was a melting pot job and the metal of him was that of pot metal – which is white metal – the nearest thing in imitation iron to slag. In another book I pointed out that our melting pot is also the cesspool. The American retort into which the various precious ingredients were put for refinement was, at the same time, the common sewer into which is poured much garbage and offal.”


“Think, for a moment, about the “stock” of this nation, not in the common school history manner, but in its opposite, as we are thinking about most matters here. At first, our shores were reached by many who were trying to escape religious persecution; this willingness to uproot their homes for an idea showed spiritual hardihood. But these were soon outnumbered by persons who came to make their way, seek fortunes, escape penalties of the law, and so on. Batches of assorted criminals were dumped on our littoral – some mere political exiles, others thieves, gamblers, minor scoundrels, the incurably indigent, the chronic riffraff of several nations.”


“…….. Some headway has been made in instructing them, and their descendants, about democracy; but we should not forget that, while they paid loud lip service to our ideals at Ellis Island, they came here in the first place to get.”


“Nothing he had carried over from British trading practice and nothing he had picked up in the Western bulldoze had taught him to take any care or thought for the ultimate responsibility of his enterprises. If his method benefit of the public good in any way, it was due to pressure from labor, or from a public conscience that had certain broad but occasionally reached limits, or to the pressure of his own vanity,……”


“The chief hypocrites of A.D. 30 were the businessmen and they are still tops.”


“Any procedure that was technically legal, or could be made so to seem, became the businessman’s definition of ethics and, thus, the public definition of morality.”


“The frantic desire of people to go places, which arose instantly upon the invention of the car and was fanned to its outermost last mile by the manufacturers, can and should be at least partially construed as evidence that Americans do not like the places they are in. The mere transit represents no kind of progress in itself. The act of going has value only in relation to the object of the motion. However, the people already conditioned psychologically to identify material construction with spiritual progress became, automatically, suckers for the illusion that movement commentated advancement.”


“The car made it possible for man to do more things by enabling him to go in a shorter time to more places where something was cooking. It also made it virtually impossible for man to think any longer. It mechanized the last chink of his time. Its operation – or even its motion – demanded too much attention for introspection with the radio going, it became a sort of cheapskate traveling circus: two rings in a continual performance. Sitting in his car, man decerebrated his species.”


“This infernal identification of Americans with their cars has paralyzed still another set of sensibilities and so has augmented the national precipitation into chaos in still another way. It has deprived most of us of our normal sense of shock at the sight (or even the thought) of mutilation and violent death.”


“Americans have accomplished this to horrid degree, in the short space of a quarter of a century. If everybody was going to drive – and everybody was – some 40,000 people were going to get killed publicly every year, and a million torn open. Ergo, everybody had to get used to the idea of legs and arms laying around in the gutter, screams, blood puddles, and rolling heads – and damned quick. So everybody did.”


“……………. nowadays, a woman who still screams at a mouse can drive right up to, or through, or past, intertwined masses of glass and steel among which are the red fractions of what had been, a moment ago, a half dozen of her fellow creatures. She can do it without a tremor, because a mouse is a creepy little creature but sudden evisceration on Maple Street is only a car smash.”


“But no businessmen regards himself, or other businessmen or business, as in any way responsible for a single one of the effects upon human attitudes and behavior which have resulted from the system of making, selling, and using either cars or any other objects manufactured by him. At most, his sense of moral responsibility extends to the matter of expediency.”


“He complains incessantly that “society” is raising hell with him, his rights, and his privileges. But any evidence that he is raising hell with society sends them into a convulsion. Such a suggestion is labeled communistic and press agents are hired to make an alarmed to-do over it; the nation is shown that its foundations are being threatened.”




“The soddenest spot on the terrible road of man is a place where statesmen passed. … Their activity has been so to distort and pervert human morality as to make seemingly just and profound all manner of national deeds which if performed by persons instead of states, would get the person hanged.”




“When, in a republic, the statesmen fail, and the students and their professors, and the representatives, soldiers are called upon as a last resort. These, in our society, like all other professional men, are pawns of the business satraps.”


“………, the generals and admirals can do no more than their best. They are not professors, to teach morals. They are not statesmen, to conduct the secret treachery’s of state, and, indeed, the soldiers must sweat at the disadvantage, in democracy, of having to be told whom to fight, and when; often at the last instant possible for any defense, and sometimes – as in the case of Pearl Harbor – of hardly being told that all.”


“Moreover, soldiers, of all kinds of men, are the most hidebound by tradition – in spite of being that group to which history has most frequently revealed the hopelessness of obsolete measures. More than the church, more than the University, the military has set up a hierarchy founded upon precedent and maintained it unexamined through the ages.”


“But military tradition is to train men not to think. It is past time to reverse that.”


“Rarely have militarists been ready for improvements. Their tradition springs out of the levy and training of masses of men. They always regarded firepower as the number of hands-on javelins, the number of fingers on triggers, the number of grenade pins in sets of human teeth, while time without number a handful of men have turned the tide of battle with a new tool.”…..” George Washington, with one machine gun, would have achieved our independence in a few weeks.”


“The first step in making a soldier has always been to stamp the individuality out of him. But the concept of a single individual (usually a civilian and not a soldier, naturally enough) has turned the tide of many of the major wars on the earth.”


“The military mind is, therefore, not a mind but a habit – a custom – a tradition – a mental stasis – which common people accept as unthinkingly as do the exponents of the rigid attitude.”


“The idea of total war was so anathematical to Americans that it was not taught to the officers of our armies and navies – although a people that produced Sherman should feel hypocritical at the oversight.”