One thing that struck me is the prominence of “ideas.” It seems almost as if Forster is lampooning philosophical idealism. This seems odd as no one would blame people like Plato for the excesses of technology.
I think I may have an answer. I have been reading Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy in the OUP Very Short Introduction series. If I understand him correctly, he is saying something like the following:
Traditional European Christian culture, by valuing truth and rationality, subverted itself by encouraging the kind of philosophizing that, in the person of Kant, caused traditional beliefs to seem to be no longer viable. Much of post-Kantian Continental philosophy responds to this crisis.
Forster’s story may suggest a similar sort of self-subversion in secular scientific empiricist culture. Science produces technology upon which people become increasingly reliant, using it to mediate their interactions with others and with nature. They become more and more cut off from direct interactions with others and with nature and retreat into a sort of de facto idealism. People who think like Hume create technology which produces people who think like Plato.