The Science of Progressivism: Human Nature, Pt. II
[Part one covered human nature's evolution over the millennia to encompass feelings of empathy and how that empathy serves as a basis to help society at large. Part two takes a look at two inventors whose social responsibilty and visions of the future were modeled after the natural world, and how those visions were shaped to benefit future societies.]
As visionary scientists, mathematicians, engineers and inventors go, few have captured our collective attention and admiration more than Richard Buckminster Fuller. Though not a scientist himself, his vision included synthesized forms later found in nature, in the form of carbon molecules, named 'fullerenes' in his honor. His visions of the future had strangely aesthetic manifestations, yet a purpose based in scientific viability. In his own words; "When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."
He had many visions with which to hone this aesthetic eye, and many were equally beautiful in their natural affinity, if on a different level. He is quoted as saying: "It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth, at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unneccessary, war is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry."
At the age of 32, recently unemployed with a wife and child to support, Fuller contemplated suicide by drowning in Lake Michigan. He later recounted that his attempt was thwarted by what he referred to as a 'sphere of white light' that suspended him several feet in the air and spoke to him, giving him the message: "From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to the Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others."
Whether this event was real or imagined, it was to set the stage for all his future endeavors. All were designs and visions intended to give people more benefit, and at less cost, for the good of mankind as a whole. This was to such a degree that the FBI had a file on Fuller, under suspicion that he was a member of the Socialist party. Even his 'buckyballs' were themselves a symbol for the power of social unity. Each identical architectural element is only responsible for carrying a small portion of the weight, but together they all support each other, and the result is not only a beautiful structure but one which takes the strongest form in nature: the dome.
Considering 'buckytubes' comprise much of the current base of technology supporting such incredible projects as the space elevator, whether his unusual event actually happened or not doesn't matter on yet another level, since what he recounted came to pass. He died never knowing how his visions would shape the future, but shape it they are. Also interesting to note, is another inventor and visionary whose designs became suddenly relevant again, in light of the space elevator: Nikola Tesla.
If Tesla's biggest contribution to the sciences was AC current, then his greatest ambition was a vision of a future where 'the power grid' was eliminated completely in favor of energy 'hot-spots' that transported electrical current through the air to anybody within their circles of influence. He also used natural forces of waterfalls to produce this energy perpetually. From the world's first hydroelectric plant at Niagra Falls, Tesla planned to supply this energy freely to all. This was also a large part of the reason why he was ultimately demonized by a burgeoning industry which he helped create.
With his views on pity as a human weakness and support for 'forced sterilization' eugenics, Tesla was far from a progressive paragon of fairness and equality. But as a humanist he was right on the mark, and his selfless attitude showed in his plans to provide limitless electical power to citizens, for free. The natural world provided this power without cost and, in Tesla's mind, it was only natural to provide it to the public in the same way for the betterment of society as a whole.
In spite of his personal prejudices, the importance of his vision for the future cannot be overlooked. If he had been able to complete his tower at Wardenclyffe plant on Long Island, and if it had worked in accordance with his lab results, it would have served as a shining precedent for what was possible to achieve when natural forces are harnessed and freely distributed to the masses, like rain over fields of wheat. Sadly, his sources of funding dried up once investors realized the electric power he was talking about producing couldn't be metered, let alone monetized. If not for their greed, today we might live in a world where electricity is seen as a resource more akin to breathable air than to fine, imported honey.
And though there are many who can't jibe with the concept of a concerted effort against Tesla, and claim that he never said anything about his energy transfer system being designed to provide energy for free, pointing to apparent attempts in his notes to describe a 'personalized signal', Tesla was likely referring to messages being designed for one recipient and blocked from others. Communication over large distances was intended to be Wardenclyffe Tower's secondary function, along with similar facilities. It would be much harder to 'block' someone from recieving power from the atmosphere. If the tower worked like his lab experiments, all one would need to do is hold a light bulb within the tower's sphere of influence and it would glow. How would you monitor that, let alone meter it for sale?
Shareholders demanded answers about the financial returns inherent in his designs, and he was not forthcoming. It's entirely possible that he withheld the information about the unmonetizable nature of his product on purpose in order to gain funding to complete the project at Wardenclyffe. It's also possible that he chose to instead highlight the alternate function of the facility as a secure message transmitter, which could more potentially be monetized, as phone and telegraph services already were. In any case, his funding fell through. None of his previous backers would agree to support his efforts any further.
It's interesting to imagine what kind of world we would live in if Tesla's plans at Wardenclyffe had come to fruition, but it's more important to take what he showed us was possible and make it happen in new ways. Whether Tesla intended to give away energy or not isn't what's ultimately important, it's that he could have. It was possible then and, with more advanced technology, it's even more possible now. There are many more natural energy sources: wind, geothermal, solar, etc. All of them could be tapped and the energy distributed in a similar manner for the good of society as a whole.
No matter how we transport electricity from one place to another, we MUST do this in order for mankind to have a fighting chance in the future. We must use the innate empathy in our human nature to resolve the crises we've created and serve the public purpose. In nature, the parasite will eventually kill its host, and move on to another. But there is only one human race to suck dry. We get no further chances at adaptation after that. Likewise, there is only one nature to draw from and we must take care to maintain its delicate balance.
America has the unfortunate reputation as being the source of all things corporate, and ultimately the source of all that's wrong in the world. Never mind whether Neoliberal political agendas are American or un-American, they are un-natural. They cannot sustain themselves perpetually, because they have lost all sense of balance.
So progressives take heart and don't lose hope! Your values are not only justified by your conscience, they are justified by science. Always remember, as progressives you may be perceived as crazy, you may be accused of being willfully different, you may be misunderstood and ridiculed by those too self-absorbed to recognize your value. You might not even recognize it yourself during your life, but your thoughts, deeds and actions may outlive us all.
And they may save us all.
Stay strong, stay alert, and stay awake!