Early Perspectives


John Wright

A friend I truly respect suggested I write an article from the perspective of a person living as an adult some 25, 50 and 75 years ago. His idea was to capture my analytical approach to realities of each period in history to see where my thoughts would lead about the future. What a dynamite idea! Alas, I fear my friend has perhaps too much confidence in my ability to project myself into the past and then accurately assess the environment and then forecast the future.

I am limited by my limited "learned" vs. actual knowledge of historical periods prior to my becoming an adult and prior to my development of proper analytical skills and focused interests in the subjects related to the larger aspects of human society. As a younger man I focused almost entirely on technical subjects of immediate interest, and I, like other foolish people, left the running of society to those who proclaimed themselves to be competent and interested in leading society via "public service."

I am humbled by my friendís challenge and perhaps his confidence, for we all have perspectives about the past that, to be honest, hardly represent the experience of real people living in those times and how individually they were exposed to issues very specific to those times. At best we may empathize by trying to imagine ourselves facing difficult times, economically and in terms of war or disease epidemics, or for that matter great opportunities. And we may listen to many expressed opinions from various people who lived in those earlier times as adults Ö but were/are their observations of any substantive value?

Logic suggests indeed demands consideration of the individuals, their specific environments, their intelligence, their education, their occupation, and their vulnerability to conditions of the time or exposures to opportunities of the time. Even their intent earlier in life needs to be examined, for we have seen many examples of distorted media, as in books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies, and a plethora of other types of "information transfer" (like the classroom) from the past that often were complete garbage. In short, those who have lived in earlier times who offer us opinions today may be offering a lot of useless distortion of reality or woefully incomplete information.

In some instances, even if the information obtained is valid, the environments of earlier times might not be likely to repeat dependably or reliably in later decades, like now with our global overpopulation problem, which is a first time in history reality. But take the time to read Charles Mannís non-fiction book, 1491, and you will see major examples of genocide from natural as well as manmade causes in our very distant past. Overpopulation has been reliably "cured" multiple times in multiple places before with massive suffering and death and the loss of complete cultures. Sometimes it was pandemic disease and genetic vulnerability, sometimes conquest, but often it was environmental vulnerability, but never on a global scale before. And you wonít read about that in our history textbooks. We, like virtually all past cultures, intentionally promote ignorance for the general population and we, through our leaders, are and have always been deceitful about who and what we are as a species.

Thus, major turning points in history have occurred, and been ignored or hidden, and they will occur going into the future, some with ominous consequences. Nothing is new there. So I will go backwards in time to try to identify some more recent turning points, positive and negative, and the conditions that allowed or forced those major turning points to occur, and of course the benefits and consequences.

If you make a conceptual leap the first question that should enter your mind is, does anything ever really change? I know that sounds simpleminded, for all of us know that significant changes do happen in societies as the decades unfold. Technological advances and wars are examples of human activities/results that have underpinned massive effects and thus changes across societies. But why not look at the subject in terms of some seemingly invariant human experiences about humans across all cultures in all periods of history? I know I did that when writing Destiny. It was from that basis that I was able to project what we would continue to do, endlessly, if nothing happened to change our reality. History was/is loaded with boring and disgusting repetition. What I proposed, as most of you know, is to alter the human species genetically to force fundamental change.

Yet, to make my diminishing assumptions above is to discount perhaps subtle indicators of change that really do point to our future as a species, entirely apart from our historical propensity to do foolish and cruel things repetitively. Perhaps each age or smaller period of history does have indicators that if grasped and studied carefully might do a reasonable job helping us in predicting some aspects of the future, and altering those realities as we see fit so as to change the otherwise clear and sometimes negative outcome(s). Isnít that simply amazing? Does it not speak to the uniquely human ability to experience, to reason and to project and to plan and when necessary modify plans, and then to act definitively? And what happens if a few powerful humans decide to direct the fate of billions of people towards death, quickly? From whence did that power come?

How is it that our present state globally does not appear to reflect very humanitarian or otherwise effective planning for the future of humanity? Maybe we do have to travel to the past to see where we might have made a wrong turn Ö one or more wrong turns that have influenced our evolution in most negative ways. Negative? Letís simply look at contemporary USA history. To deny that we have had over 200 years to experience democracy and capitalism, and have thus had plenty of time to get things right, is foolish. We have clearly had our opportunities to do things right. Alas, our spotty performance shows that we can make progress through time, however that is defined, or we can regress. But each age leaves a legacy that future generations have to absorb and deal with effectively Ö to advance, or to decline Ö or to perish. And Mother Nature stands by, waiting to demonstrate to us and to clean up now and then our errors of judgment, i.e., our larger mistakes.

Stasis or even continuous expansion is the dream of fools living in apparently good times. Classical democracy contained within a republic, and capitalism, are simply concepts and means for doing things in better ways than we experienced earlier in history in other places with other ideologies and economic structures, e.g. monarchies, and earlier, feudalism, and very early, barter. We may be due for cataclysmic change, for much time has passed since 1776, or for that matter since 20,000 BC, Ö and present global realities may and most likely do call for entirely new ways and means of advancing humanity. I know that is hard to accept, but how do you think our ancestors felt about cataclysmic change to the world of monarchies when the USA government was conceived and pursued, and then formed?

You should understand that they had deep concerns as well as hopes about making fundamental changes in how society would operate. In fact, had it not been for brilliant French philosophers (like Voltaire), teachers, military types (like Lafayette) and politicians questioning and trashing logically the very basis of/for monarchies we wouldnít even have had a template to use to think about alternatives to monarchies! It was known as the "Age of Enlightenment," as the freedom of man to think and act independently of granted permissions from a hierarchy of royalty was finally recognized as the key to a potentially noble and successful future for humanity.

Alas, the French had to depose/destroy their own monarchical form of government from within. They didnít live thousands of miles from their oppressors, and so the French Revolution actually came after our own by about 13 years. Even then they had to live through the later dictatorship of Napoleon for some 15 years before finally rising out of the muck of tyranny and military waste and opportunism. And for that matter, Napoleon had to fight off coalitions of countries determined to reverse the liberties created via the French Revolution and return that country to being a monarchy. We had it comparatively easy. Damned easy.

So now, with this obviously long preamble, I need to get on with my friendís idea. I suppose my words in the last few paragraphs take my friendís request a bit further back in history than he requested, and I have surely spoken bluntly about a time in history I certainly did not personally experience. I have in fact appeared to violate my own cautions to you about questioning or doubting that which we have to read about earlier times. Unfortunately I have little choice, so I have to examine what I read with a level of skepticism, and in particular allow for the propensity of politically oriented historians to blow too many things out of proportion. They often assume/attribute actions to some coherent plan or philosophy when in fact it is most likely that the real leaders lived, like now, with a confusing and often dangerous mess going on around them. Hard realities of the time, any time, are frequently ignored or hidden. My greatest fear is that we now rewrite history, like George Orwell wrote about in his book, 1984, to represent only that which is comfortable and supporting to those currently in power. Whew!

Enough of an apologia! Enough of historical perspective to lay the groundwork for my own prognostications. I have decided to tackle intervals of history around the 1850ís in the USA, for that is a pretty good and active, documented period in our history for examining our evolution and the possible forecasts of analytical thinkers from then to now. Here we goÖ

This is the general time of the completion of the transcontinental railroad (1869), which will turn out to have massive benefits and consequences. It is the time of the California gold rush (1849 forward), a period of wild opportunistic dreams and greed. It is the time of massive moves of settlers from the eastern USA to populate the mid-west and the western USA, leaving everything they knew behind, forever. It is the time of questioning slavery with such political rancor that unbelievable war lay ahead. It is the time period, the first time ever in the history of man, of very long distance instant communication via the telegraph. It is the time of the discovery and first use of ether as a surgical anesthetic (1840's), eliminating hideous pain for the first time in human history. And as all these things are happening, immigrants are coming in from Europe in large numbers to find a better life in a new land unspoiled by overcrowding and oppressive financial and other business environments and especially oppressive governments that just donít seem to get it. The free and creative and motivated individual and not the state or the bank or the business is the key, the only key, to the successful future of humanity.

I chose that period of history because it is so full of overwhelming changes, most of which were not even perceived, let alone forecasted, a mere twenty years earlier. For the most part the changes, at least in type and number, can be perceived as positive in developing the USA. Thus, letís turn a hypothetical analytical mind loose to tell us what is likely to happen, point by point. But letís also recognize, right now, that forecasting has very definite limitations, for could you have imagined, in 1830, even half of the changes listed above that would take place in 20 to 30 years?

Perhaps I am being unfair or even irresponsible in purposely choosing a very active period of history to examine. Then again, in terms of today, are we inactive? Are we in a period of stasis? No, and if you think we are you are about to be overrun.

About that railroad Ö it sure looks like financial folly on a grand scale, for there is clearly no profit to be made "building a road to nowhere!" What a gross error in thinking! What a wrong way to analyze the value of change (profit only), and particularly of investment in infrastructure with an eye towards the future!

About that gold rush Ö only irresponsible fools who have otherwise been unable to carve out a place in society would engage in such foolishness, moving to a wilderness with mostly other fools, developing social environments loaded with crude and cruel behaviors, and most likely coming up empty-handed. And as those people establish the presence or absence of large amounts of gold the industrialists and financiers sit back and watch and then decide if and when to move in and take away the commercial opportunity from the common people who risked everything for dreams of financial success. In the meantime the shysters move in and get the gold through alcohol, prostitutes, gambling and unfair pricing for basic commodities. How timeless is this story in all of its aspects?

And yes, there is another class of people hoping to realize the dream of a better life by moving west Ö people whose very recent ancestors were looking for the same dream in the EASTERN part of this country as they emigrated from Europe. What is wrong with this picture? How is it that there is no governmental program creating way stations and other supports to help these people move where even roads donít exist? Where are the corporations that could be building towns to receive settlers? It seems to this analytical mind that you have row your own boat, for there is no help, and you have to face angry Indian tribes who are tired of having their lands taken by white men. And unless you want to starve you have to grow your own food and hunt animals.

There are a few important messages there ... one of self-responsibility and one of inheriting the sins and consequences of the actions of earlier generations of people who established North America as a destination for European culture. What do these historical facts tell you about our present period of history in the USA? Can you see the stupidity of socialism through even a few of its very negative consequences to a society? What kinds of humans evolve from socialism? Are they the capable? Can you also see the cruelty of making those brave enough to try a new life and risk everything bear all the responsibility with absolutely no assistance, when the country as a whole would ultimately profit handsomely from possible successful settlements?

I suppose if I were forecasting the westward movement of settlers back in 1850 I would predict gradual disaster or only marginal development/success and not powerful creation of new states, cities, industry, food production, etc. It would be difficult for me to preconceive things like copper mines waiting to be discovered, or appreciate, due to lack of knowledge/experience, the actual vastness and potential of new land and water teeming with life and waiting, as it were, to be exploited. Exploited? Somehow that feels like a dirty word. It is. Incumbent on those who would exploit new resources is the responsibility to maintain the quality and health of those resources for future generations. Now think about the hyper-capitalists and how they have laid waste to our land everywhere they have been allowed to establish their businesses, without strict environmental controls. That, I could have forecasted, at any time in any part of the country.

And about that stupid Congress arguing about slavery! Talk about partisan politics! Nobody is getting anywhere and tempers are rising to the point of screaming and threatening. (Boy, does this ring true right now in 2011! And the issue is still slavery, albeit with no regard to skin color or continent of origin.) If those damn Yankees donít get off our backs they will destroy us financially. And conversely Ö we are hypocrites of the first order if we continue to allow men to own men, for our very country was formed based on the rights of the individual. As all of you know today, the Civil War was horrible and it did not demonstrate the ability of our highest powers of government or business to make necessary changes gradually, without military conflict. The aftermath demonstrated damn little progress as civil rights issues have dogged us ever since, resulting in flip flop periods of extreme ugly racism and periods of asinine socialism. We are absurd.

Did you hear about that new thing they call the telegraph? This is amazing Ö and to be honest Iím not sure I actually believe that a person in New York is actually communicating in real time with a person in Virginia. Can you grasp the importance of this device (if, indeed, it is real!) in timely planning and action on all kinds of business and governmental activities? Why, now we can know everything, right away! I can even get information to my sister, hundreds of miles from here, almost immediately! On reflection, a forecaster at that time in history would have seen the potential for major contribution to society, for the value of the telegraph was too obvious to miss. Of course, by todayís standards, who would ever have guessed just how far communication technology would evolve and how it would be used both beneficially and in modes of oppression and taking advantage of people too ignorant to understand how they are being manipulated via things like TV advertising. Yet overall if I lived as an adult when the telegraph was developed I would have been in awe of the potential and I would have failed to see potential negative use of the descendants of that product.

My brother Joe just had his appendix removed and now he will live instead of die, and he didnít feel any pain at all while the doctor was cutting it out of his body. I am so happy I could shout all day long. This is a wonderful world, and our scientists and our doctors should be praised to the sky for what they have done to alleviate human suffering. I am simply amazed. Well, I would have been amazed too because about 99 percent of all useful discoveries by humans were serendipitous! There was no way to forecast anything like the discovery of the anesthetic value of ether, even though the British abused it regularly as an alcohol substitute during the nineteenth century. The idea is that when useful things are the result of random research instead of todayís engineering approach to molecular development and development of new drugs, then you really canít forecast anything in detail. Today you can, and you can see things like the implications of genetic engineering. Meanwhile, the practice of medicine as a business, in an environment of socialism to cover medical costs, has led to disaster. We have lost our way.

Boy, all those Germans and Irish coming into this country Ö it is a mess trying to get them to appreciate our society and knuckle down and do things our way! They are just too clannish, the Germans still speak German more than English, and I think the best way to deal with them is to make them work hard to pay for the privilege of being here. They need to learn to appreciate this country and adopt our ways. And I donít think they should be paid much either, lest they become too powerful and try to force their cultures on us! Hmmm Ö I admit that today I am guilty at times of that kind of narrow-minded thinking about immigrants. I fear them now from Mexico, India, etc. in much the same way the citizens here in 1850 felt about my ancestors. Wow! We all tend to fear being overrun, but in retrospect a forecaster living in 1850 would likely have projected cultural pockets instead of what we really became as a melting pot, ultimately with intermarriages across ethnic groups and even a small percentage across racial groups. There wasnít any good historical example elsewhere in the world of the type of melting pot that the USA became, even though the result has been and is over advertised politically in terms of positive societal impact. Actually it is our evolved governmental (socialism) and business practices that today make immigration very damaging in financial costs across the general population. Also, the contributory capabilities of some of the immigrants today are questionable opposite our advanced technological society.

Overall, as an analytical adult citizen in the time frame of 1830 to 1870, I would have to say that the movements and products and changes in society defy any definition or hopeful way of forecasting the future. They are, as is true today, conflicting and thus logically inconsistent. Had I lived in those times I would have felt that our country was out of control, as the changes, taken as a whole, did not appear to represent any rational, uniform plan for the evolution of the USA and the people within it. The most I might have hoped for then Ö the same thing I have to hope for today Ö is that we have at least enough intelligence to reverse our behaviors when we see we have created chaos and not progress.

Iím not sure how much value my friend will get from my discourse, for somehow I think I created something rather different from what he had in mind. One thing is clear, and that is rapid changes in society of both negative and positive varieties isnít new. It is how we deal with results of changes that will determine our success or failure. Our largest issue is like the one that precipitated the Civil War. Our leaders in government and business and banking are a combination of the corrupt, the ignorant, and those being corrupted, and our future is ominous because of that reality, on a global scale.

Is this really something an analytical person would have said in prior periods of our history, here or in other parts of the world? Most certainly. It is simply that in times past the impact of errors took a while to be realized and we had more time and freedom to react to negative changes. Far too many of us today have been given the bad Kool-Aid of deceit in school and later via the media. Only a few have the mental acuity and knowledge to see what we have become Ö and that we must change how our country operates in major ways. Else, we will continue our decline into being another has-been, once dominant country, that used to have citizens of vital energy and purpose, and the freedom to seek their own destinies, unimpeded by business and government.

We are passing or have passed the tipping point. The screaming and threatening and destruction of lives, economically, are all too impossible to ignore, as we did in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Early Perspectives? I donít think I divined anything of note from our past. But I did by example illustrate that what we face today is only apparently different from earlier times. We are a mixture of wonderful discoveries and horrible behaviors, near useless discoveries and wonderful behaviors. The final question is, do we have the necessary survival instinct still active within us or are we programmed to fail?