Our governments wait until things go wrong, then, argue over
what to do. I’d like a lot less telling me what I’m not cleared to know—and a
lot more telling me what the hell they’re doing to earn their salaries and,
more importantly, my vote.
How come I’m in my sixties and my government is still
without any solutions for any number of problems which presented themselves
when I was a young schoolboy, decades ago? That’s not government—that’s a
I hear reports of studies showing that our government
responds not to voters, but to lobbyists and contributors (as if you can find
daylight between those two things). This seems to have evinced no shame, nor
reaction of any kind, from elected officials.
This disconnect between our vote and our influence is as
disabling as a lack of democracy itself. Elections cannot be PR battles, with
one side fighting truth with lies—or, worse yet, both sides inventing their realities.
Elections have to go back to policy promises, and whether or
not they are kept. Otherwise, we can just skip the popularity contest and let
the fat cats have their way—that philosophy has been marching us all toward
perdition since the 1980s. Why stop now?
Can we really be in the 21st century, when
humanity is in danger of global habitat collapse, just from our peace-time
activities, and we have a crazed con-man for president—and he thinks the world
is still small enough to take an extra war or two. When do I wake up? Is all
mankind’s genius to be laid in the laps of drooling troglodytes?
I think about the birth of civilization: hunter/gatherers
finally figure out how to plant seeds in a single spot, then grab all the grain
and store it all in clay structures that prevented rot and pilfering by vermin.
This surplus of food creates leisure. It creates theft. It creates military
struggle and political power.
All during that time, there were surely those who mourned
the loss of simplicity—the loss of the world as a garden to be walked through.
They no doubt had jokes: “Food doesn’t taste the same if you don’t find it
yourself”, and so forth. I would have either been one of those people, or
envied their independence from the establishment.
The natives and early settlers in North America were aware
of black ooze that stood on the ground in some places. Nothing ever grew there
and sometimes it even burned. Had they known that certain men planned to pump
this gunk from the earth and spread it all over the ground, they woulda probly
kilt the guy.
Yet only thirty years or so would pass before the popularity
of the automobile allows city streets to lose their carpet of horse dung—making
petroleum seem very much an agent of cleanliness. It would be another fifty
years before the smog and acid rain made their presence felt—and Joni
complained about the cement coatings—when petroleum would return to villain
When I wrote code in the Eighties, it was a nerd thing. It
had to be explained to everyone because it was very demanding and
intellectually challenging. There were even two levels of competency—clerical
training showed one how to use a running data-entry program. Managerial
training included knowing how to turn the machines on and start the programs
When the graphic interface (Windows and mice) debuted, I
thought it was crazy—but I didn’t realize that it’s most important use was
hiding the technical stuff from the average user. I’m sure the hardware nerds
felt the same way about me—buying my breadboard pre-chipped and soldered and
wrapped in a metal case called a PC.
The weirdest part of all this development was that all those
nerds with all that dusty algebra and chemistry and physics in their heads—they
were required for the creation of today’s ‘e-verse-net-web’—but now they are
the Joseph Henry’s.
Joe Henry was America’s first great nerd. His work with
electromagnetic induction paralleled Michael Faraday’s. It’s a historical
factoid that Henry’s work in Albany, NY and Faraday’s work in London were so
neck-and-neck that, while Henry’s notes show an earlier discovery, Faraday’s
published paper, weeks later, makes him the hero to this day.
Henry didn’t care. I mean, he cared, of course he cared—but
looking like he did was not the thing,
back then. Anyhow, he kept working. But he was never quick to publish or
patent—he was an idealist (at least publicly). Joseph Henry was the first to
use electricity to make a bell ring across the room. He demonstrated his
switches and wiring publicly, and to fellow scientists, including one Sam
Morse—he even leant him equipment samples.
Morse never returned those samples—they were used as the
guts for Mr. Morse’s famous Telegraph. And Morse definitely filed a patent. He
wasn’t the only one. Another guy, O’Reilly, sued Morse, claiming the invention
for himself. Joseph Henry rather muddled things, when called to testify on
Morse’s behalf—he was more interested in pointing out his own contributions to
Morse’s work (which were, truly, most of it) and explaining that he was too
busy being a scientist to be filing patents or be a businessman.
Thus ended scientific naiveté in America—Joseph Henry became
the head of the Smithsonian and, upon his death, had the most well-attended
funeral in Washington D.C. He was a respected professor and experimenter,
beloved by many—but all the profits went to less idealist men, men who saw no
need to include the creator in their financial plans.
My point being that science in America is always accepted
grudgingly and with derision. Acceptance is always followed by scientists being
marginalized, greedy men swooping up the profits, and Americans becoming
addicted to some new convenience for which they don’t even know who to thank.
Think of the perfidy—the sheer stupidity! A group of the
world’s most brilliant physicists and engineers design and build the first
atomic bomb. Then they hand it over to someone as bullheaded and ignorant as a
politician. Smarter people than scientists might have seen this as an unsafe
experiment to conduct upon our species.
When Visual Basic first hit the shelves, business-guys
started coming up to me saying, yeah, I code, too. Ok, bub—yeah, you code. There was a magazine article
around that time—it said it was okay that these people were coding in ignorance
because, if it wasn’t right, it wouldn’t compile. O, good—nothing to worry
Businesses are so used to doing this that the first thing
they ask a scientist employee to sign is a release of all ownership of any
intellectual property or patents their work produces. The second thing is an
NDA—so they can’t discuss being ripped off so egregiously amongst themselves.
We are not the species that stopped using petroleum as soon
as we realized its dangers—we are the species that kept using petroleum right
up until it killed us all. It is amazing that we lasted this long.
Can you imagine living in a world full of technology, full of pollution and toxic waste, with near-Earth orbits crowded full of satellites and space stations—and voting for some slob who tries to pass off his ignorance as an ‘opinion’? Must we finally admit that people haven’t enough self-control to fine-tune and perfect the technoscape they’ve created? Is Capitalism really the problem—or is Capitalism just the expression of human violence in ritualized form?
I’m still waiting for the Disney ending—when we are saved from ourselves by a brilliant team of scientists. But I’m afraid we’re doomed by our insistence on someone else being brilliant.