A guest post by Joseph Friedlander for Brian Wang’s Next Big Future
”Between 1903 and 1933 the world was revolutionized: Cities were electrified; telephones and broadcast radio became common; talking motion pictures appeared; automobiles became practical; and aviation progressed from the Wright Flyer to the DC-3 and Hawker Hurricane. Between 1933 and 1963 the world changed again, with the introduction of color television, communication satellites and interplanetary spacecraft, computers, antibiotics, scuba gear, nuclear power, Atlas, Titan, and Saturn rockets, Boeing 727’s and SR-71’s. Compared to these changes, the technological innovations from 1963 to the present are insignificant. Immense changes should have occurred during this period, but did not. Had we been following the previous 60 years’ technological trajectory, we today would have videotelephones, solar powered cars, maglev trains, fusion reactors, hypersonic intercontinental travel, regular passenger transportation to orbit, undersea cities, open-sea mariculture and human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Instead, today we see important technological developments, such as nuclear power and biotechnology, being blocked or enmeshed in political controversy — we are slowing down.
“America drove technological progress in the last century because its western frontier created a perpetual labor shortage back East, thus forcing the development of labor saving machinery and providing a strong incentive for improvement of public education so that the skills of the limited labor force available could be maximized. This condition no longer holds true in America.
“ In fact, far from prizing each additional citizen, immigrants are no longer welcome here, and a vast “service sector” of bureaucrats and menials has been created to absorb the energies of the majority of the population which is excluded from the productive parts of the economy. Thus in the late 20th century, and increasingly in the 21st, each additional citizen is and will be regarded as a burden.
“The frontier drove the development of democracy in America by creating a self-reliant population, which insisted on the right to self-government. It is doubtful that democracy can persist without such people. True, the trappings of democracy exist in abundance in America today, but meaningful public participation in the process has all but disappeared. Consider that no representative of a new political party has been elected president of the United States since 1860.
“Likewise, neighborhood political clubs and ward structures that once allowed citizen participation in party deliberations have vanished. And with a re-election rate of 95 percent, the U.S. Congress is hardly susceptible to the people’s will. Regardless of the will of Congress, the real laws, covering ever broader areas of economic and social life, are increasingly being made by a plethora of regulatory agencies whose officials do not even pretend to have been elected by anyone.
“Democracy in America and elsewhere in western civilization needs a shot in the arm. That boost can only come from the example of a frontier people whose civilization incorporates the ethos that breathed the spirit into democracy in America in the first place. As Americans showed Europe in the last century, so in the next the Martians can show us the path away from oligarchy.
“There are greater threats that a humanist society faces in a closed world than the return of oligarchy, and if the frontier remains closed, we are certain to face them in the 21st century. These threats are the spread of various sorts of anti-human ideologies and the development of political institutions that incorporate the notions that spring from them as a basis of operation. At the top of the list of such pathological ideas that tend to spread naturally in a closed society is the Malthus theory, which holds that since the world’s resources are more or less fixed, population growth must be restricted or all of us will descend into bottomless misery.
“Malthusianism is scientifically bankrupt — all predictions made upon it have been wrong, because human beings are not mere consumers of resources. Rather, we create resources by the development of new technologies that find use for them. The more people, the faster the rate of innovation. This is why (contrary to Malthus) as the world’s population has increased, the standard of living has increased, and at an accelerating rate. Nevertheless, in a closed society Malthusianism has the appearance of self-evident truth, and herein lies the danger. It is not enough to argue against Malthusianism in the abstract — such debates are not settled in academic journals. Unless people can see broad vistas of unused resources in front of them, the belief in limited resources tends to follow as a matter of course. And if the idea is accepted that the world’s resources are fixed, then each person is ultimately the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race or nation. The inevitable result is tryanny, war and genocide. Only in a universe of unlimited resources can all men be brothers.”
JF again: Read the article, where he makes the case for a new space frontier to reignite what he regards as the dying beacon of liberty.
Robert Zubrin’s most explicit pronouncement on this — “In a world of limited resources, men will not be brothers. In a universe of limited resources, where there is only so much to go around, men become enemies.” Wisconsin Public Radio http://www.wpr.org/book/gems/gems0401.html
Brian Wang’s writeup of Zubrin’s New Atlantis article–
If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks