The 21st Century, Epilogue
In 1999, the PBS series NOVA presented a documentary on the manned space race to the moon. Visually fascinating and quite informativeeven to those who were thoroughly engrossed in all things NASA during the 1960sthe producers expended no small effort convincing viewers of the enormity of the technological, logistical, and theoretical challenges that faced the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as it prosecuted fulfillment of President Kennedy's 1961 vow that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. So much had to be done to make this happen. Technological achievements were abundant, and no less so were large leaps in understanding of how everything from massive ships to human beings can move in space. Engines more powerful than anything ever before built by humankind had to be designed, constructed, and then used to heave thousands of tons up the sky, into orbit around the Earth, and then out of that gravity well into the black, barren ether from our planet to a child world we had seen since forever but had touched only in our dreams and literature.
What was donewhat they who accomplished this did, what we as a very species didwas genuinely epic. The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury summarized the 20th Century processual change in our thinking with the titles of his two books, R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space.
Of the U.S. space program of the 1960s, the narrator of that PBS television program said that it was as if a slice of the 21st Century had been carved out and placed right in the middle of the century before it.
"Disruptive technology" is the name sometimes given to a feat of engineering because it is so extraordinarily different: so much more efficient, so lacking in use of existing ways of doing things, so innovative. Frequently, however, the disruption is only apparent: the technology that seems so radical is built upon ideas, work, and understandings that have been in development or even use for quite some time, perhaps even decades or centuries. Yet, still, the disruptive aspect is there because almost no one knows about all the work that came to be embodied in the amazing technology that suddenly arrives, seemingly in the blink of a single generation's eye, into the world of the known.
As the great achievement of putting a person on the moon illustrated, however, sometimes a disruptive technology can seem to vanish as quickly as it had appeared. After a few years and a few more manned missions to the moon, we stopped going; and we never went back, not for the long remainder of the 20th Century, not even in this first decade of the following century. It is as if the manned moon missions were, indeed, an out-of-place, out-of-context slice of another century set into the middle of a far less technologically advanced, far less prepared world. And so, even as a living thing that could manage to be born and grow to stun the 20th Century peoples of the Earth, its maturation required far more nourishment than that time, place, and people could give it; and so it died, leaving its seed for a more inviting, better prepared world of some tomorrow in the century from which its slice of life had been carved.
Although the mission to put a person on the moon might seem unique when described as a 'slice of the 21st Century' placed in the century before, it certainly was not: the 20th Century was a veritable grafting tree for apparently disruptive technologies that would come into the world of perception only to go away. Nuclear weapons are a striking example: used twice in short succession, these bombs so phenomenally more powerful and destructive than any war weapon ever before built then simply vanished from use to their intended purpose. And just like how the technologies and work on space missions survived the end of the successful Apollo program, so too did the technologies and work on nuclear weapons continue apace after the successful attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Certainly, people talked endlessly about nuclear weapons after World War II, just as people went on, sometimes breathlessly, about missions to the moon and beyond after Apollo; but neither moon landings nor nuclear attacks ever again occurred. Historical records have the last say: both technologies vanished from operational use.
Yet another technology came and went in the middle part of the 20th Century; but to note this one, the term "technology" must first be elucidated in a way somewhat unusual to common understanding. In typical usage these days, "technology" carries a connotation of something improved, probably electronic or otherwise employing very modern devices, but this usage of the word is only exemplary of technology as a much broader thing. "Technology," in its general sense, is just the combination of the five production factorsland, labor (brute muscle), human capital (knowledge and learned skill), physical capital, and (in capitalist types of economic systems) entrepreneurial skillused to produce a good or service. To make or create something, various combinations of the input factors might be employed, each with some cost associated with it. Some combinations work better than others to make specific things and provide specific services, and as a general rule, the most efficient combination to a given purpose tends eventually to dominate, although efficiency might be measured in some societies by measures other than mere cost per unit of output.
In terms of what is produced, technologies are always, by definition, being deployed. Some goods and services do not exist because no combination of inputs has been found to render the needed result. Before any "thing" can be made, of course, the very idea of it must first come into existence, and this is where the essence of human imagination has its great strength; but the idea must be brought by some means from the mind to the world of reality, and this requires the imagination of a combination of the factors of production that might accomplish the realization of the idea. In capitalist societies, the factor of production called entrepreneurial skill takes on this task: some person or group bears risk in combining the other four factors to the conscious or unconscious purpose of garnering a reward at least as great as he, she, or they would earn from doing the next best thing with their time, minds, resources, and energy. In what are called "command economies," this task of bringing together those four factors of production is assumed by a central authority acting perhaps for the good of the society or for those in control of the machineries of state. But whether by the initiative of those pursuing free choice in trying to make money or by the authority of sovereign controllers pursuing large ambition, ideas are brought to reality by combining factors of production in such a way that output is created; and the number of ways of combining the production factors is so vast that it might be that there is simply no limit to what can be made once the idea of it comes to someone and then one or more ways of combining the factors can be worked out to get an actual product or service into the world.
Technology, then, is a possibly infinitely large set of variations on land, labor, human capital, physical capital, and the willingness and ability to combine those first four. For example, one technology for making fire might involve flint, stone, and some dry grass, along with a bit of brute muscle (labor) and a learned or developed understanding (human capital) of how to use the muscles and other stuff to get the fire going; yet, that same flint, stone, dry grass, labor, and human capital might be used to make something else, instead. Furthermore, other technologies exist for making fire, technologies that employ quite different levels of some factors and perhaps not a bit of others that are used to make fire the old-fashioned way. Even more astonishing upon careful thought is that some of the very same factors of production (labor and human capital, for instance), combined with other resources, can be used to make something completely and fundamentally different from fire, something like, say, an axle for a truck, a masterpiece of sculpture, relief from a hard day at work with a back massage, or the pleasurable sensation of good music.
Technology is capable of rendering anything, and all that separates the 'what might be' from the 'what really is' boils down, first, to what has been imagined as possible and, second, to what combination of productive factors can make it real.
In this light, "disruptive" technology is nothing other than a combination of productive factors far outside the typically marginal steps that are taken from one means of production to another. Flying to the moon and backcertainly imagined for agesrequired an extraordinary effort to develop the full gamut of inputs and combinations thereof that would be capable of turning the idea into reality. Annihilating cities with single bombs, once again, required extraordinary effort to develop a previously uncontemplated inventory of inputs and combinations thereof that could turn what was also an age-old dreamin this case, utterly staggering, city-wide, virtually instantaneous destruction of property and livesinto reality.
Briefly stepping back from the truly awesome aspects of lunar landings and nuclear annihilations, though, the disruptiveness of the end results of such technologies is only relative. Over and over again, across the world, adventurers had throughout history flung themselves on voyages of unimaginable duration and peril; and by the same token, so too had the belicose wrought upon others unimaginably horrific destruction in what to the times was the blink of an eye. The great "disruptive" technologies of our own ages are but the most recent in a continuing history of technologies disrupting the world and leaving its people in awe and wreckage.
Nevertheless, traveling to another celestial body and wiping out entire cities with single bombs were both extraordinarily impressive to the peoples of the mid-20th Century, and so each rightly stands as disruptive to its time: they were, indeed, slices of the 21st Century arriving, then departing, a world not braced for the impact of the profound novelty of the end results.
Taking "technology" in its broadest sense, the 20th Century holds in its fading inventory another disruption worthy of note. This other disruptive technology was one of governance, a means by which society could be organized to the desirednot necessarily achieved, but nevertheless desiredend of maintaining internal stability and external security. In the celerity of its rise from the ashes of a defeated state, the scope and scale of its outward, militaristic push, and the sheer phenomenality of its willingness and ability to kill people by the millions, European fascism rightly stands as a disruptive technology of the 20th Century. Other states in historical proximity might have carried one or more of its striking featurescertainly, Stalinist Russia and Maoist China qualify as superficially comparable experimentsbut fascism stands alone in the technology it employed to govern by means of power consolidation within the states it infected, the speed and power with which it projected outward from its ideological and political bases of birth, and its sweeping, rapid, systematic, conscious use of human slaughter to achieve its perception of what constituted both internal stability and external security. And just like the other disruptive technologies described above, fascism was disruptive only in a relative sense: history offers many examples of quickly rising, unbelievably violent, hegemonic states; yet, just like the lunar landing program and nuclear weapons program, fascism stood in its time as a technology that legitimately merits the term "disruptive."
And there it was, right smack in the 20th Century. It arrived, it shocked an unprepared world, and then it seemed to vanish. As if by the magic of the words "never again," fascism evaporated in the overweaning hubris of the Allied victors hanging the men who had served their purpose as the faces of something far more evil than human souls, even in their collective madness, could construct from mere ideas brought to the world of the real by some remarkable combination of productive factors.
Only those completely bereft of futuristic hopes would claim people will not return to the moon and, in fact, go far, far beyond that small staging ground to the planets and then, someday, to the stars. That slice of the 21st Century will find its way back to where it belonged in the first place, not because it will again be disruptive, but rather because the process never ended, even as the outward product of the process was no longer seen by the common people. By that same motive force defying the terms of a single age and the limits of imagination of the people who populate it, nuclear weapons will again be used, not as disruptions to the time of their reintroduction in 21st Century war theatres, but as the inevitable operational outcome of processes that never ended even though use of the final products stopped so abruptly in 1945.
So, too, will fascism return, motivated as it was in its first instance by forces featured in awful ideas and violently sweeping solutions never globally addressed when its European version was crushed and hauled away in body bags from the gallows at Nuremburg.
The slices taken from the 21st Century will find their own ways home to their own time, where they will no longer be disruptions, but instead, anticipated arrivals to the world that will surely believe it needs them.
Anticipate too soon the return of previously disruptive technologies and thereby find frustration; believe that the undesirable of those old technologies can be stopped and thereby find even greater frustration. We will return to the moon and then go on to the planets, finally settling some of our kind there, not because we want to do that, but because it is the way we will escape, as people always have, the pressures of states and their weapons of repression that always attend too many people and too many ways to deny them their mind to free will, mythical as that might or might not be.
We will use nuclear weapons on one another again, and all the angry demands to forestall that time will be for naught because sovereignties and peoples cannot be stopped in the long run from manifestly fullfilling their belief that what they will do, however horrific it is, simply must be done because beliefs must endure, even if millions must die for the immortality of the imagined.
We will return to repressive statesto fascist and quasi-fascist means of governanceand the frustrations now evident as those who apparently could stop it, like the Democratic majority in the United States Congress, simply cannot stop it. Despite their representations to the contrary, Senators and Representatives just keep allowing further and further inroads into what at one time were unassailable and precious liberties of the "We the People" of this nation.
The re-emergence of the fascist technology of goverance is the Hegelian "historical inevitability," only Georg Hegel perhaps did not appreciate the processual imperative driving what is easily mistakable for mere similarities of precedents leading to similarities of outcomes. The world is, in fact, far more consistent: rending the weed from the soil does nothing to its roots; tearing the roots from the ground does nothing about its seeds; burning the very ground on which the seeds have scattered does nothing to prevent nature from bringing back, in another time, the very same intruder which, when all have wearied of the fight against the menace, will finally be accepted as part of the landscape. Stories about the weed when it first arrived will become fables about the flowering vine that was always there, even when no one could see it.
The 21st Century will proceed through its course, no less and no more than that for which it was born. Its peoples might have been prepared for its grand and fearsome inevitabilities if not for the awe with which they were blinded to forethoughts of inevitable, unstoppable triumph and grief in the generations and times to come. Even then as it proceeds, the 21st Century thus stands in epilogue.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Wrote SB Gypsy:
Wrote Wild Clover:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Peter of Lone Tree:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Minstrel Boy:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote SB Gypsy:
Wrote Phydeaux Speaks:
Wrote Minstrel Boy:
Wrote Wild Clover:
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