By Bradley Harrington
“When you clamor for public ownership of the means of production, you are clamoring for public ownership of the mind.” — Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged,” 1957 —
As I trekked to Torrington on Monday to observe our recent solar eclipse — and, prior to this one, I’ve never seen one completely total — I couldn’t help but think of all the thoughts of all the individuals who’ve lived over the millennia who made predicting that eclipse possible. Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton and Einstein, just to name a few — an invisible web of thoughts that spanned dozens of men and more than a dozen centuries.
Out of all the avalanches of books I’ve read over the years, the one that probably had the greatest impact on me as a youth was Isaac Asimov’s “Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.”
In that book Asimov traces man’s scientific, mathematical and technological history, from Imhotep of Ancient Egypt on up into the late 20th century, by means of writing the biographies of the people who made it all possible.
How many, you might wonder? Asimov figured there were 1,510 of them.
Fifteen hundred individuals … Out of all the humans who have ever lived, estimated by the Population Reference Bureau to be about 114 billion. Does anyone care to figure out what percentage of the population that turns out to be?
Answer: 1.324561403508772e-8, or a tad over 1/100,000,000th of a percent.
And yet, it is precisely that infinitesimal fraction, that one man or woman in 100 million, through the gift of their thoughts and actions, who has made all the rest of our lives possible. Wipe those thinkers out of history and we’re back to living in our caves, hunting and gathering with a life expectancy of 30 years.
And that realization, in turn, makes me wonder: In return for the boon of their thoughts, what have the rest of us given to such creators and innovators?
Giordano Bruno, Italian philosopher and scientist who believed the stars were other Suns and wasn’t afraid to tell you so, was burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition in 1600 for his heretical beliefs.
And, a bit later, Galileo Galilei’s Copernicanism got him into hot water as well, although the Church didn’t roast him because he decided to say he’d changed his mind.
Now, granted, that’s all really old history. We don’t treat people like that anymore, do we?
No, us moderns have adopted different techniques by which to crucify our creators and innovators. Now we claim they’ve been “exploiting” the rest of us common folk; that they’re getting rich off our dreams; that they’re stealing what is properly ours; and that they’re all a bunch of Robber Barons, devoid of soul, who care about nothing but their own profits.
So we’ve shackled them with our laws, plundered their wealth and rotted their brains out in our tax-supported propaganda camps. We smile at a quarter-point increase in our ACT scores — while we stifle any sign of independence, initiative, self-reliance or questioning of authority that might convulsively pop up in our rotted culture. And then we wonder, year after year, why our economy’s in the toilet, why our youth do drugs and join herds, and why our standards of living continue to plummet.
One follows from the other, Dear Reader: When you turn off the mind, what else do you expect but mindlessness?
But there was a time and a place when production was rewarded, not punished; when ability was praised, not condemned; when the undefended, unacknowledged benefactors of mankind were finally turned loose and allowed to operate: Right here in the United States of America, about 250 years ago.
What followed the creation of the first semi-rational social system in man’s history, where producers were primarily free to produce? The greatest flood of ideas, discoveries and inventions the world has ever seen, before or since. The thoughts that have given us everything we have. The pre-requisites that make it all possible.
And, I thought as I watched the night eerily fall for two minutes at High Noon on Monday, wouldn’t it be nice to send out a cosmic “Thank You!” of my own? Just to let my utmost respect and grateful appreciation be known? So:
“To all the thinkers, creators, innovators and producers who have ever lived, who weren’t willing to ‘leave well enough alone,’ who struggled against all odds, who battled the very societies they lived in but failed to fit into, who knew that it was our minds that made the difference and who often gave their lives for their dreams — THANK YOU!”
For, you see, left to my own devices, without the 1,510 of you, I’d have been thinking on Monday that the Sun was getting eaten by a dragon.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.