Remember “the end of history”? Back in 1992, Francis Fuyukama wrote that the fall of Russian communism spelled the end of international strife. The old dynamics of history, of struggling nations and global forces, was departing. We would live without the historic tensions as Western democracy became the accepted form of government around the world.
Those days are gone, though. The role of villain, played for so long by the Soviet Union, was taken up by Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Korea, with contributions from Sudan, Chechnya, Somalia, and Iran. Modern technology is enabling us to recognize potential trouble before it strikes us, but we are still vulnerable. And while technology has evolved incredibly, human skills of cooperation and compassion seem to be taking a giant step backward.
Ben Franklin was happy to live in a time of vigorous scientific inquiry. The wealth he had earned as a printer enabled him to pursue his own experiments and allowed him time to correspond with other scientists. He looked toward the future with eagerness and a little regret at what he’d miss. In a letter to Joseph Priestley in 1780, he speculates on where science would take humankind. He also theorized on what area of study would still lag behind.
Passy, Feb. 8, 1780
To Joseph Priestley
“Dear Sir… I always rejoice to hear of your being still employed in experimental Researches into Nature, and of the Success you meet with. The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasion my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levitation, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour and double its Produce; all Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, … even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as far a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that Human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity.”