The inexorable push for
progress, that is progress in the improvement of human
has accelerated in the twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
The 'environmental movement' has developed as a push back
against the bad consequences of such progress.
Only so far....
There will soon be more
air conditioners in the world [1 billion] than there were people when the
air conditioner was first developed around 1900.
We want more. We want more people out of poverty. 'Enough' in
terms of human
prosperity, better health and longevity -- these ideals have no upward limit.
To try to write about this, I invented Bill Rutland.
RUTLAND was an American
writer who came to maturity in the mid 1920s.
already written on the voracious clearing of the American forest
-- clearing 'wilderness' was progress.
He did so faced by two pulls.
Progress versus preservation.
In the 1920s, the American forester, Aldo
Leopold, was evoking the need to preserve
Yet the economy in the Depression had to grow
back to alleviate poverty.
We need to cut trees, we need a lumber industry, we need the
the land for 'development'.
How do we reconcile, Rutland wondered, the good
side of progress with the bad?
column was his way of trying
to see earth.
On the light and sunny side, progress led to prosperity for
humans and harmony with nature.
On the dark side of
Technopolitana, that same progress led to human difficulty,
overpopulation and pollution.
He called this Growing Up in the Fog of Progress.
sky was the limit. Or was it?
first years of his
column ideas that
had been rarified science a few decades past,conveyance of
electricity, extracting of oil, the internal combustion engine,
diseases combated by
mico-biological techniques and new chemistry -- these became
underpinned progress and economic growth, or were supposed to.
Rutland critiqued them, wrote about their benefits and
downside, notably pollution, the turning of humans into cogs
in the wheel of mass production,
wild claims about new drug products, the damage to nature.
his column, lay in its balance.
He praised progress and he picked holes in the assumptions of
1938 his attitude changed.
Hitler was on a rampage. The US sat in its
Britain, about which he had written a good deal, had to
arm. It had to take seriously the prospect
of loosing out in a race to exploit
the atom, the high speed plane,
radio waves for detection, later know as radar.
Instead of being quizzical about progress,
there had to be a progress race with Germany.
this emerged the hiring of an Underground Scientist.
That person was the complicated Nathalie Armstrong.
Armstrong-Rutland narratives are completed:
TECHNOPOLITANA i : THE UNDERGROUND SCIENTIST
TECHNOPOLITANA II: PENICILLUM
Two stories, one the
sequel to the other,
The Underground Scientist
Two timeframes in each,
The setting for the Nathalie Armstrong --
[Note: two of the first post-World War II Nobel Prizes were
Penicillin development & Uranium Fission development.
In neither case was a woman closely concerned
given the prize,
although the British X-ray crystallographer, Dorothy Hodgkin
later received it.
No American received the prize. As Rutland noted, in its way
this did not mater. The USA virtually owned both penicillin and
uranium fission technologies.]
Rutland and Nathalie Armstrong are the central
figures in the
two Technopolitana novels.
It was in going to look along the river behind
his house in
County Mayo, that I failed to meet Spy Nielsen and
did meet Francine Olnay.
Wrapped up in a towel, old raincoat and
wearing gum boots,
she had been swimming. In mid-October.
'Fashion models do odd things,' she said.
She showed me the manuscripts.
Once we were younger....
Even now we are not so old.
Francis Gladstone made one of the first films on pollution and
threats to the environment
for the BBC -- for Horizon in 1967. Ideas for more coverage of
were, he recalls, scorned. This was probably due to his
inadequate proposal writing.
If that last statement, drips with weak irony, it is a fact that
has been keener to emphasize the prettiness of nature
over threats to that prettiness.
From the mid sixties till mid 1980s he made documentary
films on various topics related to science -- and its downside.
Now, as of 2019, he is not unusual in seeing threats to the
planet as lacking in coherent solutions,
or even the will to find solutions.
The Technopolitana idea explores,
in a modest way, how we can see these problems,
whether story telling can help.
We worry about the downside to progress.
And we are riders of its Ferris wheel, unable to get off or stop
Not much more than half a century ago we were
desperate for what became
the antibiotic drugs. Now we are worried about excess of them.
Jo Elwyn Jones is his partner in many ways.