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Planet Technopolitana is an invention. It is a way to try to see how progress in which we are caught up has both good and bad consequences, often good for humans, detrimental to the natural environment. By 'natural' I mean a theoretical environment not occupied by a dominant species.

 

This image arrived via the figure of Bill Rutland -- below is part of his fable.

Bill Rutland's cabin in the high mountains of the Nevada desert north of Reno, 1929, before he was hired to work on the weekly NOW! (a fable within a fable) and develop Planet Technopolitana column (a fable within a fable).

Link to (below) Rutland, Wessler & Bacon's idea of human domination.

Bacon's dictum: "Dominion of the Human Race Over the Universe."

The Technocracy Movement & Science as Good God or Bad God

Rutland, the editor's daughter & the admonishment that led to his column:

(The Fable that started the Fable)

 ‘Bill’ Rutland was born William Clayton Rutland VII in Macon, Georgia on January 31, 1900 with the titanic echoes of the Civil War ringing in his ears. He was the only Rutland son, had two sisters and thereby was male heir to the Rutland name -- a family who had emigrated from the county of Rutland in England in the 1760s, moved via Barbados sugar growing to Georgia cotton, owned plantations and by the Civil War, were lawyers to slave owning families and dealt in the auctioning and trading of slaves.

            In 1916 with the US joining the European war, Rutland who was of middle height, had a sharp quizzical face  and blond hair, ran away from a military boarding school – really ran from the claustrophobic atmosphere of his family and a sense of deep human disgrace that he felt and his parents did not.

They had traded humans. They saw the northern victory as an Armageddon and lived in decay and regret. His 1916 escape involved trying to fudge his age to join the US army. He was rejected, had bad eyesight and got himself taken on as an auxiliary at Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville.

He had hiked from Georgia to Tennessee and now he carried on hiking. Medicine appealed to him so far, the forests more. He began writing reports for nascent conservation groups and the Audubon society, became interested in the extinction of American bird species, the Passenger Pigeon and the nearly-gone Ivory Billed Woodpecker.

Aged twenty, he paid a pilgrimage visit to where the pioneer conservationist John Muir had lived in California. He spent nine months living rough in the Sierra Nevada and reviewed Muir’s book on his hike from Missouri to Florida which was published posthumously.

A national magazine took his review and asked him for more. He became a writer on environmental matters and quizzical about other aspects of ‘progress’ in the modern world.

 In the mid 1920s, scraping a living, he came to national attention by showing that the Ford company were using Kentucky hundred foot virgin timber to make spokes for the Model T Ford, discarding ninety five percent of the wood and leaving the forest a derelict mess, then moving on. This was enlarged to a longer article on northern capital buying up the forests of the south for cents an acre, taking only the best timber, often just using it for plywood and never replanting. The land was so cheap to buy you just moved on. God provided. This was the American destiny, plenty for ever.

Rutland hated this. He remained a southerner to a significant degree, shown in nuances in his accent, his courtesy which showed in the restraint in his prose.

 In 1930 his writing on the destruction of American forests and sounding warnings on cultivating unsuitable land in the northern prairies, he came to the attention of a newspaper owner, Edgar Fellowes Senior. The Fellowes family had started as local newspaper proprietors in Washington State, ran their operations tightly and gradually brought up other – mainly farm community – papers across the west, tried to support their readers as farm prices fell. Edgar Fellowes was a Democrat and wanted more government say in the spoiling of American resources. He liked Rutland’s tone.

            In the summer of 1930, he asked Bill Rutland to write a series of articles on the broad question of agricultural depression. Rutland did this and his articles represented a step from news reporting to feature style journalism for the Fellowes. The pieces were duplicated in all the Fellowes papers. Then he was asked to do more, became interested in bad land practice and as part of that, the  erosion left by the gold rush in California and the poisoning of water supplies that resulted. Rutland fell in love with the western desert and between trips to write he lived in a rusted over corrugated iron shack that was near a small spring and some cottonwood trees in the Nevada desert mountains north of Reno, living mainly on jack rabbits he trapped and rice he packed in. He was, of course a human. He felt he became part of earth and these stays reinvigorated him. The place is thought to be part of the Black Rock desert where now the Burning Man festival takes place.

            As he worked, moving from place to place in a car Fellowes lent him, the handsome Fellowes’ daughter and heiress, Melinda came to observe.

‘Observe’ led to drive for.

‘Drive for’ led to share rooms with. In order not to be noticed they stayed in out of town little cabins or motels.

            Melinda Fellowes was older than he, thirty five to Rutland’s thirty one in 1931. With her brother dead from poison gas in World War I, and her mother dead in the flu epidemic of 1919, she was the force behind the expansion of her father’s newspaper holdings. 

Rutland, she thought, represented their future, a writer of depth. She adored him, wanderer, principled, quizzical in his steel rimmed spectacles, austere, not obviously handsome yet seldom staying still, preferring to stand to sitting, preferring to walk to standing, preferring really to climb trees or hillsides to walking. He carried in his furrowed brow the inclination to think deeply even though not college educated and he was always aware of the burden of his family’s trading in humans. With the collapse of Wall Street he  was developing a sense that the new had an ugly way of biting back.

He told Melinda, his square jawed love, an anecdote. The new bites back. He had learned this from a doctor.

Until 1850 there had been no anaesthetics. Then came ether and then cocaine which arrived via Vienna. On his travels he had worked gardening for an ex-World War I doctor and the man was now addicted to something which had enabled thoracic surgery and kept him awake nights in battlefield hospitals. The man was ruined as a cocaine addict, was caught stealing hospital supplies and shot himself with his war service pistol.

The good cocaine brought to anesthesia making local numbing possible then turned inwards to problems of addiction.

There was the case of her gassed brother. Bill Rutland had heard that a German scientist who was a Jew converted to Christianity helped develop chorine and phosgene as poison gases. His name was Fritz Haber. And yet a Haber won the 1919 Nobel Prize for the discovery of how to synthesize ammonia.

This latter was a benign act, major progress. Suddenly fertilizer, previously only available from dung or some complex nitrate extraction processes was plentiful. ‘Artificial’ fertilizer could transform crop yields. This was the man who developed the poison gas that killed her brother?

And why did we need to transform crop yields, farm every last corner of the USA with risks of bad erosion? There had been a hundred million people in 1800 and a billion in 1900 and by the 1930s that was heading to two billion. Call this progress?

Yet more and more of them had cars and electricity. Dark side of progress? Light side of progress?

            Whether he or she invented Planet Technopolitana is not recorded. The modest Rutland said she did. She wrote it in lipstick on the mirror glass of the cheap motel room:

            P   L   A   N   E   T              T   E   C   N   O  P   O  L   I   T   A  N  A

            Like many of their speculations on how to solve the problems of a confused world, this began in bed, in an old and flea ridden hotel in Salinas, California where they were pondering the fate of decent American farm families becoming homeless migrants and met the writer John Steinbeck. His approach was fiction. Theirs was to be factual journalism.

The column News and Views from Planet Technopolitana  would not damn progress. It would be a way of asking quizzical questions on the subject of science biting back. ‘And my father wants to launch a new magazine,’ she said.

            Yes, Fellowes senior did have such an idea. Or rather she did. He also had an idea that he could not hire Rutland unless something changed. Gossip got out to Edgar Fellowes’ that these two were up to no good. Rutland was investigating  the environmental damage done by gold mining, the erosion and leeching of metals into water systems -- this  at a place called Rough and Ready, California. Fellowes senior decided to teach his errant daughter and the talented writer a lesson. He sent in the sheriff, off duty, and another man.

The two men knocked down the cabin door. They tore the naked daughter off the bed, made her dress and held up the smaller Rutland with a night stick, threatened to whip him and did not. They took the car and they took the Fellowes heiress. 

            He could to a degree take it. He had been beaten before and had dogs set on him for trespass to US national forests being illegally logged. Rutland was five eight, lithe, had a body like a slightly bent tree and a craggy face that was always worried, yet big grey eyes that suggested he could cope with the worry. He climbed rocks with true agility.

His cheap spectacle frames  gave him an air of being inquisitive. He dressed easily and always wore a green scarf in homage to the forest canopies he saw disappearing, particularly in the south. Sometimes he made love to Melinda Fellowes wearing the scarf. He was self-conscious about his height -- yet was lithe enough to make up for it. He carried a notebook, small binoculars and magnifying glass. He looked constantly for birds and for insects and had a compendious knowledge of American animal and plant species and their distribution, was thereby was an encyclopaedia on the growing scarcity of some.

            How could America have killed the last Passenger Pigeon when there had been flocks of millions? The question had no answer, at least no sophisticated answer until you began to work out the ethic of progress and manifest destiny. We were mad for conquest and we did not care for nature.

            Humans shat in the house.

            Sometimes carried away pondering, these questions obsessed Bill Rutland so much that he had a tendency to fumble, more like an old man. loosing things, glasses, his cigarettes, trains of thought, notebook, even the scarf and that vagueness which was not entirely uncultivated made people feel for him and got him his reputation for enticing all kinds of people to talk about all kinds of things they had not imagined they would. The same enabled him to get a number of women on his travels to shed clothes they had imagined were firmly on their bodies.

            Melinda was not the first. Nursing his anger, wondering if he should have fought the fat sheriff,  in the small cabin at Rough and Ready – rough and ready indeed, stepping outside gingerly, the owner of the cabins had a Western Union telegram for him. He was to collect wired funds and take a transcontinental train to Philadelphia. Mr. Fellowes would like him to present himself at the Fellowes apartment in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

            He had better go. This could not get worse. No one had work in '31 and he was ready to beg for mercy to continue writing for  Fellowes.

            A week later he had crossed the country. He wanted to apologize to Mr. Fellowes. He wore a new grey suit from J.C. Penny, grey shirt, black brogues, dark green silk tie and a cotton scarf that was a lighter green with some yellow, almost mustard colour. Fellowes was suited, tailored, austere and balding.

            ‘Sit down, Rutland.’ A uniformed maid brought coffee and Fellowes offered him a Cuban cigar.

            Thinking he would be bawled out, he was given a condition and an offer.

            ‘My daughter is a trollop. I don’t care about that. Never, never transgress when you are on my nickel. That  I do care about. When I pay your expenses and you are in a town with strong conservative views, I do not expect you to be screwing around in a cheap way in a cheap place. Do you want to go on with us?’

            ‘Yes, sir.’

            ‘Then square up and write  with a pen.’

            ‘Yes, sir.’

NOW! magazine started publication as a Democratic rival to the more triumphal and Republican Time. It backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt for President and it backed federal interventions as a way of rescuing a country for which the Planet Technopolitana theme was appropriate. How could so much land and opportunity lead to a land of still and bankrupt factories, broken banks, mass unemployment? Was not Science meant to build Invention, Invention to build Industry and that to build the Good Life? The column was right for the magazine and the magazine was right for the time. The writer Ayn Rand adulated the triumph of great capital, Rutland sought its harnessing.

            Along the way Rutland crossed swords with a capitalist who taught him a good deal about naked corruption and a good deal too about how bad men or ones you see that way can have good thoughts. The man’s name was Sacheverell Wessler. He was a student of the seventeenth century lawyer, royal courtier, organizer of science and father of the idea that man existed to conquer nature – Francis Bacon. Wessler was other things too.

 

Francis Bacon, later Viscount St Alban, statesman, polymath, lawyer. Can you trust a man with a hat like that, Rutland asked?

This is another part of Bill Rutland's fable & it is about Bacon's fable or utopia 'The New Atlantis'.

It is about how one fable threatened another. It started in a roundabout way.

Sacheverell Wessler was twenty years  older than Rutland. In 1931 Wessler was fifty one and Rutland hitting his writing stride at thirty one.

Wessler who looked so nondescript, almost shabby, had a head that seemed too big for his slight figure, a long face and copper colored hair brushed straight across his forehead.

(A coming together of these two men and an alarm in 1938 that the British lacked the science to prevent German victory should there be was is the inciting incident of the Planet Technopolitana fiction idea – their confluence and Wessler’s money led to the employment of Nathalie Armstrong who became a key figure in preventing penicillin development from becoming a non event in World War II.)

This is earlier, 1931, the depth of the depression.

Rutland who described people in mind, even before he put pen to paper, said to himself that Rutland looked as if he had never grown out of being a schoolboy, yet must have been middle-aged as a school boy and the type trying to keep out of trouble. You could never remember what Wessler wore, Rutland said to himself. In fact he was one of

the richer men in the world and got there by being aggressive in business and po-faced in manner. Wessler was an oil trader and an investor in oil wells.

 He had been born in Tehran with a Coptic Christian mother and Jewish father who tried to get some compensation on behalf of the Shah for Persian oil the British thought theirs by right. The father then became rich playing Russian against British oil interests, sent his son to Cambridge and then to Columbia where he wrote a PhD on a surveying methodology for predicting how oil bearing strata lay. Trading for his father in the British colony of Hong Kong, Wessler, unlike Rutland, was beaten up with a woman.

            In Wessler’s case the girl was a sting and in Wessler’s case he was beaten so badly he always walked and sat in some pain – his spine was damaged. He paid a giant ransom to get out of Hong Kong alive. He began to concentrate on American oil. In the 1920s Wessler made a fortune in the American south west. He was reported to have an uncanny ability to judge both the potential of wells and the trading market.

            No one knew how he did it. That aura went with him, not that Rutland met him. Wessler would do a lot to avoid reporters. At the same time, while trying to be measured in his judgement and realize the huge benefits oil brought, Rutland had a deep distaste for the greed and negligence of oil men. Never clean up, pollute water courses, cheat land owners and be proud of it. That was Texas to Rutland.

            He heard about the legendary spotter of well sites from a Columbia university geologist, King Hubbert. In the boom to bust world of oil drilling, Wessler had a reputation of near perfect hits.

            Hubbert had taught Wessler and now worked with him -- a contrarian geologist who proposed new surveying methods for suggesting where oil strata might lie.

            Hubbert worked for the oil industry and thereby with Wessler. He also worried for the oil industry and picked up on pieces Rutland wrote on river pollution. Like Rutland, but at an academic level, Hubbert noticed and worried about how fast US oil was going and he produced a bell chart to demonstrate this.

            Were people not looking?

Rutland already felt that virgin forest was running out.

            The Hubbert view expressed itself in a bell shaped curve.

            For early finds in an oil field a small amount of oil was found, then the oil drilled increased and increased up the left side of the bell, topped off and then declined, slowly and then faster until the field was exploited. This was true for individual wells and oil ‘fields’. They gushed and then they did not.

            Hubbert proposed an unimaginable that  would he said– eventually – be true for oil in general. When? A hundred years, a thousand – the earth’s resources would be finite.

            This appealed to Rutland’s ideas about the downsides of technology. We find oil, we learn to drill, we learn more about the geology, it gushes out and what has taken millions of years to accumulate is taken by the people of the USA in a few hedonistic decades. It was when writing this up and describing the number of already worked out oil fields in California and Texas and Pennsylvania that someone close to Hubbert gave Rutland a tip off. Rutland was drinking root beer in dry Oklahoma City in a scorching August 1936.

            Watch Wessler for whom Hubbert works. Hubbert was straight up,  a moral man in the den of thieves which was the oil business. Wessler is bad. That was the tip off from a Hubbert assistant who liked the Technopolitana column Rutland wrote on Hubbert.

Rutland asked around and, yes, there were rumors. Wessler fixed prices, paid spies in companies on the other side of his trades. It was not really his field, financial chicanery. Then the source in Hubbert’s office came up with something specific, that had to be investigated.

Wessler was producing a newsletter for a drilling company he held a big shareholding in and producing contrarian reports on certain wells. These reports were known to the Rutland’s source to be a lie. Wessler was therefore manipulating the price of the company, SWXY Corp. With the negative reports shares went down as investors sold. Then the shares climbed up. The source was almost sure that Wessler was producing the negative reports, forcing the price down and picking up the cheap shares.

            It was a classic Wall Street scam, part of a largely unregulated world of stock speculation. Rutland, somewhat out of his depth, dug and dug.

            The negative well reports were indeed fabrications. If the pessimistic forecasts were true, this would significantly depress the forward value of the whole company and thereby the share price.

            Then he sensed that his phone was being tapped and his visits to Miss Fellowes’ apartment on Connecticut Avenue in Washington were possibly being shadowed.

            The Fellowes’ consulted lawyers about what experts they needed to back the source’s information and were just about ready to publish. It was factual that the wells reported to have problems in the shareholder newsletter did not have such problems and that the share price went down due to heavy sales. It rose again on buying with no positive news about the wells – which were producing fine all along.

            Then Miranda Fellowes received a letter by hand whose courier needed to see she read it. It was from Wessler.

NOW!  was managed from Philadelphia, printed and distributed in and from Kansas City – she had insisted on a Washington base for herself. The messenger came to her apartment. The letter said that police would be informed about the doctor she had visited to have her pregnancy terminated, the letter said. An apology for the mistaken newsletter about the wells would be given to NOW! to publish, and the investors would be repaid from Mr. Wessler’s own pocket.

            Wessler was blackmailing her and offering to apologize on the pages of NOW!

            What to do?

            There were significant risks in publishing Rutland’s article on the fraud, and now this. Her decision to abort the foetus conceived accidentally with Rutland had been a horrible one – she had made it and he was devastated. The doctor she knew and had trusted could indeed go to jail and be ruined under Maryland law. She had never previously been blackmailed. And if there was a court case, she as a patient of the doctor and other prominent women might be named.

            Yet in the hand-delivered letter Wessler said he would settle with the investors, admit the fraud as a ‘mistake’.

            He would credit Mr. Rutland and the Planet Technopolitana column with discovering the newsletter ‘error’.

If this was not accepted he would sue NOW! on publication. Fellowes senior, his accountant and Rutland tied to calculate the cost of compensating the investors and it came out at over a million dollars, out of the Wessler pocket.

            If Wessler could afford this, what could they – the Fellowes -- afford in legal fees? The answer was that they risked their publication being bankrupted in a hostile court.

            The magazine backed down and the curious apology was published in the Planet Technopolitana column. Shortly after this, Wessler called Bill Rutland and asked to meet him to discuss his column.

            The meeting would be on neutral territory, in a stevedores’ diner on Tenth Avenue in New York. Wessler said how much he admired the column and Rutland’s idea that progress bites back. Wessler had been at King’s College Cambridge where there was the statue to Francis Bacon who, he thought was the father of all our modern ideas of man’s conquest of nature.

            Rutland found this interesting. He had no college degree and reading Bacon’s book – which Wessler gave him -- about a utopian island based on scientific knowledge and the accumulation of such knowledge as the basis for progress -- this gave his column and the Technopolitana  idea a deeper intellectual foundation. He had missed Bacon until Wessler told him.

            ‘Maybe we have something in common,’ Wessler proposed.   

These are Rutland's notes on Bacon:

Francis Bacon -- archaic in his way. And yet, I think, crucial.

Bacon proposed: A reconstruction of the sciences, arts and all human knowledge to extend the power and dominion of the human race...over the universe.

In the 17th century, Bacon's ideas for systematizing science were crucial in the foundation of the Royal Society of London and also in the French project which became the Enclyopedie of Dennis Diderot. He lived between the time of Galileo and the time of Newton. His statue, sitting, made of marble in his expensive pantaloons, is next to that of Newton in King's College, Cambridge.

Bacon's New Atlantis is a utopia about a society founded on science. The basis of the Royal Society was that ideas should be tested experimentally, proved, published and then re-tested to challenge them. If a scientific experiment cannot be repeated, then it must be judged false. Earlier science had done this. The Royal Society of London with its Proceedings systematized the process. No longer was discovery so random. The idea of peer review was born.
The idea was one of a totality of knowledge, leading to a totality of control.

With this came the idea that the good life, human progress, emanates not so much from service to God. It comes from the harnessing of science to make invention and from inventions to develop mechanical processes for the manufacture of things or the extraction of the materials that make things.

Problems arise, as now, when knowledge is not total and when we suffer the sensation that going forward may lead us back. The more we invent, the more we consume, the more we pollute. I am not dogmatic about this. I am saying that it can happen. Which is why I invented Planet Technopolitana to be a place where we can ask questions.

I think this is relevant to now. Bacon wanted 'dominion of the human race...over the universe.' We don't have that. We do have dominion over our own universe, this planet. Increasingly, we do. My question, which is not an exact one, is about whether we have come to worship invention and progress to such a degree that we can't go back on where we are.

Can we? Or do we want to? I don't know the answers. I do think that while scientists frequently reject God or his 'existence', it is possible to argue that science has become our God. As it was heresy in the middle ages to doubt divinity and people went to the stake for arguing specific dogma, is it not now heresy to say we have too much development?

DOMINION OF THE HUMAN RACE OVER THE UNIVERSE

This, Rutland realized, is what he was fighting in his PLANET TECHNOPOLITANA column.

 

For my awareness of King Hubbert, I owe a debt to Mason Inman for his biography of Hubbert. This book (published by Norton in the USA in 2016) also contains excellent material on the Technocracy movement.

J.G. Crowther is a forgotten figure of considerable importance to those trying to look at science from the outside. Living from 1899-1983, he has been called 'the father of science journalism'. His book on Bacon has the self-explanatory title 'statesman of science'.

 

IS SCIENCE GOD?

Rutland wrestled with this for a long time. Noting that many scientists were atheists and that some of them took pains to mock the idea of a god, of heaven, of the day of Creation, he wondered if the real God of the post-Bacon era was actually science.

His thinking was that science, via its elucidation of how the natural world works, gave humans control of the world, or the means to take partial control of it -- see, for example, the improvements in ship design, cartography and later diet that enabled western crews to explore first the Atlantic and then Pacific.

While a Christian God and other gods continued to be worshipped in the post-Bacon era, Rutland began to wonder if the real God of the modern world, the force we could not criticize, was this idea of progress and development. Yes, it has and had its critics. It is what societies of different political ideologies have as their common ground. Without science there is not invention and engineering. Without engineering -- also the scientific understanding of numbers and economics -- there is no industry and without industry there is no development or progress. The Technocracy movement of the 1930s and still with adherents, advocated that politicians were largely responsible for the mess of the depression and that scientists could and should address these problems. The movement put science at the top of the governing body. This was too fascist for many.

Even so, Rutland argued, without formal prayers, hymns or services, science is the god behind progress. And progress and growth are what we worship as the means to a widespread appeal -- how to bring prosperity to most.

An alternative is not easy to find.

 
 

Gladstone Jones -- Planet Technopolitana -- Contact -- About -- Technopolitana Fiction -- Non Fiction