Rudolf Diesel: Thoughts about Idealism, Despair, Progress, Politics and Hope

Standard

Diesel powers the world economy.  I never considered the extent to which that is true until watching a documentary (click here to view it) about this type of internal combustion engine.  It is named after the inventor, a French-German mechanical engineer, Rudolf Diesel, and is the reason why global trade is possible to the extent it is.

Early Diesel design, circa 1897

In considering the story of Diesel, his brilliant invention and the results, I could not help but see the pattern all too common with innovators.  Diesel’s life turned tragic, he was found floating in the North Sea, dead of an apparent suicide, and likely a result of his despair over the unintended consequences of his own design.

According to biographical accounts, Diesel was a utopian idealist who had hopes that his invention would be a catalyst for social change, free the common man and break corporate monopolies.  Unfortunately, while a revolution for transportation, Diesel power did not achieve the lofty social vision. 

Worse, the Diesel engine found use as a part in an efficient killing machine, the German U-boat, and this no doubt grieved the pacifist inventor.

Here are some observations…

#1) What is intended for good can often be used for evil.

Diesel had never intended his invention be used as a means of terrorizing North Atlantic shipping lanes.  And, likewise, many scientists and inventors had regrets related to their greatest contribution to the world.

German U-boat, the original stealth weapon 

There are lists from K-cups to A-bombs online and many others.  For example, Henry Ford seemed to dislike the vast social changes and consumerist mindset made possible by his manufacturing revolution that helped automobiles become a fixture of American life.  Even this media, the internet, once thought to be the beginnings of an information age, has become a cesspool of pornography and ill-founded claims.

I worry about this as a blogger.  Once my thoughts are out there they cannot be contained again.  Will someone pick up my words and run with them in a direction I never intended?  It is a potential outcome that could scare a sensitive soul into silence and is at least a reason for me to be prayerful in what I post here.

I believe there are many people who do not thoroughly think through the potential unintended consequences of the ideas they promote.  There are many government programs and social movements intended for good that might actually be creating more problems than the one that they were intended to solve.

Which takes me to a second point…

#2) Yesterday’s revolution is today’s loathed source of inequality and evil.

It is ironic that the invention that did actually outcompete coal for market supremacy is now enemy #1 for many.  The internal combustion engine won in the marketplace because it was by far the cheapest most efficient means to power transportation and still remains. 

Given there are no steam powered cars, tractors, trains and ships anymore, it is clear that internal combustion is the best bang for the buck and remains to be rivaled.  Diesel powered locomotives and ocean going container ships are extremely powerful while being very economical.    

109,000-horsepower Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C

Diesel power still outperforms hybrid technology—A loaded Diesel powered class 8 truck is more efficient pound for pound than a Prius.

Think about it: It takes one gallon of fuel to move an 80,000lb truck five to seven miles.  A 2016 Prius, by comparison, carries a weight of around 4000lbs can go anywhere from 50 to 58 miles on a gallon of fuel.  It may seem the Toyota is greener until you consider that it is moving twenty times less weight.  Twenty Prius cars combined together, after dividing their individual consumption by twenty, would consume 2.5 to 2.9 gallons of fuel.  Now, obviously, combining Diesel and hybrid technology on the scale of class 8 truck would undoubtedly yield even greater results if fuel economy were the only concern, but the point remains that Diesel power is extremely efficient and effective—and only more so the larger the application.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the current popular perception is that the petroleum industry “big oil” is the enemy and conspires to hold back technology that would dramatically increase efficiency.  Worse than that, we are told that petroleum power is a source of global climate change and a threat to the global ecology.  Poor Diesel would be driven even further into despair if half this is true.  We fight over oil.

 #3) Progressive aims of our time are at odds with each other or self-contradictory.

Globalism, higher standard of living for more people and environmentalist ‘green’ movements are at odds with each other.  Pushing one direction will almost invariably come at the cost of the others. 

Progressive politicians may tout an idea of a ‘green economy’ as a jobs creator, but the reality has been that wind and solar energy can only remain competitive through heavy use of government subsidies.  Beyond that, even with the help, domestic ‘green’ manufacturing is unsustainable against foreign competition.  At best we will merely replace jobs lost by the heavy regulations placed on fossil fuels and raise costs of living across the board.

Furthermore, it was the progressive policies of the past century that have created the current conditions.  Government policies like the Rural Electrification Act, the Interstate highway system and trade agreements have actually moved us away from a more sustainable less polluting lifestyle.  Our cheap and easy movement from place to place has harmed community and local markets.

Rural Electrification Act propaganda poster.

It is hard to know how the current landscape would look had the progressives of yesterday had not literally paved the way for suburban sprawl, the trucking industry (that currently employs me) and driven us to embrace a coal powered grid.  But I do suspect more of our food would be locally grown, more of our products locally produced and solar energy far more the norm in places utilities would be to costly to maintain unless mandated by law.

In final analysis things might not be as dismal as they seem.

It is easy to focus on the negative without considering the good.  The means of today are likely as unsustainable as the means of yesterday and therefore the progress of the past century might not be the end of us after all.  The only consistent reality in the past two centuries has been that markets constantly change.

Canal boats an all the infrastructure to support them were soon replaced by steam power and railroads.  In Pennsylvania the lumber industry rose in prominence before a rapid decline after the states wooded mountains were reduced to stubble.  The coal industry once put food on the table for boat loads of immigrants before cheap efficient oil and a multitude other factors conspired against it.

Bay State Mills, Lawrence, built 1845.

Manufacturing, from the once mighty water powered textile mills of the New England states to the formerly unstoppable domestic steel industry, has also migrated following cheaper labor and energy.  Each time promoting deep consternation and fear.  But so far the Luddites have yet to have the last laugh and a new balance is eventually found that usually benefits everyone.

Certainly the overconfidence and optimism about today’s new solution may become the big disappointment of tomorrow.  Yet, do we really wish to go back to a time when a transatlantic voyage was only something a religious zealot or crazy Viking explorer would do?  Would we really rather spend most of our time scrounging for just enough to eat as to avoid the possibility of mechanized warfare?

Nobody knows for certain why Diesel died... 

However, what is certain is that his invention changed the world and provided a means for interstate commerce and global trade that never existed before.  The pacifying effect of global trade, economic benefits of an expanded market place and inexpensive power are largely unappreciated.  But we probably do have Diesel to thank for helping create the long peace and prosperity of our time.

Maersk, Triple-E design, Diesel powered, container ship

In an age of information overload, where we know about beheadings in the Middle East before the people the next town over would have heard a century ago, it is difficult for our finite minds to contextualize and easy to become overwhelmed.  This, with an accompanying loss of faith, could be why middle-aged American white males are committing suicide (supposedly the most privileged in the world) and at an alarmingly increasing rate. 

Diesel’s pessimism about the future in retrospect seems to have been premature and his nightmarish perception of reality overstated.  In like manner many of our modern fears and despair inducing thoughts about the future could be negativity bias and nothing more.  Every generation seems to believe that the world is falling apart and still here we are.

Whatever the case, ignore the fear-mongering propaganda of the punditry and politicians.  Embrace temperance, a spiritual quality developed through faith, over mindless reaction and fearful impulse.  Trust God to secure the future, we can only live one day at a time and never ever lose hope!  If you are depressed about events in the world today, I invite you to see the higher perspective:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Perhaps the greater of two evils will be elected come November and drive the nation to complete ruin.  

Who knows besides God?

We may all die tomorrow, we will all die eventually, our work blown away in the wind of time and forgotten.  Everything comes to pass, nothing will remain as we know it today, but there is hope beyond all hope found in an eternal perspective.  So look up, because the sun is still shining and the future remains bright!

Do you see the light and feel the warmth of hope eternal?

If not, my prayer is for the blind to see…

Advertisements

Bean Sprouts, Over-indulgence and Temperance 

Standard

​As a child I had a deep affinity and great appetite for a particular food item.

I no longer eat that particular food item.

I’m not sure how it started, but I sure know how it ended and it ended up with me staring at the evacuated contents of my stomach.

My indulgence?

It was bean sprouts, smattered in Thousand Island dressing, and consumed in large quantities.

During family outings to Bonanza (or whatever steak and salad bar restaurant franchise existed during my childhood) I would go to the salad bar and load up on bean sprouts and my favorite dressing.

Not sure the specifics, it might have a touch of the flu or food poisoning, maybe I just plain overdid it, but whatever the case I completely lost my appetite for the half growths and have avoided the sprouts ever since.

That experience taught me a lesson about over-indulgence.  Too much of even a good thing can quickly become a bad thing.  My mom would remind us children ‘everything in moderation’ and I will add that this means even moderation should be kept in moderation.

The tendency of the over-indulgent is to go to an equal and opposite extreme.   This was the case with Augustine of Hippo who’s youthful debauchery gave way to his teaching of complete abstinence later in life.  He said:

“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” 

Augustine went as far as to even recommend chastity within marriage, but easier isn’t necessarily better and frowning on sexual pleasure within marriage is an unnecessary extreme.  Augustine’s extreme abstinence teaching seems an overreaction to his own lustful over-indulgence—It promotes an unhealthy view of sexuality and creates false guilt.

Just because a little is good does not mean more is better.  Many people make the mistake of thinking that if a little of something is good then more of it is always better.  They have the same mentality as Peter:

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’  Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’  ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’  ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!'”  (John 13:6-9)

Peter, after first completely refusing to have his feet washed because he considered it below Jesus, goes to a ridiculous opposite extreme.  

Jesus responds:

“Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean…'” (John 13:10)

In other words, it was a practical matter to clean feet after people journeyed on the dusty road in their sandals, but it was completely silly to wash the whole body of a guest and Jesus dismissed it as unnecessary.

Peter’s over-exuberance came into play elsewhere.  He promised Jesus he would never betray him, even took a sword to the ear of a man sent to arrest Jesus, and then went on to betray Jesus three times as was predicted.

Peter had a problem with going from one extreme to the other.  Peter lacked in good judgement and moderation.  Don’t be like Peter.  Learn about temperance.

What is temperance?

Temperance is an old word and a word found in older translations Scripture.  It is something that is a sign of our sincere faith:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 KJV)

Temperance is not going to one extreme or the other, but practicing self-control, learning just how far to go and going no further.  Temperance is perfect moderation.  

Lack of temperance makes a person unstable, they go from extreme to extreme, over-indulgence to complete abstinence and often back again.  Temperance is not being ruled by our emotions.

“None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions.” (Pythagoras)

It is good to have passions, but only by practicing temperance are we assured that we are not blinded and ruled by our passions.  Temperance is answer to the wild pendulum swings of emotional overreaction.   

Temperance is not teetotalism.  We are told in Galatians that we can practice temperance in extreme.  However, extreme temperance is not teetolalism:

“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.” (C.S. Lewis)

Augustine argued teetolalism rather than temperance and many religious fundamentalists (including some in my own conservative Mennonite culture) go to this opposite extreme from over-indulgence to onerous regulation.  But temperance is not prohibition or imposed standards, it is having self-control and learning to restrain passions.

Practice temperance.  We will not stop the wild swings from extreme to extreme with rules.  Rules only teach compliance and never address the heart issue.  Temperance is the higher standard that cannot be forced and is only possible with a transformed mind:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Paul tells us that true non-conformity is a product of a transformed mind and not through external means.  

It is the world that tries to manipulate behavior through threats and external controls.  But those with the Spirit dwelling in them will develop beyond what could be imposed by rules or artificial non-conformity, they practice the perfect moderation called temperance.

So, enjoy your bean sprouts in appropriate moderation and practice temperance.  That said, I will abstain.