Weird Juxtapositions

Every now and then one comes across documentation of a juxtaposition that never occurred to one as possible, let alone likely.

In that spirit, I quote to you from Frank Lloyd Wright's 1946 letter to the Unitarian Church, as seen in Frank Lloyd Wright's Letters to Clients (buy):

…Humanity now stands upon the threshold of a new Era – the atomic Era of the Chemical-revolution….

The Unitarian Church, always leader in the ethical thought of humanity, is again leading….

The Church will find that Organic Religion should be allied to Organic Architecture in order to lead the way…

Universal Atomic Power looks ahead of all of our present day institutions ready to render them all obsolete: looms not so much a danger as a new expansion of human life on earth

The Church must accept atomic energy and the new power of construction…

Perhaps the Unitarian Church is the only Church able to clearly see the implications of this new [ atomic ] light. By that light the promised land of Democracy is easier for all to see…

So, yeah. Frank Lloyd Wright. Unitarians. Atomic Power.

Makes perfect sense.

Somewhere Ayn Rand is scratching her head and saying "Wait – what?"

Last 5 posts by Clark

Comments

  1. David T says

    Thanks, this link made me smile.

    It didn't seem that surprising to me, though. Wright was a Universalist, and the Unitarians and the Universalists already had had merger talks at that point. As for the views on nukes, two years after Hiroshima, there was a lot of that kind of optimism in the air back then, especially in progressive circles and in the nascent New Left. As late as 1962, the Port Huron Statement was promising that cities could easily be powered by nuclear energy.

  2. says

    It didn't seem that surprising to me, though.

    In fact, I was puzzled for a moment, then saw it all clearly: early 20th century Progressive technocratic utopianism explains it in a nutshell.

    Still, without that framework to hang it on, it does come across as quite weird.

  3. says

    Somewhere Ayn Rand is scratching her head and saying "Wait – what?"

    Well, this is what every atheist will do if there is an afterlife. :) (Personally, I hope that if there is an afterlife, it follows the OOTS model, and I will spend eternity sipping brandy and smoking cigars made from poorly worded legal documents.)

    On the actual topic… I think it's sad there isn't really a utopian movement in the left anymore. Utopia is now fully the province of the transhumanists. Leftists are too busy scoring everyone on their privilege, as if the universe is run by GURPS rules, and it's their job to balance everyone's point tally. (Sorry, leftists. The world is run on roll 3d6, in order, no exceptions, old-school D&D rules, and we're all stuck in the Tomb of Horrors, where survival and wealth are more due to sheer dumb luck than to skill or planning.)

  4. Tarrou says

    Utopianism is the driving force behind oppression and atrocity. The muslims just want a worldwide ummah. Lenin just wanted to perfect society, Hitler the aryan race.

    Those who strive for a perfect endgame may find it easier to justify horrific means for their unrealistic ends. I prefer incrementalism, in the sure knowledge that any gains will likely be wiped out sooner or later. There is nothing so dangerous as someone who believes totally in their own rightness.

  5. anne mouse says

    there was a lot of that kind of optimism in the air back then

    And it lasted for decades. Project Orion was in the 60s. (I hadn't heard of Project Orion until I read xkcd what-if #7)

  6. En Passant says

    The Church must accept atomic energy and the new power of construction…

    Perhaps the Unitarian Church is the only Church able to clearly see the implications of this new [ atomic ] light. By that light the promised land of Democracy is easier for all to see…This is the fundamental insight that led Pastor Rod Flash to found the Powerhouse Church of the Presumptuous Assumption of the Blinding Light, with the St. Louis Aquarium Choir and Organ Leroy, at his organ again.

  7. En Passant says

    Block quote fail. Try again.

    The Church must accept atomic energy and the new power of construction…

    Perhaps the Unitarian Church is the only Church able to clearly see the implications of this new [ atomic ] light. By that light the promised land of Democracy is easier for all to see…

    This is the fundamental insight that led Pastor Rod Flash to found the Powerhouse Church of the Presumptuous Assumption of the Blinding Light, with the St. Louis Aquarium Choir and Organ Leroy, at his organ again.

  8. says

    @rk57957

    I laughed and then shuddered in horror at the thought of THACO.

    Let the record show that the first article I sold to a national magazine (Dragon, issue #117) was "Revised AD&D Combat Tables", which provided a stepping stone from the old AD&D DMG combat tables system to the eventual THAC0.

    #nerd_brag

  9. nlp says

    When we look back at the time when the use of atomic bombs was considered safe and helpful, there's always a sense of a fragmented world. Edward Heller had suggested that atomic weapons could be used for terraforming. We could dig another canal to supplement the Panama Canal, or a giant harbor in Alaska with the help of atomic weapons. So many possibilities lay ahead of us. ("The Firecracker Boys" by Dan O'Neill explains some of the details).

    It wasn't until a number of years later that the high risks of nuclear use became apparent. Fortunately there were enough questions raised that these projects were stopped, or there might be huge dead areas of the planet.

  10. KevinM says

    Totally skipped the 's' in that url on first read
    I might have advised going with something slightly longer when choosing a domain name

  11. Sam says

    Edward Heller had suggested that atomic weapons could be used for terraforming.

    *Edward Teller (though the amazon blurb for the book has the same mistake)

    When we look back at the time when the use of atomic bombs was considered safe and helpful

    Teller was most certainly the proselytizer of wonders of atomic weaponry, but most of the optimism was directed toward atomic piles which are by definition intended to not reach critical mass. However, increasing knowledge of the dangers of radiation, nuclear fear during the cold war and a few high-profile reactor meltdowns turned public opinion against nuclear power.

  12. Rick H. says

    En Passant – sounds like you're high on the real thing. Powerful gasoline, a clean windshield, and a shoeshine.

  13. Artifex says

    @Lizard

    On the actual topic… I think it's sad there isn't really a utopian movement in the left anymore.

    I think that I have to fundamentally and completely disagree with you on this one. Utopianism is the very soul of progressivism.

    As examples, I don't think progressives promote racial or gender discrimination because they are in favor of those means, rather they look forward to the ends of a glorious egalitarian future to justify those means. Corporations pushing green energy are given huge sums of public cash extracted at gun point. Your local progressive isn't advocating specifically for crony capitalism, it's just one of those unfortunate things that happen on the way to the amazing future of green energy they want so badly to believe in.

    Really when you look at it, is the utopian idea that the unleashed power of the atom is going to unlock a golden age of peace and prosperity any sillier than the idea that we are going to reach the egalitarian state by discriminating or reduce the powers of corporations by feeding them endless streams of government cash ? Utopianism is alive and well. It just wears a different uniform these days.

  14. Erwin says

    …glah…okay…
    (1) nuclear energy kills, on average, many fewer people per megawatt-hour. And, frankly, releases fewer radioactive particles than coal use.
    (2) moving from tapping chemical bonds to tapping nuclear energies was an immense step forwards and opens up a lot of headroom in terms of energy generation.
    (3) CO2 emissions from coal, based on reasonable estimates, have the potential to change Earth's climate in ways that will adversely impact human life over much of its landmass.
    (4) Solar energy isn't there yet, and may not be for a long time. Same for fusion. I'm currently thinking that the easiest way to make a continuous fusion reaction involves getting _a lot of hydrogen_ and letting gravity compress it. Then, you just convert the resulting visible radiation into electricity with space-based solar panels and figure out a way of transporting the power. :)

    So, yes, fission is a good thing. The main problem is that people got scared after worrying way too much over the consequences of a nuclear war. The second problem is that fission isn't economical yet – by comparison to coal, et cetera partially because negative externalities aren't dealt with and partially fission has the real potential for catastrophic failure. Basically, if I burn coal and 10 people, say, die of cancer each year as a result of the stuff going into the air, I don't pay. But, if I build a fission plant – I pay through the nose to account for every possible failure mechanism because there is a real problem with potential catastrophic failure.

    And as for radiation, people fear radiation far too much. Heh. Teller once explained how the USSR set its infrared radiation standard. First, the US standard was set by estimating blackbody radiation between two naked people standing < 1 m apart. So, the USSR set its standard to a fraction of the US standard. Oddly, they're now paying people to have children…

    –Erwin

  15. nlp says

    *Edward Teller (though the amazon blurb for the book has the same mistake)

    Thank you. I knew my brain was trying to tell me something, but I didn't know what it was.

  16. mcinsand says

    @Erwin,

    What the hell is wrong with you?!?!? A discussion on nuclear power is no place for logic and science… at least not in the US!

  17. En Passant says

    Rick H. wrote Sep 25, 2013 @9:51 am:

    En Passant – sounds like you're high on the real thing. Powerful gasoline, a clean windshield, and a shoeshine.

    Righto! Those are Shoes for Industry. And I'm turning them in, along with my neighbors.

  18. Sam says

    @Erwin

    Well said. I lol'ed at (4).

    The thing that really gets me is the antagonism toward fission reactor plants has stifled development of safer/more effective reactors, at least in the US.

  19. Gene says

    I'm not sure I'd hang my hat on anyone who routinely underestimated construction costs by 50-100% and intentionally designed very narrow hallways in his residential homes so that owners couldn't replace his built in furniture with retail products.

  20. Jacob Schmidt says

    Lizard

    Well, this is what every atheist will do if there is an afterlife.

    Well, no. Atheists don't believe in gods. There are some who believe in an afterlife, though, my partner being one of them.

    /pedantry

  21. Corporal Lint says

    Well, this is what every atheist will do if there is an afterlife. :)

    Well, no. Atheists don't believe in gods. There are some who believe in an afterlife, though, my partner being one of them.

    Emanuel Swedenborg, who visited heaven on numerous occasions, said that everyone will get there, atheists included. The only difference being that atheists in heaven are generally a little embarrassed and sheepish, though I don't think people make fun of them much.

  22. Lago says

    Coming from someone who grew up as a UU, I would hope people aren't startled that the Unitarian and Universalist churches merged some time last century.

    and ya. 1946.

  23. C. S. P. Schofield says

    The Unitarians long ago became the suit-and-tie end of the New-Age-Religion-Of-The-Month-Club. Which would astonish and annoy Joseph Priestly, one of the founders, who was a hellfire-and-brimstone Primitive Christian.

    My Father was a professor of the History of Science, and his specialty was Priestly (who was a Natural Philosopher as well as a Minister). When he was teaching at Iowa State the Ames, Iowa Unitarians asked him to "give them a little talk on Priestly". He gave them a Priestly sermon (probably not a full length one) and he reported that you could hear the eyeballs bouncing on the floor.

  24. Lago says

    heh. Many if not most Unitarians are atheists. I think it would more than astonish and annoy Priestly to know that.

  25. Sam says

    @C.S.P. Schofield

    I did my graduate work in History of Science. The first conference I attended was the Midwest Junto in Ames. Small world.

  26. Ancel De Lambert says

    @Erwin look up LFTR, it gives me such insane hope for the future and humanity, and then makes me blindly furious at the previous generations and their "priorities." Mostly hopeful, though.

  27. says

    a)"I don't believe in gods, but I believe in some other sort of cosmic woo that has all the same contradictions and problems any 'god' has" is not an atheist. It's like saying, "I'm a vegetarian and eat hamburgers. I just define cows as being plants." Everyone should be free to believe what they want to believe, and language certainly is fluid, but if a term conveys no meaning, it's not a useful term. (Far too many atheists simply reject fundamentalist Christianity, which is a fine thing to reject, and I heartily applaud those who do so, but, contrary to what those self-same fundamentalists often say, rejecting Christianity doesn't make you an atheist.)

    b)I almost never see progressives talking about the glorious days to come, when we will all share fully in the bounty of the planet and live lives of luxury while also seeking personal self expression and fulfillment, especially those of us who join Starfleet and boink green chicks, while not interfering in the natural development of other cultures, unless they're racists, sexists, capitalists, clones, use drugs, don't suffer enough during a war, litter, etc. I don't see too much modern progressive art that shows rosy-cheeked Farmers and Workers staring boldly into the Bright Light Of The Glorious People's Paradise that will be here just as soon the five year plan is complete.

    I generally agree with those who point out that utopianism is the root of much evil, as there's no limit to the atrocities people will commit in the name of working towards the greater good for all. But the lack of even a vision of a better world, of something to strive FOR, not merely to rant AGAINST, is simply depressing. I am a cynic, a misanthrope, a curmudgeon, a complainer. I am here to mock, jeer, and undermine. It is my role in life to tap the Coyote on the shoulder, and tell him to look down, so that he knows he is not on the cliff, and then to laugh as he falls.

    But if the Coyote never races off the cliff… if he never even tries to catch the Road Runner, and instead just sends out for pizza and catches up on reality TV… then what am I supposed to do? I can't tear down grand visions if no one provides them. That means I have to play both parts, simultaneously advocating for high ideals while spelling out why doing so is a waste of my time, and it gives me a headache.

  28. whheydt says

    Back when I was young and being raised as a Unitarian (before they merged with the Universalists)–and it didn't "take", there were distinct differences between the East Coast Unitarians and the West Coast Unitarians. The former were much closer to a "traditional" Protestant sect than the ones further west.

  29. En Passant says

    Lizard wrote Sep 25, 2013 @6:40 pm:

    (Far too many atheists simply reject fundamentalist Christianity, which is a fine thing to reject, and I heartily applaud those who do so, but, contrary to what those self-same fundamentalists often say, rejecting Christianity doesn't make you an atheist.)

    The old truism is that everyone is an atheist with respect to some religion or other.

  30. wgering says

    PS: The truly cynical would say we're running on first edition Traveller rules.

    "This is free trader Beowulf, mayday, mayday…Multiple hull breaches…Jump drive inoperable…mayday, mayday…"

    I actually started with Mega Traveller, then detoured into 2300 AD, then skipped to Mongoose Traveller. I have FFE's version of Books 0-9 of Classic Traveller, but I've yet to actually run a game with them.

    I'm cool with the world being any system that's not d20 or d%.

  31. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says

    Reminds me of another juxtaposition: rocket science, The Ordo Templi Orientis , and L. Ron Hubbard.

    Gotta love it when a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Jack Parsons) chants hymns from Aleister Crowley during rocket tests. Then he goes home to attempt to summon a typhoon because L. Ron Hubbard ran off with his mistress. Maybe it all would have worked out if they had actually created that Moonchild.

    Rocket scientists are badass.

  32. Lago says

    "I don't believe in gods, but I believe in some other sort of cosmic woo that has all the same contradictions and problems any 'god' has" is not an atheist.

    Atheism and theism are pretty narrowly defined. :P

  33. azazel1024 says

    I doubt it, Ayn Rand doesn't strike me as the type who spent a lot of her time scratching her head and thinking about things.

  34. Dan Irving says

    I am a cynic, a misanthrope, a curmudgeon, a complainer. I am here to mock, jeer, and undermine. It is my role in life to tap the Coyote on the shoulder, and tell him to look down, so that he knows he is not on the cliff, and then to laugh as he falls.

    This. Win.

    /crossfingersandhopesthisworks.

  35. Daniel Taylor says

    The first house rule is that when you die in character creation your character is mustered out with an injury and an appropriate prosthesis. It took us a couple of years to come up with decent cyberware rules that weren't just abusive.

    And atheist just means "I don't believe in gods". A person can believe in magic and not believe in gods, but it takes some mental gymnastics to do so. The reverse position takes even more, which is why so many theists freak out at fictional representations of magic.

  36. says

    @Daniel Taylor

    The first house rule is that when you die in character creation your character is mustered out with an injury and an appropriate prosthesis.

    Here's a proposal for a weirder game:

    When you die in character creation your character is spit out of the Matrix (Traveller world) and into the Real world (some other game system).

    It's meta.

    There are actually three levels, if you think about it.

    …or perhaps four.

  37. Steven H. says

    @Sam:

    "but most of the optimism was directed toward atomic piles which are by definition intended to not reach critical mass. However, increasing knowledge of the dangers of radiation, nuclear fear during the cold war and a few high-profile reactor meltdowns turned public opinion against nuclear power."

    A couple of things:

    1) Yes, nuclear power plants reach critical mass. That's pretty much the definition for "ON" for a nuclear power-plant. Supercritical means "neutron flux is increasing", and happens whenever you increase the output of the plant. Subcritical means "neutron flux is decreasing", and happens whenever you decrease the output of the plant. Critical means "neutron flux is not changing", and happens whenever you're in steady state.

    2) Increasing knowledge of the dangers of radiation didn't affect nuclear power popularity at all. Increasing noise about radiation had some effect, but if people had actually had "increasing knowledge of the dangers of radiation", they'd realize, for instance, that you could protect yourself from the radiation emitted by a chunk of uranium laying on the table in front of you by tossing a paper towel on top of it.
    Won't comment on attitudes toward TMI, Chernobyl, or Fukushima except to point out that those were pretty close to worst case scenarios. And yet, the number of deaths resulting from them was trivial….

  38. Sam says

    @Steven H

    Good points, I was being physics-lazy.

    those were pretty close to worst case scenarios. And yet, the number of deaths resulting from them was trivial….

    Indeed.

    I should have said fallout, rather than radiation. I was thinking of events like the Lucky Dragon radiation poisoning from the Bikini Atoll tests. I guess "fear of the long term environmental dangers" of nuclear reactors would be more accurate.

    Oddly enough, Silent Spring fed into those fears despite being about the dangers of widespread pesticide use.

  39. Daniel Taylor says

    @Clark: that's sufficiently evil that I'll have to consider whether I can write a module that works that way.

  40. Aufero says

    I spent the 70's (my teenage years) as a Unitarian Universalist.

    Mention of Jesus or God was taboo, but nuclear power, (by then classified as pure evil in the 70s backlash against techno-utopianism) EST, spirits, chakras and Rolfing were constant topics. We had sex education in Sunday school, taught by a couple in their 50s who eagerly shared every detail of their sex lives – probably the most effective form of teenage birth control ever invented.

    The only thing surprising to me about that letter is that it wasn't even weirder.

  41. Steven H. says

    @Sam:

    <-Former nuclear power plant operator. It always annoys me when people use the word "critical" as more or less synonymous with "BOOM!!!!"

  42. Sam says

    @Steven H

    The sad thing is my undergrad degree is in physics and I focused on 20th century physics in my grad school research. For shame!

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