Anybody who still buys into the Progressivist premise that the only sensible and proper way of running things is to allow “experts” to micromanage our lives for us—most especially, to plan our future according to their own stilted “vision” and half-bright assumptions—is a damned idiot.
As a scientific achievement, as a demonstration of cool nerve, or as an example of control of brain and muscle, cultivated to the point where it becomes instinctive, Wilbur Wright’s flight up the Hudson on October 4 is memorable. But the leap by which popular imagination flies to the interpretation that this performance establishes commercial supremacy of the aeroplane is purely fantastic. Emotion has run away with reason.
We do not query the interest or excellence of the Wrights’ mechanical achievement. There is no reason apparently why they should not vastly better any recorded performance—fly thousands of feet high, or hundreds of miles in distance. Our skepticism is only as to the utilitarian value of any present or possible achievement of the aeroplane. We do not believe it will ever be a commercial vehicle at all. We do not believe it will find any very large place in the world of sport. We do not believe its military importance is as great as is commonly supposed, or will extend (except accidentally) beyond the range of scouting and courier service. Even here it remains wholly indeterminate how much (except mutual destruction) can actually be accomplished by men in flying-machines, if other men in other flying-machines are trying to prevent the accomplishment. And even the attempt must always be limited by the absolute dependence of aerial navigation upon weather conditions which in most places and in average seasons exist during only a minor fraction of the time.
Emphasis mine, and sidesplittingly hilarious. Hidebound, arrogant “experts” who dismiss epoch-shattering developments only to be embarrasingly proved ass-backwards and wrong when their cherished assumptions are overtaken by creativity and innovation is an old, old story, of course. It’s applicable to a whole hell of a lot more than just aviation, too. As Novak says:
The airplane still had to prove itself in many ways. And respected people in respected publications were saying rather bluntly that not only would the airplane not be used for commercial purposes anytime soon, it would never be used for them at all. As the Literary Digest suggested, maybe airplanes were just novelties like the tightrope walker.
History would prove these people wrong. But history would also largely forget that there was ever a question that aircraft would zip around the skies transporting people and goods. There was nothing inevitable about the future, despite it always feeling that way—whether we’re talking about air travel, smartphones, or politics.
It isn’t even “inevitable” that we’ll HAVE a future in the first place, when you think about it. The one thing we ought to have learned by now is that, whatever the future may bring, it is unlikely in the extreme to look like anything even the most wild-eyed visionary nut among us could dream up. If you don’t believe it, go back and read some Heinlein or H Beam Piper. Marvel at the many things they got right, or were at least close…and then marvel just as deeply that, in most of the future worlds they so brilliantly crafted for us, people are still using paper as a primary means of communication, and computers are still printing out their calculations on it—laboriously, with much loud clattering, and sloooooowly.
We humans seem to have an immutable tendency to always assume that current conditions will hold forever, without change or adjustment, all historical evidence to the contrary. Assumptions of that precise nature are pretty much the primary basis of climate change hysteria, just to name one example—among those who ARE sincerely hysterical about it, rather than using it as a scam to pimp an anti-capitalist, anti-American agenda, anyway.
Don’t know how or where Novak ran across the old Engineering Magazine article quoted above, but it was a real find, and I’m very glad he shared it with us.