Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Cinder Buggy - part 9; Aaron discovers steel's place in history.

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

A common feature of both Rand and Garrett was the long speech. One such speech appeared in Satan's Bushel.

Aaron's speech in Chapter VII of Cinder Buggy is an allegorical way of describing economic history and mankind's advancement from primitive times through the industrial age. In four pages, Aaron walks us through human history in terms of our standard of living and our ability to bring forth and support new generations. We see why each advancement in technology makes life easier and allows humanity to prosper. We see also why Aaron is so determined to make steel. In this segment, Aaron is talking to Esther during the events in the latter part of Chapter VII, as Aaron struggles to find the process by which he can manufacture steel:

Out there in unlimited space are the unborn . . . . Millions, infinite millions, clamoring to get born, perhaps dying because they cannot cross. Here is life on this side. There, out there, is but the hope of it. . . . . Between life that is and life unborn I see the primal chasm . . . We who live have crossed. We do not remember how. The number that can cross is small. You cannot imagine how small it is. Only one in milions has the luck to get across. The rest are crowded on the edge, weeping, reaching out their hands, silently imploring us to get them over. [p. 68] They struggle, overwhelm themselves and fall into the void like a cataract. . . . . . . "

"Why is that?" asked Esther.

"Because the number that can cross is limited by the preparations of the living," Aaron answered. "The living are selfish and forgetful. All this I see as it has been for ages, as now it is, and as it shall be. Always it has been as it is on the other side - that infinite, voiceless, despairing multitude pressing down to the brink of the void. Here in the world of the living there has been some change. We have the power of preparation. How pitiably we have exercised it! I'll tell you all that has ever happened. Long ago, before he began by imagination to extend his faculties, man was like the other animals. He had only his hands and legs, his sheer brute strength, to work with. He housed himself in holes and caves and ate what the untilled earth set forth. You must imagine then across that primal chasm a chain of human bodies, a living monkey bridge, by which the unborn came to life most dangerously. How few they were! And yet, if more had come just then they would have starved, - died here instead of there, - because the means did not exist to house and clothe and feed them. It is man's business not only to bridge the chasm; he must also beforehand prepare the world for those who cross.

Come ten thousand years through time this way. Now see him beginning to till the soil. See him building huts. More life may be sustained. Above the void a swaying bridge of sticks. More may safely get across. And yet so very few! Another thousand years. Enter [p. 69] historic man. He builds him cities and fine temples and there is a narrow stone arch to span the void. The bridge, as you will note, is at any time of that material in which mankind is working. This is better. The unborn begin to rush across. But, alas! the case is worse than ever. Many now are born that never will be fed. Why?

Imagine the world at this time in panorama. There are cities, noble cities walled about; but they are few and very far apart, and the world at large is still an untilled waste. Tillage is in small adjacent areas, and when the produce of those areas is not enough the people in the cities starve. Further away are vast fertile plains uncultivated. They are of no use because food cannot be transported thousands of miles in great quantities. The art of transportation is undiscovered. Hence frightful famines on the bounteous earth. Then in his imagination man finds a ship. That makes it possible to transport food long distances, and yet the world is hardly touched. Life is increaseable only on the rim of the sea and in the valley of the rivers. An inland city is impossible.

At length the iron age. It is our time. By mechanical means man has enormously increased his power to prepare the world for that infinite multitude unborn. It is tremendously excited - the voiceless, spectral multitude. It presses more wildly toward the void. An iron bridge has replaced the stone arch. It is a sign that many more may come. Now with railroads it is possible to bring food quickly from afar. No fertile area of the earth is inaccessible. Island cities [p. 70] may begin to rise. More life in more ways can be sustained than ever before. Nevertheless, the iron bridge is a premature sign. The material is defective. It is not hard enough to bear the strain of that host pressing upon life. Besides, by no process yet discovered can it be made fast enough.

And I see what has not yet happened. I see whole cities built higher than the tower of Babel. Those are steel buildings, sheathed with brick and stone. Brick and stone upon mortar would not stand so high. To serve but one of these cities, - to bring its food and take away its manufactures, - I see a thousand railroad trains, - trains of steel running on rails of steel. Compared with these the iron shod trains we know and think so marvellous are merely toys. I see ships of steel so vast in size that on the side of one the little vessel in which Columbus found a new world would swing like a silly skiff. I see steel in all its power - towers, tunnels, aqueducts, fantastic structures I cannot sense the meaning of. I see miles of smoking chimneys where steel is made for all these uses in unimaginable quantities. And spanning the prismal chasm I see a series of great steel bridges, multiplying as I look, seeming to cast themselves in air across the void like cobwebs. But reflect! We have not yet discovered the way to make this steel. Unless we find it quickly we shall fail that unborn host. It cannot get across; if it did it could not live. The iron bridge cannot bear its weight. Nor can the world be prepared with iron. These things of iron are premature, [ p. 71] too soft, too slowly made, not big enough. Now do you know what it is we seek?"

"Forgive me. I did not mean to speak lightly of it," Esther said. "None of this had been revealed to me."

"Nor to me," said Aaron. "Not clearly until this instant. Man works mostly in the dark, without knowing what he seeks or why . . . "
pp. 67-71

Aaron's struggle and his deep understanding of the importance of this struggle makes so much of today's political and economic discussion seem so childish and superficial.

Click here for part 10.


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