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…

The Mind of the Designer

Standard

I spent my childhood in my own world of daydreams.  While some children have imaginary friends when I was a child I created whole planets far away and untouched by war, want and all the things I knew weren’t right in this world.  This perfect place was my refuge from the mundanity of school work and I would doodle pieces of this world inside my head creating stories and imagining rescue.  There were times in elementary school where I was actually disappointed when these grand designs didn’t come to life so that I could be swept away in front of my stunned classmates.

My dreamy ideals eventually began to fade into an interest in more practical designs.  I had spatial intelligence, in that I could easily imagine things in three-dimensional form and convert the thought with pencil to paper.  As I got older I became interested in computer-aided design, I learned quickly how to convert the ideas in my brain to keystrokes and with my fingers I would build things on the screen.  It was very satisfying to hold a finished work printed on paper to show friends or family.  I had assumed at that point that my future would be engineering, design was natural to me, but life and God had other plans.

For various reasons my vision to be a mechanical engineer never was realized and with that came a sense of something missing and potential unrealized in my life.  It troubled me not being who I was ‘supposed’ to be, it was a little humiliating too to watch friends and classmates sprint past me to their own goals.  And, it was this need to fill a thirst to build, design or create that eventually pricked my interest in writing as an outlet.  A writer is an engineer with words; an author is defined as an originator or the one who gave existence to something and I wanted to use words to create snap shots of the ideas flying around my head.

Since then I have had mixed success sculpting words into interpretable sequences.  Writing to be understandable to another mind is sort of like trying to write code for a smart phone except you don’t know if you are dealing with an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows phone or even if it is a smart phone at all.  Writing depends on both the author and interpreter to ‘be on the same’ page.  If the writer misses a line of code in trying to explain or if the writer and reader interpret the code of symbols we call language differently then the picture in the mind of the receiver created in words will be distorted and sometimes lost on them completely.

Needless to say, the challenge of communication of ideas with words is both frustrating at times and fulfilling for me.  When I sense a connection with another person through my written creations it is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and especially when it encourages or inspires them to create new things in their own life.  In writing my ideas can live inside of other people, when I write the designs of my own mind are transferred to one or multiple others, thus a piece of me now lives in them and now has potential to grow to something more than I myself could ever have imagined.  Writing makes both the world of the reader and the writer bigger; the reader taking a part of the writer with them and the writer living in the mind of the reader.

To me that ability to build ideas makes the frustration of potential failures to communicate and the time spent drawing my thoughts out in paragraphs well-worth the effort.  I love to turn abstractions in my mind into appreciable designs, using words like my paint and dictionaries like a palette full of shades of color.  Writing is an art form, words give an author the power to create universes never seen before and the ability to live in the minds of those who are able to translate their work.  I write because I still like to create.  I write because I enjoy engineering solutions to problems and using words as a means to draw the designs put in my head.

Ideas change your reality so think of good designs and then build them with the means you have been given to express them.  Engineering is a field with endless possibilities, so build the good designs in your own mind and create the world you know should be.  So, bring heaven to earth one pen stroke, one act of kindness, one carried burden, one painted picture and one small step at a time.  Together, brick by brick we can build the world God intends.  If you pray “on earth as it is in heaven” with sincerity, then believe in it and make that design live through you; bring glory to God with the creative designer’s mind you have been given.

My writing is ultimately an act of worship to the Master Designer and Author of the universe; it is a means to love my fellow creation, to fellowship with them and to mirror my own Creator to them.  I write to love Master by loving the creation by expressing designs with the work of my mind, words and hands.  I create a new world with the ideas of my own mind, I am a child of my Father.  I, like God, am an engineer at heart.