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Monitoring progress in a high-velocity century

On the screen the rose does what it has never done in the garden. In less than seven seconds a tight bud opens fully and begins to drop its petals. Using similar time-lapse photography and a model globe, we can see billions of years of change on the earth's crust - perhaps the supercontinent Pangaea breaking up and drifting into today's five continents - within a dozen or so seconds.

What would we discover if we turned the time-lapse camera on the past 75 years, on this mere semiquaver in the music of time? What would the camera see as the pages of some 22,435 issues of The Christian Science Monitor were flipped before it in that half-smooth, half-jerky motion of time lapse?

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Answer: an enormous explosion of change, a geometric acceleration in the pace of history; some quaint notions and endearing views of what that change appeared to mean at the time; and - most strikingly - an overriding concern for humanity. During the seven and a half decades since its birth, the Monitor has tried to cover all those activities which indicate how men and women can improve their global civilization. And it has sought to extract lessons from events which show the failure of mankind to live up to its potential. The purpose of the series of which this is the first article is to measure what has happened to mankind during this period in which history may be said to have been in fission - and to do so primarily through the eyes of Monitor writers. As always, we are looking for patterns and meanings.

In that quest, Einstein's famous words, ''God does not play dice'' with the universe, might serve as a central theme.

Einstein was responding to physicists who argued that random probability rather than universal laws governed the universe from microcosm to macrocosm. The same debate stirred almost every discipline where concepts were changing as rapidly as were our kitchens and city streets as invention followed invention. (In this article the word ''invention'' is used in its broadest sense: The zipper is an invention; so is Keynesian or monetarist economic theory; so is a new mathematics.)

The Einstein debate is instructive because of parallels in other fields. The great physicist had destroyed the old order with his theories. And yet he still argued for underlying order.

Across the 20th-century landscape, similar destruction of the old order was under way. The last empires in Europe eroded or collapsed. (Only the Romanov imperialism was perpetuated - by Leninist imperialism.) Colonialism shriveled around the globe. Slavery of many types was eradicated. Women were emancipated in varying degree. Illiteracy was in retreat; education broadened and reached a larger segment of the public. Mass production increasingly replaced individual work; automation brought a second industrial revolution and then a third.

But advocates of credos paralleling the random-probability idea that Einstein disavowed popped up in many fields. On the political front they favored an anarchic world rather than one with orderly international law and trade patterns. On the aesthetic front they composed music for random groups within the orchestra, freed from the guidance of the conductor. After World War I, the spirited Dadaist artists thumbed their noses at order, convention, and permanence. After World War II some Pop artists did the same, this time with great commercial success. And in the period of prosperity that grew after each war, some sociologists and psychologists emerged as apologists for whatever-you-want-to-do-is-right schools of behavior.

None of this should be surprising to students of history. Ferment accompanies change. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, called the process ''chemicalization.'' The growth of freedom - one of the enduring themes of mankind's progress - has often been shadowed by arguments for anarchy or license - and then repression.

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The measure of a civilization is often two-pronged: (1) Does it produce enough genuine freedom of thought to stimulate creativity, invention, change? And (2) does it also teach enough vision and self-discipline to manage and channel that ferment of creativity and change?

Reading through the pages of the past 75 years, one cannot help being struck by the Faustian challenge that arises with new inventions. Revolutions in physics (nuclear fission and fusion), biology (gene manipulation), and chemistry (''better things for better living'') all have produced a dark side to be grappled with and controlled. The same may be true of the extraordinary revolution in astronomy (actually going into space instead of looking at it through convex glass and our atmosphere), when man becomes capable of adding to the atmosphere on Mars or creating greenhouses on cold asteroids. It is certainly true of such hardware inventions as TV and radio, where gold and dross travel side by side - with dross threatening to overwhelm gold as each new TV season begins. And articles are already appearing warning of risks accompanying the marvels of the computer age.

The computer provides a good metaphor for looking at the 75 years just past in terms of hardware and software. Scanning the pages of this newspaper, one would at first conclude that the major changes that have taken place in the average home, the average office, the average farm or city, are all the result of hardware advances. But, reading more carefully, one sees ideas - software - as the driving force behind the major changes in both the quality and the forms of daily life.

Perhaps the best way to measure the distance traveled in 75 years is to look carefully at that first year of the Monitor (1908-09) and compare its news with that of today.

To reassure ourselves that there has indeed been change in the world let us start with a charming item, an editorial titled ''Automobiles in Japan.'' The author is puzzled as to why the Japanese are so unenthusiastic about the new horseless carriage. His conclusion: Narrow, crooked streets and the ''jinrikisha boys'' lobby form a natural barrier against Japanese acceptance of the automobile.

As you pause over this irony, consider another headline running over a dispatch from St. Petersburg (now Leningrad):

Russia Proposes

To Hold Teheran

And Protect Shah

The czar planned to shield his fellow monarch from rebels led by Sardarasd, the Ayatollah of that day. There may be nothing new under the Persian sun, but alliances shift like quicksilver.

Hardware, of the type that flooded the patent office and broke the stillness over Kitty Hawk, was the outward byproduct (today we would call it ''spinoff'') of the innovative thinking that burgeoned in that age of optimism preceding World War I. Inventive hardware poured as if from a cornucopia onto the news pages. The flavor was both ingenious and ingenuous.

The air was full of change. Every sample of innovation is picked up with great excitement. There is little sense of concern that any of the new inventions might bring with them problems, no environmental-impact mentality. The atmosphere is one of the-more-change-the-better. That daring young land and its flying machines

While the Japanese were resisting the automobile, Americans were not. An editorial welcomed the end of ''prejudice against the automobile in the agriculture industry.'' In abandoning the cry of ''get a horse,'' the American farmer set his cap in the direction of mechanization and the greatest agricultural productivity in world history.

Ads for cars were full of confidence, even though the price was still high in 1908. A new Chalmers, just going into production, was yours for a princely $1, 500 (about $13,000 today). The age of the horseless carriage was at about the same stage as the age of the personal computer in the late 1970s, and prices corresponded. Until a Henry Ford (or Clive Sinclair) came along with mass production, owners paid a premium for being first on their block.

If the earthbound automobile was a gadget that, like the computer, drew tinkerers and hobbyists, the air machines drew dreamers and visionaries. The paper ran a steady drumbeat of articles about flying machines: a plan for a German Zeppelin to fly over the North Pole (with most temperate and tropical frontiers explored, the poles became a romantic challenge like the moon in the 1960s); something called a ''paroplane'' was tested over the Nevada desert; a 20 -year-old ''aeronaut'' made a dirigible flight over New York, creating a traffic jam for 10 minutes (researchers find no record of the first gridlock, but suspect Manhattan holds that honor); a dispatch from Victoria, British Columbia, promised a monoplane that would fly at the incredible speed of two miles a minute (only five years after the Wright brothers' 6.8 m.p.h. flight at Kitty Hawk); and the helicopter was foreshadowed in a machine of that name tested near Washington.

Crystal balls were not always clear. An editorial titled ''A More Rational View of Aeronautics'' asserted that the laws of mathematics proved flying machines would be of only marginal use, in peace and in war. Who, the writer asked, would wait all day in a field for the right wind to come along when he could easily take the train? But a later editorial was more typical of the thoughtful grappling with change that gradually emerged. It discussed the prescient question, ''Who owns the air?''

Punsters apparently have not changed much over the years. Embedded in a regular column called ''In the Lighter Vein'' was this vaudevillian exchange: ''Why aren't the Wright brothers married?'' Answer: ''They can't find candidates in the circles in which they travel, and they don't want to marry beneath themselves.'' Hardware, software, and a flowering of thought

Down on the ground, cars were not the only things rolling. From St. Paul came a story of the Northern Pacific's equivalent of the bullet train - ''a mile-a-minute torpedo motor'' gasoline-driven passenger train. And Alexander Graham Bell's invention continued to reverberate in the public imagination. Two Danes were reported, for instance, to have invented ''phototelegraphy'' - a technique for making visible whatever (or whoever) was at the other end of the telephone line. It was obviously a forerunner of cable TV and all the digitized data that flow from data bank to modem in today's age of electronic information delivery. There was a profile of Marconi and his wireless method of sending messages. And Brookline, Mass., was duly recorded as the telephone capital of America, with one phone for every seven citizens.

But hardware was only the superficial manifestation of a thoughtful and ebullient period. Among the short fillers sprinkled in between longer Monitor stories on July 7, 1909, appeared a quotation from Emerson that seems to characterize the outlook of the period:

''The ancestry of every action is a thought.''

This was not only true of the thoughts of Edison, Bell, et al.; it also applied to the spirit launched by Teddy Roosevelt and his followers. The Monitor editorialized on and carried stories that were anti-slavery, pro-profit-sharing, pro-women's suffrage and better training for women, pro-conservation, anti-skyscraper, vigorously in favor of expanded education, nascently pro-arms control, and open to discussion of daylight saving time and the income tax. At the frontier: serfs, shared profits, women workers

The feeling overhanging much of the coverage is that everything is a frontier , waiting to be pushed back or improved. If we credit Frederick Jackson Turner, the actual American frontier had been closed less than 20 years before, but the public mood was still restlessly expansive. So ideas and problems, rather than terrain, became the focus.

Although most slaves and serfs had been legally freed, the battle of race and caste went on. A Monitor headline reported an Appeal to America

To Stop Consuming

Slave-grown Cocoa from Portuguese West Africa.

An editorial praised International Harvester for its new employee profit-sharing plan and urged other corporations to consider the idea.

Women's issues were consistently covered. From London, a headline: ''Equal Suffrage Would Especially Benefit Women Industrial Workers.'' From Boston: ''Simmons College Teaches Women To Be Self-reliant.'' From a Home Forum Page essay: Mrs. John Adams is quoted as warning her husband at the time of the Constitutional Convention that ''a rebellion would be fomented'' if women were not guaranteed the vote. And, at the top of Page 1, a news account of a meeting of the American Woman's suffrage Association.

Conservation was also a running theme. From Europe, a report praising Germany's ''systematic conservation of forests.'' From the United States, reports of more money voted for forest rangers, and an editorial about a desert-farming experiment in Tucson. The editorial strikes a note both expansive and conservationist, an approach that is to characterize Monitor positions in future decades. It concludes: ''We are only beginning to find out that everything that man ought to have is everywhere to be had, if he will only go rightly about the getting of it.''

Education is also a strong interest. Editorially, the paper noted with pride that Americans spent more money per pupil than any country in the world, then urged ''spending more rather than less money in our public schools'' in future.

Anticipating the brave but unsuccessful Kellogg-Briand Pact and all its arms control progeny, a Page 1 story ran under the headline

Waste of Billions

Would Be Stopped by

Less Armament . . . which would, the story reported, set free vast sums for ''the arts of peace.'' It went on to analyze the Spanish-American War in terms of what its cost could have bought in civilian projects.

No difficulty was too great to challenge. There was even a regular column titled ''Rational Golf.'' (The still peppery Mark Twain, who once called golf ''a good walk spoiled,'' would certainly have called that title a contradiction in terms.)

The pervasive feeling was, in short, one of great curiosity, hope, enthusiasm , energy, ingenuity - a feeling of being up to any challenge.

And that brings us back from 1908-09 to some modestly cosmic questions about the world's experience 1908 to 1983. Later articles in this series will deal in greater detail with population growth, resources, depression, boom, world wars, space, and technology. Here, let us look only at the broad picture. Sisyphus, Spengler, or Bronowski

Gathered on one shelf in my library are several books whose titles, as much as their contents, fascinate me. Three refer to our currently dominant Western civilization. They are ''The Retreat of the West,'' by No-Yong Park; ''The Decline of the West,'' by Oswald Spengler; and ''Rise of the West,'' by William H. McNeill. Next to this contradictory trio sit Jacob Bronowski's ''The Ascent of Man'' and Raymond Aron's ''Dawn of Universal History.'' And beyond those two, Freeman Dyson's ''Disturbing the Universe,'' a scientist's speculation on man's ingenuity at averting catastrophe, improving Earth, and colonizing space.

All these works wrestle with that basic question of civilization. Do societies have a life cycle - birth, flowering, aging, dying? Are they cyclical - like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the hill, seeing it roll down, needing a new period of work ethic to roll it uphill once more? Or are they - are we - in Bronowski's phrase, part of the ascent of man? If so, is the ascent quite literally taking us out into the universe as Dyson and others seriously propose?

After publishing his epic works on relativity, Einstein continued to search for a unified-field theory, one set of laws and principles that would cohesively explain microcosm and macrocosm. In differing ways the books just mentioned attempt to define similar broad principles for civilization. None of them attempts as ambitious a theory as those invented by the three most aggressive challengers of 19th-century orthodoxy, Darwin, Marx, and Freud. None of them attempts as all-encompassing a concept as the founder of the Monitor did in her book ''Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.''

But the historians on that shelf represent questions persistently heard as this century progresses:

Is history cyclical, with civilizations rising and waning but the same challenges recurring to be faced by different generations, different cultures, different races?

Are we running out of resources? Or is human ingenuity such that we will find answers before calamity occurs, with innovation and synthetic substitutes staving off shortages? Babel, Eden, Sodom - searching for solutions

Will our knowledge explosion be undermined by an anti-knowledge explosion (remember the Tower of Babel) generated on both the left and right in the West and fueled by commissars in the second world and ayatollahs in the third?

Do mankind's most spectacular inventions carry such a cost in side effects (remember the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis) that we risk the fate of the dinosaurs? Can mankind surmount the prosperity-leads-to-materialism-leads-to-indulgence-complacency-decay equation (remember Sodom and Gomorrah)?

The theories of Marx and Freud are leaking badly as we close out the century that championed and disputed them. Darwinism is alive (although under some challenge), but not a very useful tool for examining the complexities of modern politics, economics, and human relations.

Many citizens have turned to specialists rather than unified-field generalists for answers to problems of peace and war, marital and family relations, economic cycles, failures of technology, labor-management relations. But no sooner have the specialists announced a lasting solution to a problem (Keynesian or supply-side economics, League of Nations peacekeeping, Maginot Line defense, Fortress America isolation, neutralist nonalignment, atoms-for-peace canal digging, Masters and Johnson therapy, encounter groups, chemical farming, patent medicines with improved Madison Avenue names) - no sooner are these panaceas tried than they are found wanting. Then in comes another expert with another theory to replace the dethroned one.

Nor are Cassandras more successful than the politicians or technicians who proclaim nostrums. The Club of Rome charted dire resource shortages only to see some turn into gluts. Seventy-five years of news reports show ''expert'' forecasts of world famine alternating with forecasts of food surpluses. Headlines also speak alternately of petroleum running out (after World War I, after World War II, after the Korean war, during the Arab and Iran oil squeezes) and of plentiful supplies. And Joe Granville is not the only forecaster of a stock market crash just before a boom began.

But we have learned from experience.

Maginot, Munich, and Progress with a capital 'P' But we have learned from experience. Maginot Line and Munich, for instance, have not only entered the language; they have entered our thinking about how - and how not - to protect the security of society. And experts are gradually learning to be less complacent over resource and food gluts and less panicked over shortages.

Reading through seven decades of dispatches on such global concerns as war and peace, family cohesion, educational aims, economic fairness, conservation, and resource management, one can see that an effective definition of progress involves measuring lessons learned against lessons not learned.

Historians generally see the late 19th century and pre-1914 20th century as an age when thought leaders in the West believed in Progress with a capital ''P.'' Invention and its productive handmaiden, industrial revolution, were seen as taking care of material needs while emancipations of various kinds were freeing the human spirit. Two world wars and the intervening Great Depression seriously undercut that optimism. But the post-World War II unleashing of aspirations in the West, East, and decolonized world (the so-called first, second, and third worlds) led to a new period of optimism that even Cold War and nuclear threats did not immediately undermine.

Ironically it was a ''little'' war (Vietnam) for the United States and a series of little snuffed-out uprisings for the Soviet Union (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland) that caused doubts about each superpower's supposed omnipotence. That rethinking, along with economic strains, brought on a new wave of pessimism about capital-''P'' Progress.

This survey is a look back at a crucial 75 years, not a venture in futurology. But it would be a mistake not to note that some very basic factors may be leading mankind back toward a more sober and realistic belief in Progress. We have gained ground in our understanding of population control, and of managing resources. We are at last moving along the path of understanding how to cope with the excesses of our inventive zeal. We have seen our way through the oversimplistic thrust of the all-economic-growth-is-good school and the equally simplistic no-growth-back-to-nature school. A less materalistic view of progress appears to be emerging.

Scientists (and pseudo-scientists) tell us that Armageddon hangs over us because of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons or because of the ''greenhouse effect.'' Some anti-scientists, building on a theology of superstition, concoct elaborate fear-based scenarios of Armageddon resulting from a collision with atheist communism. Each group fails to read the signs of this century that indicate mankind is learning.

We say wryly that war is too important to be left to the generals. Reading the signals from this fissile century, one is tempted to coin a similar aphorism: Learning about peace - diplomatic, family, personal, and economic peace - is too important to be left to the sociologists and psychologists.

Educated men and women have proved themselves worthy, even avid, students of ''hard'' subjects such as science and technology and ''soft'' subjects such as economics. They have fallen into the materialism and even hedonism that sometimes result from success in both fields. But their attention span, their curiosity, their enthusiasm for tackling the vital subjects of man's relation to man, too often wavers. Preparing the audience for change

Sen. Keith Davey, chairman of the Canadian Parliament's Committee on Mass Media in the mid-1970s, said in a magazine article that the pressure of time confronted him with a challenge. ''My public career demands close scrutiny of an enormous volume of books, government documents, magazines, and newspapers. This incredible welter of stuff accentuates my challenge - that is, viewing this life and these times in perspective.

''That's precisely why the Senate Committee on Mass Media chose as its standard for determining journalistic excellence 'how successful is that newspaper or broadcasting station in preparing its audience for social change.' . . . That is why I am so delighted to read, on a daily basis, a newspaper that not only reports facts and trends . . . but as well probes hidden shifts in attitudes and institutions by which most change is accomplished. The Christian Science Monitor has no built-in bias for or against any notion of progress. It does, however, examine in depth those problems that confront us on a day-to-day basis. . . . The Monitor sets these concerns into perspective against a daily background of what is happening throughout the world.''

At the risk of appearing to be institutionally immodest, I quote Senator Davey in the paper he is saluting because he pinpointed so clearly the need for perspective if we are to understand, accept, and indeed profit from, change.

Beyond perspective lies utility. Understanding the forces that shape history leads to improvement in daily life. That is why the early helicopters and spacecraft, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and SALT pacts, new math and old history, have an importance beyond the antique headlines that usher them into our consciousness.

When Mrs. Eddy founded this newspaper in 1908, she had a long-established record of keen interest in the great historic themes of her time: peacemaking; emancipation of women; freeing of the slaves; atonement and justice; education as a means to progress in civilization; family as the center of society; useful literature and its opposite, ''nauseous fiction''; freedom of thought as an antidote to entrenched superstitious beliefs. She spoke of the human experience, with its challenges and rewards, as ''earth's preparatory school,'' and summed up her belief in the results of that preparatory school in a way that opts for Bronowski's Ascent rather than Spengler's Decline. She wrote in ''Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures'': ''One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself;' annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, - whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed.''

That's a tall order, the skeptic may say. Hasn't this century seen two global wars, Hitler's and Stalin's (and Idi Amin's) death camps, Guernica and Beirut, nuclear bombs, a widespread drug culture, and spreading chemical pollution?

But the other part of Dickens's famous aphorism should not be forgotten: It was the best of times as well as the worst. Historic advances in women's status, race relations, labor conditions, pollution control, education, literacy, knowledge, and, yes, even freedom and justice, have taken place during this period of global ferment.

The poet Randall Jarrell once wrote, ''People who live in a golden age go around complaining how yellow everything looks.'' There's plenty of yellow still to be dealt with. But a convincing case can be made that these tumultuous decades have produced an unusual yield of gold.

Future articles in this anniversary series will examine patterns in:

World affairs (July 5)

Family and society (Aug. 1)

Economics (Sept. 6)

Science, technology (Oct. 3)

The arts (Nov. 7)

Religion (Nov. 25)

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