The Wall Street Journal’s Annual Tribute to Industrial Progress

Every Thanksgiving, the Wall Street Journal publishes two complementary, must-read articles: “The Desolate Wilderness” and “The Fair Land.”

Here’s an excerpt from “The Desolate Wilderness,” “the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton , keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford , sometime governor thereof:”

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Bradford wasn’t thinking about “wilderness” as a glimmering abstraction–he knew that in reality, a lack of development would mean an utter lack of comfort: inns, towns, even houses. And worse, it would mean outright danger: the danger of experiencing winter without 1620s technology, let alone 2000s technology. Given the reaction to Hurricane Sandy as an unprecedented danger caused by industrial civilization, note Bradford’s references to “cruel and fierce storms.”

Nature always gives us cruel and fierce storms–thank industry we now have the sturdy, climate-controlled homes from which Green bloggers comfortably tell us how dangerous we’ve made nature.

Which brings me to the other WSJ piece, “The Fair Land.” It was written in the early 1960s, before the rise of the Green movement. Read this excerpt and notice the unvarnished appreciation of industrial progress.

Anyone whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful….

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped….

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

Today, our country is far more bountiful than it was in the early 1960s. But I think we are much less grateful for that bounty, and certainly much less grateful for the industrialization and industrialists who make it possible–who keep us joyfully far from “the desolate wilderness.”