The Roots of Progress

Industrial literacy

I’ve said before that understanding where our modern standard of living comes from, at a basic level, is a responsibility of every citizen in an industrial civilization. Let’s call it “industrial literacy.”

Industrial literacy is understanding…

When you know these facts of history—which many schools do not teach—you understand what “industrial civilization” is and why it is the benefactor of everyone who is lucky enough to live in it. You understand that the electric generator, the automobile, the chemical plant, the cargo container ship, and the microprocessor are essential to our health and happiness.

This doesn’t require a deep or specialized knowledge. It only requires knowing the basics, the same way every citizen should know the outlines of history and the essentials of how government works.

Industrial literacy means understanding that the components of the global economy are not arbitrary. Each one is there for a reason—often a matter of life and death. The reasons are the immutable facts of what it takes to survive and prosper: the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and economics that govern our daily existence.

With industrial literacy, you can see the economy as a set of solutions to problems. Then, and only then, are you informed enough to have an opinion on how those solutions might be improved.

A lack of industrial literacy (among other factors) is turning what ought to be economic discussions about how best to improve human health and prosperity into political debates fueled by misinformation and scare tactics. We see this on climate change, plastic recycling, automation and job loss, even vaccines. Without knowing the basics, industrial civilization is one big Chesterton’s Fence to some people: they propose tearing it down, because they don’t see the use of it.

Let’s recognize the value of industrial literacy and commit to improving it—starting with ourselves.

Comment on Reddit or debate me on Letter.

Social media link image credit: Wikimedia / Dori, CC BY-SA 3.0

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