Posted on May 30, 2016


We’re probably all familiar with the term in electricity, “overload.” That’s usually when some circuit which transmits the electricity gets more in its wire than it can handle, and a switch, usually called a circuit breaker or a fuse, “breaks” the transmission that is offending the system. The object is to prevent the overload from damaging the equipment.

In the wireless world—don’t ask me how wireless works, it’s somewhere between human genius and supernatural intervention—the same kind of thing can happen. Overload. Too much data (you know about data don’t you?) is being transmitted through the air waves and the signal is clogged and the transmission either tanks or is so gummed up that it slows down to a trickle.

I have occasionally dipped into the Internet to read about how these devices work. I can usually do the two or three sentence explanations for dummies. Anything moving into the electron world (are there still electrons out there?) leaves me stupefied by my ignorance of how the world works, from out household gadgets to space shots.

An article, “How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich” by Deirdre N. McCloskey, in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal Review section got me started. How did the West get so rich? You’ll have the read the full article, and then Professor McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Equality: How ideas, Not Capital or Institutions Enriched the World.

In a nutshell (well a couple of nutshells), “the answer,” she writes, “in a word is ‘liberty.’”

Others have offered munificent and well-argued theories, with plausible “proofs,” such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and one of my favorites, Max Weber, but McCloskey argues that none of them got it quite right, although many contributed to the stream of answers like English common law, capital creation, savings, and the lot. But the whole answer is none of the above.

“Capital became productive because …ideas for betterment” proliferated in the past two centuries. “Ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz…the idea of a railroad…coupling of high-pressure steam engines with cars running on coal-mining rails…the idea for a lawn mower coupled a miniature gasoline engine with a miniature mechanical reaper.”

“The coupling of ideas in the heads of the common people yielded an explosion of betterments,” which one thinker, Matt Ridley expressed in his book The Rational Optimists, quite colorfully, “ideas started to have sex.”

And driving it all was liberty. You have to read Professor McCloskey’s argument slowly to appreciate the significance of liberating the common man.

Social Darwinists and Marxists fall like flies in this DDT of clear and imaginative thinking about what has driven this immense upsurge in economic prosperity—she calls it the Great Enrichment and the modern world. Ah, I forgot. Those of you under forty, just google DDT. It no longer is manufactured or sold, but sure helped man triumph over bugs in the first half of the twentieth century. Just medical inventions alone goggle (not google) the mind.

Now, back to the subject. Overload. Actually, a pastor in my church last Sunday even added to the argument, speaking of “noise,” so much of it in the modern world that it takes our eyes of and focus over what God may have for us.

Noise and overload. Both are the results I think of the “Great Enrichment” which I think is wonderful, but has put soooooo much at our fingertips and in front of our eyes and brains that we cannot truly think for ourselves anymore. A thought may start to form and soon it evanesces for the next piece of noise. And so it goes.

The still small voice of God many of us are taught to listen to is so still and small as to go unheard, and, if unheard, so is God’s will for us.

Ok, what to do? Unplug everything in your home? Return to nature? Remember flush toilets were part of the upsurge in inventions. So was electricity. So was your car. So was just about everything at your fingertips that so bombards you—television, social media, radio, cell phones, tablets—with an overload of noise.

I treasure mission trips I made over the past three years into the boonies of Honduras. Living conditions weren’t primitive but were pretty Spartan nonetheless. At night we sat around the darkened patios of the small schools we set up the medical and dental teams, and talked, or quietly took in the night sky. For a short time, I think I heard the still small voice quietly speak to me.

Then it was back to the capital of Tegucigalpa, the bouncy bus, the noise of a city with few controls on noise or pollution, the airport, more noise, and the roar of the jets as we rose up into the sky on our way home.

We live in a gifted age. But the noise and overloads have left us little quiet time. I’m sure some clever inventor is working on a nice device to produce quiet time. The sooner the better.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News as “Still, Small Voice is Lost in the ‘Noise'” Sunday June 5, 2016





Posted in: Life in America