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Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was born to an economically poor family near Edinburgh, Scotland, from which they emigrated to Pennsylvania when he was age 13. He got his first job as a bobbin boy changing spools of thread. By 1900 he was the richest man in the world. The following are quotes from: Andrew Carnegie, “Wealth,” North American Review, CXLVIII (June 1889), 653-64. Perhaps from his style of thinking, and the ways in which he approached problems in general, we can gain some insights on how he would approach the Doomsday problem.

But whether the change be for good or ill, it is upon us, beyond our power to alter, and therefore to be accepted and made the best of. It is waste of time to criticize the inevitable.

This might well be how he would approach Doomsday—to say that it is a waste of time to criticize the inevitable—but, it is probable that his next sentence would be, what are we going to do to make the best of it? He lived back at the time when Darwinian, and other Scottish Enlightenment ideas were permeating the world of business, and other social affairs so the terms he frames his ideas in are influenced by those concepts. His world view was one of endless struggle, and the attempt to improve everything which it was possible to improve for humanity’s benefit was his goal. He was not enthusiastic about creating a perfect society such as the Anarchists, Communists or religious dreamers were, but just endlessly improving the one within which we currently find ourselves. When referring to Capitalism, and its faults he said:

It is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it have been found; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department.

He saw Capitalism as the best vehicle for a Darwinian type of justice, where the most able people were successful, and rose to positions of power, and responsibility, and the unworthy for whatever reason misapplied any powers they had, were diminished, and they became more indigent, and dependent upon those with manifest ability. He believed in offering people ladders by which they could improve themselves, but he didn’t believe in helping them to climb. They must improve themselves by their own efforts. Therefore, he created libraries so people had access to knowledge, but he didn’t help the people to put the knowledge into their minds, he didn’t help the indigent to turn the pages on the books. He provided nourishment for growth, but he didn’t water the weeds. He said that to give indigent people small quantities of money would just encourage them to waste it on indulgence of some temporary appetite without improving them.

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community — the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.

This sounds sickeningly paternalistic in tone, but when one sits on a metropolitan street for a while, and observes the humanity passing by it becomes obvious that a considerable percentage of humans are unable to supply themselves with even the most basic of animal necessities. Somehow they have brought themselves to a self created condition of profound abandonment of their own well being, and to give these people money is only to give them the ability to buy more things with which to further their own self destruction. A substantial portion of humanity focuses its attention toward the stupefaction of their higher powers, and aims toward the lower strata of society, and oblivion. Another artistic portion of humanity idealizes this self destructive behavior, and aims to make the indigent, and foolish look worthy and profound.

Those who would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy. Of every thousand dollars spent in so called charity to-day, it is probable that $950 is unwisely spent; so spent, indeed, as to produce the very evils which it proposes to mitigate or cure.

This concept also applies to the Doomsday problem in that much of what people do which is intended to help alleviate the cascading of society plunging us toward catastrophe—probably more than 95% of it as above—is in fact worsening the problem. For example, whenever there is some cry to solve some particular problem such as a famine, without an associated demand to trim back the excess population associated with that problem, look carefully to see, if in a single generation the problem would be worsened by the proposed solution. Almost always the proposed solution would soon exacerbate the problem.

The best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise — parks, and means of recreation, by which men are helped in body and minds; works of art, certain to give pleasure and improve the public taste, and public institutions of various kinds, which will improve the general condition of the people; — in this manner returning their surplus wealth to the mass of their fellows in the forms best calculated to do them lasting good.

These are positive proposals for the long term improvement of communities. He built over 3,000 free public libraries to provide a ladder for improving the general quality of life of the public. However, one hundred years after the provision of public parks, and benches, and various beautified settings, it seems that those particular items are mostly utilized by the indigent, and spurned by those most likely to be advancing on the upward rungs of the evolutionary ladder. He never said it but for those people who chose to go down the social ladder there should also be provided for them a ready access to their desires. That sounds dreadful, but why should we not help people to do that which they most want to do? He said, “The secret of success lies not in doing your own work, but in recognizing the right man to do it. … There is no use whatever trying to help people who do not help themselves. You cannot push anyone up a ladder unless he be willing to climb himself.

Carnegie was born into a world where the ideas of survival of the fittest held sway, and there wasn’t the glimmer of super weapons capable of destroying all life, so we cannot expect him to speak to that issue. However, he clearly states the need for the superior man to provide for the rest of humanity by his example of how to behave, and by his philanthropy in giving of his personal wealth in whatever form which that happens to take. In the case of apparently inevitable soon to be realized Doomsday event that gift would have to be the creation of Lifehavens for the salvation of humanity and not simply libraries for the advancement of humanity’s understanding.