The 50th anniversary of TIME magazine’s Man of the Year of 1960 is a good time for critiquing their choices and mine. With that perspective we older folks can remember how things were and how they developed and how we developed, too. Our longer view on the flow of times and events might make some sense of our extended world of experience.
To give some perspective to my critique, I must admit my personal faults and involvements with the flow of modern history. After looking at myself through my post — Self analysis and self defense — I now see my primary fault is lack of enthusiasm. That character fault leads to lack of commitment which in turn prevents dedication to 10,000 hours of focused study and it’s that self-created amateurism which prevents me from being really good at anything. Because of this fault — I have some others — I was always an outsider and observer to the events to which I was often very close. But it’s the positive side of that flaw that has a strange way of leading to looking at the present from too distant and too abstract a time frame. I’m like an archeologist from 10,000 years in the future looking at our present world as made up of a random collection of broken artifacts made by people who had a poor understanding of how things really work. It may be an accurate point of view from some distant dimension but it impairs action in the present world.
I had the opportunity and privilege when a young man of meeting and having spirited conversations with people the whole world revered at that time. J. Robert Oppenheimer and Eleanor Roosevelt are still well known to everyone, but there were many more. I had several wonderful opportunities as a youth, such as being a USAF pilot, which could have led to something spectacular, but it didn’t because I resigned my commission for very abstract reasons. I was on the periphery of the anti-war movement and protests of the 1960s and I escaped from the balcony of Sproul Hall, Berkeley, by shinnying down a rope being chased by police to the cheers of thousands, but my intimate contact with that important movement came to nothing. In a way those events describe my whole life. Being very near events but exiting from them at the critical moment when enthusiastic and committed people stuck to their positions and made a difference. Thus as an old man I’m a failed curmudgeon and will probably fail in my more recently chosen life-task to build The EarthArk Project. I will fail because I lack enthusiasm. I see things clearly enough but I don’t care enough to carry through decisively and publicly. The opening of the article about TIME’s 1960 Person of the Year cuts through to the reverse of the distancing ennui I have carried all my life and was experiencing even in my youth. I knew some of these people and of their work but unfortunately I didn’t share their enthusiasm.
We scientists are the only people who are not bored, the only adventurers of modern times, the real explorers—the fortunate ones. —1960 Nobel Laureate Willard F. Libby
Not everybody else was bored in 1960, and there were some adventurers—bearing spears in the Congo or banging shoes at the U.N.—who could hardly be called scientific. But the world of 1960 will readily agree with Chemist Willard Libby that U.S. scientists and their colleagues in other free lands are indeed the true 20th century adventurers, the explorers of the unknown, the real intellectuals of the day, the leaders of mankind’s greatest inquiry into the mysteries of matter, of the earth, the universe, and of life itself. Their work shapes the life of every human presently inhabiting the planet, and will influence the destiny of generations to come. Statesmen and savants, builders and even priests are their servants; at a time when science is at the apogee of its power for good or evil, they are the Men of the Year 1960.
Looking over the TIME covers it also becomes apparent that all of these individuals were heads of vast organizations except for the first one, Charles Lindbergh, (son of a US congressman who was himself son of a major politician) and even he was part of a team competing for a world famous trophy. That made this proclaimed to be not-so-obscure man’s activity automatically famous. So, even though he was called the Lone Eagle, he was standing on a mountain of supporting media and personal family connections all of his life.
It isn’t that I dislike organizations—they bring about many good things—but it’s because they have their own agendas and own enthusiasms which are not mine, and I don’t want to be controlled by their enthusiasms.
I have always avoided organizations because they interfere with my personal interests but those never developed into personal enthusiasms because it appears I am incapable of that sort of thing and so it’s overly mild me against the world. But —
I do want the world to prosper.