Air Pumps to Atomic Bombs

             Priestly’s revolutionary ideologies spanned his religious, scientific and political perspectives as one interconnected web; they informed and affected one another and ultimately propelled a freer way of thinking. As Johnson describes it, “the radical’s belief [is] that progress inevitably undermines the institutions and belief systems of the past” (238). With technological advancement came political rethinking and religious unorthodoxy, and vice versa. This is the essence of Priestly’s quote. Although today those fields are viewed as separate entities, to Priestly they were entirely interdependent. Therefore, the British monarchy could only fear a revolution of government as scientific discoveries swept across Europe. The corrupt “education of our ancestors” was merely a stepping stone for a brighter future where “embracing change meant embracing the possibility that everything would have to be reinvented” (Johnson, 239).

This is not less true now than it was in Priestly’s time, and the implications are all around us. The epitome of this is the invention and spread of the Internet. In previously excluded and censored countries, citizens now have an unprecedented access of information and communication, and although their physical and virtual freedoms are still limited, many social and political revolutions have been spurred by the use of the Internet. The most well-known example of this is the Arab Spring, but countless other revolutions have similarly followed this technological advancement. Nuclear technology is another example of the trifecta merging. The invention of the atomic bomb and subsequent Cold War arsenal race led to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction—and a political standstill between the two great powers of the world. Humans were elevated closer to the image of gods in terms of their destructive potential, and socially, everyone was made equal with the possibility of world annihilation. This is rather an alarming example, but it illustrates the truth Priestly wrote of two hundred years ago.

2 thoughts on “Air Pumps to Atomic Bombs”

  1. Great post Marika. I think you explained Priestly’s quote perfectly in the way you stated how technological advancements radically changed religious and political thinking. You also made a lot of great connections between Priestly’s time and our own. I think your example of the Internet is perfect. Before the advent of such technologies, the world was too large for new ideas of freedom and equality to reach foreign nations, but now with technology someone across the world can see the wrongdoings of their own societies through the worldwide movement of ideas. I had not thought of this example before you addressed it. Overall great job.

  2. Well thought post Marika. Your use of evidence to backup your points is very thorough, and the evidence reinforces your credibility and claims. I am curious about your statement on politics and religion being separate entities in today’s world. Although this may be ideologically true in many countries, do you truly believe there is disconnect between the two? Sometimes it seems that we intertwine the entities even if we know we aren’t supposed to. I think your example of the Internet is absolutely perfect. The internet allows people to freely access knowledge, in a very similar sense to how during Priestly’s time, people were experiencing their first exposure to new knowledge and free thought.

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