Looking Backward

Contents

[edit] Bradbury

[edit] Narrative: Introduction

The story I tell you now means to be true, but it cannot be.

This story churns pieces of truth, carries them for awhile, tumbling in its current, knocks off sharp corners, polishes scarred surfaces, and drops them again.

This story meanders across a flood plain of possibility, between bluffs of improbability. Whenever it is told, its course shifts ever so slightly. I believe that one, original course is objectively true. I also believe this course, in its entirety, will never be repeated.

This story follows the deepest channel as it is at this moment.

[edit] Narrative: The Architects

Once there were two architects looking for work in bustling Los Angeles.

That is, there was one architect, who’d found work: Sumner Hunt. There was also a draftsman, who worked in Hunt's office: George Wyman.

A few years older than his boss, and with no other options, Wyman was an easy target for any scheme for advancing his own prospects—or for reshaping the entire status quo. Like millions of others, he’d read Looking Backward. The book’s utopian vision had seduced him, and ripened in his mind as he drew. Polishing Hunt's commissions, Wyman urged his much-sharpened lead across the paper as fast and as precisely as it would go. Only this white-knuckled focus kept Wyman's visions of a luminous future in check.

[edit] Narrative: The Developer

Once there was a man named “Lewis L. Bradbury.”

Leaving the Civil War to others, Bradbury traveled from Bangor, Maine, to Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico. There he pursued both a controlling interest in one of Mexico's large gold and silver mines, the Minas del Tajo; and his young maid, Simona Martinez. He married her in 1867. He got control of the mines in 1873.

Bradbury's miners followed a rich vein of andesite a thousand feet into the earth. They used tons of cyanide to extract metal from the shattered pieces.

Bradbury had money. Lots of money.

Bradbury was old, and he felt old.

Bradbury wanted a monument.

A dream client!

[edit] Historical Re-Creation Part 1: Bradbury and Hunt

Hunt is a young architect, with a young practice. His clients tend to be similar: nearer the beginning of their careers than the end, with little margin for error, and worried about doing the wrong thing, or being taken advantage of. Or they are older and more experienced, and yet not lucrative enough to hold the attention of established firms. Both cost and risk can obsess them. Hunt finds it best to soothe them, projecting certainty he cannot know. In fact, Hunt believes it's often better to not let prospective clients get a word in edgewise, than to allow them to hear their an echo of their own fears. Many of these are also on fire with new ideas and ways of doing things. Hunt must convince them that he is one of them, one of the young men who went west.
Bradbury is—need it be said?—not this client. He is at the end of his life, and ridiculously wealthy. Most improbably, his Yankee ingenuity and gumption have made him Pharaoh, or Montezuma. While constitutionally incapable of making a deliberately bad business decision, business is not his first concern today. He’s looking for immortality, if he can find it; and if he can’t, he’ll settle for a monument.

Bradbury: I'm looking for an architect, and your references are sterling.

Hunt: Why, thank you, Mr., ahhh, Bradbury. Thank you very much, indeed. You see, my firm works assiduously to meet its clients’ needs, and I personally am very pleased to hear...

Bradbury: I have a building in mind. An office buil-

Hunt: Ah, a building! Of course! What wonderful news! I can assure you, Mr. Breadberry--

Bradbury: “Bradbury.”

Hunt: Of course! Of course! Mr. Bradbury! Exactly what I was just telling myself! Please, accept my—I am sorry! Now, where was I? Oh, yes: we’re all about buildings here, Mr....Sir. And office buildings most of all, sir. Not to slight the others! Perhaps I should say that our office buildings are first among equals? Our humble firm’s profit center, as it were; although you’ll find us a very good value.... And I believe, sir, that the field of office design is now experiencing a paradigm shift, as we leverage learning curves and the latest fire safety and structural technologies to capture benefits with a heretofore unknown synergy...

Bradbury: Yes, “Bradbury.” It shall have my name on it. In stone. In fact, I wish it to be a kind of monu-

Hunt: Your name! In stone! Excellent idea, Mr. Redfairy! In stone, or in any of a plethora of modern materials which I shall muster, by your leave, at your command! In serried ranks, as it were! Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, as it were! But I beg your pardon, sir! This is no “Valley of Death,” but an unprecedented opportunity to build shareholder value! Here, sir, let me make a note of that...[scribbles]...for this is just the first of many F2Fs we shall have as we strategize and document your requirements, help you grow your business.... In our little firm, we’re orientated toward customer focus, which has driven robust increases in value...

Bradbury: You shall employ nothing but the finest materials. In addition, I desire the highest standard of crafts--

Hunt: Of course, sir! Of course! You might say our core competency is integration with the logistics and state of the art supplier network necessary to rightsource the materials which quite properly concern you! Leave it to us! You need have no worries on that score. And as I was saying, we’re all about process orientation here. One of many things we bring to the table! Our tiger team shall systematically socialize your thought patterns as part of a disciplined life cycle management process. Deliverables will of course include a critical path, with a progression of gates and milestones. But let's review the value proposition! Our analytics show that a mashup of drivers are combining to expand the Southern California real estate meme beyond the early adopters and prosumers to an event horizon. Yes, it’s going viral! You, sir, are a stakeholder on the bleeding edge of this sea change. Perception is reality, as they say! And that means eyeballs! And eyeballs mean growth! Monetized growth! We're looking at a new economy, and you can't make a better resource allocation decision than that. We have adopted the best practices and the most impactful workflow to put our clients on the ground floor of this convergence...

Bradbury: As you are no doubt aware, sir, few have invested more than I in your “value proposition.” I should like to discuss my buil--

Hunt: And you've picked the best possible place for that, Mr. Batjerry! Between our holistic, value-added, enterprise approach, and our recognized ability to take ownership of a concept and make the visuals pop...

Bradbury: I bid you good day, Mr. Hint.

Hunt: Thank you, sir! I’ll have my people telegraph your people! I think you’ll be impressed by how proactive our team is, Mr. Gladhairy. We’ll tee it up. It’s a real win-win, sir!

Bradbury: See that they do, Mr. Bunt.

[edit] Narrative: Failure to Communicate

Hunt’s drawings didn't answer the needs of a man whose minions tore gold from stone and who had established himself in Southern California by buying a rancho, a vast expanse of land granted by a dead Spanish king; and really, thought Bradbury, the most efficient way to get the point across was to do it himself. He'd invested time in this already, and no number of messages passed back and forth through agents would give Hunt the shock Bradbury knew he needed.

Not that Bradbury believed that the only way to get something done right was to do it one’s self. To get what he had, he’d grown out of that. Bradbury hired good men and delegated. He’d hired a manager for the Minas del Tajo, who made sure the armed guards left the mines with each month's production, on schedule. Two nights before, a car full of ore had crushed a miner’s leg. In spite of the surgeon's efforts, he succumbed to gangrene and lockjaw; and last night, the mine manager had duly recorded the death in his journal. Bradbury might not receive word for several days, if ever. The affair had been handled.

Thing was, Hunt’s soothing assurances that Bradbury was making a good investment, and that Hunt would help him to navigate the sharp practices of Los Angeles real estate and construction, may have been what most clients needed to hear, but meant little to Bradbury. Hunt somehow did not grasp Bradbury’s need. Bradbury had always been able to say what needed saying in either English or Spanish, salted with Indian words older than Quetzalcoatl; but Hunt didn't get it. And in the grand scheme of things, how long had it been, really, since men like Hunt were entombed with men like Bradbury, to serve them in the afterlife? So how could Hunt be so obtuse?

Anyway, Simona and the six children had been touring Europe for a couple of months. Simona had displayed adaptability rivaling Bradbury’s own, summoning the best tailors to foreign hotels to ensure that the entire brood was dressed appropriately for every occasion, and commissioning four statues of Carrara marble for shipment to the Bunker Hill mansion. They’d be over there for another two months. Bradbury was free to settle this to his entire satisfaction.

[edit] Fugal/Atmospheric Interlude: Belle Epoque

[Like buzz phrase piece. Employs percussion and Bellamy excerpts + headlines.]

[edit] Bellamy

Early in the last century the evolution was completed by the final consolidation of the entire capital of the nation. The industry and commerce of the country, ceasing to be conducted by a set of irresponsible corporations and syndicates of private persons at their caprice and for their profit, were intrusted to a single syndicate representing the people, to be conducted in the common interest for the common profit. The nation, that is to say, organized as the one great business corporation in which all other corporations were absorbed; it became the one capitalist in the place of all other capitalists, the sole employer, the final monopoly in which all previous and lesser monopolies were swallowed up, a monopoly in the profits and economies of which all citizens shared. The epoch of trusts had ended in The Great Trust. In a word, the people of the United States concluded to assume the conduct of their own business, just as one hundred odd years before they had assumed the conduct of their own government, organizing now for industrial purposes on precisely the same grounds that they had then organized for political purposes. At last, strangely late in the world's history, the obvious fact was perceived that no business is so essentially the public business as the industry and commerce on which the people's livelihood depends, and that to entrust it to private persons to be managed for private profit is a folly similar in kind, though vastly greater in magnitude, to that of surrendering the functions of political government to kings and nobles to be conducted for their personal glorification.


The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on the top of the coach generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence.


Humanity, they argued, having climbed to the top round of the ladder of civilization, was about to take a header into chaos, after which it would doubtless pick itself up, turn round, and begin to climb again. Repeated experiences of this sort in historic and prehistoric times possibly accounted for the puzzling bumps on the human cranium. Human history, like all great movements, was cyclical, and returned to the point of beginning. The idea of indefinite progress in a right line was a chimera of the imagination, with no analogue in nature. The parabola of a comet was perhaps a yet better illustration of the career of humanity. Tending upward and sunward from the aphelion of barbarism, the race attained the perihelion of civilization only to plunge downward once more to its nether goal in the regions of chaos.


Moreover, the excessive individualism which then prevailed was inconsistent with much public spirit. What little wealth you had seems almost wholly to have been lavished in private luxury. Nowadays, on the contrary, there is no destination of the surplus wealth so popular as the adornment of the city, which all enjoy in equal degree.


During the last decade of the century, such small businesses as still remained were fast-failing survivals of a past epoch, or mere parasites on the great corporations, or else existed in fields too small to attract the great capitalists. Small businesses, as far as they still remained, were reduced to the condition of rats and mice, living in holes and corners, and counting on evading notice for the enjoyment of existence. The railroads had gone on combining till a few great syndicates controlled every rail in the land. In manufactories, every important staple was controlled by a syndicate. These syndicates, pools, trusts, or whatever their name, fixed prices and crushed all competition except when combinations as vast as themselves arose.


The period of industrial service is twenty-four years, beginning at the close of the course of education at twenty-one and terminating at forty-five. After forty-five, while discharged from labor, the citizen still remains liable to special calls, in case of emergencies causing a sudden great increase in the demand for labor, till he reaches the age of fifty-five, but such calls are rarely, in fact almost never, made. The fifteenth day of October of every year is what we call Muster Day, because those who have reached the age of twenty-one are then mustered into the industrial service, and at the same time those who, after twenty-four years' service, have reached the age of forty-five, are honorably mustered out. It is the great day of the year with us, whence we reckon all other events, our Olympiad, save that it is annual.


The principle is that no man's work ought to be, on the whole, harder for him than any other man's for him, the workers themselves to be the judges. There are no limits to the application of this rule. If any particular occupation is in itself so arduous or so oppressive that, in order to induce volunteers, the day's work in it had to be reduced to ten minutes, it would be done. If, even then, no man was willing to do it, it would remain undone. But of course, in point of fact, a moderate reduction in the hours of labor, or addition of other privileges, suffices to secure all needed volunteers for any occupation necessary to men.


How, then, do you avoid a revolution every pay day?" I demanded. "Has some prodigious philosopher devised a new system of calculus satisfactory to all for determining the exact and comparative value of all sorts of service, whether by brawn or brain, by hand or voice, by ear or eye? Or has human nature itself changed, so that no man looks upon his own things but 'every man on the things of his neighbor?' One or the other of these events must be the explanation.


A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen on the public books at the beginning of each year, and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers. Perhaps you would like to see what our credit-cards are like.


It would have been reason enough, had there been no other, for abolishing money, that its possession was no indication of rightful title to it. In the hands of the man who had stolen it or murdered for it, it was as good as in those which had earned it by industry. People nowadays interchange gifts and favors out of friendship, but buying and selling is considered absolutely inconsistent with the mutual benevolence and disinterestedness which should prevail between citizens and the sense of community of interest which supports our social system. According to our ideas, buying and selling is essentially anti-social in all its tendencies.


No man any more has any care for the morrow, either for himself or his children, for the nation guarantees the nurture, education, and comfortable maintenance of every citizen from the cradle to the grave.


"His title," replied Dr. Leete, "is his humanity. The basis of his claim is the fact that he is a man."


"The fact that he is a man!" I repeated, incredulously. "Do you possibly mean that all have the same share?"


"Most assuredly."


The readers of this book never having practically known any other arrangement, or perhaps very carefully considered the historical accounts of former epochs in which a very different system prevailed, cannot be expected to appreciate the stupor of amazement into which Dr. Leete's simple statement plunged me.


At this moment our talk was charmingly interrupted by the emergence upon the aerial platform where we sat of Edith Leete. She was dressed for the street, and had come to speak to her father about some commission she was to do for him.


There was nothing in the exterior aspect of the edifice to suggest a store to a representative of the nineteenth century. There was no display of goods in the great windows, or any device to advertise wares, or attract custom. Nor was there any sort of sign or legend on the front of the building to indicate the character of the business carried on there; but instead, above the portal, standing out from the front of the building, a majestic life-size group of statuary, the central figure of which was a female ideal of Plenty, with her cornucopia.


It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. Beneath it, in the centre of the hall, a magnificent fountain played, cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray. The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior. Around the fountain was a space occupied with chairs and sofas, on which many persons were seated conversing. Legends on the walls all about the hall indicated to what classes of commodities the counters below were devoted.


With the exception of this fundamental law, which is, indeed, merely a codification of the law of nature--the edict of Eden--by which it is made equal in its pressure on men, our system depends in no particular upon legislation, but is entirely voluntary, the logical outcome of the operation of human nature under rational conditions. This question of inheritance illustrates just that point. The fact that the nation is the sole capitalist and land-owner of course restricts the individual's possessions to his annual credit, and what personal and household belongings he may have procured with it. His credit, like an annuity in your day, ceases on his death, with the allowance of a fixed sum for funeral expenses. His other possessions he leaves as he pleases.


A man able to do duty, and persistently refusing, is sentenced to solitary imprisonment on bread and water till he consents.


"Who is capable of self-support?" he demanded. "There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family coöperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest sort of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, and the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support; and that it did not in your day constituted the essential cruelty and unreason of your system."


The worker is not a citizen because he works, but works because he is a citizen. As you recognize the duty of the strong to fight for the weak, we, now that fighting is gone by, recognize his duty to work for him.


As to imbecile persons, it is deemed best that each nation should be responsible for its own, and the emigration of such must be under full guarantees of support by his own nation.


However new and astonishing one's surroundings, the tendency is to become a part of them so soon that almost from the first the power to see them objectively and fully measure their strangeness, is lost.


One can look back a thousand years easier than forward fifty. A century is not so very long a retrospect.


It is like a gigantic mill, into the hopper of which goods are being constantly poured by the train-load and ship-load, to issue at the other end in packages of pounds and ounces, yards and inches, pints and gallons, corresponding to the infinitely complex personal needs of half a million people.


A government, or a majority, which should undertake to tell the people, or a minority, what they were to eat, drink, or wear, as I believe governments in America did in your day, would be regarded as a curious anachronism indeed. Possibly you had reasons for tolerating these infringements of personal independence, but we should not think them endurable.



[edit] Corporate Headlines 2012

Jeffrey Toobin’s recent exposé in the New Yorker takes aim at the Roberts Supreme Court for its controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down the key provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act prohibiting “corporations from running television commercials for or against Presidential candidates for thirty days before primaries.”

City council runs out of time to discuss shorter meetings

To Toobin, Citizens United was the Supreme Court’s illicit gift to corporations; it recalls the worst excesses of the “Gilded Age,” a time when, Toobin claims (falsely), the Supreme Court “barred most attempts by the government to ameliorate the harsh effects of market forces.”

Army vehicle disappears—an Australian army vehicle worth $74,000 has gone missing after being painted with camouflage

To Toobin, one unfortunate byproduct of the nineteenth-century Court’s worldview was its 1886 decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which held that corporations—railroads, no less—were “persons.”

Mitt Romney says ‘corporations are people’ at Iowa State Fair

They are thus entitled to the protections of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Woman reportedly arrested for painting nails on Southwest Airline flight

A second low point of that Gilded Age, Toobin insists, was the Supreme Court’s 1905 decision in Lochner v. New York, which, by his account, held “that most attempts to regulate the private marketplace, or to protect workers, were unconstitutional.”

Suspect in Jobs heist gave iPad to clown

It's True: Corporations Are People What else could they be? Buildings don't hire people. Buildings don't design cars that run on electricity or discover drug therapies to defeat cancer.

Panel finds misconduct

The Supreme Court Still Thinks Corporations Are People

Witches and wizards no longer can offer spell or curses on eBay

[edit] Bradbury

[edit] Narrative: The Vision Crowds Through

Wyman leaned over his drafting table, keeping his head down; but his pencil slowed. Heavy wings beat at his temples as a wall crumbled to admit the vision:

It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. Beneath it, in the centre of the hall, a magnificent fountain played, cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray. The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior. Around the fountain was a space occupied with chairs and sofas, on which many persons were seated conversing.


Had anyone noticed Wyman’s lapse? He glanced past the frustrated Hunt, and Bradbury’s challenging stare froze him.

Bradbury was surprised to remember someone else was in the room, then annoyed, and finally amused. Wyman was transfixed as the old lion advanced. His just-pointed lead snapped and sprayed his drawing with a fine corona of graphite particles.

Other draftsmen dropped their heads even closer to the paper and stared transfixed at their own needle-like pencil points, as if studying fragments of the True Cross.

Hunt turned. Wyman saw fury behind Hunt’s icy mask. Tonight, Belle would cry and he would drink. Tomorrow, he’d be looking for another job.

You could have heard a pin drop.

Especially a pin made of solid Mexican gold: incorruptible blood drained from a still-beating heart, torn from the conquered rock with a flint knife.

Bradbury knew it all along, of course. Hunt figured it out by the time Bradbury held Wyman’s gaze from the other side of the drafting table. His mask took a more benign shape as he contemplated marking up Wyman's hours at a higher rate. Then Wyman knew it, too. The watershed moment. Now the streams ran in a different direction.

[edit] Historical Re-Creation: The Spark

Bradbury: Can you do better?

Wyman: No.

Bradbury tenses, begins to turn away, dismissing this folly.


Bradbury, to audience: I'm wasting my time. Why am I here?

Wyman winces as his head throbs. He is in the throes of possession.


Wyman: Yes.

Bradbury pivots back toward Wyman, one eyebrow raised.


Bradbury: What did you say? Did I hear you right?

Wyman: Maybe. Maybe...yes, I think I can. Sir.

Bradbury’s lip curls up on one side in the beginning of a smirk, then stops. For a moment, he lets go of Wyman's gaze; he studies Wyman’s hands, his drawing, his crisp lines. He looks up, seizing the draftsman's eyes a second time, sees a reflection. It's not his own. (In the multimillion-dollar film version, it's a grid of light segmented by fine tracery: a monochromatic view of the Bradbury Building skylight and its cast iron trusses, seen from below.)
Wyman, emboldened by the vision, stiffens as he returns Bradbury's stare. He sees the same thing: In Bradbury’s eyes, where it has, if anything, even less right to be.


Both, speaking to themselves: vast hall full of light

Beat.
Bradbury stabs a forefinger down on Wyman's drawing, smudging the immaculate lines. He wears a massive gold ring. Wyman stares back, not daring to flinch, but also refusing to be intimidated by the rich man.


Bradbury, grinding his fingertip into the drawing:
I
will
spare
no
expense.
Do you understand that?

Wyman: Yes. Yes sir. I understand, sir.

To himself: But can I really do it? Maybe. Yes. Still. It’s a leap.

Can I not do it?

To audience: I'll do it, all right. But not for this man. I'll do it for mankind. For the progress of civilization. For a better future.

Bradbury, to audience: I don't give a tinker’s damn why he does it, as long as he does it. That's my only yardstick. I want a monument, and he seems to know what that means. When I'm gone, there it’ll be, with my name on it. In stone.

Wyman, in narrative, story-telling mode: Late that night, Belle and I got out the Ouija board, and talked with my dead brother.

‘God’ voice:
...take the
Bradbury building
and you will be
successful

Quizzically: “Successful” was written upside-down.

[edit] Narrative: The Monument

Way over budget! No expense was spared. Glazed brick. Tile. Polished wood, even in the basement. Delicate filigrees of cast iron, from France. Fine marble, from Italy. Carved stone. Terra cotta, each piece shaped by hand. And over all, an airy span of glass.

The contractor found a spring in the basement: the closest the building came to “magnificent fountains.” Bradbury ordered steel rails from Europe to span the water and support the building.

Some say Hunt was responsible for the design, and that Wyman merely supervised construction. And indeed, Hunt is remembered for several surviving buildings.

Some say that Hunt's completed design was ignored, and that Wyman was responsible for the second design: the one that was actually built.

Afterward, Wyman embarked on an independent career, earning his architectural credentials from a correspondence school. School taught him that architecture meant dark, massive piles, and he began a career of designing them. As he gained experience, each building became more miserable than the last. His buildings became object lessons in learning the wrong thing.

[Optional:]

In 1905, years after Bradbury died, new technology allowed the miners to reprocess leftover material and wring more gold from it. By 1916, the miners had retreated to less than 600 feet below the surface. Each day they processed 250 tons of old fill and virgin ore blasted from former pillars as they went.
In 1917, news that a shortage of cyanide had curtailed operations came to the Bradbury Estate Company's offices in the eponymous building. Still, the Bradbury Estate Company had many other things to do. It was finally dissolved in 1965.