Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Person of the Millenium: Benjamin Franklin

Author:Phil Wolff
Posted:12/5/1998; 11:05:29 AM
Topic:Person of the Millenium?
Msg #:829 (In response to 584)
Prev/Next:828 / 830

I'd like to nominate Benjamin Franklin, for his wide interests, for seeing where science, technology, culture, and politics converge, and for acting on this knowledge for the betterment of mankind. For me, he represents an ideal of the renaissance man, someone who lives fully in all the areas of life.

For myself, I just admire and like the guy. He had an infectious joy of life and a willingness to dive in. He saw through curious eyes and invested himself where he thought he could make a lasting difference.

If you're leaning toward Jefferson, think about Ben as a non-slave-owning revolutionary. While Jefferson distilled the many ideas in ferment at the time, a worthy accomplishment, Franklin played a larger role in leading the U.S. founding fathers than Thom did. Among other things, Ben negotiated the treaty with France that kept them out of the war and negotiated the peace treaty at the end of the war.

As an inventor and scientist, he represents the ideal of the amateur scientist and naturalist; anyone can study, learn, and invent. Consider bifocal lenses, furnace stoves, lightning rods, and the odometer. As a scientist his work on electricity is better known than his charting the Gulf Stream or his experiments with meteorology. Franklin organized the first fire company and set up the first fire insurance organization.

As a philosopher, Franklin, a Quaker, was one of the strongest advocates of separating church and state. Martin Luther (the Church is not the only way) and QE1 (how about my own church?) paved the way, but I think Franklin and the American revolution set the standard for keeping relgious dogma at arm's length from the halls of government.

Several posters nominated explorers who opened European eyes and traffic to the rest of the world. I'd like to nominate Franklin in this category for his invention of the postal system. Think about how it tied people together, gave confidence to delivery, and eventually was used in and between every country. I think mail, and the infrastructure to support it, has been a force for peace and civilization, not conquest.

I consider Franklin to be an ancestor of the Internet. In addition to the postal system, he created the first circulating library, and used the power of a free press (The Pennsylvania Gazette and his annual Poor Richard's Almanack) to create community among people who never met. His use of the press was novel in that he was one of the first to include letters to the editor, illustrations, and cartoons. Sounds like the web?

Let me leave you with what will be my new year's resolution: "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

- Phil

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