… is from page 3 of Virginia Postrel’s 2020 book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World (footnote deleted):
But, to reverse Arthur C. Clarke’s famous adage about magic, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.
DBx: Indeed so. This reality, I believe, helps explain why so many people fail to recognize the benefits of modern capitalist modernity: these benefits are so woven into the fabric of our lives that they seem indistinguishable from nature.
Prosperity appears simply to happen. Supermarket shelves remain filled (at least when nature isn’t harassing us with pandemics). Flicks of fingers fill homes with light (at least when nature isn’t harassing us with windstorms). Nature seems to ensure that gasoline stations always have on hand gasoline (at least when nature isn’t harassing us with hurricanes).
We denizens of the eve of 2021 swim daily in an amount of material prosperity that would be remarkable to our parents of 30 years ago, jaw-dropping to our grandparents of 60 years ago; stunningly unbelievable to our great-great grandparents of a century ago; and apparent proof to any of our pre-industrial ancestors that finally earth has been transformed by some spectacular god into paradise.
Yet to us it’s meh. It’s just what is. Grass grows. Rain falls. Birds fly. Dogs bark. Cats purr. Squirrels scamper. Cows moo and dispense milk, some of which nature makes appear as yogurt flavored with vanilla or blueberries or peaches in those oh-so-natural, nothing-at-all-remarkable-about-them supermarkets.
The sun daily rises in the east and sets in the west. Gravity is incessant. Automobiles are affordable for nearly everyone, as are hard floors and hard roofs in homes – and as are also toothpaste and scientific dentistry, cellular telephony, harnessed electricity, air-conditioning, antibiotics, stylish clothing the fabrics of which are woven so tightly and dyed so well that they withstand being washed with detergents in the automatic (!) washing machines that are also among the many things that are supplied in abundance by nature.
Capital itself, we are told by some famous economists, grows automatically and according to a scientifically determinable formula – rather like bamboo.
We humans no more have to take cognizance of whatever are the complex processes that put toasted slices of bread spread with butter on our breakfast tables than we must worry about whatever are the complex processes undergone by the atoms in trees that cause trees to grow the leaves that deliver comforting shade on summer afternoons.
It just happens.
Or so it seems.