We have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it's entirely possible for one person to completely change the world with the power of their mind. The bad news is that it almost certainly won't be in the way they envisioned. History is full of examples of inventors who've seen their noble, genius intentions go the Frankenstein route and bring the world nothing but pain and misery, such as ...
#6. Alfred Binet's IQ Test Got Hijacked by Eugenics-Obsessed Racists
The whole concept of using a simple number to score somebody's brainpower goes back to French psychologist Alfred Binet, who developed the precursor to the IQ test in 1905. It's the sort of thing that doesn't seem to have the horror potential of your average mad science experiment; Binet had merely noticed that different children of the same age learn at different rates, so why not tailor the classroom to them by putting them through a series of cognitive tests to see what they can handle?
After all, how could that information ever possibly be misused? Even if, say, children of certain races or backgrounds consistently scored lower, surely everyone would simply realize that was a sign that the system was failing them. Surely.
"What's that word you're using? You-genics? I'm afraid I'm not familiar."
Noooo! You Maniacs!
First, Binet himself knew his test wasn't all that scientific. It came with tons of disclaimers stressing that the test does not measure static intelligence and should not be used to label people in any way. And, for the single purpose of figuring out a kid's level of development, it worked pretty well. But then American eugenicists got hold of his work. The eugenicists loved the idea of intelligence tests because they wanted to use them to identify and weed out "the idiots" from the gene pool, which, by sheer coincidence, all happened to include anyone who wasn't a white American. Never mind that the score can absolutely be improved with education -- why burden the system with teaching children when we can just breed superior intelligence into them!
Thus, immigrants at Ellis Island were tested using the Binet scale (which was never meant for adults) so that eugenicists could rank races of people like they were Pokemon, but without acknowledging that they could level up with experience. The "results" naturally showed that intelligence was closely linked to how white your skin was, which was then used to propagate the idea that people from southern and eastern Europe were barely smarter than well-trained horses, and about as useful.
National Parks Service
"How good are you at pulling carts?"
It went even further downhill after Binet's invention was used to mess with people's junk. After intelligence tests took off, 30 states used them as the basis of forced sterilization, which by the 1960s affected 60,000 Americans, all because an old-timey BuzzFeed quiz determined that their Simpsons character was Ralph Wiggum.
Binet died in 1911, thankfully missing the worst of this. But not long before his death, he complained about the "brutal pessimism" of "deplorable verdicts that affirm that the intelligence of an individual is a fixed quantity." And if he wasn't such a gentleman, he probably would have added "you unbelievable assholes" to it.
#5. Victor Gruen's Shopping Mall Became Everything He'd Ever Hated
The shopping mall is as American as whaling on an apple pie with a baseball bat, so you probably wouldn't guess that its inventor was an Austrian socialist named Victor Gruen.
Landing in New York in 1938 after Austria and Germany had gotten a bit too "Hitler" for his Jewish tastes, Gruen looked around and decided that he loved just about everything about his new home, except maybe for its suburbs, considering them butt-ugly wastelands with no community.
American Heritage Center
"I mean ... shit."
The shopping mall was his plan to civilize that motherfucker. Gruen envisioned a giant building that would house a bunch of shops under one roof and also feature sculptures and music so people had somewhere nice to get out of their stupid cars for a while and actually talk to each other. And buy all the things, of course, or the project wouldn't get funded, but that was beside the point for Gruen. The mall he envisioned was the center of a whole "shopping town," a more sociable and European-like community with schools, parks, and theaters in all the right places.
When his Southdale Mall opened in 1956 in Edina, Minnesota, it made the local suburbanites feel like goddamned pharaohs.
Noooo! You Maniacs!
So how did the mall go from Little Vienna on the prairie to somewhere zombie hordes congregate when they're feeling metaphorical? Mostly a change in tax laws.
In the 1950s, the U.S. government finally acknowledged that stuff breaks down, allowing businesses to set aside some tax-free money for a rainy day. This meant that complex, money-eating projects like shopping malls suddenly became much safer investments. Soon, greedy ripoffs of Gruen's vision sprouted everywhere, and because of the lack of risk, they said "Screw you" to the man's financially sound and aesthetically pleasing socialist vision, instead wanting their shopping malls to be bigger, gaudier, and built on the cheapest land you could buy, way, way outside of town.
Eldad Carin/iStock/Getty Images
North Dakota wasn't even a state until people built a mall there in 1958.
America had Temple of Doom-ed the heart of downtown from the suburbs, leaving just a "gigantic shopping machine." Years later, Gruen distanced himself from the modern shopping malls, commenting on them bitterly: "I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments." Man, how do you think he felt when, after coming back to Vienna, he discovered that the city had just acquired a brand new shopping mall? That wasn't a joke.
#4. Peter Jensen Saw His Loudspeaker Used for Hitler's Propaganda
Now here's an invention that couldn't possibly be used for anything more evil than keeping the old lady downstairs up at night.
Peter Laurids Jensen was an early 20th century inventor from Denmark often referred to as "the Danish Edison" despite none of our research suggesting that he was a thieving piece of shit-flavored bastard cake. In 1909, Jensen moved to the U.S. to work, and he and his business partner, Edwin Pridham, invented the first loudspeaker, which they called Magnavox.
Journal of San Diego History
"Loudspeaker" sounds like a joke name that a kindergartner made up.
On Christmas Eve 1915, Jensen and Pridham demoed their invention by playing popular carols to a cheering crowd of 75,000 in San Francisco, with the loudspeaker allegedly carrying the music as far as a mile away. Everyone's lives were instantly improved, because a device that lets you loudly broadcast any message across vast distances to thousands of people could never have any potential downsides whatsoever.
Noooo! You Maniacs!
Here's something you never think about -- in Braveheart, how did anyone in Mel Gibson's army hear his inspiring speech? He was just shouting it; the whole thing would have been lost on anyone standing more than 30 feet away. Same goes for similar "old-timey leader rousing a massive crowd" scenes in Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, and the Bible. We kind of just assume their voice was being amplified by ... magic, we guess? But a charismatic leader actually had very little ability to whip a huge crowd into a frenzy before the Magnavox came along. So ... want to guess who was the first guy to see the brainwashing potential of this device?
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-0821-502/CC-BY-SA
Hint: His initials are "JG," and it isn't John Goodman.
Well, as Hitler's minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels was tasked with making sure that everyone heard the Fuhrer's message about the Jews being responsible for all of the country's problems. Seeing as cloning technology hadn't been perfected yet, Goebbels settled for the next best thing: loudspeakers, setting them up on every street corner and then drowning them in Hitler's soothing shrieks of hatred. The loudspeakers soon became important symbols of Hitler's image, and the people loved them, though Jensen did not share in their enthusiasm.
It's not like he could have seen it coming (and it's not like we wouldn't have eventually found a way to create funky-ass floor-shaking bass without him), but the inventor admitted that he utterly regretted creating the loudspeakers after he'd found out how Hitler and other dictators used them for evil. Especially after realizing how effective it was -- it's important to note that the Nazis had previously been unable to win majority support, but they really did get a boost by just being louder. Seriously, look at this asshole's speaking style:
Up to about 2:00 in, he's speaking in a normal voice, then he gets a little louder, and a little louder, the crowd going apeshit every time he raises his voice. Now fast forward to the 9:00 mark and listen to him screaming his little mustache off, yelling himself hoarse, the speakers rattling the sound off the walls, pummeling the ears of a sea of white faces.
Hitler steadily gained prominence, the Nazi Party's influence grew, and Jensen presumably went on to invent "getting blackout drunk to silence the voices in your head."