The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, August 7, 2011
Society ... Spirituality ...

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a lot of full page advertisements in a variety of magazines composed mostly of text, having a small picture of an old 1950’s-style white guy named Richard W. Wetherill. Every now and then I’d try to read some of these ads, but they never seemed to say anything all that interesting. Whoever is behind these ads (the Richard Wetherill Foundation, I gather) obviously has a lot of money, and just keeps on posting them. A quick web search shows that these ads have appeared in Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science and Science Illustrated; the Foundation people are obviously aiming at scientific rationalists. But they have also hit The Smithsonian and The Atlantic at times, trying to broaden their audience a bit (but still aiming at the more educated reading population).

Well, persistence pays off; after 3 or 4 years of seeing these ads, I finally took a few minutes and tried to focus on their message. I also tried to find out a bit about Mr. Wetherill himself, who died in 1989, over 20 years ago. I’d also love to know just who is behind the big push to popularize Wetherill today. But as to Wetherill, he worked for a big railroad car manufacturer in Philadelphia, the Budd Company, as a training executive back in the 1940s. That was back when unions were powerful. I gather that Mr. Wetherill was concerned with union-management and employee-management relationships, which could be rather tumultuous. Well, at some point he decided to quit his job and become a management consultant. Later, he became a prophet, a “man with a message”. (The guy came from Jersey, but must have tapped into an old Main Line family with $$$, which probably pays for all the ads you see out there today). So he wrote all these books to get his message across.

Just what is that message? His ads talk about natural laws of behavior and laws of absolute right. This all has something to do with how people should get along, how political and social and business relationships should be carried out and how the systems behind them should be designed. One key tenet is that people resent being told what they can and cannot think, say and do, feeling that this is their own business. Wetherill feels that there is something wrong with this notion, as it “overlooks where the gift of life originates”. Things would supposedly be much better if everyone instead knew the “law of absolute right” (he originally called it “humanetics”) and did things in accord with this law. So, we shouldn’t make life up as we go along, we should instead consult this “law” that “was not identified until the past century by Richard W. Wetherill”. That would be the rational and honest thing to do, according to the Wetherill doctrine.

I still don’t totally understand what this “law of absolute right” is, but the whole thing seems to reek of Taoism. I’d love to know whether Mr. Wetherill had studied the Tao Te Ching. The Tao, like Mr. Wetherill’s ads, can be profoundly obscure; but it is thankfully much less verbose. It basically says that there is some sort of “natural law” behind everything — The Tao. Can we know this law? Yes and no. What we can know of it should guide us and our social and political interactions. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is not a detailed roadmap, but it does leave you with pearls of wisdom about being effective by not trying too hard, about governing through non-governing, about letting things take their natural course and not mucking them up too much with immediate human concerns and passions. E.g., “Tao abides in non-action, yet nothing is left undone; if rulers observed this, things would develop naturally”. “That which fails must first be strong; before receiving there must be giving; soft and weak overcome hard and strong; and a country’s weapons should not be displayed”. “Know the strength of a man, but keep a woman’s care”.

I could go to Mr. Wetherill’s web site and download hundreds of pages of his writings (for free). But I think that I’ll stick with Lao Tzu’s elegant little Tao, and some occasional passages from the somewhat more verbose Chuang Tzu. You probably get the same wisdom about living in accord with natural intent, but in a more artful and poetic way, by consulting Chinese literature that is 2,500 years old. If I only had the same blue-blood bucks that Wetherill’s family does, I’d take a full page ad out right next to theirs saying — “It’s all been said before, and much more elegantly! Read the Tao!”

And that would be it. The rest would be blank white space. For you to fill in the blanks.

Oh, PS — one conservative blogger thinks that Mr. Wetherill’s ideas reflect an insidious “liberal religion”. I can’t help but wonder what he thinks of the Tao. I suspect he’d like the minimal government philosophy, but might not go for the womanly softness and weakness of not displaying weapons.

PPS — After another look or two, I conclude that Wetherill’s message in a nutshell is that we should all adhere to strict moral codes and principles, no matter what. We need to control our emotions and just do the right thing, every time. This is such a huge discovery? Like, thousands or millions of prophets over 3,000 years of recorded history haven’t been saying the same thing?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:30 pm      

  1. Jim, Checked out Richard Wetherill. Seems there was a Richard Wetherill back in the last half of the 1800s into the 1900s who “researched” (as they often did in those times) the Indian tribes of the West. In the process of his “research” he did a lot of damage to artifacts by his “exploring.”

    Then I found the Richard W. Wetheril you must be referring to in your blog above. (I had never seen one of the ads you mentioned.) I was struck by all the “shoulds” in how he thinks people “should” live–always a sign of somebody who thinks he’s better than the rest of the puny world.

    Just about the time I was figuring he must have founded a “religion” something like Scientology, I found a *comment* on another site for RWW ( The comment compared Wetherill and his philosophy or religion (whatever, I guess) to “humanetics”, “dianetics”, and the “Rosicrucians”. (I remember some years back seeing ads for the Rosicrucians and doing just about what you did–wonder about them and finally look around to see what they were all about, eventually dismissing them.)

    I think today, among the celebrities of Hollywood, you would find the similar type “religion”, Scientology, which is based by its founder on science fiction book(s) he wrote. Seems the man went “native” but in his science fiction world. (With all due respect here.)

    In these types of “religions”, someone gets an idea, likes it for him/herself (usually a man, hate to have to admit), then soon comes to the conclusion that the rest of the world “should” live like he/they think/s. If you’ve seen Tom Cruise (with all due respect again) tell his beliefs as he did a few years ago to Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, one is amazed at the incredible sureness of how right the religion is, how wrong everybody else is, and how everybody “should” really live the way the Scientologists think life should be lived. Then all will be happy–well, as long as you think the way the Scientologists do.

    It seems to me that this “second” Wetherill (and his followers) is in this same category as Tom Cruise.

    I also don’t think there’s too much doubt about where such religions get their money–from the people they hook into their beliefs. There are a lot of such individuals looking to hook people. I was getting some calls at my house from a “preacher” who promised me that if I sent him $200, all my dreams would come true; in addition I would also be rich. It was “seed” money to “plant” for growth later, so he said. As the calls continued, to my amazement, the ante was steadily upped to $500, $1000, and $2000. After the $2000 mark, when the “preacher” did not get any money at all from me, he stopped his calls. I am sure that the only one who would have been happy in that case and/or who would get rich was the “preacher” himself. I often wondered just how many people he hooked into his scheme. Seems that’s the place these kinds of “religions” get their money. And come to think of it, isn’t that about the same as any religion? In the end it turns out to be, send money.

    This Wetherill group doesn’t seem to me to be worth even comparing to the Tao. I would speculate these ads are the result of something as simple as Wetherill liked how he himself was living; decided if everybody else lived as he did, they would all be happy as he was; roped some people into the idea with charm and charisma, and his foundation continues–that is, until it finally fades away as so many of these groups eventually do. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — August 9, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  2. Jim, One more thing: Reading God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero, I find he calls such groups as Mr. Wetherill’s “religious movements” rather than a “religion”. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — August 9, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  3. It wasn’t the philosophy itself that was so bad or simplistic, but the notion that Mr. Wetherill was some sort of genius who “discovered” some great law for the first time. The Hindu’s have something called the law of karma, right action brings good fruit. So where is this discovery of something new?? It’s like 2+2=4, OK it’s true, but some sort of novel discovery? It’s in the Tao also. A true scientist never claims to have discovered something new, if it isn’t really new, which these ideas aren’t.

    Comment by Douglas Gray — October 25, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

  4. The first Richard Wetherill referred to in the blog is my Great-Great-Uncle Richard. He was of the branch of the family originally from Northern Ireland and Scotland who migrated to the Philadelphia area in the 1700’s. This branch of my family moved west, leaving the other Wetherills back in Philly. The branch that moved west became ranchers, Indian Agents, traders, and eventually pioneer archeologists when no one cared about pre-Columbian native cultures.

    [RESPONSE: thank you very much for the background info. Mr. Wetherill must have been quite an interesting fellow, and the family sounds quite notable too!]

    Comment by G. Richard Wetherill, Ph.D — December 16, 2011 @ 9:28 am

  5. I first heard about the writings of Richard W. Wetherill in the mid-1960s (from a former Methodist minister and my then-boyfriend’s father, whom I trusted a lot). My best girlfriend and her boyfriend and my boyfriend and I read his books quite seriously and learned to pick up on each other’s “command phrases.” We felt that his concepts were quite valid! I have long since lost the printed copies of his books that I once had, and internet searches for “humanetics” were not productive. So I was quite delighted to find Wetherill’s books on–and for Kindle no less! I am looking forward to re-reading his work.

    Comment by Jacqueline Hegarty — March 22, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

  6. I think Mr. Wetherill was an optimistic man during the 50’s when people were more willing to help each other in a community way. His profound principle is based on strict honesty. His publications point out that most people aren’t even aware of the dishonesty that creeps into their everyday lives. His additional books provide a way to uncover that dishonesty within, but it takes a willingness to actually look. The original research group apparently had such success with their practices, that their businesses flourished beyond their imaginings. I suppose if you’re not ready for the message, it will be missed.

    Comment by Mary Livingston — July 7, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  7. Jim G: Thanks for your well written and insightful comments here. I also noticed Wetherill’s strange ads in Scientific American and had the same reaction to them you did: Who is this guy and what is he (or now his organization) up to here? I’m from Philadelphia (the Main Line to be more precise) and I can tell you this much; the Wetherills are a rich “old Philadelphia” clan that originally made their fortune making paint and varnish around the time of the Revolutionary War when England forbid us to manufacture such things. A century later in the 1870s subsequent Wetherills were busy making steam engines in south Philadelphia. So the Wetherills got an early start and have maintained it ever since. They have been a rich and privileged clan for centuries now, living off bountiful trust funds these days, many of them. I don’t know exactly how this Richard Wetherill fits into the family tree, but he seems to have had plenty of the Wetherill loot behind him.

    Someone more familiar with Wetherill family history than I posted more than you probably want to know about the family on the internet:

    Companies founded by the first Samuel Wetherill (Samuel I, 1736-1816) supplied the colonists, the Continental Army, and the first Americans with cloth, dyes, chemicals, and white lead. These enterprises helped fuel the economic growth of Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Later generations of Wetherills were industrialists, community leaders, and scientists. John Price Wetherill (1794-1853) was vice-president of the Academy of Natural Sciences from 1834 to 1853, a time when it was involved in the century’s great exploring expeditions and when the discovery of extensive mineral deposits of Pennsylvania and New Jersey heralded the beginning of American mineralogy. Samuel Wetherill II (1821-1890) conducted experiments on regional zinc deposits that led to his invention of a method for producing white zinc (zinc oxide) from zinc ore, an advance that by improving paint production and reducing production costs, facilitated the development of ready-made paints in the late-1800s.

    During the American building boom of the early 1800s, wood was the great building material, for it was plentiful cheap, and easy to shape. The paint used to cover and slow its deterioration, however, was expensive, uneven in color, and had to be hand-mixed prior to use. The two main ingredients were linseed oil and white lead, which carried the color. By the 1840s, Wetherhill and Brothers could no longer keep up with the demand for paint chemicals. And it was this shortage that drove Samuel Wetherill II to develop zinc oxide as a less expensive and non-toxic substitute for white lead.

    Samuel II – the first Samuel’s great grandson – received his education in Philadelphia’s public schools and at the University of Pennsylvania before entering the family business in 1845. A skilled chemist, he there began his experiments with zinc ore to determine its suitability as a white lead substitute. In 1850, Wetherill went to work for the New Jersey Zinc Company and in 1852 developed a process to extract white zinc (zinc oxide) directly from zinc ore by heating a mixture of ore and anthracite coal.

    In 1853, he organized his own company, the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company, with partner Charles T. Gilbert, to exploit the Saucon Valley ore, and constructed a facility on the Lehigh River in south Bethlehem to make zinc oxide using his new process.

    And so on and on. You can find all this and more by Googling: wetherill family philadelphia.

    [Cool — thanks much for the deep background! My little contribution — the zinc for the zinc oxide was mined in western New Jersey around Franklin, NJ — New Jersey Zinc company, as you said, which later opened a bigger mine further up the Lehigh River in Palmerton — and shipped by railroad to the Bethlehem area, about 30 or 40 miles.]

    Comment by Rick Stager — August 12, 2013 @ 11:20 am

  8. That’s what I appreciated about Gamaliel, one of the priestly Pharisees charged with finding fault in Jesus so that, you know,they could kill him. Leave him alone, he said; if it’s from God, it’ll survive. If not, it will fade into the sunset. Why theorize, philosophies worry, or be concerned? It is what it is. At least he’s making an effort.

    Comment by Carlos Helms — August 3, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

  9. This is the company he founded, based on the principles of “right action”. After his death his legacy was maintained for a time by the foundation he also led, based at “the atrium” in Royersford, and headed up by his long-time secretary who also ran Alpha Publishing.

    Comment by Former WAI employee — May 30, 2015 @ 11:55 am

  10. After reading the ‘lead-in’ and downloading “The Tower of Babel” years ago, I read it with interest. At the time, I was involved in researching and studying the founding fathers and our nation’s founding documents. There are those who will argue that one sees what he wants to see in philosophical approaches to research and that may generally be true. In this case, however, I found clarity of purpose both in the writings of Wetherill and in the construction by the founders of our Representative Republic. The linkage between Natural Law and through it the intent of the founders to “secure the blessings of Liberty” for themselves and their posterity, and the Law of Absolute Right as described by Wetherill, is quite evident and cannot be denied.

    Knowing the founders – and especially Thomas Jefferson – were students of the great philosophers is confirmation of that fact. Through Natural Law, they asserted the Divine Origin of our Rights and Liberties but the most significant thing I discovered was that this concept did not originate in the mind of Jefferson or ANY of his contemporaries as I had assumed. The writings of Cicero and Aristotle bear witness to this and the concept was purified and perfected in the profound, masterful thesis, “SUMMA THEOLOGICA”, by St. Thomas Aquinas which merged Theology with Philosophy in the 13th Century. His perfection of God in Christianity, explanation of the Seven Deadly Sins, God’s relationship to Man, etc. were of such tremendous influence during the Protestant Reformation they resulted in his being Canonized. My research also laid to rest (at least in MY mind) any question that this nation was founded on Christian Principles.

    When one understands that, as Wetherill explains, there are Natural Laws of Human behavior just as immutable and unforgiving as other Natural Laws such as the Law of Gravity, one can easily appreciate the line from The American’s Creed” which reads, ” … a perfect nation, one and inseparable …”. I believe the founders recognized the Eternal Nature of the Creator and how recognizing Him as being the Source of our Rights (that they were conferred on Man as a gift given each of us at the moment of our individual Creation) was the perfect mechanism for securing our Rights and protecting them from government usurpation in a government of, by and for the people.

    Whether or not the Tao is similar to Wetherill’s “Humanetics” (and I believe it is) is of less consequence to me than the evidence it provides that the effects of Natural Law on Human Behavior have been recognized over the centuries by many advanced civilizations. This is also confirmation that use of the concept in the formation of this nation demonstrates the TRUE GENIUS of the founders lay in their ability to design a system of government BASED on this philosophy. For these reasons and more, I disagree with the author who seems to hold the concept as being too obscure and therefore worthy of his disdain. It denies the reality that his ability to criticize such things in print are protected by the Rights secured to a great degree BY that concept and the tolerance that is an integral part of our founding documents it helped create. It also shows a lack of an ability to understand and reason his way through that which he found confusing. His failure doesn’t mean that Wetherill failed.

    Comment by Glenn A. "Nic" Modracek — September 15, 2016 @ 3:52 pm

  11. The Richard Wetherill, who died in 1989, who you referred to in the beginning of this article was my grandfather. It is most definitely NOT the same Wetherill you claim to have so persistently researched. In 1945, my grandfather was on a LST off the coast of Normandy, France, helping the USA to defeat Hitler. Obviously your article is about our relatives but is in no way factual. Wetherill is a fairly uncommon surname. I can only surmise you found a name that somewhat matched and ran with it without further research. The Richard Wetherill who died in 1989 did not have a middle name. Perhaps you should be a bit more persistent as you’ve only caused me to surmise that the rest of your content is invalid as well.

    Comment by Audra Wetherill — September 9, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

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