Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pride and Primitivism

The outpouring of national pride (oddly enough, not shared by many right-wingers, who are incensed that President Obama's administration killed Bin Laden) inspired by the death of Bin Laden has been somewhat disconcerting to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the evil S.O.B. is dead, but I can't help but think that the whole episode is a glaring indicator that things have gone horribly wrong with American society. Four decades after planting a foot on the moon, our proudest achievement is planting a foot on the neck of a horrible old man? Never mind that Bin Laden was largely a creation of U.S. foreign policy... is this really the best that we can do?

The 1960's saw the dismantling of entrenched, institutionalized racism in this country- the Civil Rights Act ended segregationist policies, and the implementation of affirmative action policies to redress discriminatory practices. By executive order, the federal government did its best to end official tribalism and balkanization in this country. At the same time, the Space Race kicked into overdrive- in 1961, Kennedy made his moon speech, and in 1969 we acccomplished a manned moon mission. The official policy of the U.S. federal government was a rejection of primitivism, and the embrace of futurity- science, rationalism, and a sense of purpose ruled the national psyche. Of course, there was an ugly undercurrent- a backlash against the Civil Rights movement, political assassinations, a pointless war against an agrarian population on the other side of the world, but it looked as if things were going to get better, that a bright future lay ahead.

What the hell happened? In the 1970s, a crisis in the oil supply should have inspired the nation to apply the same can-do spirit to adopting alternative energy as it did to the Apollo program. The space program produced some remarkable successes, but our fascination with space exploration was eclipsed by our fascination with galactic fantasy. Of course, there were some people who were right about a need for long-range planning, but they were held to ridicule:

Yeah, Carter was right- he told the American people that belt-tightening was needed, and that a coherent policy involving research into renewable energy was needed... that sort of fag talk cost him the election, and Reagan began our major leap back into the past (tribalism and all).

Under Clinton's presidency, when oil prices plummeted, there was no effort made to improve fuel efficiency standards, and the automakers used the efficiency loopholes for trucks to usher in the era of the gas-guzzling SUV. Fuel taxes weren't even raised in this era of cheap oil. Yeah, we went along, without thought for the future, and burnt through our fossil fuel "startup capital" without thought for the coming transition. The trade agreements put into place under Clinton allowed U.S. corporations to bypass production, work, and environmental standards through outsourcing. Innovation was rejected, a victim to the profit motive. I have heard stories of IT professionals who were told that they were training staff in India to handle the boring and repetitious aspects of the job, so they could work on more esoteric tasks, but those tasks never materialized, layoffs occurred, and the remaining workers here are working longer hours for stagnant wages.

Bush junior merely doubled down on concessions to the fossil fuel industry while pursuing Operation Iraqi Liberation, and allowing his political allies to engage in tribalism once again. The real end-result of the Bush Maladministration was the wholesale mortgage of the future of American society. He transformed a once great, innovative nation into a banana republic with nukes.

I supported Barack Hussein Obama over Hilary Clinton mainly because I didn't want the presidential election to be a referendum on the Vietnam War era (like the abysmal 2004 election campaign). I also saw Barack Obama as the "nerd" candidate- the cerebral, cool headed policy wonk who was needed to clean up the messes of the last decade. Of course, the "post-racial" America of January 2009 descended into a morass of birtherism and 'baggerism, the tribalism that had been officially ended in the 1960s came back in proxy form, and open racism and the worst sort of "John Birch Society" paranoid style set the tone for the political discourse. My nerdy president has been preoccupied with bullshit, such as addressing the birth certificate false controversy, and allegations of being a communist, a caliphist, or a granny-killer.

Now, two and a third years after President Obama's inauguration, the country is still mired in bullshit- the distribution of wealth is similar to that of a third world nation, and our elected officials are trying to gut the social safety net and keeping the world safe for outdated technology- as Gene Wolfe would put it the technology of the Nineteenth Century brought into the Twenty-First and hard at work. Any attempts to reward companies for reducing the amount of pollution they produce are mischaracterized as punitive measures and fought tooth-and nail. Well-funded special interest groups are seeking to have pseudoscientific nonsense taught in our schools.

Yeah, we killed an evil man, but what the hell have we really accomplished otherwise? There was a time when we shot for the moon and succeeded, but have we grown so debased that shooting an evil old gargoyle living in a squalid compound is now considered a major triumph? To paraphrase Doctor Soberin in the amazing film noir Kiss Me Deadly: How civilized this earth used to be. But as the world becomes more primitive, its treasures victories become more fabulous petty.

NOTE: By nature, I'm not a pessimist, but I play a pretty convincing one on the internet. It's hard to be an optimist, however, when the species just can't get its shit together, and that a couple of hundred petty, bigoted, ignorant loons, representing a tiny minority of the world's population have such disproportionate power. The past forty years have been a series of missed opportunities, squandered resources, and manufactured crises. It's long past time the country grew the fuck up, and knuckled the fuck down.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Yeah, we killed an evil man, but what the hell have we really accomplished otherwise?

If we don't get our civil rights back, and get out of Afghanistan, that evil old man won.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

is this really the best that we can do?


I know that you New Yorkers are still doing fine, but out here in the fuck-all hinterlands, things are falling apart.

See you in the wasteland.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

By nature, I'm not a pessimist

me neither. I am, after all, personally and professionally invested in building for the future.

BUT; after all is said and done zombie seemed a better bet.


vacuumslayer said...

This may sound silly, but I'm actually really excited about the plans to connect many of our major cities by high-speed rail. I mean, it's green, and it encourages exploration. It just makes SO MUCH SENSE to me. I hope we keep heading down paths like this.

Whale Chowder said...

B^4, I know it's hard to see it from the weeds but I believe it has always been thus here in Amurka.

There have always been retrograde assholes trying to hold us back. What makes this era different (though not unique) is the size of their megaphone. You mentioned the Birchers; I could add the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, who influenced Supreme Court appointments and bout Congress outright (sound familiar?).

What bothers me now is that the stakes are so high and time so short. Between the deficit (and the anti-tax assholes) and AGW, action is required now but here we are futzing around with Birthers and Climategate.

It's enough to make you tear your hair out. OH! sorry...

77south said...

Oh, come on. Is the best we can do blowing up some squalid old man in some dingy compound halfway across the world? Ha! we are up to our ears in victories!

You overlook the hard work it took to blow the lead we had on the world going in to the 80s. It wasn't easy to destroy the unions. Why that act alone is the single biggest victory in the very successful war being waged on the middle class.

Neither was it easy to sit back and let oil companies dictate our energy and foreign policy. Why I hear some of those companies had to to be asked politely if they wanted huge subsidies in the era of record profits.

Do you think it was easy winning the cold war? and more importantly winning the war on reduced military spending once the soviets were defeated? Selling the idea of some kind of global manifest destiny/imperial hegemony so that the American public keeps spending half a trillion or more every freaking year, so the stock holders of Boeing and Raytheon don't have to settle for owning only one yacht or only one 5000 square foot cabin in Aspen?

It is hard work summoning up the kind of incompetance and neglect it takes to destroy a major city. Creating the kind of weak sauce FEMA that can't even evacuate a city that has an evacuation plan in place, that took time effort and talent.

What about inventing the 'Shock Doctrine' and 'austerity'? It takes a certain kind of hard work to tell someone to their face that the condition for recieving badly needed foreign aid is to sell off state utilities so foreign companies can run them for profit. And then having the balls to bring that kind of vulture capitalism home to cities like New Orleans and entire states like Michigan and Wisconsin?

This fight against progress, against human rights against history, didn't lose itself. And the time effort and treasure of the last 30 years didn't get wasted, it went straight to the bottom line of the richest people in the world.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

OT, but Baldy, I see the Feelies are at Bell House tomorrow night. I am jealous already, because I KNOW you are going.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Love everybody's responses, it's good to hear smart people vent.

This may sound silly, but I'm actually really excited about the plans to connect many of our major cities by high-speed rail. I mean, it's green, and it encourages exploration. It just makes SO MUCH SENSE to me. I hope we keep heading down paths like this.

I hope they pull it off before the GOPers kill it.

OT, but Baldy, I see the Feelies are at Bell House tomorrow night. I am jealous already, because I KNOW you are going.

Love the Feelies, but I'm out of state. I'm in a Starbucks in Prince William County, Virginia. I'll be back in NY by Monday.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

This may sound silly, but I'm actually really excited about the plans to connect many of our major cities by high-speed rail.

now you're just making fun of me because our cross-eyed squeezebag of a Governor decided unilaterally that being a part of a modern transit web was insufficiently enriching for his patrons.

Also, BBBB is ON THE FUCKING LIST for not seeing the Feelies.