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Subject: Stagnation

Written By: Ryan112390 on 01/10/10 at 3:06 pm

In the era between the 1920s to the mid 1960s--ending about 1965--America had dreams--Dreams of a metropolitan, sleek, modern, indeed almost utopian future. America dreamed not simply in terms of technology--but in terms of architecture, in terms of movies, in terms of even the most basic aspects of daily life. In the mid 20th century, America dreamt the next century would be a time of marvelous wonders, of prosperity--that even our very way of life would change. The ideas of this dream can be found both in the architecture and product styles of the time--The Art Deco phase, the Googie (50s/60s) phase--in the movies of the era such as Metropolis; in historical events such as the 1939 and 1964 World's Fair in terms of the architecture and radical changes and progressivism America would go through. This filtered down to the local level, in the cities--in the minds of men such as the controversial Robert Moses. This optimism for the future, to revolutionize America. Even down to silly things, such as shows such as the Jetsons and Walt Disney's original dream of EPCOT as a ''city of tomorrow.'' A progressive Americana, a new Rome, but based not on conquest as was Rome but on economic prosperity, on gains made in education and advancement, in science, founded on a sense of optimism, a sense of faith that America could do whatever it dreamed to do, intellectualism, and yes, idealism.

Politically, this utopian dream echoed in legislation--in the New Deal of the 1930s, the New Frontier of the Kennedy era, and the better aspects of the Great Society. So many aspects of life iin America seemed to be pointing in this direction--of a futuristic, progressive America, yet it never came to fruit.We've learned much technologically, yes, but there is none of the glitter or glamor that scientific progress was once met with; We live today much as we did in 20th century; our cities are much the same, no revolutionary change, no Pax Americana as President Kennedy put it.

When did it die, and why? I believe it never died but was at first distracted from, and then by more cynical generations, tossed aside. I say the dreams of a futuristic America began to fade in the mid 60s, with the assassinations of the Kennedys, King and X; with the tragedy and horrors of Vietnam, the betrayals of Watergate and other scandals. All of these things combined somehow could not be overcome--Yet the generation who dreamt a Pax Americana survived the horrors of two World Wars, of the Spanish Flu, and other catastrophes, and still had hope in this idealistic and idylic dream of America--yet their children, the Baby Boomers, both in the 70s and 80s, abandoned it, or in cynicism grew scornful of it and simply accepted the slow, crawling change--a stagnation. The Reagan era to me represents the beginning of the real end of this dream, when the once also idealistic hippies threw away their own dreams of utopia for the fast pleasures of materialism, through the dull 90s, and today. This stagnation of the American spirit, this slumber of American dreams and idealism, of scientific glory and technological glitz, has continued for near 20 years and I believe if it continues further, we will grow ever more stagnant, ever more cynical and America will lose it's place as the leader of the world.

I believe it is up to our generation now to take up the cause of that forgotten dream, of a Pax America built not on war but on education and exploration, a radical reshaping of American life, first through architectual revolution, and then through scientific renewal, of a new space age, of the ideals of the 1964 World's Fair--"Peace through understanding". I believe that dream is ours to realize if only we want it, and are not diverted by these distractions of politics as usual, of war--We have let enemies such as the Vietnamese and now little terror cells utterly shape our American life, rather than our own American spirit and I believe that we as Americans, and indeed as a member of the community of nations, can make any dream come true--but only if we try.


Subject: Re: Stagnation

Written By: MaxwellSmart on 01/16/10 at 8:17 pm

Karma for posting this topic.

Unrestrained exuberance for technology reigned for the first half of the 20th century because people were enjoying the benefits without counting the costs.

Benefits:
Increased human lifespan due to improved medical and sanitation technologies.
More food available to more people due to improved agricultural practices and technology, and the so-called "Green Revolution" starting in the 1940s.
Improved production of goods due to assembly line mass production.
More goods available for lower prices due to the development of plastics and synthetic textiles.
Greater mobility for people, raw materials, and finished goods due to improved railroads, highways, trains, automobiles, trucks, airplanes, and modern ships.
Telecommunications available to the masses, such as the telephone, the radio, and early television.

Costs:
Pollution of the environment resulting from manufacturing and the introduction of disposable non-biodegradable consumer wastes, as well as the residual effects of household, agricultural, and industrial pesticides, herbicides, detergents, paints, lacquers, and other toxins.

Unequal distribution of wealth and benefits: Industrialized nations exploited colonized nations and people for materials and labor.  The indigenous peoples of the world, and especially the southern hemisphere, had their arable land, their settlements, and their trade and hunting routes confiscated, interrupted, and destroyed by European and American agricultural and extraction industries (farms and mines).  While the people in places such as Indonesia, China, India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America often worked for European and American firms, it generally arduous servitude for meager compensation, and sometimes outright slavery.  Meanwhile, the benefits as mentioned above  were enjoyed by Europeans and North Americans with little, if any, of the said benefits improving the lives of exploited peoples.  Cultures that had existed for centuries and millennia were devastated or destroyed leading to geographical and psychic dislocation, increased cognitive dissonance, diminished ontological security, and new geopolitical and cultural conflicts among billions of people.

Increased population and greater life expectancy taxed the world's resources to an unsustainable degree.

Abuse of telecommunications for governmental and political propaganda.*

The automobile in a half century went from novelty to luxury to necessity.  This is especially true in North America.  The development of highway systems and automobile-based suburbs has proven to be environmentally unsustainable.  Many theorists, such as James Howard Kunstler, believe the suburban way of life also contributes to greater social alienation, apartheid by income, and fracture of natural bonds that have held human societies together since the dawn of civilization.  

Anybody who criticized technology was considered a Luddite, a communist, or an egghead.  Even major authors who found acceptance in the popular culture, such as Huxley and Orwell, had their warnings perverted to serve the interests of the ruling classes and the corporations.  

In the second half of the 20th century, governments were forced to contend with costs.  Their initial answer was a call for more of the same.  They told us technology would solve all future problems of present consumption.  Politicians, scientists, architects, and industrialists made earnest efforts to resolve the impending crises of overpopulation, famine, and pollution. The so-called Green Revolution is a perfect example, as are the clean water acts of the 1970s.  

The public housing project was once envisioned as an elegant solution to squalid urban ghettos.  Urban planners such as Robert Moses, and architects, such as Le Corbusier have been largely discredited for their bias in favor of automobile-centered life.  The designs in themselves have been found inherently alienating and if you cannot afford an automobile, you are emphatically a second class citizen.  The high-rise housing projects of Chicago are a perfect example of this.  Of course, you can't see them anymore because they were built and demolished all within the past sixty years.      

The television and the computer:

These technologies were sold as unambiguous social goods.

Benefits of television:

Cheap and effective dissemination of communications, such as news, educational programs, and entertainment.

Costs of television:

Control of content to favor corporate sponsors and the political status quo (which went hand-in-hand with the interests of corporate sponsors).

Systematic debasement of content to favor the sensational and titillating above the intellectual and spiritual.**  FCC Chairman Newton Minow famously called TV a "vast wasteland" in 1961.

The argument that watching televison leads to a decrease in reading and more salubrious recreational activities was once controversial but now is now generally accepted.

The emission of television signals per se has hypnotic and addictive properties.  This is not settled theory, but I will attest to its veracity by my own experience.  I am a TV junkie.

Neurosis of insecurity and inadequacy spurred by messages in television advertising, which, by its nature, tells us our lives are not fulfilled until we purchase specific goods and services.  The demoralization of the human psyche due to negative messages in television commercials is vastly underestimated, IMO.

Cable and satellite have improved viewer choice but I have observed little improvement in content whether one has 3, 13, 30, or 3000 channels.

Computers:

The benefits of computers are too numerous to list.  The microprocessor has improved daily living and all areas of human endeavor perhaps more than any other device.

The costs of computers:

There is a downside to everything.  As soon as the Nazis got their hands on the earliest proto-computer punch card technology, they started using it to store data on undesirable people.  The more we improve computer technology, the more governments and corporations can use it to harm as well as help us.

The personal computer was marketed as a tool to improve the user's life.  One could apply abstract and mathematical thought to learn programming.  It was touted as an asset to family life.  One could keep maintain a household budget with greater efficacy, for example.  

Mostly, we liked to play video games.  It was back to sensational entertainment promoted above education or intellectual engagement, as happened immediately with television.

The Internet is another two-edged sword.  I have more information, literally at my fingertips, right now, than my Puritan ancestors had access to in an entire lifetime.  However, I'm typing a rubbishy essay on a silly message board instead (only joking, folks!)  Maybe I'll download some porn later on.  

In other words, humans tend to use technology to our own detriment.  I rely on machines, such as my computer and my car, but I barely know how they work, and it costs more than I can afford to keep fixing them and replacing them.

Furthermore, the computer, whether for personal, utility, or business use, relies on electricity, which relies on extraction of petrochemicals from the earth.  I agree with James Howard Kunstler that no combination of "green" technologies is going to be able to replicate the ease with which we have been able to utilize cheap petrochemicals.  We can certainly try "green" in combination with nuclear power, but I think the jury is back on nukes.  They are too expensive and too dangerous to replace petrochemicals.  I will get loud disagreement with that assertion from the pro-nukers on this board.  I am not going to convince them.  They are not going to convince me.  

In essence, the reification of George Jetson assumes boundless natural resources, an end to the human greed which creates abject poverty for 3/5 of humanity, and limitless ingenuity of mankind to compensate for the fallout of his technological advances.  This didn't happen and it never will.  

“The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed yet.”
--William Gibson

* I do not include motion pictures as a "telecommunication" medium, although cinema is a mass medium, and now inseparable from television.  Cinema was indeed used by governments for propaganda, and some would argue it still is.

** I mean "spiritual" in a general sense encompassing all religious, mystical, and naturalistic understandings of "spirituality."

Subject: Re: Stagnation

Written By: Bobby on 01/29/10 at 2:08 pm

This is a fascinating subject and one that has been on my mind for a while (though on a less academic scale). Instead, I compare, not two different time periods but two different countries  - America and England. Now I am sure some of my English friends here on the boards would want to kill me after this post but the English never had 'The English Dream'. We English were pretty cynical from the start and it just got worse as time went on.

You Americans have Mount Rushmore, an incredible feat of sculpturing, you have The Statue of Liberty which at least represented a time where you believed in optimism, hope and freedom, the Hollywood sign which is synonymous with the cinema, you have The Empire State Building and a whole framework of idealogical thinking that dates back to your forefathers. What we have is a chalk drawing of a man on a hill with an erect penis, a clock (actually 'Big Ben' refers to the bell inside the clock), a big ferris wheel, a big house that supports royal parasites, another big house that supports political parasites, a wax mueseum, and a hell of a lot of debt. I'm sure there is something in England to take your breath away but we don't have the 'Think Big' attitude America has.

I want anybody that reads this to know that the above paragraph was not a dig but the reverse, an actual realisation that you still have that positive idealistic attitude, it's just taken a beating in the last 10 years. Napolean was right when he said; 'England is a nation of shopkeepers'. We don't think big, we think cost and it shows. We don't think about ambitious investment, we just think about mediocre returns from little costs.

I'm not sure I'm saying this right or whether I have the right end of the stick but, basically, I don't think America is stagnating. You now have the first black president (Something neither Martin Luther King or Malcolm X saw in their lifetimes) and you Americans are still proud of your country and so you should be. :)

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