« Valley downtowns 2.0? | Main | Mad hatters at tea »

February 01, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I don't know. I tend to think of the fantasy of space-travel as a projection of Manifest Destiny and the indulgent travel borne of cheap (in the short term) energy.

I think we need to profoundly change our relationship with this planet (and each other) before we so cavalierly entertain "escaping" it...

Just putting that out there.

One of the questions we don't ask ourselves - for obvious reasons - is what kind of civilization we would like to be remembered for. America is not forever. Yet we behave as if the purpose of "now" is infantile gratification. So, we expend huge amounts of wealth on crap: SUVs with names like Armada, Yukon, and Denali. Or McMansions 50 miles from city centers. Or consumer items that require closets the size of a living room in a pre-war house.

We have no grand purpose besides that. And it fits with the overall intention of the ruling oligarchy that we amuse ourselves rather than build something worthy of a great civilization. Maybe we're in the bread-and-circuses phase of our empire. As I watched the Grammy's last night, I started hoping that phase quickly draws to a close.

Clearly, this enterprise or racket we call the United States of America has issues with ongoing maintenance. The overinvestment in suburbia, freeways, big-box shopping, and fast food is symptomatic of a dread disease. Once the diagnosis is made, it may be wise to start counting the days.

I'm not sure what to mourn. America's promise was attained and we got fatter and stupider. Was that the point? Was it to hate the government for depriving us of even more pleasures? Was it to bankrupt ourselves with health-care costs and gasoline?

There are a few American cities where patriotism is not an abstract impulse but something tangible and vivid. I felt it in Chicago, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. I can feel something close to that when hiking in Arizona's wilderness. But Arizona, for all its beauty, is not something that makes me love an ongoing tradition. The tradition here is selling, taking, using, and scarring. We blew it. We could have loved this state for something other than our own idle pleasure. But we privatized the American Dream and we ended up losing the greatness that links past and future. It's anyone's game now and it's late in the day.

soleri says: "One of the questions we don't ask ourselves - for obvious reasons - is what kind of civilization we would like to be remembered for."

I can think of at least a couple of reasons - just out of curiosity/fun, which, in your view, percolates up to "obvious"? (If you don't mind my asking.)

"Now all in the political and media elite are deficit hawks. The deficit wasn't an issue when George W. Bush was creating most of it out of Bill Clinton's surpluses. Dick Cheney was explicit that deficits didn't matter. Until the Republicans were out of power."

Thank you, Mr. Talton, for addressing this. I wish the national media and even President Obama had the guts to ask the Republicans this simple question: "What is with your sudden fetish with the budget deficit and the national debt?"
I wish Rogue Columnist had the readership that Fox News captures ...

Petro, I'd like to provoke a discussion about what is tangibly great about American culture. Talton chose the moon program but I was thinking more along the lines of our built environment - the cities, art, monuments, parks, and architecture. I bring it up because for all our wealth, we don't really engage on that level anymore. Instead, we pour our wealth into private fantasies like cars and houses. And our political debate pivots around the seeming unfairness that people should give anything back to their country. It's why taxes can only be cut. It's why there are no national issues that galvanize the public imagination and hopes.

When I'm in a great city, I know why I love America. When I'm driving around Phoenix, I often wonder if love even exists. Yes, I should count my blessings but I want more.

I'm sorry, soleri, for being so unclear!

I had distilled your original statement:

"One of the questions we don't ask ourselves - for obvious reasons - is what kind of civilization we would like to be remembered for."

To this:

"There are obvious reasons why we don't ask ourselves what kind of civilization we would like to be remembered for."

And those ("why-we-don't-ask") reasons are the ones that perked my attention.

I didn't mean to arouse the other sentiments but, just in passing, this DFH happens to share them. ;)


Wish I had thought of rewriting JFK's words.
That's brilliant good stuff...

In regard to your other zinger:

"The decision to abandon American manned space flight to "the private sector," means essentially abandoning it as anything but being a rich person's toy, although there will surely be some kind of financial swindle along the way..."

Suggestion to all: Read Popular Sci's recent article on the privatization of space:


Here is a key quote from the article: "Meanwhile, billionaire Robert Bigelow, the founder of Budget Suites of America, foresees a big demand for “space hotels” in the future and has already sent two prototype inflatable space habitats into space."

A big demand?
From whom?
Joe-The-Crappy-American-Plumber in his three-legged Dodge?

Jon is right. This is the absolute inverse of the democratization of space. The Final Frontier's new destiny has been redefined. It now will be the place where the rich will go to escape the malaise of global warming. And yes, you can bet your federal tax dollars will help fund these elite orbiting havens.

Am I the only one who is starting to wish the Cold War had never ended? Seriously. That Great Global Divide gave both sides "enemies," which the human race so obviously needs to preform admirable and difficult tasks. The militarization of space would at least have prevented it from becoming a atmosphere-rending play toy for the rich.

Petro, I'm a DFH, too, and I share your misgivings about space exploration. I understand Talton's nostalgia for a nation that was capable of doing great things but I'm not sure you can separate out the good hubris from the not-so-good.

By the time Reagan became president, this nation was in full retreat from ideas of collective greatness. We disavowed environmental concerns, social amelioration, and even communitarianism. Thus fragmented, American consciousness wallowed in self-pity and anger. Scapegoating became the rule of the day. We can't do much if anything except play the victim.

American Exceptionalism took us to the moon and saved the world from totalitarians. It freed some minds from parochialism but it couldn't save all of them. We met our limitations in Vietnam and met them again in Iraq. Try as we may, the transformative power of the American spirit is not all-encompassing. Having failed, we steadfastly refuse to learn. We insist on the sanctity of our myths and cannot grow up.

I have had that JFK quote running through my mind for about a week...

I understand, and agree with, the sentiments of the commenters above, except that I would re-state them a bit.

I prefer to think of myself as a champion of Civilization, not America. Patriotism is as bad as religion when it comes to banding some people together to be against others. I would embrace all people of all countries who share the same goals that Jon speaks about so well, and work against the interests of everyone who prefers idle-richness or returning to the Dark Ages. I suppose that has me banding with some against others, too, but it crosses artificial boundaries to collect all of like mind.

If America chooses not to be the leader of Civilization, others will take the role- more power to them. China may be the top candidate in terms of economy. The EU is leading in freedom, equality and health care.

I recently had a conversation in a bar with someone who said "You can't tell me the US is not number one in everything" and he was right. I couldn't tell him because he wouldn't listen. He has no idea what is happening in other countries and his impression of America dates back to that day in 1969 when Kennedy's promise was fulfilled. He hasn't noticed any changes since then. (or at least not the same changes that I have noticed)

For those who say that America is the best country that has ever been, (without challenging that statement) I want ask "Does that make it the best that can ever be?"

For those who say similar things about Democracy, same question "Is it the best form of government possible or merely the best we have invented so far?"

I love the planet Earth, not just America. I love the life forms that inhabit it, not just humans of one culture or another. I love Civilization, not any individual country that shares it. I love reason and science and freedom since they are all required to make Civilization flourish.

(Insider reference warning) Arlo Southern, if you're watching, Buford Gilbert may have found his voice again. Stay tuned.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)