Friday, December 17, 2010

Fundamental change

Bryan over at Why Now reminds us that today is the 107th anniversary of the 1st manned flight at Kitty Hawk.

My grandmother was born when the nearest city, 50 miles away, was an all-day trip on muddy roads via horse and wagon, lighting was kerosene lamps, heat and cooking was wood stoves, the bathroom was an outhouse, the running water was what you pulled out of the well with a bucket and a rope, the refrigerator was a large ceramic jug dropped into the well at the end of a rope, dinner was whatever you had harvested, and sausage was what you made in your own smokehouse from slaughtering one of your own pigs. Medical treatments for most diseases read as, “send home with palliative treatment to die” and graveyards were full of tiny little graves that read “Baby Smith” or “Baby Page” or “Baby Taylor”, where starvation was an ever-present threat only one bad harvest away. She went peacefully in her sleep with the Internet, space travel, big-screen TV’s, and modern medicine, where childhood mortality from disease was rare and starvation in America almost unheard of.

I think of what kind of progress children born in the 70′s will see in their time, and I feel sad. They were already born with man having reached the moon, and nothing done in outer space since then has matched that peak. Cars and aircraft are more fuel-efficient, quieter, faster, and more powerful, but those are marginal improvements on already-existing inventions. The Internet, which hit its stride in their mid-20′s, certainly was an innovation, but it’s pretty much the only real innovation of the past forty years (by real innovation, I mean one that changes how people live — by that standard, big-screen tv’s aren’t real innovation, since they’re merely an improvement upon an already-existing technology that doesn’t fundamentally change how people live). And given that things seem to be pretty much winding down, I doubt we’ll see any other real improvement… it’s all downhill from here, bay-bee.

We live in sad times. Our grandparents could exult in the march of progress, even if their own life was hard at times they could be confident that progress would help make their lives easier and more productive over time and that their own children would have an even easier and more productive life, assuming that nobody blew up the planet with nukes. But our own children… it looks like things are going the other way for them.

- Badtux the Reverse Progress Penguin

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  1. assuming that nobody blew up the planet with nukes. But our own children… it looks like things are going the other way for them

    And there's the real reason those were the good ol' days -- communism. More specifically the threat of communism.

    While western governments were doing all they could to sabotage communist parties in the west, and threatening or fighting commies in from the east elsewhere (Vietnam, etc.,) domestically they were giving us more "stuff," social security, health care (most countries, anyway,) and etc.

    W/o the fear of communism they know (or want us to think) there is no alternative, and so no check on their rapacious greed & lust for war. And until there's a viable alternative, or threat of an alternative, not much will change, I'm afraid.

  2. Well, D A, that is an interesting take, and one I had never considered before.

    "We have to throw more bones than we want to in the general direction of the masses, so there won't be a communist revolution here." Since things didn't work out so well for fascism, either, you may be right.

    With communism long gone most places and thoroughly discredited in the minds of the sheeples here, all bones may now be retrieved by the watch dogs.


    On the other hand, we might just be experiencing the end of a phase of up-trending social mood, at the grand supercyle level, and entering into the next dark ages.

    Or maybe we're expressing the same ideas in quite different ways.

    Regardless, winter is coming.


  3. Well, I was born in 1970, so I missed out on just about everything cool that happened in the 20th century.

    But I'm old enough to remember when my grandparents were still raising their own pigs and chickens and storing their own preserves in Ball and Mason jars. I remember watching my late grandfather behead chickens that I ate for dinner later on. I've lost track of how many mornings I woke up half-frozen in their home because their wood stove ran empty during the night.

    And I remember something else: my grandparents weren't exactly happy people. Maybe that had a lot to do with my grandfather serving in World War II -- he told me some stories about what he saw in the early 90s, when I was old enough to hear them and his own life was slowly drawing to a close, and they were terrible stories. The thing is, I would not trade places with my grandfather, who witnessed all the examples of progress you listed that I did not, in a million years. Yes, we live in sad times. But some of us are still taking a long view. You think I want to go back and live in my grandparents' day? Oh HELL no!

    I'll take my chances with the here and now, thank you very much...

  4. Jim, the difference is hope. None of my elderly relatives wanted to go back to the 1920's or 1930's (both depression decades for rural America). But there was hope that things would get better in the future. Today's children grow up knowing that what they have today is the best that will ever be, that life in the future will be harder, meaner, more meagre. If today's young people as a result seem overly concentrated on having a good time rather than towards working for a better future, well. What can you expect? They don't see themselves as having a good time in the harder meaner future that we've left for them, so why not have one now, while they can?

    -- Badtux the Futurist Penguin

  5. D.A., yes, I've mentioned that before on this blog (back in 1996 or so though, so you and Jazz not noticing it is excusable :). Needless to say, I do agree that this is a major part of it. The New Deal was explicitly set up to prevent a Communist or at least explicitly redistributionist revolution in America. Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" clubs, for example, were not explicitly Communist, but the solutions that it advocated -- seizing the wealth of the rich and redistributing it to the rest of America -- decidedly were. Thus why Huey Long had to be assassinated, probably by one of his security guards, but that's a different tale whose true answer we're likely to never know.

    In any event, the New Deal went the way it went because both the Communists and the socialist fascists like Huey Long were rumbling around in the background threatening to entirely overturn capitalism. Some compromise was necessary to preserve capitalism. But as you say, today such compromise is no longer needed because neither Communism nor socialist fascism are credible systems in the minds of Americans today...

    - Badtux the History Penguin


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