Saturday, January 3, 2015

More on the Vision of the Future Past

Dave Moon asks if there was really a vision about tomorrow in America? He points out that the 1964 Worlds Fair left a lot of people out.

He is right, so let me qualify my statement, which I believe is still correct but for fewer people. Among middle class Americans, most of them white but by no means all of them, there was a vision of tomorrow that was shared, unspoken and positive. I believe that the 1964 World's Fair was the high point of that belief system as it was before Vietnam, Three Mile Island, the Oil crisis, Watergate, and the Tea Party.

So I confess, I readily use words like “Everyone” when I really mean and meant the middle-class of this country, a class that probably does not exist anymore. Could poor black families in the inner cities or Hispanic families laboring for below minimum wage in the fields of the rich buy into this vision? I guess not, although I think some of them might have.

A taxi driver from Ethiopia told me, a few weeks ago, that America was a great country and a country of opportunity for anyone with a lot of energy who was willing to play by the rules. I did not disagree with him to his face and I thought it was actually a very nice thing for an immigrant (1) to say and believe. But I do not happen to believe it.  Maybe it is true relative to where he came from.

But back then “everyone”, again by which I mean the mostly white middle class, believed that Americans would have jobs and be able to support their children and send them to college. Even Don Corleone believed that his children or grandchildren could prosper without crime.  That was when people believed that the government, although not perfect by any means, was generally on our side and not entirely a corrupt servant of the rich. This was when nuclear power was good, the environment was not yet recognized as being destroyed, and there were two cars in every garage. That was before a very large part of our citizenry had publicly disavowed their belief in science because it did not support their politics. A citizenry who wants to sell the national park system as part of some sort of religious faith in the free market which not even an economist can begin to make sense of.

That vision, the promise of the future being better, gave a stability and a moral force to all our actions. Even if some detail was not right, a corrupt local politician for example or racism in our education system, we knew that the broad vision was in place and that things would work out.

But they did not work out. Technology has not been a force of good. Intolerance, racism, greed and stupidity is rampant throughout this country. No one even knows how many unemployed there are. Genetic engineering is feared and loathed by most Americans when it is used to engineer more profitable plants: note its all about profits not about feeding the world. I do not know when genetic engineering will achieve its promise in medicine, or if it will, but I am confident that only the rich will be able to afford it when it happens. I am not sure what the war in Iraq was about, but if it really was about the banality of protecting oil sources, which I do not think it was, then at least it was about something instead of being merely insane.

The morality is gone, perhaps it was never there.

The belief that we were fighting for the right, and that our strength was as the strength of ten because our heart was pure is gone, betrayed.

Elections were stolen, districts gerrymandered, the government worked and continues to work very hard to see that the poor and the sick are exploited for the profit of their friends.

I can give you hundreds if not thousands of examples where we threw it away. From Los Angeles transit to offshore drilling contracts let to incompetent friends of the Nixon White House to a total failure to regulate the obviously out of control and dangerous financial community,

The abandoned and derelict transit systems and compromised attractions at Tomorowland are mere symptoms of the failure of our cultural myth.  Yes, I am saying at some deeper level, Disneyland and our civilization, if you call this civilized, are symbolically or at least metaphorically linked.

In fact, it is probably even arguable the Disneyland is overall more functional than society as a whole. Consider, for example, that while no doubt there are privileges for the rich at Disneyland, they are not slapped in your face every moment of every day as it is in the rest of America where being poor is the greatest crime and the rich laugh at the misery of their fellow Americans.

So yes, Dave, I do believe that there was a shared vision of tomorrow that was positive and that motivated and gave hope to a large segment of the American people. But you are right to point out that there were always people who did not share that delusion.

I may be romanticizing things a bit.

Well, this is certainly a bright note to start the new year with.


1. We are all of course immigrants here in America except for perhaps the Native Americans.

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