Monday, July 20, 2009

Who we were then, who we have become now.

On this day forty years ago man first walked on the moon.

Really it should not surprise me that my son views my childhood as something from the ancient past akin to the discovery of fire, invention of the wheel, or the dark times before the internet when most information was in book form. When I can get him into a library his thirteen year-old sensibilities are almost overwhelmed at all the books carefully organized on the shelves with people browsing the aisles hunting some sort of important information. Sadly, he feels that if something cannot be found using the great god Google it more than likely has no relevance to the affairs of daily life. Given his attitude I have never really explained to him how the simple browsing of book reading the words and admiring the illustrations held so much enjoyment and wonder for me as a child.

During the late 1960’s when I was much younger than my son is now I could often find sanctuary in the collection of encyclopedias that occupied an old bookshelf in a corner of my parent’s house. Being from a family of modest means the encyclopedias I refer to were not the expensive Britannica series but the modest “Book of Knowledge” series that was being sold piecemeal at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. For every twenty-dollar purchase at the grocery store you could buy another volume of that year’s edition for about five dollars. While this might seem a strange way of purchasing a set of encyclopedia I thought nothing of it at the time, especially as after we got the volume with a huge section on the space program. Brave Russian cosmonauts and the men here in America with the “Right Stuff” riding into the sky in the Mercury and Gemini projects were my heroes “boldly going where no one had gone before.” One of my earliest memories have me sitting with my grandfather, dad, and uncles watching on television the countdown of some rocket about to blast off from Cape Canaveral carrying with it the hopes and dreams of a nation reaching for both a distant future and for something far greater than themselves.

The summation of that endeavor was achieved when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the dusty gray plains of a dead world and looked back on the only place that even now we know harbors life. That summer of 69 was for some reason one of the most vivid I can remember. I guess the energy and wonder of a child allows for such things at that time. I remember driving the various librarians both at kindergarten and the county libraries crazy demanding new books on what we were doing in space then and what we would be doing in the glorious future.

As much as my home encyclopedias lacked the regal prestige of the more expensive sets they did allow an option to purchase yearly updates that would be shipped straight to a person’s home. The purchase of the update for 1969 was a foregone conclusion for several reasons. However for my grandfather it was mainly to satisfy the desires of a child still ablaze with the most incredible adventure in human history.

It came about a full year later and to this day I somehow remember carefully opening the box it came in and then running off to my room to read about the preceding year’s events. Much to my surprise that update also had a future timeline of projects NASA wanted to pursue. For a kid already lost in space the illustrations and short explanations of future missions had me more than completely enthralled.

Almost flowing along the pages were conceptual drawing of spacecraft designs that showed how over the coming decades NASA wanted to get the shuttle up and running, a space station built, return to the moon on a permanent basis, then on to Mars. As the twenty-first century began we were suppose to see the establishment of bases on Mars serviced by nuclear powered shuttles running routinely between Earth and Mars. At the end of that timeline a couple of decades into the twenty-first century it was further mentioned of manned mission to the outer planets. Maybe someone had seen "2001: A Space Odyssey" a few too many times, but I didn't care, it was a hopeful future, at least for me, and worthy of the people we were then. However, even during the glory days of Apollo voices could be heard saying that it was unfair to spend billions on space with Earth awash in problems such as poverty, famine, war, and prejudices. It was cheerfully offered by some of those voices that we should clean up our messes here then we would be free to explore. Even being as young as I was as the Apollo program ended my disappointment was tempered by the simplicity of the argument that we had much to do on this planet. Exploring other worlds was of little concern to someone who did not have enough food or water, a decent school, or access to a doctor.

Forty years ago today the men of Apollo 11 set foot on that barren surface and it set me to wondering not only far along how far we have come on solving those problems that have plagued humanity but on what sort of people we are now.

Despite programs designed during the 60’s and 70’s to correct the problems of poverty and ignorance we have seen the America we were then evolve into a collection of banal and spoiled self-centered children. Many have enthusiastically embraced a cold contempt for those unable to participate in society because of economic reasons, discrimination, or handicaps and feel an undue slight when they are forced to surrender a small portion of the advantages they feel is their God-given rights.

American citizenship has been replaced with American consumerism where we define our lives by cheap imported goods paid for by the credit card whose terms take on the characteristics of a new kind of serfdom. This new serfdom is also personified in a narrow worldview where everyone else is “either for us, or against us.” Given this we completely fail to understand when a portion of the world weary of our pretentious meddling, refuses to go along with our imperial adventures in securing resources and even actively resists our chosen syncopates who cravenly do our bidding.

Feeling once again that our power and prestige should define the way the world works we paint those who disagree into boogeyman, some very real and evil and others we conveniently imagine. Because of such a view we have stumble into two quagmires in some ways quite similar to Vietnam and like the last time we have neither the money, troops, or enough willpower to end.

So, after forty years the world that was supposed to be more fair and equal for all had been more or less permanently postponed. The war on poverty was called because the welfare of fellow Americans became inconvenient and might force those with more means to sacrifice a little for those who do not. We have though sacrificed a large portion of our future for our lifestyle that we cannot support or hope, in the long run, to sustain. Instead of the people in the 1960’s that looked at the stars and dreamed of things greater than themselves and expanding the avenues of the human experience to as many people as possible we have become a small people and maybe hopelessly self indulgent. We are scared that someone might take what we have here at home and fearful of the perceived shadows lurking overseas. Such a people before long tear themselves apart and are soon relegated to chapters in a history book. It does not have to end that way, we can do far better.


Beach Bum said...

This did not turn out quite like I wanted although I stand behind what I wrote. Excuse the typos, and I will be back tomorrow. Got teenagers partying and I had to quickly snag the computer connected to the internet to post.

sunshine said...

LOL~ As I've said before, I know what it's like with kids around and a limited time "allowed" on the comp. (somehow, whenever I get on a "hard lag" happens on the XBox live thereby 'screwing up' the game).
But, I've got kids milling around me now and the dog barking at my husband so what you wrote made perfect sense to me and I noticed no typos. ;)

I wasn't even born yet when man landed on the moon. I'll be 40 in September. I've always been proud of the fact that a couple of great things happened the year I was born. The moon landing and Woodstock. If there is such a thing as a cool year to be born in, I'd say '69 was it .. (and then there's the "69" factor as well)... ahem...hehe

Great post. I really enjoyed reading what it was like for you as a young boy.. enthralled with what was going on in those times and wondering eagerly about the future.
I agree with everything that you said about us as a society now too. It's too bad that the only 'real' thing we give a crap about now is ourselves. It's pretty sad that we have to make a conscience effort to think about others and their needs. It should be a given. Even I (as perfect as I am *bats eyelashes*) need a kick in the ass in this department. Children are dying a world away of sicknesses that are easily curable but all I can think about is if someone fucked with my ipod. :)
You have a great way of tying in social conscience into your posts. I say that in a good way not a snarky one. I'm happy that there are people like you out there, reminding us that there is more to life than just our small worlds we create for ourselves.

Now it is I that feels she has not expressed herself properly.
Forgive me. Those damn kids. ;D

Have a lovely day.

sunshine said...

Look at me! Writing a blog entry on your comment page.

Beach Bum said...

Sunshine: I've been bummed out for a couple of days over all the more than usual crap flying down in Washington. It give me a stomach ache thinking how much money has been thrown away keeping bankers and investors afloat when people are losing their jobs. Throw in the Apollo landing and the how little we have progressed since then, if not fallen backwards and I start to wonder again about expatriating.

And feel completely free to write as long a comment as you wish.

Marja said...

Great post Yes my kids have computerised brains as well especially my son He lives and breeves it. My daughter however reads thanks to her boyfriend who loves books. But there is always hope I didn't start to read books
after my 30th Because I read very slowly it takes me a long time though Your reading has payed of You are very literate
About the problems you mentioned
I recognise them all and I think they are mostly problems from the western world. I think most people only learn through experience.
I recently watched a documentary about agriculture in Cuba.
The amazing thing is that since the people from Cuba lacked all the luxeries, they have learned to work and live together and be happy.

zeppo said...

Very nice post. Coherent, thoughtful... Typos give posts character.

I remember watching Armstrong step off the pad onto the moon's surface. I was just in awe, but it was almost a let-down, after all the buildup of the 60's. That's how I remembered it as a kid watching on TV, anyway. Not sure why I felt that way, exactly....

Randal Graves said...

It does not have to end that way, we can do far better.

Too bad the dinosaurs we rode to and from school are extinct. A few carnivores might come in handy, though I'm not sure how nutritious DC and many of our fellow citizens would be. I'd hate for a T.Rex to need a triple bypass.

Beach Bum said...

Marja: It really hurts my wife when my son shows no interest in reading for pleasure. He only reads what he has to for school and leaves it at that. I try to tell her that I didn't start reading for pleasure until I was in my early twenties. So I figure it will hit my son sometime later.

On the other note I can't tell you how many times I have gotten strange looks after telling someone I don't care a whim for owning a bigger house, fancier car, or buying the newest gadgets to put inside the bigger house. On that count I just guess I'm not a good American. We do own one of the big televisions now but we bought it to replace one that "blew up" and could not be realistically fixed.

Zeppo: Dear God, I have felt that way several times. Just once I would have loved to see some damn alien relic, strange plant or animal. or even something akin to a freaking weed.

When Viking landed on Mars had it taken a picture of something certifiably strange on the surface I figure it there would have been a good chance we would have made a special effort to go see it in person.

Randal: Give me a minute to visualize Rush Limbaugh being chased by some velociraptor and being gutted like a fat trout...Okay I'm back.

I figure Cheney would kill most carnivores by sheer fat content. Although I did see some British science fiction recently that had the intrepid heroes fighting some vicious ancient mold that would work nicely on Cheney and his kin, hell they might be related to it. Damn, wasn't this post about the space program? Hell, I can really digress at times.

Keshi said...

What a brilliant post BB! I think this is one of ur best so far. I loved every line u wrote here.

**“boldly going where no one had gone before.”

And that I believe is not the's PEACE. we r yet to GO there.

Amen to ur post!


Beach Bum said...

Keshi: Lets hope we get there before times runs out on us all.

Keshi said...

Im not sure if I'll ever see that day. yes as pessimistic as I may sound, it seems to be the sad reality of humankind.


Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Hey there BB!

Gods do you take me back! I had the World Bk & Britannica when I was a kid. My nephew graduates HS this year and he is stunned that his mom and I actually watched the moon landing. Yes, nice to be so fracken' Thanks for taking me back around... I really enjoyed the I do most!

And take heart! We will reach further 'out there'... it only make logical sense.

Colonel Colonel said...

There was a piece in the Times about how we lost our space race that day. Then it was Us vs. USSR. In 1970 NASA's budget was cut and they laid off many technicians. Very sad. Ever since then we seem to have been looking inward, navel-gazing. we need somebody to make us look outside again, at the stars.

MadMike said...

Beach I have reached the conclusion that I must quit drinking. Did we talk about this the other night or was I just dreaming about this post. Why do I think I responded? Oh well! I was in Germany when we landed on the moon. I had just arrived and was hanging out at the NCO club drinking gallons of beer when I watched the moon landing on TV. It was than enough reason to celebrate:-)

Malicious Intent said...

I don't recall this mom was still knocked up with me. I turn 40 next month. I always miss the good stuff!

OH snap look, sunshine too! OH Happy Birthday to us! See, we missed so much cool stuff, like Manson too! Oh wait...that was not so cool, that was just creepy. My bad.

Going back to my corner to rock.

lime said...

well, i have to say i do think in some ragard we have made great progress but certainly i agree with the tragedy of the dumbing down of our nation and the death of civil discourse as a manner of debate. the bill o'reilly method isn't about idea exchange, it's about attack.

on another note. it always makes me smile when i find another person who was an encyclopedia geek like me. i could spend many hours following cross references to the various articles in our funk and wagnalls. :)

Suzan said...

Beautiful essay, BB.

Would that they were all ablaze with your gusto for knowledge.

I grew up with the Colliers' Encyclopedia at home (bought for us by my parents who decided we really needed it badly enough that they paid on the installment plan for it for years) before I discovered the granddaddy Britannica at the library in the, oh, 4th grade, I think. I used to read the Colliers straight through (like it was a book) when I was in primary school because I just couldn't stop reading!

I bought the Britannica and all the companion volumes for my daughter when she was in the 5th grade, and it gratified my heart every time I saw her reading from it.

Love your prose!


to satisfy the desires of a child still ablaze with the most incredible adventure in human history.

Beach Bum said...

Keshi: Humanity is predisposed to an all too sad reality. That is one of the reasons people like myself cling to the space program as an example of what people can do.

Gwen Barry: I spent this weekend working on remodeling and repainting my daughter's room. Last night after a day that was a real pain in the ass trying to get stuff done along with playing mediator between my son, his girlfriend, and my daughter I thought about just your point. The little Southern town I grew up in ran on a completely different frame of mind back then. Almost like the tides shift workers ebbed and flowed between the two mills that employed most of the town. I really miss that time and place.

Colonel: Excellent point and that is where I was trying to go but along the way I lost track.

MadMike: Yes, I made mention of this post when we talked last weekend. As usual all the static going on around me caused me to drop the ball and not make the point about having something to dream about and continue this festering existence watching reality television while the suckers march off to war so rich men and get richer.

Malicious Intent: I remember it was a warm sunny summer day. My grandfather had a really old, even then, television that stood on four stout legs and at best could get only three channels. My grandfather was excited like me and my uncles were waiting for the moment they could get the car keys from him and head to the beach. It was a good day.

Lime: Even now I dig browsing some old encyclopedia looking at the pictures and reading the entries. Online encyclopedias of the ones on CD don't have the same feel.
As for discourse, yes we have have fallen but what really chaps my ass is what someone far smarter than me called the "closing of the American mind". Many of us seem to figure that there is nothing left to explore or discover. They are ignorant of other people around the world striving to push the boundaries of knowledge and experience and ridicule the efforts of others in this country to keep up as "wasting taxpayer dollars". I know there are exceptions but the tide seems to be with the proles.

Suzan: What is funny for me is to think back to all the visits to the Piggly Wiggly it took to get the entire set of 27 or 28 volumes. We did it though and they were well cared for books.I honestly have no idea where they ended up though which is sort of sad.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

The Sean Hannities and Keith Olbermanns of the world are ruining things. Add to that the fact that politicians of both parties are swimming in a pure cesspool of corporate money. Max Baucus, for Christ! Have you seen his list of contributors? Health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals. Yeah, good luck in getting anything passed this year, folks. In the words of Jonathan Swift, "Whoever could make two ears of corn grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together."

Beach Bum said...

Will Hart: More and more I like the idea of finding some far away island and wait for the slimy crap heap we call civilization to come crashing down.

Welcome and come again, you must of commented after I posted Sunday night. Sorry I missed your comment till now.