Saturday, July 21, 2012

Epic Fail On The World Of Tomorrow

Really it should not surprise me that my kids view 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 them into a library their delicate twenty-first century 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, both my son and daughter feel 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 had much of an opportunity to explain how the simple browsing of book, the leisurely reading of the words, and admiration of the illustrations held so much enjoyment and wonder for me as a child.

Back in 1969 when I was much younger than my children are now I could often found 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” collection that were sold piecemeal at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. For every twenty-dollar purchase at the grocery store back then 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 encyclopedias, I thought nothing of it at the time, especially as I stared in wonder at the section concerning the space program. It was filled with articles on the Brave Russian cosmonauts and the men here in America with the “Right Stuff” riding into the sky in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo  projects were my heroes “boldly going where no one had gone before.”

The summation of that endeavor was achieved forty-three years ago yesterday when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren set foot on the dusty grey plains of a dead world and looked back on the only place that even now we know harbors life. That summer of 1969 was for some reason one of the most vivid I can remember. I guess the energy and wonder of a child allowed such things when 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. The update for 1969 naturally came a year later and much to my surprise it 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. Over the coming decades NASA wanted to get the shuttle up and running, a space station built, returning to the moon on a permanent basis, then on to Mars.

Not stopping there as the twenty-first century began would 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 in the twenty-first century it was further mentioned of manned mission to the outer planets. 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.

With the anniversary of the lunar module Eagle landing on that barren surface and it set me to wondering not only far along how far we have come on solving the problems we faced back then but also 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 devolve into a bizarre collection decadent fools on par with those living in the declining years of the Roman Empire. Many in this country these days have enthusiastically embraced a cold contempt for those less fortunate in our society and actively work to permanently prevent certain groups from participating in the democratic process.

It probably should not surprise anyone since American citizenship has been replaced with a concept called 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 are very real and evil and others we conveniently imagine, or when desperate create.. Because of such a worldview, we have stumble into numerous quagmires, some physical like ill planned wars and others political and spiritual leaving us distracted and without the willpower to overcome.

So, after forty-three years the world that was supposed to be more fair and equal for all has been more or less permanently postponed. Although, we have sacrificed a large portion of our future for a lifestyle that we cannot support or hope, in the long run, to sustain. Instead of the country that in the 1960's looked to the stars and dreamed of things greater than themselves and expanding the avenues of human potential and experience to as many people as possible we have become a bunch of deluded and hopelessly self indulgent children. 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 tend to tear themselves apart and are soon relegated to chapters in a history book.


Mike Williams said...

Hi, Growing up as I did in the 60's with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, not mention Star Trek and Lost in Space plus the fiction of Heinlein and Asimov I have a longing for the continued development of an international space program. We (humanity)have taken baby steps toward this goal and though space is not as close as I once believed it would be by 2012 we still make some progress.

I too was a lover of encyclopedia, my Aunt knowing this gave me a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the late 60's, The only problem was they were from 1910. I was young enough not to appreciate this great gift. I was stunned by how out of date the information on technology and science, the subjects I was most interested in, were.
I wish I still had them!

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Feeling once again that our power and prestige should define the way the world works we paint those who disagree into boogeyman, some are very real and evil and others we conveniently imagine, or when desperate create.. Because of such a worldview, we have stumble into numerous quagmires, some physical like ill planned wars and others political and spiritual leaving us distracted and without the willpower to overcome. --- yeah. wow beach.

you always engage me... whenever I stop by to take a peek. this gave me mucho deja vu. all the best buddy.

Sarge said...

I controlled a lot of the NASA astronauts when they were flying the T-38s and ops stopping at then Grissom AFB in northern Indiana.
Today science and math is taking a second seat to things like social work and criminal justice. We need more engineers and chemists.

Yes, and MDs - So we can send these foreign fuckers back across the water where they came from. I left VA medical care because the MD could not be clearly understood.
I will pay extra but I can understand what my doctor is saying and I trust him.
Thank God for TriCare!


Pixel Peeper said...

You just threw me back to my childhood. The first two major world events that I remember most vividly are the invasion of Prague in August of 1968 (my hometown is just a 1 1/2-hour drive from Prague, and we were all afraid the Russian tanks wouldn't stop) and the moon landing in 1969. We didn't have a television, but were all glued to the radio. Afterwards, my sister and I went outside and looked up to the moon, trying to imagine that there really were American astronauts walking around "up there."

My favorite book was the world atlas, though encyclopedias were a close second.

Tim Jones said...

A bit off your subject, but Oh, you hit a responsive chord there. Once while chaperoning a field trip to a historical museum a kid came running up to me shouting: "Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones, you're in the MUSEUM!" She dragged me over to an exhibit about the Exxon Valdez oil spill and sure enough there I was floor to ceiling in a photograph. I am WAY too young to be history. Later in a writing class with those same kids I used the idea of a generation defining moment like the moonwalk to help them write out their feelings and experiences with 9/11.

Randal Graves said...

Fighting them on Mars so we don't have to fight them here.

Akelamalu said...

I like the way your mind works Beach.

Beach Bum said...

Mike: As you can tell I am very impatient with the lack of advancement in space exploration. My main trouble comes from my growing realization that I have aged to the point that many proposed missions will only happen after I am dead.

If I had my way we would have a colony on the moon. Yes, I do remember the stupid stuff Newty said earlier this year but I would also have bases on Mars and be pushing towards Jupiter.

Gwen: Thanks!

Sarge: Yeah, we need a lot more engineers and scientists.

Pixel: Yeah, I miss that sense of pure excitement and adventure only the Apollo mission provided. I will be glued to the television watching mission control monitor the landing of the next Mars rover coming up in August 5th.

Tim: I am WAY too young to be history.

Oh hell, I am just 47 and I feel like America and the world left me behind a long time ago.

Randal: Damn little green men and women, they hate our freedom to buy all day and night at Walmart.

Akelamalu: Thanks!

Marja said...

Nobody could have stated it any better then you beach. Amen
My mum still has a cupboard full of encyclopedia and I actually had a peek at it 2 weeks ago

lime said...

this is a really thoughtful reminiscence and reflection on what could have been. thanks for that.

and the encyclopedias....oh yes, i spent many an hour splaying them out on the floor happily chasing along cross references.

they say curiosity killed the cat. i think proper curiosity can help find the cure to some of our ills. it at least expands thinking rather than narrows it.

Ranch Chimp said...

Morning Bum, fear, frailty, speculation, and fantasy is all good in moderation, we are a species of extremities and compulsion's, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh ... this posting can cover so many different avenue's/ topic's actually. Speaking of the encyclopedia thing though, I havent thought of that in year's, I actually still have a nice set of encyclopedia's I bought through the mail myself probably 25 year's or so ago, no one ever look's at them, as far as the kid's or grandkid's are concerned, my grandson just borrowed a couple of my Neitzche (spelling?) book's for something for school though. I actually still read daily paper's even, not just online stuff. But weird thing is, I never had much schooling, I completed 8th grade, and basically hit the street's, jail's,etc, etc ... it was actually those encyclopedia's, national geographic magazine's, newspaper's and book's in jail libraries or public where I actually got most of my education, not from a school/ classroom ... without those, I wouldnt have gotten this far. I dont know if anyone has time to read anymore Bum, everyone seem's to just tweet message's and nothing in full hardly any more, just bite's and piece's of this and that ... in a way convenient, but also lacking completion or anything full of substance. Enough from me Guy, good read, have a good un Bud ....

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