Monday, June 15, 2009

1406 Moonlanding Drive Part II


I already posted Part I of 1406 Moonlanding Drive which can be read at:
Moon Landing One. The following is the second part of this comprehensive work. In 1991 with the help of Institute for Perennial Studies co-founder, Carl Klemaier, we wrote an essay that attempted to explain some of the lessons we had learned about modernism using concrete examples drawn from society. The result was the following piece which is a combination of taped conversations sewn together with commentary.
In Part I we tried to provide some context by using a brief look at the “planned obsolescence” of post WW-II America as an introduction to a broader look at cultural history. Exploring the hype associated with the products that filled out the modernist’s pantheon we set the stage for and expanded critique of a weltanschauung that has given us the junk-pile as metaphor for the modern world.
By including political history in Part II we use the perennialist view to analyze liberal and conservative showing their complicity and cooperation. Interestingly we threw down a challenge to contemporary conservatives of 1991 to live up to their historical rhetoric and today we see that up to now they have failed. We also pointed out the role of environmentalism in politics and cautioned that it could be co-opted by neo-Marxism; foreshadowing the Green Party and its spin-offs. In fact the failure of the conservative movement to acknowledge the “deep conservatism” manifested by a significant segment of the so-called “60’s revolution” is exactly why the Republican Party is in turmoil today; namely the inability to pick through media driven accounts of the sexual libertine exploits by some and the underlying spiritual longings of the majority.
One can draw a close parallel between the rebellious conservatism of the 1960’s spawned by Barry Goldwater and the Ron Paul faction of the Republican Party. Furthermore, the rejection of the Paul bloc today is a continuation of policy by statists within the Republican Party to preserve scientific secular modernism as the official view of the Party. Yet both Parties cling to the National Security Act of 1947 as their unofficial manifesto which absolves government from responsibility in the name of self preservation for the State; a masterpiece of secular scholarship.
As the feast of consumerism draws to an end in America fueled by the spoils of WW II squandered on the national security state, a sort of hangover of self loathing has set in. While economic elites bail out and set sail for the Orient the average citizen of the United States is left to clean up the revelry as best we can. With Asian materialism on one horizon and Islam on the other, America must find a way to survive. Although perennialism is not necessarily limited to any particular religion it is the Christian perennialist like the so-called Southern Agrarians and others,, that needs to be studied to find answers to this dangerous predicament. -DSR-

1406 Moonlanding Drive Part II
A Meditation on the Decline of Materialism
Carl Klemaier and David S. Reif (June 1991)

“Progress is our most important product”. General Electric Slogan
“Better Living through chemistry.” Dow Chemical Company Slogan

Carl Klemaier: “The story of modernism is an expression of these slogans. As I grew up in the 1950’s these slogans became as familiar to me as the prayers I was learning in Catholic school. And like prayers, those slogans became the cornerstone of my hope in a better world, both here and hereafter. In this world progress would bring the worldly equivalent to heaven—heaven on earth. Anything newer and faster, brighter and shinier, like aluminum, brought us closer to the heaven at the end of history, just as each bead of the rosary brought us closer to the heaven at the end of life. And just as the priest mediated between God and I, so did the scientist, ‘Dr. Science’, would carry out the earthly ceremonies of progress.”

Underlying Dr. Science was a secular ideology based on a belief that humans need not have limits and by using the right method, the scientific method, the world could be transformed. This came to mean that whatever scientists could do, usually for the military, the corporations, or the State, they should do.
This secular ideology, termed, ‘modernism’, was the result of a 200 year erosion of traditional values caused by the rise of the cult of positivism and the industrial revolution. These two factors caused extreme change in Europe. It was a time of fortunes being made by the new rich, and old institutions being eclipsed, and rural populations being uprooted as they struggled in the overpopulated industrial cities.
The new religion of science as described by French philosopher Auguste Comte (3), having obtained a foothold, now began to evolve a bureaucracy funded by those who benefited from the changing world. Lewis Mumford, in his book, The Myth of the Machine, puts it this way: “the new scientific philosophy took over…As mechanical power increased and as scientific theory itself, through further experimental verification, became more adequate, the new method enlarged its domain…Those who created the mechanical world picture foresaw many actual inventions and discoveries, and were passionately eager to bring them about; but they could not even speculatively, anticipate the dismaying social outcomes of their efforts.”

CK: “As the 1960’s began with Kennedy’s optimism, the space program, and the Peace Corps, the promises seemed justified. In the intellectual circles there was even a debate that the need for ideology (fundamental assumptions about what life is about) had come to an end. Those who believed this felt that as a society the United States had, or was well on its way to achieving, the society at the end of history. Republicans and Democrats really had nothing to argue about, given the affluence of post WW II society.”
“But as nuclear weapons multiplied, and assassinations erupted, and Vietnam became fouled by napalm burning the flesh of children, a growing sense began to emerge that something was fundamentally wrong. I began to doubt the presuppositions with which I was raised.”

A critique began to surface, issuing forth from the anti-war/counterculture movement. While at the time, opponents labeled them “leftists” because they were questioning, sometimes aggressively, the political, economic, educational and social foundations of the country. In reality, however, at their root these movements were perennialist (deeply conservative) in their motivation.
Michael Novak, writing in 1968, hinted at this radical conservatism when discussing young people. “One would have thought, a few years ago, that the age of ideology was at an end. But now young people have discovered that pragmatism, too, has the characteristics and effects of an ideology. They have observed in particular, its low resistance to a new toughened strain of tyranny. Technological progress, they recognize, demands stability and unity over periods of time log enough to bring plans and projections to fulfillment; it depends upon control over natural resources, industrial facilities, future human desires, and conditions. Any government dedicated to the use of advanced technology finds it in the national interest to produce and enforce stability on a worldwide scale…”(4) The political movements of the 1960’s saw militant corporate capitalism, Communism, and fascism as bureaucratic tyranny set upon world domination. The Cold War was a battle not between ideologies, but between materialistic worldviews set on dominating people and manipulating nature.
The “deep conservative” movement was an expression of a profound alienation created by a change of emphasis from a healthy individualism to the grandiose egotism of the post-WWII super-power state. The “self” became a prison of loneliness. Michael Novak comments on the worldview that led to this impasse. He continues, “The radicals recognized that the rugged individualism of Ayn Rand, the inner directed personality imagined by David Riesman, and the natural, atomic individual imagined by John Stuart Mill and the English empirical tradition are now viable models of human behavior.” Unfortunately, this model was full of unintended consequences not the least of which was individual feasting on the spoils from the recent World War.
The perennialist movement was interested in interconnection and “whole systems” more than atomistic individualism; a conservatism rooted in the deep past of Pythagoras and Siddhartha Gautama rather than new comers like Hobbes and Rand. The hippies were interested in communes but not Communism. They were interested in connections of people to the land, as na├»ve as that might have seemed. As a line in the song “Woodstock” states’ “I want to get back to the land and set my soul free”. Longing for meaning in a consumer driven, junk product world was the underlying message here.
This “deep conservative” emphasis on the interconnection between community, family, people, land, God, and values cuts across contemporary ideological lines in such a way as to nearly rend them completely. In the 1980’s, the family and spiritual issues of the Republican Right come from the same piece as cloth of the ecological and “mother earth” agenda. They both stress the connection of ideology and non-measurable, intangible values based in spiritual wisdom…and area inaccessible to positivist science and technology. Unfortunately, this potential cross-pollination has already been recognized as a battleground by the avant-garde of the Left in the disguise of the so-called “greens” lurking on the fringe of European politics. Whether the Republican Right is up to the challenge is an open question.
Regarding the notion of interconnection philosopher, David Fideler, states it best when he comments on interconnection in a classical sense. “Pythagoras correctly observed that all things are linked together proportionately, by justice, harmony----call it what you will. By cultivating an awareness of harmonic forming principles and working within the bounds set by necessity, Mankind possesses the potential to become a sacred steward of the earth and a co-creator with nature; but the inevitable corollary is that humanity also has every power to create and inhabit a hell of its own making. The simple fact remains that the scales of justice are inexorable---it is a principle of nature, and not merely of human morals, that each should receive his due. If we poison our rivers, we poison ourselves; if we act in stupidity, it is only appropriate that we suffer the consequences. If there is a moral to the story, it is simply that individuals and societies are far less likely to run into trouble should they posses an awareness of these principles and relationships. And if one would like to cultivate the innate human ability to see things as they are, in whole-part relations, there is scarcely a better guide than the Pythagorean sciences.”(5) In other words “the wisdom of the ages”.
Today conservatism is supposed to be on the rise and liberalism is a dirty word. In reality, there is little difference. Pragmatic secularism or modernism, carried out by scientific, corporate, and State bureaucracies are still telling us that progress is ‘new and shiny products’ that are in reality designed to turn into junk, developed by chemists and computer programmers working for the same entities. Liberals and conservatives are locked into a positivist paradigm. They are equal in their wholehearted support of the unexamined concept of Progress.
Modernism, then, becomes a wholesale assault on the old worldview of interconnection between Man, God, and values; the ultimate in whole systems. The desire to “conserve” what is old and longing for “renewal” through the perennial wisdom become the targets of technology and positivist science. Given this situation the question arises: Can the various peoples of the world hold onto their traditions and the worldviews that underlie them in the face of the secular modernist attack carried on in the name of progress?
The assault on tradition is obviously an expression of great arrogance. Drawings from the Bible and other timeless books true conservatives have questioned human pride. This includes the creation of vast schemes that call for comprehensive planning which are favored by leftists but have also tantalized conservatives who have come under the spell of the modern age.
Russell Kirk, in his classic study of American conservatism, The Conservative Mind, lists six fundamentals of conservatism. 1. Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law which rules society as well as conscience. 2. Affection for the variety and mystery of human existence…a sense that life is worth living. 3. A conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes against the notion of classless society. 4. The belief that freedom and property are closely linked…Economic leveling is not economic progress. 5. The belief that custom and convention are checks upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovators’ lust for power; a distrust of sophists and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. 6. The recognition that change may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.
Yet, this no longer acts as a model for conservatism. It is nearly its antithesis in the light of recent history. The “devouring conflagration” of innovation from aluminum tumblers and “trailer houses” that are designed to crumble, through junk bonds and the Pentagon’s “Star-War” schemes are now the banner of both conservative and liberal.
Saving tradition may not be bringing back high button shoes, whalebone corsets, and rigid religious orthodoxy. However, it does mean reviving a traditional worldview that emphasizes whole systems to operate culture and individual freedom to operate society; a true pluralism where nations instead of ideologies rule people.
Breaking with the recent past of technological “progress” and industrialized productivity may cause panic in the faint hearted. Yet continuing the dizzying ascent to scientific heaven, with only second-hand military technology, medical experimentation, and 19th century resource exploitation as the foundations of modernism to guide us, seems far more frightening than a re-examination of a perennial wisdom to see us through a transition to sanity.
The hype driven economics and philosophy that moves our worldview are based on a Western idealism gone mad. Morris Berman states it well when he writes, “Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merge with nature, but rather total separation from it. Subject and object are always seen in opposition to each other. I am not my experiences, and thus not really a part of the world around me. The logical end point of this worldview is a feeling of total reification everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object too, an alienated ‘thing’ in a world of other equally meaningless things. This world is not of my own making; the cosmos cares nothing for me; and I do not really feel a sense of belonging to it. What I feel, in fact, is a sickness in the soul.”
“Translated into everyday life, what does this disenchantment mean? It means that the modern landscape has become a scenario of ‘mass administration and blatant violence’, a state of affairs now clearly perceived by the man in the street. The alienation and futility that characterized the perceptions of a handful of intellectuals at the beginning of the century have come to characterize the consciousness of the common man at its end. Jobs are stupefying, relationships vapid and transient, the arena of politics absurd. In the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional values, we have hysterical evangelical revivals, mass conversions to the Church of Reverend Moon, and a general retreat into the oblivion provided by drugs, television, and tranquilizers. We also have a desperate search for therapy, by now a national obsession, as millions of Americans try to reconstruct their lives amidst a pervasive feeling of anomie and cultural disintegration. An age in which depression is a norm is a grim one indeed.” (6)
Few can argue with this position. The linkage between scientific pragmatism and politics is manifested in its by-products. We see the outcome in Big Science bureaucracies; consumer junk piling up on landfills; and moldering “trailer houses”, cars, and refrigerators decaying in the countryside. These combine with the larger issues of toxic waste, plutocracy, weapons of mass destruction, ecological degradation, and an alienated culture which produces dependent poorly adjusted people.
Given this, then the mobile home, with its grid coordinate address on a street named after a technological accomplishment, decaying after its short lifetime of use becomes a metaphor for much of our lives---lives which make us begin to wonder what happened to the future we long to remember.

3) Auguste Comte—(1798-1857), French philosopher who founded positivism and believed that the final stag in the evolution of human thought was when science discovered “positive truth” through observation. He believed in the “religion of science” with himself and other scientists as the priesthood for this cult.

4) The End of Ideology Debate, ed. Chaiml Waxman, (Simon and Schuster 1968), pp. 389-397.

5) Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, ed. David Fideler, (Phanes Press 1987), p. 45.

6) The Re-Enchantment of the World, Morris Berman, (Bantam Press1984, p.3.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

1406 Moonlanding Drive (Part I)


The effects of modern materialism have been more than evident but only lightly scrutinized for several decades now. An out of control science bureaucracy linked with out of control government both being lead by destructive secular motives was the sad impulses driving the dark and murderous twentieth century. This subject was discussed in the essay Tesla’s Legacy: , however, I thought it important to look at the precursors to that piece.
In 1991 with the help of Institute for Perennial Studies co-founder, Carl Klemaier, we wrote an essay that attempted to explain some of the lessons we had learned about modernism using concrete examples drawn from society. The result was the following piece which is a combination of taped conversations sewn together with commentary. Almost no one was working in this area so what we were doing was verboten within our materialist culture in those days. Attempts to publish this and other similar essays were met with comments like “too daunting” and “the results of negative speculations”. These attitudes are changed somewhat as the veil is lifting on the agenda of global materialism and secular tyranny that is now making its way into the popular consciousness.
As "planned obsolescence" and other modernist catechisms have played out the views we expressed are more evident today. Linking the National Security State with culture was not considered then but today that statist plan has borne bitter fruit as it has poisoned a society from within.
What follows is part one of a two part project. It was written before it could be digitally stored so I am transcribing it from paper text into a word processor format as time allows.

1406 Moonlanding Drive (Part I)A Meditation on the Decline of Materialism
by Carl Klemaier and David S. Reif (June 1991)

“The Science of today is the technology of tomorrow” Edward Teller

David S. Reif: “When I was young I remember the first time I knew what aluminum felt like. It was dull, gray, and light weight. School science books and magazines (c. 1960) that I read all proclaimed that this was the metal of the future to replace everything from wood to steel. It was to be a veritable revolution in the way we were going to live.”
“The marvelous light weight stuff was omnipresent in the days of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. You cooked with it. Your knife and fork could be made of it. There were those crazy anodized tumblers in bright candy-colors: some were a sort of purple, others blue, gold, and green: strange colors like Christmas ornaments. It seemed everyone had them. They were awful! They sweated; ice melted fast; and when you got your teeth against them you got a kind of funny ‘shock’ or something unnerving like that. And the creepiest attribute: you could taste them.”
“Some people had dishes made of it. Many had serving pieces made from the stuff. Mass produced lazy-Susans, trays, and bowls with elaborate Victorian designs “etched” into them that I suppose were to make us think of “depression glass” patterns or other classic designs. They were ubiquitous and hideous. Cold food got warm in them and hot food got tepid. They had a funny “scum” on them all the time and they ‘tasted’.”
“We were told by the Dr. Science of the time that aluminum was inert, wouldn’t rust or tarnish, was safe as ceramic to eat off of, and of course---tasteless. I knew better, even then. I liked the colored tumblers but only to look at. Most people got rid of the awful stuff as soon as they had enough money to replace it or the person who had given it to them went to their final rest and the offending tray didn’t have to be trotted out every time they came over for dinner.”

Aluminum was supposed to be the “miracle metal” of the modern world. Although it was first extracted by electrolysis in 1866 by Charles Hall, it was not until the 1920’s and ‘30’s that aluminum was hailed as a technological panacea. Lightweight, cheap, and plentiful, it seemed the perfect metal to carry out the dream of the modernist architect and planner.
World War II was a great booster for the fortunes of aluminum as well as other “modern” materials. The ordnance, airplane, and electronics industries demanded new designs to keep up in the deadly game of killing. Non-ferrous metals, plastics, and precision castings were developed in earnest by all sides of the conflict, accelerating the process started in WWI which mechanized warfare. Now war was industrialized.
In that process, new materials and methods were devised for the lethal business of warfare. “Big Science” and high tech are particularly suited for this type of production because of the reductionist component that tends to turn a blind eye to the human costs involved concentrating instead on technological priorities. But with the end of the war, a market had to be devised for all the deadly processes invented for killing. These methods now had to be adapted to a peace time economy.
Of course, this is where advertising comes in to move the modernist(1) agenda along. Huge sums had been invested into the war making process and great effort had been expended developing a new world of products and materials. Now they had to be packaged and moved through the civilian economy. The “old” had to go and make way for the “new”.

DSR: “New and shiny; that pretty much sums it up. Whatever is new and essentially unused is the best. Whatever is old is, well, old and close to being obsolete or at least on its way to the trash heap. “New” the universal buzz-word of modernism would become ever-present. ‘Modern’, ‘Space-Age’, and ‘High Tech’ are essentially labels for the same thing. The marketing people are just doing their job: creating demand…and by using various “tags” they can repackage the message of the post-WWII era over and over using the formula devised earlier in the twentieth century. That new is better than old and if we want to keep up and not be left out of the action we, “…need to get with the program” a popular expression from the 1970’s."
"The era of the Cold War had begun ushering in a new and deadlier round of weapons research and development, inevitably spawning new product spin-offs to astound and amaze the world. In effect government spending on weapons and space drove the economy and eventually the culture.”
“The photograph “1406 Moonlanding Drive” is a detail of a mobile home or as we say in the Ozarks a ‘trailer-house’. It looks like an early 1970’s model of the American Dream, the single family dwelling. When it was built it was really new and shiny on the sales lot where it was displayed. Bright colored pennants merrily flapping in the breeze and a big sign announcing what a bargain this little baby was greeted potential customers.”
“It was the latest in aluminum and baked enamel steel construction with all paneled and plastic interior, ventilator windows set in aluminum E-Z care no paint frames, and put together with the latest tech-screw fasteners. It was, in short, a marvel of modern technology. Cheap affordable housing for the newly wed, the retired, and the low income customer; it was built to withstand the elements, resist the ravages of time, and hold its value for the lucky new owner of this fine example of American technical know-how.”
“In the era of the Gemini Project, the Moonwalk and push-button warfare, this edifice stood as a shiny new example of how military research and all that space program technology could be brought down to earth and harnessed for the use of the ordinary citizen.”

It is now about 20 years later. The dream home has seen some history. Viet Nam has collapsed. Nixon is driven from office. The flower-children are gone. The standing of the United States in the world is now openly debated. The single-bread-winner-family is starting to look like a quaint story about better days.
The price of aluminum has skyrocketed and almost everywhere there are people walking along the roadsides of our country collecting beer cans, storm window sashes, wire, and other flotsam to “recycle” for the good of the environment. Or are these people really trying to subsist by picking up the scattered garbage of others and take it to the scrap yard for cash.
Either way it all revolves around the “miracle metal” aluminum; making it from ore is many times more expensive that beer can aluminum. It takes an enormous amount of electricity to convert bauxite (aluminum ore) into metal. There are waste products from smelting that are not easily gotten rid of and there is pollution. The electricity comes from generating plants fired with coal which is said to pollute the atmosphere. Or it comes from oil and gas fired generators or nuclear power plants. Oil and gas needed for transportation are used to electrolyze bauxite into aluminum. Atomic power plants are heavily subsidized by tax dollars but none of these costs are factored into the price of the “miracle metal”.
Sometimes electricity to extract aluminum comes from hydropower plants which have been built to fuel the needs of the industry. They dam our rivers, flooding cropland and displace farmers so they can join the urban work force and become potential customers for mobile homes.
In the not too distant past, homes and commercial buildings were built by craftsmen to last and last. The structures had a spiritual quality because they were constructed with time honored methods in geometric arrays whose origins were functional, aesthetic, and spiritual, recalling Pythagorean principles or the mystical relations that exist in the archway, the perfect circle, or the ratios of a rectangle. Materials were durable and earthy. Stone, brick, hewn beams, and wrought iron came together under the hands of skilled people to bring forth beauty and function: form following essence.
Structures lasted hundreds of years and were populated and re-populated by on family after another. When there was need of temporary buildings, the “trailer-houses” of the past were made with materials that were abundant and easily available, and could be repaired readily. The American Indians had thousands of such dwellings” lodges, tepees, wikiups, hogans, and other temporary homes that were made from natural materials that did little to harm the earth.
Even if people needed to live in these structures for extended periods, they could be repaired as needed with common materials. Their design was in tune with tradition and spiritual sensibilities of time and place.
Dr. Science tells us to wait, things will get better. There will be new building materials that will last forever. Plastics in every color of the rainbow and metals that never rust or tarnish. Homes of the future, clothes, and other possessions will be beautiful and hold their value indefinitely; tools and utensils will never wear out.
The people on Moonlanding Drive have heard all about progress before. But today things are broken, the doorknob will no longer work; the precision casting in its interior no longer accepts the aluminum key to fit it. The baked enamel steel siding is dirty beyond cleaning; it is peeling in places and rust has invaded the cracks. The high-tech fasteners are corroding, coming loose, and no longer hold properly; the roof is leaking. Repair is difficult for people without space-age technology; aluminum is hard to weld requiring specialized equipment. Fasteners once tightened are not meant to be replaced; precision castings are not designed to be fixed.
Try to tell the people on Moonlanding Drive that the promises of a worldview based on positivist(2) science and modernism will work. They may listen and hope and without an alternative, they will try to believe, but it is getting harder. For many “shiny and new” is a cynical memory. No more credible than the latest hype on the TV for a flimsy Veg-a-Matic or shiny and new faux-pearl jewelry that is worthless before it arrives in the mail.

1) Modernist-Someone who adheres to the creed of modernism which is an uncritical belief in “progress”. A view that believes whatever is “new” is intrinsically superior to what it replaces.

2) Positivist-One who believes in positivism; a belief in those things that have a quantity, believing only in things that can be measured. It is the basis for “science”.

In the next installment Carl Klemaier and I discuss more of the issues concerning people living on Moonlanding Drive. It can be read at: Moon Landing Two

Illustration: Black and white photograph entitled, “1406 Moonlanding Drive”, 1990, by the author, taken with Nikon N-2000 35mm camera using Kodak Plus-X film.