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.

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