Asleep at the Switch Since 1976 (or thereabouts)

[ The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at the Boeing Flight Museum ]

In 1976, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird hit 2,194 m.p.h. and reached an altitude 85,067feet — no airplane has flown faster or higher since.

In 1976, Viking 1 landed on Mars.

In 1976, this car was built — the first catalytic converters started to appear on American cars about two years prior, marking the end of the muscle-car era.

In 1976, the chimpanzee, our closest genetic relative, was officially declared an endangered species.

In 1976, the Apple Computer Company was formed.

In 1976, Watergate and the loss the Vietnam War were still painfully fresh.

In 1976, Dick Cheney replaced Donald Rumsfeld as President Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff, and later managed Ford’s failed re-election campaign.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected president — he had progressive ideas about energy conservation and renewable energy sources, but his successor, Ronald “government is the problem” Reagan, put the kabosh on all that.

In 1976 or thereabouts, the limits of the country and the limits of the planet were being revealed like never before. But during the following three decades, too many of us decided to pretend that no such limits exist, clinging to past successes. Natural, social, and economic capital was squandered; delusions of empire prevailed; little to no real progress was made on energy, transportation, or land use. And so we have become poorly situated to deal with the future that is upon us.

But now the children of the 1970s are getting their turn to run the show: My generation: Obama.

Perhaps it is naive to hope that the status-quo pairing of short-term gain and long-term pain can be overcome by the sea change that we so badly need; that our culture’s deeply ingrained focus on the individual and faith in growth without limits can be recast into a world view that nurtures the full potential of humanity. But then again, three decades of stalled progress punctuated by a George W. Bush finale ought to be a singularly potent catalyst.


BONUS: In 1976, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and XTC were busy conceiving their seminal 1977 releases that ushered in the punk/new-wave era — a reaction to the overwrought prog-rock and bloated jam bands that were revealing the limits of the form.

8 Responses to “Asleep at the Switch Since 1976 (or thereabouts)”

  1. Brice

    In 1976, seattle build Freeway Park, rather than a new freeway.

  2. Andrew

    Yeah the last couple of decades have been worthless. The Internet, microchips, bio-medical advances, those things all suck and a completely fucking worthless.

  3. Dan Staley

    I agree with Andrew up to a point, but you have to admit that Murrican exceptionalism and jingoistic patriotism have not allowed us to reach our full potential.

    Now – sez Mr Glass Half-full of tainted groundwater – it may be too late. Our best shot, in my view, is mitigating our ecological overshoot into a soft landing.

  4. dan bertolet

    That’s right Andrew, we’re all going to be fine with an i-Pod in every pot.

    I came close to putting in a disclaimer about computers, but didn’t because even they are not going to solve our biggest problems. Technology is tricky, but social and political issues are much trickier. I have a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and spent 10 years doing research, and my more recent experience in urban planning is reinforcing my belief that technology is the easy part.

    Sure, who would knock the great medical advances we’ve made. But because we can’t figure out how to live better in our technological world, it has been predicted that life expectancy in the U.S. is going to decrease within the next generation due to obesity. There are endless examples.

  5. Spencer

    dan, I bet they will dub it the “Wall-e” effect. For our current over consumption in the USA there is an equal lack of consumption in other countries. I think in addition to seeing increased mortality due to obesity in the USA we will see an increase in death around the world due to malnutrition.

    I also see your point about technological advancement we have made. A lot of technology seems to have been developed to keep us alive and so we can be entertained rather than so we can survive to enjoy our physical world. I know this is morbid and sad to say, but I often think we live much longer than we probably should. This causes us to use more unnecessary things to keep us occupied.

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