05.29.10

Classic American Nonsense

Posted in Stumble and Fail, Why the World Doesn't Need US at 12:23 pm by George Smith

One of the recurring themes on DD blog is the massively annoying American delusion that we live in a can-do country, that our technology and business and people have an answer for everything.

Always.

It’s rubbish. Reality shows us repeatedly it’s not so, many times over the last decade. From alleged miracle weapons for the Iraq war, to Katrina, to even the smallest pieces of crappenstance like the underwear bomber’s smouldering privates, the world outside has shown Americans definitively what for.

So, another weak piece from this weekend’s New York Times contains two unintentionally hilarious, cosnidering this late date, paragraphs:

Americans have long had an unswerving belief that technology will save us — it is the cavalry coming over the hill, just as we are about to lose the battle. And yet, as Americans watched scientists struggle to plug the undersea well over the past month, it became apparent that our great belief in technology was perhaps misplaced.

“Americans have a lot of faith that over the long run technology will solve everything, a sense that somehow we’re going to find a way to fix it,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. He said Pew polling in 1999 — before the September 2001 terror attacks — found that 64 percent of Americans pessimistically believed that a terrorist attack on the United States probably or definitely would happen. But they were naïvely optimistic about the fruits of technology: 81 percent said there would be a cure for cancer, 76 percent said we would put men on Mars.

They just figured this out, huh?

One of DD’s touchstone books is Paul Fussell’s BAD.

In 1991, Fussell saw the future quite clearly.

“The United States especially overflows with [BAD] because above all countries it is the most addicted to self-praise and complacency — even more than France,” he wrote.

Further in: “And what’s made it worse is the recent rapid accumulation of technology. The current US can be defined as an immense accumulation of not terribly acute or attentive people obliged to operate a uniquely complex technology, which, all other things being equal, always wins. No wonder error and embarrassment lurk everywhere …”

On engineering, and this is very much pre-World Wide Web and instant global communication, Fussell had this to say:

If pressed, Americans may admit that the ideas that have made the modern world have all originated elsewhere — ideas like Darwin’s and Marx’s and Freud’s and Einstein’s and Jung’s — and never in These States. Our forte, which compensates for our weakness in creative intelligence, is held to be in engineering. Perhaps deficient in a comprehensive understanding of values and ends, we are said to be gifted in the management of techniques and means.

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The American achievement — and I know it’s bad taste to mention this — is the Challenger, brought to you by faulty manufacture, inept and dishonest quality control, and lying and evasion for the sake of big bucks.

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People as materialistic as Americans are supposed to be gifted at material operations, but the local urge toward the showy and spectacular constantly invites disaster … Bad design and construction, in fact, appear to be something like American specialties.

Chalk part of the rugged idiot belief that technology will save everything to bad — or at least incomplete — education.

After having spent close to a decade of my best learning years in a research lab and seeing the multifarious ways things could and did go wrong — how the toast often landed buttered side down, despite the best laid plans, I had no personal illusions about what science and technology could deliver in the short term. And that was on small scale shit.

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