Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, February 13, 2012

Futurama Fantasyland

Upgraded and Adapted from the most recent post's Moot, in an exchange with my friend JimF:

I am of two minds when it comes to supersonic passenger flight myself. Like the last shuttle flight, the end of Concorde felt like something like a dagger to the heart. The larger point is that I can't say I disapprove passenger flight absolutely altogether, supersonic or not. Indeed, I think there is surely a place for it, if nothing more than a comparatively more rarefied or luxurious passenger service used for emergencies or by frivolous rich people. What I disapprove has been the generational public subsidization of the boondoggle of profitable and yet affordable commercial air travel for average consumers, a fantasy for which there has never been a viable business model, a fantasy enabled instead by serial bankruptcies and bailouts and pharaonic public-funded airport terminals as well as the mobilizations of economies of scale that have rendered the enterprise an environmental threat to the continued existence of the very planet air travel is supposed to be connecting us with.

In this mass air transit is rather like the meat industry. I'm an ethical vegetarian myself, as you know, and have been for more than half my life at this point, and yet I can't say that I feel compelled to rail sanctimoniously about others drawing their own ethical lines in the same place where I do myself (after all, I didn't remain a full vegan more than a few years even if I still see the arguments for that stricter practice). Though I definitely do see the good sense in the claim that the single best most practical thing most everyday people could do to help the environment would be to stop eating meat, even so I think the same good outcome would result simply from the elimination of public subsidization of consumer society's ruinous meat habit. Michael Pollen's famous dictum: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," seems to me plenty good enough. I do think corpses in the grocery should probably have Surgeon General warning stickers on them like cigarettes do, pointing out the real dangers of meat consumption while reminding consumers that healthy alternatives are available. But I see little point in hectoring people. If the price of flesh to actual consumers reflected the real costs of its production I daresay people would adapt their consumption of it in ways that would yield greater sustainability even if few went all the way to vegetarian conviction as I have. Mass passenger air travel seems to me much the same. Come to think of it, individual ownership and over-reliance on automobiles, especially gasoline powered ones, seems to me much the same sort of problem, as well.

Just as America's incumbent elites fostered and subsidized a mass-mediated fantasy of for-profit nuclear energy for years rather than face up to the sin of Hiroshima (a fantasy these incumbent elites apparently keenly want to renew even now, even in the aftermath of Fukushima), so too corporate executives and public representatives demolished superior urban trolly systems and continental passenger rail while fostering and subsidizing the comparable mass-mediated rituals of rebellion, adulthood, courtship tied to car ownership, fantasies of free flowing traffic on interstate highways to suburbia as well as global passenger airflight to keep booming war industries alive in a post-war epoch fueled by the petrochemical resources that were the real prize for which we dueled with the fascists in that horrific conflict.

Futurism from the Futurama (see the USA from your Chevrolet! consumer conformism peddled as freedom and individuality) to digital utopianism (passive surfing, target marketing, in-depth surveillance on digital networks fueled by coal and instantiated on devices made of toxic materials assembled by hand by slaves) to the so-called geo-engineers (corporate-militarists and their PR shills insisting that the "solutions" to catastrophic anthropogenic climate change will involve unregulated highly profitable mega-engineering wet-dreams with unknowable consequences run by the very organizations who profit from extraction, pollution, planned obsolescence, and climate-change denialism here and now), and of course the techno-transcendentalist futurology of the various Robot Cults, Transhumanists and Singularitarians (handwaving away current distress with promises of robotic superabundance and prosthetic superpowers, celebrating planetary precarization as "accelerating change" peddled as progress unto transcendence) has never been much apart from the hysterical hyperbolic sales-pitch with which the elite-incumbent powers of the postwar Washington Consensus peddle the criminal works and deceptive wares of the extractive-petrochemical military-industrial complex that ate the world while pretending to feed it.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

I didn't care about the end of the Concorde or the end of the shuttle. I get my Mankind Exploring Far Frontiers kicks from the ocassional robotic probe sent out into the solar system. And more recently we have improved techniques for observing the universe from ground based telescopes that outdo the Hubble.