23.6.17

PROGRESS IS OUT OF VOGUE.

P. J. O'Rourke watches an Ariane 5 liftoff.  There's a bit of "I, Rocket" in it.
An individual could not build a rocket like these, no matter what his wealth or how much time he was allotted.

He’d have to be three Pythagoreans of a mathematician and a hundred kinds of engineer, a physicist-on-wheels faster than those of Stephen Hawking, the sort of computer whiz who’d make Bill Gates call tech support, an electrician, a metallurgist, a welder, a bomb disposal squad (that being what a rocket at blast-off is really doing), and own a very long ladder and be able to count down from ten to one (in French).

As for trade, the launch was a business deal putting two privately owned communications satellites in orbit, one from the American company ViaSat and one from its European competitor Eutelsat. The deal was made by Ariane­space in cooperation with its principal rocket-building contractor Airbus and Airbus’s rival Boeing, which manufactured Viasat’s satellite. The invisible hand of the marketplace doesn’t get much more unseen than what I was looking at.
But the rocket itself? Rather than representing the concretization of Western rationalism, it looks like a throwback to a lost era (and probably a phallic symbol to boot.)  Meanwhile, it's the contemporary, trendy thinkers and their hipster tendencies, turning the clock back.
The food Luddites urge us to eat the locally sourced, organic, pesticide-lacking, GMO-free diet of our ancestors, who had average lifespans of well over 30 years.

Modern transport is rejected in favor of the primitive bicycle. Mature adults wearing Lycra cycling shorts are as barbaric in appearance as naked early Britons painted with woad.

Medical advances are renounced as the public consults the witch doctors of health care insurance instead of the M.D.s of health care treatment.
It's enough to make an aging stoner despair.
If we want to avoid a future full of socialists, progressives, Birkenstock-wearing women in pink pussyhats, black-clad men in Guy Fawkes masks, gender-neutral shouters of Resistance!, vegans, PETA members, Middlebury College alums, and other pests who will be starving and begging in what used to be a marketplace but has become an “Occupied” camp . . .

If we want to avoid all that, we must make progress exciting again. We need a “Big Bang theory” of capitalism.
But perhaps the hero projects, whether in space or in medicine or in food and retail are all gone, and it's an era of normal science, or Kuhnian puzzle solving.

Thus is Ariane 5 hoisting a satellite ... to provide broadband internet to cruise ships at sea.

That might have been anticipated in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  No, we don't have Pan American space shuttles or orbiting Hilton hotels with lobbies as aesthetically challenging as airport departure lounges: but the symbolism of the dramatic becoming the mundane was there all the same.

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