May 24, 2009

SLICE OF PIE: 52 Years Ago…

Look up into the sky, take your readings and if you’re good enough, you can easily determine that it’s May of 1957.

The first thing you notice is that none of the lights in the sky move – except maybe that one over there and it quickly reveals itself to be a Boeing 247 – a dual propellor plane. Higher in the sky, nothing else moves – because there are no satellites. Not for another four months. Without satellites, there are no dishes, no “global positioning” (aka GPS), no long-term weather reports and no Hubble Space Telescope.

Squinting, you notice that there are no pieces of Earth metal on the Moon, no footprints, no Stars and Stripes EVER, and no Bases. Nothing but Phobos and Deimos orbit Mars and there are no shapeless lumps of Soviet metal on the surface of Venus. Nothing from Earth orbits Jupiter or Saturn and nothing Human made lies dead on the surface of Titan. Four hurtling dishes embossed with messages from us straining to touch the Oort Cloud (postulated in 1932 and again in 1950) are only a dream, and no unidentified piece of American or Brazilian steel drifts deeper and deeper in the Jovian atmosphere. The nine planets of the Solar System are the only planets with observable curriculum vitae in the known Universe and there is only one asteroid belt.

There were no handheld calculators; no laptops; no electronics; Yen meant only ‘to long for’; and no one alive has ever had coronary bypass surgery. You share the planet and all its resources with less than 3 billion other people and few of those people realize how wealthy you and your countrymen are. DUNE was still five years in the future and nothing by Frank Herbert was published that year.

The Chevy Bel Air was the most popular car – it got about 12 mpg of leaded gasoline. Color TV was a hassle and wouldn’t become commercially successful for another four years. There would only be 5600 American cases of polio in 1957 – down from 58,000 in 1952.

This article would have taken me hours to write because I would have had to go to a library to find the resources from which to pull the statistics you just read. Instead, something that spiders spin allowed me to do this in a half an hour.

And 52 years later, I’m so glad that everything is better now. Right? Not. At. All.

Things are NOT better because we’ve progressed technologically. Plenty of scientismists would disagree with me violently. Some have in the past. Scientism? “Describes the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences…In its most extreme form, scientism is the faith that science has no boundaries, that in due time all human problems and all aspects of human endeavor will be dealt with and solved by science alone. This idea is also called the Myth of Progress.” (

I would tender to you that life is NOT better today than it was 52 years ago. In fact, with a little thought any honest scientismist would have to agree. If one of you scientismist folk wanted to start a list of ways you believe life’s better, I’d be happy to try and match item for item ways it’s WORSE. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m no bleeding pessimist and I have a hope that doesn’t depend on science. But for the sake of argument – and from what I frequently observe in my classroom – I throw down the gauntlet of challenge.

Besides, maybe you’ll convince me.

No comments: