I watched the last NASA space shuttle launch live today, and it was surprisingly saddening. I’ve never been particularly invested in space exploration, nor am I a red-white-and-blue-bleeding patriot, but something about watching the US give up an interest so emblematic of power and pride because, quite simply, we can’t afford it anymore, was moving—like watching the last remaining member of a waspy upper crust family mill around in her decaying mansion, open a can of Bush’s baked beans, and, when she’s finished eating them, decide that she’s got to give those up too, because she can only afford the generic. It’s as if we’ve fallen this far, beginning our descent into the bottom of the sea along with that other mythically powerful, hubristic kingdom for which the shuttle is named. (Really, Atlantis doesn’t call to mind success.)
Indeed, we are sinking, economically. The working class is broke (in more ways than one). The government is broke (in too many ways to count). Perhaps my preoccupation with the humbling of America has more to do with economics than space shuttles. It’s sad that we’ve come to a point where corporations are more important than the livelihood of our citizens (or any other citizens in the world)—something of which this event is a reminder, in that now space shuttle exploration in this country will be happening only at the hands of private corporations.
It’s sad that, in the name of corporations increasing their profit margins, nothing is made in this country anymore. And even the work that is left for us here is shrinking. I was just listening yesterday to a radio program about speedups (“increased productivity”). In a corporate or manufacturing setting, a speedup basically means that more work is given to each employee (without a pay increase), so that more work can be done by less employees (increased productivity, and profit for the company, who now has to pay less workers). Over the long-term, what this has meant for the US is that, by some measures (profit margins), the economic recovery from the worldwide recession has begun, though unemployment rates are mostly staying put, as less workers are needed for a company to make the same amount of (or more) money. Here’s an interesting article about it at Mother Jones.
As long as I’m writing about emblems, it’s also sad that what used to be emblems of the US—car production, steel production, jobs that allowed any able-bodied person to earn enough money to support a family and even save, working one’s way up to the middle class (that is the American dream, no?), and even space exploration (as Reaganistic as it is)—have been replaced by…what? Mega-churches? Gun giveaways at grocery stores? Billionaires? What’s our emblem now? Even immigration, a phenomenon upon which the country was built (along with genocide, of course) is no longer something Americans value. It’s demonized.
Since I brought it up, maybe the fact that the country was founded on the mass graves of native inhabitants is important here. Maybe all of these wholesome ideas about what this country used be amount to a bunch of bullshit—a myth. Our history has certainly been mythologized into an apparently confusing bundle of names and slogans, à la Sarah Palin. After we’ve opened the last can of generic beans, will we be mythologized into oblivion, somewhere on the bottom of the ocean of fallen empires? Is this really the beginning of the end (or just the middle of the end?)
Perhaps I’m just depressed about not having a job. I’m going to go write a story about the Challenger now.