Friday’s food for thought: it’s all about politics

I’ve been flipping through a pile of books this week in doing research for some writing projects and want to share a few thoughts I’ve gleaned from them.

For a book chapter about the space shuttle, I looked at Thomas P. Hughes’s American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 (1989), and came across this passage (p. 460-461 in the paperback) that I find relevant to my analysis:

“Large technological systems represent powerful vested interests…. Numerous persons develop specialized skills and acquire specialized knowledge appropriate for the system of which they are a part. A major change in the characteristics of the system or its demise would de-skill these people. The machines, devices, and processes in the system are [system-specific] capital…. Changes in the system…make hardware capital obsolete. Faced with these eventualities, the people and the investors in technological systems construct a bulwark of organizational structures, ideological commitments, and political power to protect themselves and the systems.”

Right on….

In the NASA History Division volume Critical Issues in the History of Spaceflight (2006), I found this observation by John Logsdon (pp. 270-271):

“The lack of a clear ‘mandate’ for human spaceflight over the past 35 years has meant that the U.S. human spaceflight program, and indeed the NASA program overall, has been sustained by a complex coalition of narrow interests, not by a clearly articulated national goal and a stable political consensus in support of achieving that goal.”

Though it’s theoretically possible, in the current political environment I see no hints of hope for political stability in the foreseeable future….

Finally, I’ll cite cultural studies scholar Henry A. Giroux, who wrote in Fugitive Cultures: Race, Violence, and Youth (1996, p. 184) that debating over the value of “political correctness” in U.S. academia “does more than misrepresent the alleged tyranny of a handful of progressive educators”:

“It also reveals the fear that radical democracy inspires in the orthodox guardians of traditional culture…. Maybe the lesson here is that in a democracy that matters, youth are not feared, education becomes a vehicle of critical learning, the economy is not left to the whims of the market and its greed, and social justice is invoked to eliminate bigotry rather than sanction it by labeling its opponents as politically correct.”

This passage reminds me of a front-page story I read in the Washington Post this morning, headlined “Special interests win in Senate panel’s attempt at tax reform.”  Post reporter Lori Montgomery writes that “as lawmakers tackled a list of 75 special-interest tax breaks, the special interests repeatedly won.” Tax breaks that remain available include “an accelerated write-off for owners of NASCAR tracks…an economic development credit for a StarKist tuna cannery in American Samoa…a rum-tax rebate for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands worth millions of dollars a year to one of the world’s largest distillers…[and] a $2,500 credit for electric motorcycles and other low-speed vehicles. Tax breaks eliminated include “a $5,000 credit for first-time home buyers in the District [of Columbia] and a cash-incentive program for ­wind-energy projects.”

We’re still far from justice, fairness, and equality in our great United States, and it’s a shame.

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