Saturday, January 26, 2013


How the $#!% did we get here?

This is going to be a history detour -  past all the presidents, past all the wars, behind the scenes of what was happening abroad and in the media. Its a story of the subtle changes that got us to our current paradigm that some of us are desperately trying to get out of, while others are desperately trying to fall into. That of the oil-driven, consumerist society of capitalism.

In the early 1900's we're familiar that the automobile started to develop. It wasn't until the '20's that their popularity became wide spread, with the price reduction that followed Ford's invention of the Model T. But that isn't the whole story, certainly not. While Ford was pushing for lowering prices enough for most working families to afford his Model T, public transportation, which brought most people to work, were slowly losing business.

It quickly dawned on both the government and the automotive industry that this market of private transportation was untapped. Given the expense of a private vehicle, the constant upkeep, and fuel consumption it was apparent that a huge sum of money was about to be made, if only public infrastructure would support it.

During the '20s and ;30s something happened between private business and public government. The paper industry destroyed hemp, the chemical industry took hold of all publicly endorsed medicine, and most relevantly the "GM Streetcar Conspiracy" came to fruition. For reasons unknown to me, these all took place nearly simulataneously in a large change of power from government enforcing laws and regulation to taking an enormous part in private business, and ultimately, the structuring of American life.

By the 50's the street car was dead, and public transportation was for the down-trotted and poorer labor workers of America. Personal transportation was nearly synonymous with nationalism and endorsement of pride in the growing economy (and recovering from the depression). The personal automobile became a requirement for the american dream, and thus changed the identity of the population.

But this wasn't enough. There was still untapped potential for capitalism. The perfect picture of capitalism is for every single person to own all of their own stuff - their own house, their own car, and everything that fills those spaces and places. However, much of the working class lived where they worked. This necessarily meant they lived in cities, and in turn, compact buildings such as apartments and compact housing.

Drawing upon the idea of the antiquated royal elite living far out of the city, the real estate industry started an ingenious (in the context of capitalism) idea. They started using the tension of race to destroy neighborhoods and use class structure to drive forward a paradigm that would change America that still prevails to this day. The idea was ideal, it was suburbia - the idea of living far away from where you work. In newly deforested land, cheaply to build on, but until recently, untouched.

The freeway and interstate systems allowed this to be possible. Surprisingly (not!) it was the exact same time that the streetcar conspiracy had reached its end, in the mid 50's. It was because of this interstate system, the end of WWII, the increase of the middle class, and the racial tensions being played out in the media that allowed the next step to be possible.

What happened was neighborhoods that generally held white people were broken apart intentionally by the real estate industry via lowering the buy-in rate and overall the value of the houses in these neighborhoods and offering loans to African Americans at reduced rates. The process was called "Block Busting"; The intentional movement of minorities into these same neighborhoods, thus "breaking them apart". The social and racial tensions at the time caused enough discomfort which would only be remedied (in the eyes of the white, american public) by moving out. In fact, this is the very event that coined the term "there goes the neighborhood" - in reference to a black family moving in, thus "forcing" the neighborhood to a future of white emigration...

Suburbia was born. Deforestation of previously untouched land, or the conversion of inadequate farmland to newly built houses sometimes nearly an hour away from down-town became the normal interest of family housing. After all, who would want to live next to black people in the 50's... (sarcasm, please). As interest grew in the creation of suburban neighborhoods, it became almost a religious calling to move to a suburb. They were portrayed as heavenly, always green, and no crime. The children were happy, and the idea of our current "American Dream" was born.

There was one last cavity that the Capitalist movement had to occupy - exactly what would occupy all these newly built houses? Here enters the story of blatant consumerism, let me explain it in slightly a poetic way:

The man of the house takes his car to work.
A car built and devised on monopoly.
The roads built via a government shaking hands
With the conspiracy of suburbia
As the wife sits at home and tends the empty house,
The door-to-door salesmen rears his head
"Would you like a vacuum?"
"A sponge? A teapot? A turkey baster?"
And so the house gets filled with nicks and knacks
And the "growth" in the economy is born

The consequences of this branch out far beyond what any one person can imagine. The absolute necessity in suburbia is oil and gas. Gas was the downfall of the electric street car inevitably, and inevitably the realization of the interstate system. Soon the houses are filled with the useful byproducts - plastics, paints, and so forth. So begins the legacy of America, fast forward 60 years and here we are.

Yeah... Thats America.

No comments:

Post a Comment