Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Whale and the Reactor (6)

Winner’s chapter “Building a Better Mousetrap” contains a wonderful brief history of “appropriate technology” movements — especially since the rise of the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s. It is as a history that the chapter is best read, because Winner’s summary of these fascinating movements ends with this ludicrous statement:

The demise of appropriate technology as a living social movement can be dated almost to the hour and minute. It occurred early in the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 1980, when it became clear that Ronald Reagan had been elected President of the United States. That event signaled the end of a favorable climate of opinion for public discussions of energy policy, energy conservation, and alternative energy technologies that had characterized the presidency of Jimmy Carter. “Let the market work” was now to be the central premise of government policy.

Any “social movement” that can be killed off merely by the election of a new President, that wilts into nothingness when faced by the “end of a favorable climate of opinion,” evidently wasn’t a “living” movement in the first place.

But of course the question of appropriate technology was and is a living movement, and wasn’t killed or even damaged by the Reagan presidency. It just lacked a voice in the White House to speak in its favor — something that has been true of many vibrant enterprises and will continue to be true of many more.

I have to say that I had forgotten how common it was in the 1980s for the political Left to attribute omnipotence — malignant omnipotence, but omnipotence all the same — to Reagan. But of course, we now know that they were right!

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