The Roots of Progress

Interview with Noah Smith

Noah Smith interviews me for his Substack. An excerpt:

N.S.: Isn’t another possibility that those celebrations of science back in the day were really celebrations of patriotism? As in, proof that America could do great things? Patriotic pride was certainly on my mind when the vaccines came out. And I remember from when I was a kid, how the Mars Pathfinder rover had everyone glued to their screens and throwing house parties – maybe that happened because the 90s were an era of resurgent pride in America. In contrast, we’re now in an era of deep national division, where lots of people feel like they can’t celebrate the achievements of a nation that contains a large rival faction. I think you can see that in the mass resistance to vaccines among many Trump supporters (even though, ironically, the vaccines were developed under Trump!). What do you think of that theory?

J.C.: Yeah, I think you’re on to something with that. I think America had a sort of national self-esteem crisis around the late ’60s / early ’70s, with Vietnam, Watergate, and the oil shocks all hitting around the same time. The Apollo missions were kind of the last hurrah of our national self-esteem, and it was downhill from there. I don’t think we’ve ever fully recovered.

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