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Three Failing Experiments? Mine, America’s, and Humanity’s


Three Failing Experiments? Mine, America’s, and Humanity’s

Tom Engelhardt

There was a period in my later life when I used to say that, from the age of 20 to my late sixties, I was always 40 years old; I was, that is, an old young man and a young old one. Tell that to my legs now.


Happy birthday Tom. And many more - hopefully less depressing - ones!


I dunno Tom - think of your Bday as a “be” day. From that perspective you’ve been contributing to the betterment of lives as a daily habit. You aren’t just you, you’re a legitimate and treasured mystery of the unknown unknowns - in the best sense. Somehow I think you’ve been involved in countless check-offs on countless bucket lists.

One thing the ‘system’ (and thats a real stretch in meaning) does is scrub the sensory of mystery faster than the frenetic scrubbers on the curling ice. Funny thing being, we are nothing if not for robust and healthy life in general. That makes failure of the system the most bizarre inversion of reality that we can’t shape our expectations by.

Major shift out of “consumer” narcissism and into In Lakhe (I am another yourself)/ubuntu (I am because you are) etc. Last laugh being that the Indigenous Peoples have it right - and the system says they’re “primitive” when they’re actually trying to maintain at the prime root. Kind of funny when you consider that the system is a derivation of a derivation of a derivation, and on and on ad infinitum…

so… just for giggles


bravo, an awesome article and read. let’s hope that someone steps out from the crowd to lead us in the perilous times when there is little hope left. i spend alot of time thinking about these very same things.


No worries, Tom. Your brain cells haven’t jumped ship yet. Keep the faith. It is people like you that keeps us younger folks’ brain cells from jumping ship. Happy birthday, man.


An individual lifetime does eventually terminate; failure is not necessarily built into the model. But our common understanding of these existential matters is still primitive. The much larger social experiment called the United States of America is something else altogether, and currently failing miserably for many participants. The trajectory, in this case, is becoming quite clear.


“The Walking Communities of 2040” (revised)

The original essay with this title was penned in 1997 to grace the back cover of a transit proposal submitted to Portland City Council where it received a formal review and was awarded merit. Twenty years later with significant progress achieved in light rail projects nationally, mass transit still fails to address ever growing traffic woes nor soothe environmental nightmares predicted with global warming. As today’s divestment in fossil fuel movement builds momentum, I remain certain that mass transit must receive redirected investment dollars just as certain that self-driving car technology is a fraud, a ruse meant to distract public attention from actual solutions that include truly modern mass transit as a fundamental travel mode with the most potential to direct development beyond car dependency and traffic havoc.

The transit proposal is based on a design concept I dubbed LOTi (Loop Oriented Transit Intermodal) and sometimes refer to it as sort of missing link. Its closest model is Denver’s 16th Street Shuttle. The design application writ broadly is meant to reduce the cost and impact of light rail and transit centers; streamline both light rail and peripheral bus lines by avoiding circuitous routing; provide convenient transfers rail to bus and between bus lines with the least number of any suitable transit vehicle; and to offer much more potential for transit-oriented infill mixed-use development.

The basic flaws of self-driving cars are simple enough: The technological hurdles are plainly insurmountable, therefore they will never be completely safe. They won’t decrease traffic congestion, fuel/energy consumption nor emissions sufficient to prevent worst harm from climate change. They are most unlikely to reduce travel-related cost of living. They won’t take full advantage of the benefits EVs offer and the technology is supported for all the wrong reasons; to bust transit operator and teamster unions; to give freeway planners an excuse to predict worsening traffic can be managed with reckless tailgating; to maintain most profitable but least resilient regional utility grids which separate EV household systems are proven very complementary.

The most telling aspect of self-driving car folly is eliminating ownership whereupon all cars are kept in central garage locations and dispatched on demand. Never mind that in a grid failure, every household with an EV in the garage gains a backup power supply. Never mind any emergency where a car is needed immediately, not one that may arrive too late. Self-driving car tech completely denies those safety features and pretend “mass tailgating” won’t produce horrific multi-car pileups. Self-driving tech in many ways puts safety dead last.

A household EV offers the means to more closely monitor and reduce energy consumption overall, both for driving and household use. Rooftop PV solar arrays are thee perfect match to EV battery packs. Perhaps most important, a household EV is an incentive to drive less, whereby more trips become possible without having to drive, whereby local economies grow and alternate modes of travel - mass transit, walking and bicycling - all more energy efficient than EVs alone - may serve more travel needs in this vision of walking communities in 2040. It’s last line, “Look, there’s a gas station. You don’t see too many them no more.” Art Lewellan


Wow, Don’t remember ever reading it just like that. I mean straight forward and the whole truth. ( Happy Brithday Tom.) Yes I do agree history is not on our side. How is it that as advanced as we humans are. How are we so stupidly blind?. I mean we as humans need a system in place to keep the mass in check for sure. But, Hello if we have no earth to live on…What in the universe will we do?. Time for the people of earth to hold world governments accountable for OUR earth and OUR existence


bye bye earth, bye bye humanity


Come on, Tom, stop dancing around the subject. This isn’t a potentially failing state, or a state that is failing in some aspects, or a failing experiment. It is a state that has failed, and failed, miserably, entire segments of the citizenry outside the white privileged class consistently since the beginning. Historically, entire classes of people in this country were never part of some great experiment. The failing sure as hell didn’t’ start with Nixon. Trump is just reviving an attack on vulnerable parts of the populace, using a centuries old tactic to divide and conquer and turn elements of the populace against each other. He’s a reincarnation of the worst power abusers of the past who have risen to power many times in the history of this country. The sooner everyone abandons that notion that this country has declined from some mythical lofty position on the hill and a golden age that never was, the sooner we can deal with the reality of what it actually is and build it into something that works for everyone.


I think truth and democracy could go a long way to solving our problems.

For truth, we need an open government with few State secrets, and unimpeded media access to information, with office holders (political and large corporation) answerable for their actions in an environment not within their control; and we would need candid, open, frank, truthful media, devoid of propaganda and group- biased coverage, one dealing in proper proportion with the issues that impact our lives; and for this , we would need the media in the hands of the many, not the few. Someone said once, “The truth will set you free”.

In a democracy, the political wishes of the majority should be ascertained and implemented: Obviously, on that measure, we have nothing like a democracy. We can have concentrations of great wealth or we can have democracy: we can’t have both (Louis Brandeis).


Humanities failure could be predicted from this poem written in 1956. It is sad. I tell people if you love children—don’t have any.

Conservationist’s Lament
By Kenneth Boulding
In: Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, 1956
University of Chicago Press, p. 1087

The world is finite, resources are scarce,
Things are bad and will be worse.
Coal is burned and gas exploded,
Forests cut and soils eroded.
Wells are dry and air’s polluted,
Dust in blowing, trees uprooted,
Oil is going, ores depleted,
Drains receive what is excreted.
Land is sinking, seas are rising,
Man is far too enterprising,
Fire will rage with Man to fan it,
Soon we’ll have a plundered planet.
People breed like fertile rabbits,
People have disgusting habits.

Moral: The evolutionary plan went astray by evolving Man.


Its not quite “humankind” killing the planet - all the indigenous peoples have taken care of the earth for tens of thousands of years before the rise of industrial capitalism- which means profits and endless wars. Its true ordinary citizens do consume, but we do this in honor of capitalism, which constantly yells at us to buy more stuff.


A great piece. Our systems are collapsing due to the weight of corruption, toxic industrial pollution and the insatiable greed for wealth and the illusion of power. Corporate keeps us divided and fighting each other over tribalized partisan nonsense and narratives. Our only hope – and what helps me rise above my own feelings of hopeless depression – are the many good people who take citizenship, beyond partisan loyalties, national borders and mypoic nationalism, seriously. The people willing to take personal responsibility to struggle for authentic civilization and a livable future. People who understand that there is no “them” and no enemy but the ecocidal, warmongering rule of money. It is this we must depose and overcome if we are to survive, though it is a long shot and probably too late, given the climate reality.


Why is Tom hesitant about using the word EXTINCTION? Especially if global warming is now “feeding on itself”–i.e. some of the CONSEQUENCES of global warming are now becoming CAUSES–does that likelihood become a PROBABILITY!! (An example is that warming causes the melting of permafrost, which results in the release of methane gas–a gas far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.)


Happy Birthday, Tom! GREAT article. You don’t know of my mother. Her body “failed,” but if she’s not “back” to inspire others like she inspired me, then she’s off the wheel. I remember well both of us reading
TOM ENGLEHARDT, and dig’n those articles! Back in the days of dial-up, HA! Mind you, this was a lady having suffered a subarachnoid aneurysm 20 yrs prior. Systems fail. Life is one big string of failed systems. It’s not at all a string of bright shinning coups in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Progressives have to know more and more stuff. But the good thing about the stuff we attempt to learn…and do learn…is that it all fits together.

In these times neoliberal policies, transnational oligarchs, transnational vultures, and central banks all are beginning to resemble each other moreso than in the past. In days gone by even mafias did a little philanthropy here and there. There’s a serious lack of creativity on the part of all these elements. No bending. Only the old formulas rigidly being attempted over and over. Ever more adamantly.

We’ve got another regime change in the works, posssibly the mother of all Waterloos. And what does our media talk about? Russiagate and water on Mars. And people listen! No, they’re evidently not at all like the folks Gandhi persuaded not to buy exploitation cotton.

If there’s gonna be any kind of movement, looks like it could end up resembling [for the time being] 300 Spartans & some helots at Thermopylae (and, lady luck, she’s fickle). With armageddon closer on our heels each day, it’s weird the only thing we can do (to be thorough) is adopt a much more long term revolution of APPREHENSION. The oligarchs, vultures, cartels, and central banks are becoming parts to one big thing. People don’t see it. These entities have been amalgamating ever since Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” and before, but everyone thinks Trump has brought it all on by his lonesome. A long time ago the movement’s folks shoulda been buzzing and dig’n out firelines. Occupy was. Hat’s off to them.


If you wanna know the music, ya gotta face the music. Have to hear the loud parts too, or you haven’t heard the whole symphony. And if you can’t give a review of the whole symphony, who will learn it’s good, or who OTOH will save her/his money for something better?

Meltdown. “150 tons of low-enriched nuclear fuel” including U-235 and Pu. OK, it burns down. “When it hits the water table it dissapates,” some say. How do we know that?? Now, there was a prankster who put out an April 1 gag…saying the stuff was so hot that a bubble of plasma enveloped the whole mass. That was only part of the prank-tale, trust me, but that part of it…I can believe. It burns down. I don’t care if, when it reaches magma, it’s magma in a “plastic” state or not…it’s not like water…it’s under PRESSURE. So, the plasma bubble has something that surrounds it to hold it together. Likewise, its own heat pushes outwards. But the external pressure gets greater. And greater. There might be a 5 mi diameter ball of Ur at Earth’s center, but Pu is new. It’s never been down there before. Nor such a high concenteration of U-235 in one place.

Don’t know anything about this source.


Earth will be OK. A couple of hundred thousand years after we’re gone she’ll have had the atmosphere cleaned up and the surface regrown with life.