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Triumph Amid Collapse in America

one way or another, the coronavirus will be eventually be tamed by the light of science

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966. Los Angeles Museum of Contempoary Art. Photo: Barry Vacker, 2014.

Everyone wants to hear some good with the bad as the human species battles the Corona pandemic around the world. We want to know there is light and hope amid the darkness and despair, especially as chaos engulfs America, one-time leader of the free world. History suggests two things are clear. Our eyes will witness a simultaneous event—triumph amid collapse.


I have little doubt that medical science will produce a way to effectively treat Covid 19, perhaps even discover a vaccine to prevent it. Likely, sooner than later. We’ve done it with polio, measles, small pox, and even the standard flu shot. Though far from perfect and not without mistakes, medical science is always evolving long-term, moving toward an ever better understanding of disease, treatment, and the human body. That’s what science does, it evolves with new evidence, new technologies, and new theories, many of which become facts.

A successful treatment or preventative vaccine for Covid 19 will be a testament to the power of science, medical technology, and the scientists around the world desperately working on this monumental task. The research happening in hospitals and labs is nothing less than heroic. This signifies hope for the human species.


Sadly, this triumph will happen during an epic collapse in America. No, I’m not referring to the economic crisis. Given humanity’s thirst for consumption, the economy will recover far sooner than the profound intellectual collapse perfectly visible on our screens and streets. The recovery for this collapse will take decades or longer.

That 30–40% of Americans will not wear a mask (for whatever reason) during a global pandemic shows one profound thing. There has been a massive cratering of the science, ethical, and educational systems in the United States— at least for the 100+ million people who arrogantly and belligerently do not care enough for the safety of their fellow humans to wear a mask to prevent the spread of a highly contagious and often deadly virus. Or those that believe the pandemic is a hoax or a conspiracy. Or the armed protestors threatening violence. Shocking and saddening, indeed. But, predictable.

The anti-science culture has left a smoking crater, a descent happening for decades, since Apollo 11 and our first steps on the glowing moon amid the stars. In the wake of the Apollo triumph, there has been a steady increase in all forms of anti-science culture in America—pseudoscience, paranormalism, ancient aliens, anti-vaxxers, medical quackery, fake moon landings, alien abductions, climate change deniers, and endless conspiracy theories. TV and Hollywood have produced zillions of shows and movies to celebrate these beliefs, along with televangelists selling faith-healing and celebrities hawking miracle cures. It’s clear the educational and cultural systems have failed to instill widespread scientific literacy and clear reasoning skills among the populace in the wake of the Apollo triumphs.

These trends have been growing for 40–50 years and are accelerating throughout society. We are now seeing the effects, from Main Street to Twitter to the White House. As historian Matthew Tribbe stated:

How different also by the end of the Apollo era was America itself—an America taking its first steps to nowwhere, as its Space Age visions of progress and mastery of the universe succumbed to cultural forces that even the earth-shaking rockets of the Apollo era could not overcome.”[1]

Tribbe explains that Apollo was followed by a rebirth of old-time religion, mysticism, and magical thinking. By 2016, those “cultural forces” put Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the White House. Those forces seem to be running the White House, given the absence of staff wearing masks. As I wrote in 2017:

“After all, what else does the election of President Donald Trump symbolize other than a massive cultural reversal into irrationalism and naked tribalism… We have a simultaneous intellectual collapse and winning presidential ticket.” [2]

Split-Reality America

America’s scientists and universities are still on the forefront of scientific discoveries in numerous fields. Yet, that progress is not celebrated in our popular culture. For many, these triumphs are lost in a 24/7 spectacle of celebrities, billionaires, and football players.

Amid the Corona pandemic, it’s clear the anti-science crater is blazing hot and its smoke and fumes have engulfed the White House, perfectly illustrated by the Coronavirus spreading through the unmasked staffs of Trump and Pence. The American consciousness is viewing a split-reality world, with 30–40% cheering on the White House and 60–70% looking on with hope and horror—while trying to stay sane, safe, and protect the lives of everyone around them. Of course, the economy will have to be opened, but it must be done with ethical and science-based protocols, and that requires masks and respect for the lives of others.

As many of the works of James Turrell show, it is light that is the first source of experience, the first source of knowledge, the first way out of the dark. It’s the same with the stars and galaxies in the night sky. One way or another, the Corona virus will be eventually be tamed by the light of science. But, the smoking crater will remain, with millions standing on the rim and cheering, while the smoke and fumes poison culture and consciousness. How long will the bright lights shine through the darkness? How long can America triumph amid such an epic collapse?

James Turrell, Juke (Green), 1968. Los Angeles Museum of Contempoary Art. Photo: Barry Vacker, 2014.

1] Matthew D. Tribbe, No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American Culture (2014), p. 217.

2] Barry Vacker, Specter of the Monolith (2017), pp. 113, 130. A book of space philosophy inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.




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Barry Vacker

Barry Vacker

Theorist of big spaces and dark skies. Writer and mixed-media artist. Existentialist w/o the angst. PhD: Univ of Texas at Austin.

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