The US Pavilion for Expo '67, which now houses the Montreal Biosphere Museum.
When I was ten years old, my family went to Expo 67, the Man and his World Fair in Montréal. I remember this as an astonishing event: the passports, the pavilions, the monorail, the people. Canada was 100 years old, and Montréal’s sights were toward the future, not the past. It was an exciting time.
In fact, I think it might have been more than an exciting time. I think it was a time when the world became seized with innovation, invention, creativity, and a sense of wonder and possibility. Expo 67 was just one example of this. That sense of possibility informed the excitement of Pierre Trudeau’s election the following year. It informed the music and overwhelming experience of Jimi Hendrix, and many other artists. It is no coincidence that scientific laws discovered at the time refer to “universality classes”, where properties are “self-similar”. In fact whatever was in the air was so pervasive, it was in commercial advertisements, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” went the jingle for Coca-Cola. It was the common language and mind-set of the times: the ideas of equality of opportunity for all people, and particularly of living now, in the present. There was some sloppy thinking as well: “being here now” can lead to nihilism, where surrender to the realm of the senses becomes the only objective. In any case, it is easy to recognize this ideology in hindsight; it was the language of the enlightenment, of naturalism and humanism, expressed in the streets rather than in scholarly tomes. It was a world consensus, empowering but more fragile than thought at the time; elements of this consensus remain in place – and indeed this ideology forms the basis of the meritocracies which constitute modern Universities – but it is no longer a public ideology. (more…)