I seem to be on a theme of anniversaries, mostly just past. I missed the 40th for the moon landing, and wanted to be part of some flame war which just flamed out rather like, well, our enthusiasm for outer space. I myself run hot and cold on the value of explorations of outer space. For sure, there should be at least as much value to such explorations as there is to explorations under the sea, or new catalogings of (old) species, or now so much earlier, the very mapping of our globe.
But it costs a lot of money, great gobs of our precious energy, and must pollute our skies each time we launch one of those great rockets beyond gravity's reach. I'm going to make the claim that the value of our space explorations depends very much on what it is that we do with or by them.
If we think that we will extend the limits for our exploitations and predations, so that we can relieve some pressure from earth's carrying capacity, that is one thing. If we think we are doing basic science, wanting answers to basic questions about our origins, that is quite another. And if we accomplish something very opposite to what we set out to accomplish, that is always interesting.
Another anniversary just gone by is my own birthday; now entering my 55th year, I should have figured out by now what I really want to do with my life. I've chosen to focus - as rankest amateur - on the basic questions, and so have little or nothing to show for a life lived this long, in the way of professional accomplishment.
Sometimes I wish I did. But sometimes I'm glad that I have resisted those investments, in favor of a kind of hanging loose, so that I might have the liberty, even now, even still, to go off in some other direction without having too much invested in staying put. My kids are mostly grown. There are no golden or other handcuffs tying me to what I've already done.
We live in a time of generalized anxiety, prevented from enjoying the fruits of historical labors by some vague sense that we might have blown it or be about to blow it. It's clear to most thinking people that we can't keep living off the fat of earth's stored up solar energy; the oil and coal. It's clear that even apart from the squandering and the pollution we used to worry more about, the very basic throwing up into our atmosphere of all this stored carbon changes all sorts of basic balances.
We're nervous that we won't be able, politically, to contain our twitchy tendancy to deploy all sorts of nuclear devices. We might have created a cyber-structure of such complexity that it could be brought down by something analogous to flying planes into overreaching towers.
We've entered into a spiraling panic about our health, feeling some kind of right to be cured of every dis-ease which must accompany biological life; to where the very germs now have become as idealized as our screen idols, able to resist our every sterilizing tool to raise the spector of pandemic, flesh eating, antibiotic resistance.
What a perfect metaphor, where each of us has the basic right to fight off the germs within us, even if to the detriment of the common pool of resistance. Or is it more in the way we raise our meat, saturating it with antibiotics to create an alternate ecology where the only germs to survive - and we ingest the antibiotics along with the steer it rode in on - are the ones we don't know how to combat?
We somehow think, or fantasize, that arctic storehouses, even though they too are threatened by global warming, may provide repositories to hold in trust those species we now so rapidly displace. That our zoos may be adequate as breeding grounds for species lost in the wild already.
We forget that the genetic code thus preserved is only the positive imprint whose other half in the ecological ground, in the context already destroyed. Species are only "meaningful" in their environmental contexts. That's what species mean. They are what remains of life's variation when contexts shift and flow.
My friend Dr. Koepsell is concerned that we establish a proper commons in outer space. That otherwise we might extend the reach for the predations of the Huns among us against our common heritage. While I find there only emptiness, rather like those concrete habitats at some zoo, or plastic Animatronics life-like dioramas, or permadefrosted crypts for seeds and spores, all cataloged and neat.
I tend to be more focused on our Earth, although I can't help but find myself sympathetic with those who decry our loss of questing glories, like setting foot on our own moon. I do think it's a mistake to think that these kinds of ship sailings can replicate the ones which landed us in America, where a true new world got discovered. They are fantasies, rather, akin to ones of immortality and perfect joy.
Back here on earth, we cannot be abstracted from our context. Anymore than we could really live as heads alone, fed by some concocted soup, as in those nightmarish old TV ads (were they public service ads, or ads for Saab brainy sportscars???). We are the evolutionary outcome from all that came before us, surely, but also remain embedded in a matrix not just of nutrients, but of extensions to our very body of a sort not subject to our control and guidance and manipulation, which is what technology is for.
True Spaceship Earth is a dystopic vision of life uprooted and taken over for a joy ride. All joy rides are brief, or if not, end badly. We are not and never could be that in charge.
I do believe that at it's root, it is a Christian delusion that consciousness was granted, and bounds us from our literal roots, right here on beastly earth. As though we were or are that fundamentally different from our evolved-from heritage, and could persist without our ground. Dominion is a metaphor which ends with the collapse of earthly frontiers.
The quest we must make is all inward, toward bringing new life to what our founding fathers granted us, here in this actual New World, where the Commonwealth was meant to be held literally in common, and our leaders were to do our bidding and not the other way around. Questing outward is not a godlike move. It is a sociopathic manipulation of more humanistic dreams. Our fears leave sociopaths in charge.
Our fears about our own competencies. Our fear, even, that the professionals know best, and we must leave to them our basic decisions. Yes Doctor sir, I will take Lipitor if that's what you think best, so that I may live in perfect perpetual fear of my own heart's betrayal.
Our problems are political, emotional, psychological, but no longer technical. If we were to find some perfect source for free perpetual energy. Clean nuclear, say, which is no more oxymoronic than clean coal. Given our current state of enlightenment, such energy could only guarantee our quicker and more final destruction, because it would accelerate the pace at which and by which we foul our habitat, which is now the entire planet.
These problems do, however, actually have a very technical solution. It was a scant century ago that we did wake up to our implication in the physical composition of the cosmos. It was then we realized that all limits were limits of mind. The speed of light, for instance. The "force" of gravity. Time's direction. Mind is implicated. The position and momentum of matter cannot, even in principle, be determined prior to the act of measurement, which is at the most diminutive level, an act of cognition.
We continue to act as though our minds, collectively, were never implicated in the stuff out there cosmically beyond us. And so our injection into outer space is, in fact, an attempt to colonize nothing. It's an escape from what we are rather than a quest for new discovery. It's an as if conjecture that we really need not be responsible, and in contradiction of those office signs above the copy machine, that Mother will clean up after us.