I believe that humans have a bright future among the stars.
A 12-year old boy might have been excused, on July 20, 1969, for picturing the world of 2009 as far closer to Captain Kirk’s than this.
The “space race” had been run and won in a few focused frenetic years, from Sputnik in the year of his birth, to JFK’s “we choose to go to the moon” speech, to “one small step.” We’d slipped Earth’s pull with unprecedented energy and elan. Where did we want to go today, and tomorrow? We were surfing space then, not just cyberspace.
And although Neil and Buzz were compelled by their governmet to plant and salute Old Glory, we were the world. ”We came in peace for all mankind.” Our collective confidence was higher than the sky. Future visions were bright, even utopian.
Fast-forward forty years.
The man that boy became might be excused again, today, for deriding his own youthful optimism as laughably, pitiably naive. Not only have we failed “to boldly go” to the planets and stars, we actually seem to have gone backwards. We’ve certainly not curtailed the ancient human proclivity to suicidal, homicidal, fratricidal, genocidal violence. We’ve made a greater muddle of our economic and political institutions. Diseases, hatred, and ancient hostilities rage worse than ever.
I excuse them both, the boy and the man. I excuse myself for my continuing ambivalence. Of course I am that boy, and that man. I am now a professor of philosophy, and a father. I want my students and my children to live full, happy, hopeful lives. I want them not to be disillusioned, forty years from now.
Would it be better, then, to lower their expectations? Should I teach them to live without dreams of an expansive future?
I say no, with a dash of Thoreau: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Some of our castles should be out among the stars.
Odds still favor the eventual arrival of some version or other of Tomorrowland, albeit on a timetable no one can foretell, and with environmental complications we were mostly blind to, in ‘69. When it comes there will be conflicts and troubles not now on anyone’s radar. But it likely won’t be Neverland.
The philosopher William James said “the really vital question for us all is, What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself?”
I believe life is going back to the stars whence it came, boldly and beautifully.
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