Taking the Long View

Volume 7, Issue 196; 09 Nov 2004; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Reflections on an election lost. Somewhat bleak, arguably shallow reflections, with the self-evident conclusion that either we'll learn to live together, respect the miniscule pocket of life sustaining environment that we find ourselves in, and plan for our collective futures, or we won't.

I thought I was pretty much over my disappointment about the election. “Denial” is the technical term, I think. And then I read the editorials in the Sunday paper wherein some conservative, xenophobic, crypto-fascist exalted the results as demonstrating conclusively that America wants constitutional amendments to ban behavior this person finds immoral. He went on to suggest, I am not making this up, that we could really restore America by reviving the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Justice Department blacklist.

I'm inclined to take the opinions expressed in the editorial pages of the local paper with a grain of salt (i.e. it's almost as easy to get published there as it is to start your own blog), but even so, I find those sentiments so revolting, so fundamentally contrary to the things I hold dear, not to mention the Bill of Rights, that I find myself disturbed by them still two days later.

When things start to look really bleak, I remind myself to take the long view. The long view has three parts.

  1. In a hundred thousand years, a comparatively short period of time in life of a planet, little, if anything, of what we do today will be remembered. That's a gamble, of course, I read recently where someone was giving 3:1 odds that this administration will invade Iran within four years, 3:2 odds in favor of World War III if we do, and 10:1 odds against a nuclear holocaust in WWIII. A nuclear holocaust might be remembered in 100,000 years. If there's anyone to remember it.

    Nevertheless, I take comfort in the first part, that none of this really matters very much.

  2. More species have become extinct in the course of evolution on this planet than are alive today. Extinction is a natural process, no matter how palpable the guilt. I'm confident that one of the legacies of this administration will be the destruction of vital habitat and the extinction of at least several species of organisms.

    Think about that. A robber walks into a bank and kills one or two of six billion people (a terrible tragedy, make no mistake) and the conservative element foments for his death in retribution. But a CEO manages to maneuver his corporation into some pristine habitat, resulting in the extermination of an entire species, and he's rewarded with a multi-million dollar bonus for increasing profits this quarter. See point 1.

    So, while I struggle to support the organizations that I think will limit our ecological destruction on this planet, I accept that some destruction is inevitable.

  3. In five billion years, give or take, the sun's supply of hydrogen will dwindle and as it transitions towards burning helium, it will expand greatly vaporizing the earth. All those tiny plots of land that we're killing each other over will be gone. Forever.

    Unless we find some way to not be here, the sum total of all human endeavor will be snuffed out. (A large collection of relatively weak radio signals and a few small bits of cosmic debris notwithstanding.)

The not being here part, it seems like we should be working on that. As Douglas Adams observed in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

Space…is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.

Arranging for the human race to be somewhere else in five billion years or so strikes me as an astonishingly large engineering problem. One that we might just manage to solve if we get working on it real soon now. I'd be happy to stop squabbling with the neighbors and start working on that.

I suppose, in the end, it will be a sort of litmus test. Either we'll learn to live together, respect the miniscule pocket of life sustaining environment that we find ourselves in, and plan for our collective futures, or we won't.


The "See point 1" link is broken.

—Posted by Jeffrey Yasskin on 09 Nov 2004 @ 07:59 UTC #

Oops. Bad markup. Fixed. Thanks.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 09 Nov 2004 @ 09:43 UTC #