Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Dream Deferred. Again.

"A dream deferred is a dream denied."  Langston Hughes summed up exactly how I'm feeling today, just a day after the Boston Marathon bombings.  I was 13 years old in 1966, when Star Trek first aired on the NBC network.  One thing captivated me immediately -- the idea that the human race had a future!  We had seemingly resolved our differences, beaten back hunger and poverty and actually made a friendly and profitable first contact with intelligent extraterrestrials.  The end result was a starship whose primary mission was exploration and which was crewed by a mixture of races, sexes and ethnicities that all believed that we humans are stronger when we embrace our differences, and learn from them, and revel in them.  When I was 13, I dared to dream that this future might actually be possible.  This was no small thing, not to an adolescent who grew up with nuclear "duck and cover" drills and backyard bomb shelters.  We pretty much thought that our number could be up at any moment, whether due to a crazed Soviet leader or a crazed American general.  Star Trek more than anything else in 1966 gave me hope.

Now I'm almost 60, and every year I've spent here on this planet has made me just a little more cynical and stolen just a little more hope, as I see that dream pushed further and further and further away.

Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, once had his character Linus say, "I love Mankind, it's people I can't stand!"  I know exactly how he feels.  I am amazed and astonished and incredibly proud to be part of a species that has pushed back the boundaries of science, that has had its members walk on the nearest heavenly body and put a mobile scientific laboratory on the planet Mars.  I am also deeply ashamed to share my DNA with the same beings who take their hatred of The Other and blame natural disasters on their gay sisters and brothers, who fly planes into buildings in the name of their god, and who put pressure cookers filled with explosives and debris into trashcans so they can blow up eight-year-old kids.

I love Mankind.  It's people I can't stand.

I no longer hope for the dream of a united humankind that Star Trek depicts.  I believe that if intelligent aliens ever did try to make contact with us, it would mean two things:  one, that we would almost certainly attack them out of fear, hatred and misunderstanding; and two, that they can't be that intelligent or they wouldn't have bothered with us in the first place.  We ain't worth it.  For every Mozart, we make a Hitler and a Mussolini.  For every Gandhi, a Genghis Khan and an Idi Amin.

We're not worth it.  Not worth contacting, not worth saving, not worth the trouble.  I think the best thing we can do is just continue as we are, burning through the planet's resources in shortsighted greed until we manage to kill ourselves off, like a bacterial culture that runs out of room in its Petri dish.  Or as George Carlin said:

"The planet has been through a lot worse than us.  Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles ... hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages ... And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?  The planet isn't going anywhere.  WE are!

"We're going away.  Pack your $#!+, folks.  We're going away.  And we won't leave much of a trace, either.  Maybe a little Styrofoam.  The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone.  Just another failed mutation.  Just another closed-end biological mistake.  An evolutionary cul-de-sac.  The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

"The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we're gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, 'cause that's what it does.  It's a self-correcting system.  The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed.  And if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm:  the earth plus plastic.  The earth doesn't share our prejudice toward plastic.  Plastic came out of the earth.  The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children.  Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place.  It wanted plastic for itself.  Didn't know how to make it.  Needed us.  Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, 'Why are we here?'  'Plastic ... @$$hole.'"

Please don't misunderstand me.  I applaud the people of Boston for their heroism and their resilience in the face of this horror.  These are the people who ran toward the explosions to help stangers.  These are the people who, over and over today, are saying that whoever did this picked the wrong town -- not in a macho, puffed-out-chest kind of way, but in the sense that Bostonians are proud, and resilient, and will absolutely refuse to let this change their lives for the worse.  They will not live in fear, they will not change their ways, and I can't wait to see how they do next year's Boston Marathon.  Because they WILL do a Marathon next year, and it's going to be great.  I'm glad that there will always be people like that, who will do the Right Thing, who will refuse to let the assholes win.  They are the best of us.

But will we ever make it into the dream of the future that Star Trek once promised?  Sorry, but no. Not a chance.  We take off our shoes at the airports, but refuse to do anything about guns. We build fracking plants and pipelines but refuse to learn how to seriously harness the sun and the wind.  For every hero who rushes toward the explosion to help, there's somebody peeing in the punchbowl and ruining the party.  I've been seeing a lot of memes saying beautiful things like "Love always wins in the end," and, "Only Light pushes back the Darkness."  But I no longer really believe that.  I think a close examination of our history will show that in fact the bad guys and the ignorance and the hatred often do win.  I think that as a species we tend toward darkness in spite of our light-bearers.  And sooner or later, despite our best efforts, the light goes out.  Just ask entropy.  So you know what?  Good riddance to us.

"Just another closed-end biological mistake."  You said it, George.

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