Mars and Bigfoot
by Paul Hein
by Paul Hein
I think it is safe to say that 99.9% of human beings wouldn't know that Mars existed were they not told that it did. And among the believers, 99.9% would not be able to find Mars in the sky if it weren't pointed out for them.
Late last August Mars and the Earth were closer together than they had been in 60,000 years. At least, that's what we were told. And they would not again be so close again for over 200 years. Probably millions of Americans stood in their front yards during the time of this uncommon Mars-Earth proximity and stared at the sky, seeing there what looked like a bright star, and marveling at the nearness of Mars. "Did you see it?" was the question asked at the water-cooler the next day. "Yes, wasn't it marvelous?" Well, I'm not so sure. I found it rather prosaic, and mentally kicked myself for standing in the front yard in my pajamas at 2:00 A.M. looking at some speck in the sky because various experts had told me I'd never see anything like it again. Thinking I must be missing something, I rummaged through the closet and found a pair of binoculars to get a bigger look. Well, the speck in the sky became a larger speck in the sky. I didn't appreciate the fabled Mars redness, and in the back of my mind was a nibble of a thought: this whole thing is a hoax to determine the gullibility of the population. Somebody's probably driving through the neighborhood counting the number of ninnies in their pj's looking at the sky in the middle of the night, when they should be sound asleep.
Oh, I didn't really expect anyone to question the fact that Earth had overtaken Mars (as it does roughly every two years) and that their orbits brought them closer together than ever. Even less did I expect anyone to exclaim, "Oh, come on now! There's no such thing as a planet called Mars!" I did think it remarkable, however, that no one questioned how, if the two planets had not been so close in sixty millennia, they would be as close again in a mere two centuries. But no: as strange as those numbers are, they were unquestioned, as far as I know.
So what does it all mean? Well, it tends to confirm my rather gloomy outlook: humans tend to believe what they are told. More precisely, they tend to believe SOME things that they are told. As regards Mars, it isn't terribly important whether the planet exists or not, or where it is, or how close. Precisely what determines the believability of a given bit of information is what confuses me. When a chap in a white lab coat appears on TV and tells you that the bright speck in the South-East sky, about 35 degrees above the horizon, at midnight tonight, will be Mars, and that it will be closer than it's been in 60,000 years, that assertion is unquestioned. We don't know who this scientist (?) fellow is, can't remember his name, and will never see or hear from him again. But we're out in the front yard at midnight, looking here and there for Mars, because he told us to. If we didn't see it, he wasn't wrong; we just didn't look in the right place! On the other hand, dealing with matters incomparably more important, a certain obscure Nazarene told us what we ought to do, and established His credentials by instantly curing the blind, deaf, and lame, walking on water, and raising the dead to life, including Himself, as He had predicted. And throughout history, the reaction of most of the human race has been to ignore Him.
We overhear a customer in the barber shop telling how his brother-in-law's cousin's boy works at a marina on Long Island, and saw, with his own eyes, some guys in a fishing boat with a rocket-launcher on the night that Flight 800 crashed. We believe it. A hunter shows us a blurry photo of what looks like a man in a bear costume running through some trees fifty yards from the camera, and we believe it's Bigfoot. "I saw the pictures with my own eyes!" Or an out-of-focus picture of a body of water is shown us with some sort of object in or on the water, and we're told the water is Loch Ness, and the fuzzy blob is Nessie. Why, of course! On the other hand, we have no difficulty in denouncing as crackpots those people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Maybe they could make themselves more credible by describing the aliens as looking like Bigfoot, and wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard.
You'd think, with all those people in their yards, peering into the sky looking for something remarkable, that the aliens would have had an easy time rounding them up. And maybe they did! I'm waiting for the next round of revelations at the water-cooler. And I'll believe! Especially if someone has an execrable photo of the "event!"
September 19, 2003
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