I have to
admit to having mixed feelings about this week’s landing of NASA’s
research vehicle on Mars. The technological accomplishment as
well as the scientific implications of the project impress me.
Long before experiencing the guffaws of my junior-high school
classmates (in the late 1940s) for arguing that humans would,
during my lifetime, walk on the moon, I was interested in the
exploration of space. As I grew older, I came to realize that
the discoveries that had the greatest meaning for the quality
of life were to be found within the unseen, dark side space of
the human mind.
mankind’s movements into unknown territories – be they geographical
or intellectual – as an expression of our spiritual needs for
transcendence; for our need to connect up with all of existence.
This is what energizes both religious and scientific inquiries
into such basic questions as "where did it all come from,
where is it all going, and what rules are in place in the present?"
I go even further and, drawing upon Frederick Jackson Turner’s
work, believe that what made early America so free and prosperous
was the presence of a relatively unstructured frontier into which
creative people could move and exercise their liberty. Beginning,
apparently, in Africa, this frontier-seeking behavior was doubtless
responsible for sending our pre-historic ancestors on treks from
one continent to another; from Asia to North America; from eastern
Europe to western Europe; and from Europe (and elsewhere) into
the open spaces of the "New World." So considered, mankind’s
movement from Earth to other worlds may be regarded as a continuation
of this process of movement into openness, a phenomenon one finds
contributing to the decentralization of cities into the suburbs.
are organized and operate has been such a preoccupation of mine
as to temper my enthusiasm for the latest Mars adventure. How
this project was undertaken [i.e., by the forcible looting
of taxpayers] and by whom [i.e., the corporate-state political
establishment], and for what purposes [i.e., to extend
the state’s powers of coercive control beyond Earth] is most troubling.
Had this project been carried out privately – such as by
someone like Burt Rutan – I would be cheering the feat. But as
with other government projects, there is something annoying in
watching a gang of uniformed [they all wore blue shirts] state
functionaries whooping and stomping as they celebrated the results
of getting to play with other people’s involuntarily-taken money.
In a televised
interview minutes after the successful landing, one NASA official
commented: "it’s a great day for America and the world."
It is the nature of nearsighted activity to focus on the immediacy
of costs and benefits – particularly of projects extending over
many years – and to fail to consider the longer-term, unforeseen
consequences of what is being done in the present. I suspect that
the successful splitting of the atom, and the resulting creation
of nuclear weaponry, were celebrated by earlier myopic [and well-intentioned]
scientists as "a great day for America and the world."
In a world
dominated by material values and the grasping for coercive power
to promote such interests, the longer-term implications of politically-directed
action tend to get ignored. We live in a world centered around
what economists call "short-term time preferences,"
and those who warn of the consequences of pursuing short-term
benefits while disregarding the long-term costs, are dismissed
as being "impractical" or driven by "ideology."
If you have not yet figured out that the worsening economic mess
– including trillions upon trillions of dollars of indebtedness
– of Western countries; American Empire expansionist wars against
the rest of the world; an ever-more-abusive and surveillant police-state;
and the dictatorial powers asserted by presidents who declare
their authority to torture, assassinate, and imprison without
trial persons of their choosing; are all the long-term consequences
that earlier thinkers warned would one day be visited upon future
generations [i.e., us!]. That historians have long warned
how such practices have brought down past civilizations has been
of little interest to people whose temporal range of interest
extends no further than inquiries into Olympic medal-counts, or
contemplating who will be the next "American Idol."
All of this
is a way of emphasizing the importance of engaging in what I call
"the art of implicit thinking." The study of chaos informs
us that complex systems are unable to satisfy our desires for
predictability. But there are probabilities that attend
all human activity. A man who drinks a quart of Scotch each day
is not certain to develop cirrhosis, but such an affliction is
implicit in his behavior, even though he might go on to
lead a healthy life.
could have been more responsible had their work been informed
by an awareness of what was implicit in their designing weapons
of mass slaughter for the state to employ. The state is defined
[see Max Weber] as a system that enjoys a monopoly on the use
of violence within a given territory. Such agencies of unrestrained
power serve as "attractors" to men and women whose ambitions
are centered on their presumed authority to command and control
those who pursue science and technology on behalf of the state
could learn a valuable lesson from earlier scientists who failed
to fully understand the character of their employer. The state
is nothing more than a mechanism of violence; an apparatus that
synthesizes all kinds of destructive, dehumanized, dishonest,
anti-life thinking. Such an awareness on the part of those engaging
in state-funded genetic research, for instance, might prove beneficial
to all of humanity. The long-term consequences of government space
programs - with their extra-territorial military implications
– should also be considered by persons working in this field.
Those who regard such a concern as alarmist might recall the post-doctoral
employee of NASA who warned of the possibility of Earth being
attacked by forces from another planet, due to our failure to
heed the warnings of Al Gore and his "Gang-Green" religionists.
minds have not been adequately prepared – by numerous films and
television series – to participate in the "Manifest Destiny"
of Earth, or Earthly "Exceptionalism"? Today it’s Mars;
tomorrow the constellation of Andromeda!