Journal entry 8/17/06 Talk Well Received. Cops unimpressed
The Mars Society conference went very well. I hadn’t known exactly what to expect when I arrived. The attendees were virtually all industry insiders. You could almost feel the vibrations their brains were sending out. There were also a number of marginal hangers on. You could definitely feel the vibes from them.
I set about trying to wedge myself in between these two extremes: odd enough to be noticed, but not to be automatically classified with those who have had what the Tappet Brothers call a “stupiphany,” a “brilliant” idea which fails immediately because of some obvious flaw.
The talk was scheduled for late on the last day of the conference: a formula for low attendance. So I produced and distributed fliers daily to build interest, and about 25 or so showed up. A good crowd for that time slot. It was well received, and I sold my first 8 copies of the book immediately afterward. More importantly, however, I was invited to be interviewed on the Around Space TV program. Taping date is set for Sept 2. You can see some of the previous shows on the web at http://www.aroundspace.com. This can truly be a break out, depending on whether I’m lucky in my audience. DC is a powerful town, full of powerful people.
By the end of the conference the heat wave had broken, although the humidity hadn’t really let up, and I decided to go back to plan A for housing. The idea is that, by sleeping in the van on public streets I can pay for the trip. Main hassle, I expected, would be having to move every day to avoid drawing too much attention.
All was going fairly well, with me learning nuances of what to do and not to do as I became more experienced. For example, it’s best to find the spot you’ll spend the night early, but not to park there until late. You definitely don’t want the internet you’re piggybacking on to be in the same place as the bedroom for the evening–the glow of a computer screen is definitely an attractant.
I was daily riding my bike over to the University of Maryland campus to use their library to organize my follow-up from the conference. They have internet access even better than LTCC’s, for they must have about 80 machines for public use. One of the peculiarities of city parking is that some places are good for long-term parking overnight and some are good for days, but the two do not often overlap.
I had moved the van to day parking and had begun to go through every pocket of every suit looking for the contact number the TV guy left me when I looked out the window and saw a cop approaching. He was about 10 feet from the van right out the rear window near which I was working. I said “hello.”
It apparently startled the hell out of him, because his reaction was instant. Like a quick draw artist from the old west, he had his pistol in his hand in a flash, leveled right at me. It looked like a nine shot Glock semiautomatic or something like that: big with a very broad bore viewed from a very uncomfortable perspective. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” was all I could get out, raising open palms for him to see. “Get out of the car,” says he. Hands raised, I unhesitatingly began to comply.
On the other side of the car, his partner looked in the window and saw me. Apparently not knowing anything was going on, he asked some innocuous question: something like “Good morning, are you having a good day?” My response, “I can’t talk right now, the other guy’s got a gun on me.”
By the time I was out of the car the first officer had holstered his weapon and was coming around the front of the van nonchalantly. My guess is that he was hoping his partner wasn’t any the wiser. Turns out I was doing nothing illegal, and they had no reason to interview me, let alone shoot me. Just some citizen’s intuition that I was borderline. The spot was near a bike lane and the residents were apparently suspicious of drug activity in the vicinity. Damn the citizen’s intuition! How could they have known I was very definitely borderline?
By the time our interview was over, the adrenaline of yet another near death experience (see the book) was beginning to make my elbows weak. I mentioned it to the cops and the one who’d drawn down on me tried to reassure me that I was in no danger. “I’m more disciplined than that,” he said with a George W Bush kind of half laugh. I thought about how disciplined he seemed a moment before, but said nothing, not wanting to upset him again.
I hope he’ll be known as “Quick Draw” for the rest of his tenure on the force.
Journal Entry 8/22/04 Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me
I’ve decided to skip the newsy stuff for this edition of the journal-blog. I’m so depressed today that I’ve got to vent or I’m just going to bust.
From my own experience, I’ve long known my Message that neither the universe nor the Earth were created for the benefit of Homo sapiens is going to be a hard sell. It’s in our natures to believe exactly the opposite. It’s probably in the nature of every living creature.
No theoretical construct or abstract knowledge, such as the planet’s actual nondescript place in the physical universe, is going to change that. Because of how we perceive it, my universe will always be centered squarely on me, and, I presume, yours on you.
Cities are monuments to our cult of humanicity. New York is the largest, and therefore the worst, I’ve ever seen. Its skyscrapers cover the entire island of Manhattan and every portion of the Earth for scores, if not hundreds, of miles around. It makes the trashing of that lovely meadow our forefathers thought of when they heard the word “prairie” seem like a walk in the fresh night air. How anyone living, and especially having been raised, in a city will ever be able to imagine that the universe is not entirely about people is beyond me.
And yet they must.
That, more than anything else, seems clearly to be a prerequisite for our responding to what is happening to Gaia. But most of us are totally unaware of the fact that we even harbor this bias, let alone of how deeply.
One of my best insights of this trip (so far) is that another of the many ways people are exactly to Gaia as cancer is to the whole body is this: like cancer cells, we are so committed to our own growth that we cannot see beyond the tumor. If I can’t find a way of shining a light on Gaia in the form of nature lying beyond the tumors, which is what cities are, I have no chance of changing how people behave, or what their goals will be.
The most obvious thing about how we live is that we do so as if it were entirely about us. Not always about us individually, although usually, but certainly always about us collectively. I don’t even know if I want to change that, for it is clearly almost a defining characteristic of self-awareness, but I certainly do want us to recognize and acknowledge it. Nor is this a trait merely of city dwellers. It’s a part of all our psyches.
And here I am, right in the middle of the growth that the east coast has so long been. It truly is depressing. And I fear so much of my life now will have to be devoted to it.
Journal Entry 8/24/06 Einstein, Rubber Woodchips, and Motorcycles On Steroids
In three days I’m back in the bus. I’m returning to DC for the Around Space interview. From there I’m not really sure. I’m tempted to swing down to New Orleans on the return, but have always been afraid of the South. I visualize myself, quite realistically I think you’ll agree, as pretty fringe even for the liberal west coast. Courting danger is one thing, but venturing into the south might be another. Besides, my family’s from that region, and it’s never really had that much appeal to the adult me. Still, Katrina and its aftermath are a lesson I probably ought to explore while I have the chance.
I think it about time I address the question of why I keep waxing religious in my missives, so here goes:
First of all, I’m very open to suggestions on this. But I’ve also thought a lot about it for the last twenty years, so don’t expect me to be easy to convince. You see, what I need is someone to suggest an alternative way to solve the problem I see confronting us.
First, a short and dirty summary of the problem as I see it.
Environmentalists are failing utterly to stop the environment’s destruction.
They will continue to fail miserably.
The destruction of the environment is going to be an event with consequences a billion times more serious than anyone else seems to imagine: the entire biosphere of this planet will die.
The only chance of salvation is to have in place before this occurs a viable, completely independent ecosystem on another planet.
Only Homo sapiens can effect this option for any species from this planet (viable for a few of the “lower” species is not necessarily viable for all).
That cannot be realized within a time frame of anything less than several centuries.
Let’s not go into the validity of all these points at the moment. They are the content of my book and the arguments deserve every page. So, just for the purposes of this discussion, let’s talk as if these points were granted.
If you grant even the first three statements, then the thrust of the forth is compelled. The arguments that another planet is required are, again, the subject of the book, so I’ll not speak to them now. It’s worth stressing, however, that I’m talking of salvation in a non-human centered sense. If anything from this planet is to survive, it will have to do it off the planet.
Whether there might be a slim possibility that life in the form of microbes already attached to some bit of rock wandering around in outer space is not an idea that seems particularly relevant to me. It’s possible, I suppose. But do we really think it morally defensible to run the risk of doing nothing on only that minute chance?
Now, taking the last condition, that it will take centuries to respond via terraforming a planet, as a given (and virtually all experts agree it is), we need to establish a movement which is focused on the task and will last generations. Maintaining passion down through generations calls for active training of children by parents, societal reinforcement, educational focus, and so much more.
I know of no model other than “religion” which can do that. You can call it something different, and the onus the word seems to carry these days is a strong motivator to do so, but the fact remains that, so far as I can see, what we are needing is exactly the passion with which “religion,” and virtually nothing else, has always been endowed.
What other model is there?
Journal Entry 9/1/06 Hold The Presses! Stop The Action!
Well I’ve already gotten an e-mail asking how the show went, and the interview wasn’t even scheduled until tomorrow, so I guess I might as well get this over with: Interview was canceled.
I was literally about to load the van for the drive to DC when I picked up an e-mail from the guy who was to ask the questions on air. Although he’d been pretending to have previewed my book, it was obvious he’d finally actually gotten around to it. I’d been trying to alert him to the need to read it and the potential of getting into territory we probably didn’t want to go into with an audience like theirs for the better part of two weeks. Instead of driving to DC, I spent the morning trying to put out the fire and save the scheduled date, then 3.5 days off, while cooler heads had a chance to prevail.
It turns out the show is co-produced by three people, one of whom was the interviewer, whom I’ll refer to simply as KM. One of the others had seen and taped the Mars Society talk and had made the invite. Neither he nor his wife, the third producer, have read the book. The best I could do was to get a commitment from all three that they’d each review both the book and the tape of the talk and arrive at a decision amongst themselves afterward. I’ll be very surprised if KM actually views the tape. He doesn’t strike me as a particularly open minded individual. So I am now, at best, dubious that I will get the interview. And, if they do decide to re-invite me, the scheduling is likely to be too late.*
The TV interview had seemed almost too good to be true, so I guess it ought not surprise me so much that it turned out that way. Wish to hell the guy had done his homework earlier though; it would have made recovery a lot easier.
*I think the e-mail exchange between KM and I is interesting and sheds some light on what really went on, so I’m going to post it as a comment to this entry (see the actual blog 9/1/06 at www.intheserviceofgaia.com for complete exchange). The initial e-mail from me summarizes my thinking on the question adequately, though. I include it below.
Dear Dr. M: As you know, Donnie has arranged taping for next Saturday of an interview for the Around Space program. I assume you’ve had a chance to look at my book, In The Service of Gaia, The Call. As Donnie probably told you, it was at the core of the presentation I gave to the Mars Society on August sixth. There are, however, a couple of nuances which probably need to be acknowledged before we actually sit and talk for the cameras. First of all, you may have already concluded that the book’s main target is the environmental community, not the space advocacy community. I do think the space advocacy community needs to hear much of what I have to say, and I am quite excited by the opportunity your show presents. In particular, the message that the prospects for extra-planetary exploration are very much in doubt deserves much more awareness than it currently seems to garner. Similarly, space advocates need to recognize the point that those prospects depend directly upon the success of the environmental movement in dealing with the immediate and mid-term threats on which Al Gore and many others have recently focused public attention. The latter point ought to motivate the space advocacy community to actively engage environmental issues. That was the main point of my presentation at the Mars Society, which was very well received. A related issue, which I touched upon but did not address as thoroughly as I had hoped to at the Society conference, is that space advocates should recognize the potential their expertise has for converting many environmentalists, the vast majority of whom are presently either neutral or even opposed to space exploration, to being supporters for terraforming Mars. Research from Mars has clearly established the fact that global environmental conditions are subject to extraordinarily drastic variation. That this research has not motivated serious and profound research into the potential of massive environmental changes on Earth is astounding. That our attention in response to global warming, for instance, has thus far been limited to such questions as sea level increases and micro-ecosystem migration to higher latitudes and elevations is really quite myopic in view of the fact that Mars clearly demonstrates that an atmosphere can dry up and disappear. Uniformitarianism, and the even more insidious prevalence of human-centric assumptions about the universe itself, may lull us into ignoring the potential implications of the facts from Mars for the future on Earth, but space advocates both miss an opportunity and do the public a grave disservice by not calling for thorough studies of any and all possible connections. The disservice is simple: What if the uniformity assumption proves to be irrelevant? My book’s discussion of catastrophe theory and autocatalytic processes addresses this question with what I hope is chilling effect. The opportunity missed is exemplified by my own experience: I would have virtually no interest in terraforming Mars had I not come to the conclusion years ago that we’re not going to make it here on Earth and that, therefore, our only chance is to get off this planet. There are numerous gradations of texture applicable to that statement–the most notable of which is the larger than normal meaning which I ascribe to the word “we”–that require a thorough reading of the book to fully explain. The point is that environmentalists are not apt to see the potential utility of terraforming Mars unless they are much more aware of the potential of actually not being able to “save the planet.” If Al Gore is even half right, the only chance space advocates will have of being in the game when it starts to get really ugly is if they have already established themselves in the public mind as a potential part of the solution. Another point your audience may find intriguing is the observation that, even if Mars is successfully terraformed and human settlements begin to thrive there, the assumed dominance of our species on the model we think of as a natural extension of our dominance on Earth is, at best, highly speculative. You might be surprised at how many environmentalists actually find that idea comforting. I am perfectly happy to focus our discussion on these aspects of the book, or anything else you think your audience might find novel yet not beyond the pale. There are, however elements in the book of which I suspect your viewers might be quite skeptical. I doubt much justice can be done most of those without a thorough reading of the book. If you concur, I will go on the assumption that we will mostly avoid such topics and that will be my basis for preparation. Sincerely, George Drake