Well, okay, here’s a switch. I saw a delightful movie the other night called Stranger than Fiction. One of its unusual features was that it was about an accountant, Harold, who realizes he’s a character in some author’s book. His life is being written and he realizes the author’s intention is to kill him very shortly. The movie is all about the struggles he goes through trying to change his fate.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I immediately try to turn even the most innocuous things into moral lessons about the end of the world. This, of course, is no exception.
The plot turns on the question of whether the author is writing a tragedy or a comedy. In a tragedy, all the good guys die, or wind up toothless and blind. In a comedy, in the literary sense, everything comes out fine in the end, even if humor has nothing to do with it.
In the movie the key to the hero’s success is changing the author’s mind from writing a tragedy into writing a Comedy.
On seeing that from my “apply it to me” mode, everything suddenly came crystal clear. I keep selling this thing as if it were a tragedy. Nobody really likes tragedies! No wonder they aren’t lining up to bolt nuts onto the bulkheads of my proposed Missions to Mars.
In my defense I’ve a few points: the first is that the future I’m painting for planet Earth is a tragedy. One that is greater than most are willing to contemplate. And that dumps immediately into my second point: since no one is willing to admit to the scale of the tragedy I’ve foreseen, I spend too much of my time trying to get them to see it. Somehow I think that seeing how very tragic the end of our current path is, they’ll be motivated to switch with me.
But there is a parallel track. It’s the track I need to concentrate more on. The comedic track. “Comedic,” in that literary sense. You see, tragedy for Earth need not be tragedy for Gaia, the life force that currently resides here.
Unfortunately, that’s nearly an equally difficult proposition–trying to direct the train of our destiny onto this parallel track. Our whole culture seems to be stuck on the tragic track.
Elsewhere I’ve discussed Godel’s theorem, which shows that being able to answer all questions implies we have to live with answers that contradict one another. An important observation is that people clearly prefer living with contradictions than having to put up with knowing that some questions are simply unanswerable.
Because of this preference for contradiction, we’ve developed some unhealthy skills. One of these is the ability to ignore conclusions made in one area of investigation while looking at another, and then, when the focus switches back to the first arena, to likewise ignore the conclusions reached in examination of the second. To make matters much worse, most real analysis involves many more than just two arenas of interest.
So, as it applies here:
1) On the one hand a great many people are now ready to concede that the environment is going to hell in a hand basket, it is our fault, it can’t keep on this way, and at least our species will be greatly and negatively impacted.
Fewer, but still a great many, see no way to stop the juggernaut. Fewer still recognize the potential of our being responsible for the death of Gaia, but this number is growing.
But most, by far, realize we must do something about it. And I think, most recognize that the root cause behind our negative impacts is our population. That not many “experts” are talking about the latter doesn’t hide this obvious fact from most of us, who not only see the need to act soon, but who are extremely cognizant of our apparent inability to act differently.
2) A great many people realize that mankind has, or soon can develop, the capability of extending humanity’s living space to off-planet venues.
Fewer, but still a great many, believe such expansion will occur in a totally automatic way–that all we have to do is keep on keeping on to see it. Popular science fiction universally seems to support this expectation of inevitability, although some authors seem to assume it will be postponed for a very long time.
Probably as much of the population also thinks that investing in space exploration when the environment is in such clear danger is spending money in the “wrong” way.
Most people believe we can, or at least that we will eventually be able to, get off this planet. What’s most important in this regard is to realize that those with the best information are the same people who are most likely to see the time frame required to do so as being within a short enough period as to make “getting off” a viable option, but simultaneously doubt that will happen.
3) That unfortunate preference for tolerating contradiction, though, raises its head in the manner most people are complacently willing to proceed:
although they believe we must stop destroying the planet, and that we are almost certainly not going to be successful in making the transition to a state where we have actually stopped doing that;
and although they concede we can get off–but only if we seriously attempt to do so, and then only if we start trying so soon enough–still the vast majority of them are not actively supporting either those who are aggressively trying to stop the destruction to or colonize space, let alone both.
The evidence is overwhelming: we must do something or we are toast. We aren’t, but we could still get off if we started soon enough with the project and elevated its priority to one of our very top tiers.
But the default position almost everyone seems willing to take is to accept the fact that we are doing nothing of consequence in either arena.
That sounds like giving up to me.