I have a history of going up to the edge of some accomplishment and then blowing it.
The classic example is probably the Ph.D. I passed the qualifying exams for my Ph.D. in 1970, but never wrote the dissertation. In common vernacular this is known as the ABD, but it usually doesn’t involve an actual degree, although some colleges give an M.A. as a consolation prize. I have a Candidate in Philosophy degree in Mathematics.
For most disciplines, failure to finish after passing the quals is virtually unheard of, as the writing of the dissertation is usually pretty easy following that. But in math the requirement is always to solve an unsolved problem, and it’s usually more a sign of unwillingness to take on a problem befitting a graduate student than a failure of intellect.
Or at least that’s how I’ve always rationalized it. I attempted a famous problem and got put in my place by it. After that first attempt, I just gave it all up.
Any way you look at it, though, it’s a good example of veering off to avoid collision with success.
Today I got an insight into why it is so hard for me to let myself succeed when it comes to “fulfilling the Mission.”
For those who haven’t heard, my Mission is to tell everyone that “we’re not going to make it,” and “we’ve got to get off,” as per a religious experience I had in 1986.
The main difficulty I have in spreading that Message is how hard the first part of that observation is for anyone to accept. There’s much more, but that is, I think, the crux of it.
Oh, I should clarify that that the “we” referenced above is not just “humans.” It is all life forms on this planet.
Most people are willing-some almost eager-to expect we humans are about to do ourselves in. But almost no one sees the disaster as harshly as do I. That idea is so bereft of hope that no one wants to go there.
My insight was that I, too, suffer from the lack of hope implied in such a stark Message. To tell the truth, I don’t have a lot of hope for humanity. Once you accept the idea that all life on planet Earth will perish, as I have, there is little consolation in realizing some species, other than our own, might yet survive on a partially terraformed alien planet. I’m, perhaps, overly pessimistic on this issue, but in looking at the possibility of terraforming, I think partial terraforming is about all we can count on.
But, when you think on it, that is not so bad. If every living being on the planet dies, as was the clear meaning of my “religious experience,” the vast majority of humanity, as well as every other species, dies. You just can’t get very many of any beings off the planet. And when one species is most culpable in such a disaster, your fairness instinct is more sympathetic to the others.
But I am human. I have grandchildren. The chances of their surviving is tiny. That feels like my fault, even though I know I’m not to blame. It’s as if recognizing what we humans are doing to life on this planet makes it all my fault. That, of course, is nonsense, but it applies exactly as well to you. It’s not the fault of any of us individually.
But it hardly matters that the only logical way of saving anything, once you do recognize the full horror and inevitability of it all, is to either stop the growth of our species or start over with much less life, possibly not even including people, somewhere else.
The more I see of our situation the more I am convinced we’ll never stop the growth voluntary and the less I think we’re going to start expansion efforts early enough to save humanity. So, saving Earth DNA is the only thing we can reasonably expect-hope, if you will. But where is the hope in that?
I didn’t really want to be the one to bring this news. Bearing up under the weight of it hasn’t been easy. Like everyone else, I don’t even want to know it, let alone live in it.
I’m as apt as the next guy to say that the lives of my grandchildren, and all their progeny, and of all my friends’ and acquaintances’ grandchildren and their progeny, are far more important than anything so abstract as “saving Earth DNA.”
But I have realized that what we are doing has repercussions far worse than driving ourselves to extinction. We have become a runaway cancer on the body of Earth, and She, a living being in Her own right, is going to be killed by our success. We are not a threat to ourselves except as we are a threat to Her.
But the only hope we have of saving Ourselves–any portion of Ourselves–is to concentrate on saving as much as we can of Her.
It won’t be easy to save any of Her, hence the reference to DNA. She is our mother. She has been a good mother. If saving only a little of Her turns out to be all we can do, still it is better than doing nothing.
“Saving Earth DNA,” when it is no longer an abstraction, is exactly as important as saving my grandchildren’s grandchildren. In fact, looked at that way, it’s much harder to say which is the more abstract.