Some months ago, I watched a great TV program of the PBS series Nova titled Earth From Space. It was a fantastically good presentation of the planet we live on and how it works, based, as the title suggests, on views of the planet from satellites in orbit around Earth. Part of the amazing and useful goodness is the way long series of images were put together in time-lapse animations that show the dynamics of the planet in a way that I figure most people have never seen. I know I had seen nothing that put it all in such plain clear perspective.
Having grown up during what was being called the Space Age of the sixties, with my childhood basically happening over the early years of NASA and the Apollo program, all that certainly had a huge influence on me. I thought, back then, and still think, that the most profound element of all that was the kind of perspective it gave the human race on our existence in the universe, a sense of the planet we live on like nothing we could know before this in quite the same way.
One obvious feature item was the famous “Earthrise” photo from the Apollo 8 flight, something I sometimes have up as background wallpaper on the screen of the computer screen I’m looking at this very moment. It was one thing to generally know of the Earth and its place in our solar system and the universe from science classes and elsewhere. It was really something profound to actually see an image of our planet as it is, knowing that there in that photograph was all we know, knowing that every human being in existence was present in that photo except for three men in the Apollo 8 command module spacecraft.
That was decades ago. It would be reasonable to think that we would have all learned something from all that. Instead, the general picture seems to be something more like what was presented in a movie I saw a couple years ago, a remake of the old science fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still.
[If you aren’t familiar with that one, here’s the basic summary.
One day Earth is suddenly surprised by a visit from some sort of intelligent advanced beings from elsewhere in the universe who had been completely unknown. The reaction, of at least some humans in positions of power and authority, is to view all this as a military event, a threat or outright attack of a clearly much more advanced race of beings, who, it’s assumed, must clearly be here as a hostile force coming to destroy us, because, after all, this is what we would do. The action includes the appearance of one of them somehow taking on the physical form of what appears to be a human man, who is taken prisoner and held against his will and interrogated, at least until he has enough of that. Eventually, the truth appears, at least to one character in the story, who tries desperately to get this across to her fellow humans, which is that the message of this race of alien beings is not “we’ve come to conquer and destroy you and take your stuff“, it’s “we’ve come to save the Earth from you morons and stop you from destroying it“.]
The views of the Earth in the vast context of the universe, what Carl Sagan called this “pale blue dot”, are about as much of a clue as we can ever get to put things in perspective. I don’t know how much more plain it can get.
These days, if anything about a spaceflight program comes up in the public realm, it seems more likely than not that we get something like a twisted buffoon politician talking grand ambitions about getting back to the moon to establish it as new United States territory and set up a base to strip the place of any possible material resources, basically an extended mining operation. In other words, ironically, exactly the kind of thing that, if there actually were some currently unknown species of advanced intelligent beings in the universe who could observe us here, might make them come to a conclusion that the humans of the planet Earth had to have somebody step in as responsible adult supervision before we ravaged other parts of the universe the way we’ve mistreated Earth.
It’s worth a thought to consider that this kind of attitude has an aroma about it that is more than a continuation of a kind of gluttonous greed that refuses to even consider the notions of finite limits, and maybe consider a little restraint and taking care of the place where we live. It also has the stench of people with endless notions of Empire (with them in charge, or at least in positions of importance that they see as working to their own advantage, never mind other people, or any other life, for that matter).
While I was thinking about this, I remembered a computer game called Moonbase that I liked to spend some time with now and then, years ago. I’m not sure how well known this was. For anybody unfamiliar, the easiest way to describe it is that if you’re familiar with the long running popular game SimCity, it’s similar, but instead of building and managing a city, you are, of course, building and managing a moonbase. I remember that because it was not just a genuinely interesting game, but it was maybe a general indicator to recall the basics of the way that worked. You would build the place up using various types of building modules connected together, with assorted facilities and resources to work with. What was notable was what you would do.
A major part of this simulation game was making decisions to occasionally use money and resources to conduct “exploration missions”, mouse-clicking on spots on the map with a drop in funds each time, to see what popped up. That might be a find of material resources, minerals, and you could then begin one of the prime operations in the sim, which was essentially setting machines going on strip mining operations, indicated in the animations on screen by the machines travelling back and forth in lines that turned from the previously untouched surface of the moon to what looked like furrows of plowed farm fields. Over time, naturally, as areas are torn up and depleted, the machines have to keep moving on and tearing up more of the moon’s surface, and more, and more.
Another possible result, as I recall, was that you might get a surprise discovery of what I remember as basically being something borrowed from 2001: A Space Odyssey, that being a mysterious black obelisk (complete with primates dancing around it, although my memory might be a bit off here). The result of that, in the game, would be an increase in tourist travel, presumably because people would want to make the journey from Earth to whatever passed for a hotel on the moon, to go look at the mysterious slab. Apparently not so much being able to view the fantastic, awesome, and humbling sight of the Earth hanging in space before their eyes from a vantage of roughly a quarter million miles away.
Going further off on a slight tangent here, speaking of fictional space adventures, somewhere in the series of stories from the late Douglas Adams beginning with The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, there’s a scene where central character Arthur Dent comes across a group and their crashed spaceship. They proceed to explain that their former home planet was going to be destroyed by some cataclysmic disaster, and the entire planet was evacuated. They carry on explaining further that the master plan was to divide the entire population into three gigantic escape spacecraft for evacuation, divided into three groups; the thinkers, the doers, and the middlemen. They were the middlemen, and when Arthur asks about the rest, he’s told that they don’t know what happened to the other two groups, but they were told they would be right behind them. Arthur and his companion struggle to stifle themselves from breaking up laughing.
As he wanders away, very aware that this bunch are going to be no help at all for his situation, the group continues, sitting around a campfire, with nothing around them but their wrecked crash-landed spaceship and debris and disarray, having some sort of market research meeting to argue about the choice of color of furniture throw pillows or something that nobody is going to make, sitting there in the middle of wilderness, with no furniture, no rooms, for that matter, or anything else.
I thought of that considering John Michael Greer’s newest entry in his blog, about what he describes as a likely future of what he simply (and probably very accurately) calls involuntary simplicity. It’s a great essay that I think gets right to the essence of a lot of what we have ahead, with much of what is coming being good, and just plain necessary, along with also being way overdue. The twist to all this is that an awful lot of people won’t understand what’s happening, and why, and be fighting and complaining fiercely about it all as being some seriously wrong aberration.
The enormous masses of dysfunctional middlemen and ridiculous overcomplexity are found in all kinds of examples. I just had a surprise demonstration yesterday, related to something I mentioned recently concerning, not one, but two identical examples of an otherwise useful product, an electronic device, that became useless because of an absolutely ridiculous flaw. The same flaw occurred with the second one, after I made the mistake of buying an identical replacement thinking that maybe this one would work out better.
I had submitted a note via the company website, that was purported to be a way to submit feedback to the company CEO and President. (I seriously doubt that this is anything but a comically dishonest show, I don’t believe that person ever sees any of it.) That led to a few useless reply emails. Yesterday, I got a surprise call from a representative claiming to want to help. What followed was that I ended up being passed off to two more people, both of them useless, who had no idea why they were talking to me. At the point when I finally had enough of my time being wasted and the ridiculous frustration involved, and hung up, 25 minutes of my time had been completely wasted.
[For reference, to name names, the company is HP, the corporation disgracing the names of founders Hewlett and Packard, who built what was once one of the best electronics manufacturing enterprises on Earth.]
To repeat; it took THREE PEOPLE (and by the way, two of them were obviously not located in the North American continent) a full 25 MINUTES to do absolutely NOTHING except piss me off even more about something I had put aside as a hopeless write-off.
Pushing that episode aside, I thought it was an interesting to read a new blog note from the pseudonymous “Bill Hicks” hitting a nail squarely on the head, amazingly compatible and fitting with Greer’s essay. In this case, the subject was the bloated dysfunction and complex knots of the rancid culture located in and around Washington DC.
Of course, even touching that subject runs into more problems as you get some political tribe members who respond to this epic mess of bloated dysfunction and completely misunderstand and misdirect their ire at anything involving government actually serving the people, doing anything of benefit to the nation as a whole, as nasty “Big Government”, instead of directing themselves at the proper targets of corrupt malfunction and general hubris. [Here is where the hyped up “tea party movement” seemed as if, somewhere in a beginning somewhere, it had the right idea, and was then completely corrupted and went off the rails, dominated by morons, people played for fools by many of the very people who should be the target of their anger and action.]
Switch from “the public sector” back to “the private sector” and stories like the farces (more than one story) I’ve encountered in euphemistically named “customer service” all go into the mix of case studies we could consider that relate to what Greer is talking about in terms of “intermediation”. All of this strikes me as pretty strange phenomenon, of something that you could say fits the idea of things hidden in plain sight. They’re pervasive, it’s all around us, it’s probably a rare human among us who does not have to deal with what I’m talking about, and yet, it seems as if it’s difficult to impossible to get people’s heads around it, as being what it is, probably just because it’s all regarded as “normal” by so many people.
Checking the news shows that the practically random bouncing of the magic number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (which, as I’ve pointed out, is not really so industrial these days) has gone climbing up again to well above the recent magic threshold of excitement of 17000 (whatever that really means). The whole Wall Street circus (along with a hell of a lot of corporate business) provides massive piles of “intermediation”, and intermediation that has grown so extreme and out of control that it devours and destroys much of what actual value and usefulness, and manages to make damned near everything it touches work badly, if at all.
[Last minute footnote… apparently the NYSE closed at a new record high. So, is the economic scene just wonderful now?]