"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Sep 10, 2007

Twin Towers on a Pale Blue Dot

Reflections on 9-11 amidst a world gone mad.

Earth photographed from the edge of our solar system, 3.7 billion miles away.

“It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than the distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

- Carl Sagan, commencement address delivered May 11, 1996

If we continue along our present course future generations may well look back on our time (if they look back) and condemn us for our monumental stupidity. What did we do with the natural resources while there was still an abundance? Where were our priorities when there was still time to avert climate calamity? When a great crime was committed that exposed the seething anger from other lands did we recognize our role in their rage and avert a crisis? 3,000 murdered and the mothers of Fallujah understand how we feel. Their grief mingles with our grief, like smoke rising from crushed towers or the burning corpse of a mosque.

Research in evolutionary biology offers the comfort of vast expanses of time. 250 million years ago and 96% of all marine species were dead. But then the Triassic announced its arrival with great fanfare and a new era of life’s flourishing diversity. Come the Cretaceous-Paleogene and half of all life vanished in a geologic instant, now captured in glorious Technicolor quality limestone snapshots from 65 million years ago. Then there was the Holocene extinction. Up to 140,000 species went extinct every year. Towards the end a third of all species on land, sea and air vanished within just one generation of the species that caused their demise. Half of all life was expected to disappear in their lifetimes and the Dow reached a high of 13,000.

“What is this quintessence of dust? Life delights not me,” the Danish prince might well have said and we are proof of Hamlet’s lament. Our tinpot despot with his costumed and wigged flatterers of the court rattle their ceremonial sabers and offer their sacrifice on the altars of commerce. While in Chile this morning mothers cry for their disappeared children and Henry Kissinger ignores his extradition for a few extra minutes of slumber. And somewhere in a cave, or is it a studio in Karachi, the bearded boogeyman frightens the children in their sleep. Both use each other to prop up a waning authority: the behemoth and the phantom, ensnared in their own fairy tale of good versus evil while the rest of us sit in the audience as collateral damage.

If evolution teaches one thing it is that species adapt or they perish. We are no different. If we are to survive this nightmare it will not be thanks to Obama or Giuliani. They are the products of a world that brought us to where we are. A river alters its course not with a single stone but with a great multitude. Thousands of infants will take their first breath this morning. They can continue where we leave off.

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1 comment:

Paul said...

I've often taken consolation in much the same thinking. In the long run (the real long run) life will go on, will someday flourish again, even if it goes on without us.