Saturday, March 26, 2011

"195"

So I woke up this sunny Saturday morning, turned to the TV and I asked it for some happy news. Alas, what I saw was the same old story: lunatic leaders bombing or torturing their own people, political ramifications of atmospheric radiation release, sectarian violence, and worse.

Now, I've been around the globe enough to know that it's not all bad. But if you're looking to hear something other than quacking, then talking to a duck over and over is what's know as the definition of insanity.

Which prompted me to turn off the TV and think for a few moments.  I thought a bit about the concept of power, and our obsession with it.  I thought about other similar cravings of ours, like meaning, and its impact on our presence on this planet. So I grabbed my laptop and started typing away, like a journalist on a tight deadline.  Please indulge me on a philosophical parenthesis here for a moment, I hope you'll find it thought-provoking.

Basic instincts are more a part of us all than we care to admit. I believe human nature craves just a handful of things, especially direction and meaning - and it fears pretty much everything else. Those that lead, for better or for worse, are essentially offering direction. Those that follow, randomly or otherwise, are craving meaning. There are certainly worse things to crave than meaning - which is great, if it weren't for our tendency to obsess.

Generally speaking we have very little control over our basic instincts, unless we make it our mission in life to tame them.  I realize there is an evolutionary purpose for our basic instincts, but I think those who succeed in being much more than the raw nature which defines the average mortal find a special place in life.  That special place is where the rest of us draw our inspiration to do the same, as we work towards conquering our individual basic instincts. Our individual basic instincts may boil down to just a handful, but I believe there is a precise count that reflects our collective primitiveness: 195.

195 is the number of countries we have today. That's not a lot of countries, when you consider there are around seven billion of us, and counting. But for a species that barely inhabits 10% of the surface of our planet, we have sure made quite a pomp and circumstance out of claiming every piece of land surface as if it actually belonged to someone. An unfortunate exercise, as our first space travelers tell us that from up there, our petty borders don't show up or add up. 

Some of the political boundaries may be practical, say like the subdivisions of states and provinces within some countries. And private ownership of land, within reason, can be functionally productive. But study your history and watch the news long enough and reality sets in: our national borders are what divides us on our planet - literally and figuratively. There may indeed be a healthy side to patriotism, but it is unequivocally tainted with the darkest of basic instincts: fear.

Call me crazy but as long as we don't go from 195 to one or zero, through democratic free will of course, we better hope a large, wandering rock (what Arthur C. Clarke called The Hammer of God) does not fade it all to black for us. We better hope our own blazing star does not prematurely end our opportunity to proudly plant the flag of intelligent life in our little corner of the universe.  I mean that in the sense that it would be a pity to have had over three billion years, give or take a billion, and not be able to "get it".  Our lease can expire anytime after that, but the moral satisfaction would be awesome.


***

"An International Space Oddity"


Our planet as seen through the eyes of the ISS. A 990,000 lb (450,000 kg) bird, with a wingspan of 354 ft. 
(108 meters), traveling at 4.8 miles per second (7.7 km/s).

Main video courtesy of NASA
Edited and with soundtrack arrangement by Joe Yanes
Music by:
David Bowie
Richard Strauss
Ludwig van Beethoven


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