Previously – Observe And Learn: The Greatest Adventure In History
In the previous article we saw how our leap into space was a monumental and historic achievement.
Now let us examine how it came about.
A Crazy Idea
The heretics and wackos were right. Our planet is not flat.
There was a time when it was said that nothing existed beyond our world. It was believed that the earth was flat and the sky was a bundle of spheres from which the stars hung. Those who regarded the heavens as an endless space riddled with secrets, which we could explore with telescopes, and maybe even venture into, were deemed heretics or wackos.
Well, to cut the long story short, the heretics and wackos were right. Our planet is not flat, and neither is any other planet in the sky. As far as the sky itself is concerned, it is both endless and penetrable, and penetrate it we did. Imagination and common sense broke down the celestial sphere misconception, shattering the boundaries, revealing a flurry of stellar objects dancing in magical harmony to the tunes of an elegant universe.
The Sky Is The Limit…
With the horizon jarred open, the world was now ours. We took a deep breath and leaped into the unknown, taking the first steps beyond the confines of the established world and into what was once deemed inconceivable, meaningless and impossible to exist.
We did all this in the shadow of nuclear holocaust. Driven by an arms race, by a tit-for-tat mentality that was urging everyone to know more than the enemy, we performed miracles.
It has to be said, it was a strange way to achieve progress. Fear should not be the key to success and breakthrough. Yet, for better or worse, that’s how it happened, leading to groundbreaking achievement.
Which leads to the obvious question: Need we another Cold War and the threat of being overtaken or eclipsed by a scary enemy to get our act together? Need we the fear of annihilation to get a grip, look out into the distance, into space, and set out to conquer it?
…The Fear Of Annihilation Is The Incentive
The ancient Greeks had a saying: Whatever will we do without barbarians?
There is wisdom in their words.
Barbarians. The bogeyman. The people’s glue. The great incentive. Whatever will we do without them?
Comfort is the greatest dampener to human achievement
The answer is nothing. Comfort is the greatest dampener to human achievement. So are safety, security and tranquility. The mind needs restlessness to innovate. It requires challenge.
The threat of extinction provides it.
So do tests and trials.
The point is moot. Barbarians or no barbarians, fear or no fear, it matters little, at least in the field of space exploration. Like Dennis McKenna mentions in his latest book, The Brotherhood Of The Screaming Abyss, which I recommend highly to anyone with a taste for thoughtful Americana, we probably missed the opportunity to set our course for a new world when we decided to put a man on the moon, not a man in orbit.
A man in orbit. A woman in orbit. A future in space. Had we envisioned our presence beyond our planet as an ongoing function and not as a one-off feat in an attempt to scare away the bogeyman, we may have developed the equivalent to the International Space Station (ISS) a long time ago, McKenna points out, and I agree with him. Space technology would have been well-suited for exploring our immediate stellar vicinity. Mining asteroids for their precious fuels and minerals, the ones we are currently gutting the earth to find, may have been a reality.
In other words, the game would have been totally different.
But let us not despair. We may yet find a way to break out of our domain and redirect our efforts beyond the old world, into the new.
Or let us despair after all. It may do us some good; rally us together and focus our attention on what needs to be done. Sounds harsh and uninspiring, I know, but our space-age achievements in the shadow of the Cold War serves as prime example on how hope needs a kick in the ‘but’ to make headway.
…Or, Better Yet, Despair, My Fellow Hobbits
John Cleese’s Brian Stimpson in Clockwise said something disturbingly true. He said, It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.
True enough, hope is overrated and counterproductive. It provides the illusion of something happening without ever making sure it happens.
Despair doesn’t have that problem. It makes people do things, some of which turn out to be disastrous, some of which make history. To forge the future you have to take desperate measures. No risk, no change. It’s either that or back to the bucolic farm, thinking the earth is flat because we never ventured beyond the parish, because we didn’t invent the steam engine. Because we feared the damage that comes with every breakthrough, playing it safe, staying put in our warm and familiar hobbit-hole, cursing the world that lies beyond our imagination.
Well, there’s a great movie coming out this month that deals with the subject of extraordinary discovery and adventure. It’s called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and it is based on a brilliant saga by a brilliant man named J.R.R. Tolkien.
“An Unexpected Journey”
Tolkien’s story goes something like this: In a place called the Shire live creatures of habit called Hobbits. These Hobbits don’t like to travel and are suspicious of strangers. They prefer staying home, in comfort, having their tea, supper and snacks. Their outings involve nothing more than going to the tavern, where they can drink, eat, dance, and talk about the Shire. Adventure is a dirty word for them.
But one day a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins decides to change all that. Against his nature and better judgment he embarks on an unexpected journey far from home in the company of a strange band of creatures called Dwarfs and a wizard named Gandalf. What he discovers along the way changes him forever.
It also changes the world. The journey is a historic one, and not without a price. The adventure is perilous. People die in the process. Others are hurt. A war between men, elves, dwarfs, and goblins breaks out and much blood is shed. But a future is forged.
An Expected Journey
When the American and Soviet missions set out to explore the moon, they went on a great adventure. It was the beginning of a perilous but beautiful journey that pulled the wool back from our eyes, revealing the world out there, reminding our hobbit society that there was more to the universe than our precious shire.
Yet we have not followed the missions through. Just like in Tolkien’s books, our society has shunned the explorers, going back to what it was doing, pretending nothing has changed. As if the new world had not been discovered. The Shire apparently has neither time nor funding for visionaries and adventurers.
Well, we all know how that tale ends. The world’s hand will be forced into action one way or the other. The discoveries will be followed through sooner or later. All it takes is a little arm twisting from certain barbaric powers, like Sauron – evil and destructive entities that will rise to rule over all Earth. Their presence will catch public attention, making waves and getting people going again with the aim to defeat them.
And going we will, on the double and triple, once we become desperate.
“I See You…”
Sauron has already began to stir. His first move? Climate change and global warming. The Deep Horizon oil spill. Fukushima. Sandy. Disaster upon disaster borne out of a self-fulfilling, self-destructive, corrosive setup.
Yet, grave as these incidents are, we don’t seem to be getting the message. Individuals around the world may be getting it, but humanity on the whole remains one massively thick head with a voracious mouth and a penchant for entertainment. We need something more drastic to catch our attention and turn our focus to a more substantial paradigm.
This is where I would normally add an epilogue, something to tie things up and close off with a nice, rounded argument.
Not this time. I am leaving this article hanging in the shadow of threat, reminding those who read it that to reach the excellence we so dream of, we often need a Gandalf to get us going, because we are too Hobbit-like to mobilize ourselves.
Of course for Gandalf to reach out to us there has to be something sinister stirring in the shadows. Without it, magic and inspiration have no reason to energize the mindless lands of the mundane.
So we need a savior to guide us, to help us along the way. To remind us that getting out of our comfort zone is a risk worth taking and a chance well worth it, one that will lead us out of the shadow, into the light.
In other words, we have to go through hell to reach the heavens.
Religion has been saying this for a long time. Could it be that it was right not in a theological manner but a practical one?
Tolkien wrote his stories in order to provide the English-speaking peoples with a mythology they so notoriously lacked. He did such a good job of it that we ended up with a modern-day Bible. His Legendarium encapsulates the history and future of the human condition in ways people around the globe, especially kids, can relate to.
Hats off to a true magician. Let his vision ring true now that his words have been brought to life on the silver screen, inspiring the children that watch them to grow and become the stuff of legend, the legend he so eloquently laid out for us.
Yes, I said I would not add a feelgood epilogue to this article. I lied. Observe And Learn is designed to hit the sweet spot, no matter what.
Happy trials and tribulations everyone. May they make us stronger, turning the unexpected journey into a long-expected party.
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