Sunday, January 06, 2019

Our common destiny on the "pale blue dot"

“This is where we live. In space. On a marble fortified against bottomless blackness by a shell of air and color, fragile and miraculous as a soap bubble.”

With those words, The New York Times opened a commemorative essay about a photograph taken 50 years ago by U.S. astronauts who witnessed “earthrise”, the rising of the earth over the horizon of the moon. Human eyes had never before viewed that occurrence.

I remember the original picture, shown in the media near the conclusion of “the year that shattered America”: 1968. And I remember the insights which discussion of the photo contributed to my plans for how to spend my life.

The divisions among Homo sapiens at that time – based on race, culture, economics, religion – seemed deep and almost intractable, from an earthly perspective. The lunar vista implied something very different: a unified orb, floating through space, inhabited by interdependent organisms who shared “life,” an essence which, as far as we knew, existed nowhere else.

Carl Sagan expanded this theme after the Voyager 1 spacecraft revealed that, from billions of miles away in space, our earth appears as a “pale blue dot”: “That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Our place in space

Today, we don’t need to travel to outer space to become cognizant of humanity’s social and ecological interdependence. Economics, technological development, and communications have connected all of humanity over the past half century in ways that we can readily feel and observe. Real time communication happens intercontinentally. Events positive and negative in one part of the globe affect many or all of the other parts.

Yet differences almost nonexistent from a universal perspective – race, culture, economics, religion, and now migration status – continue to create invidious comparisons that wreck discord within the human family.

Sagan noted gravely: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”

Perhaps we cannot completely avoid human conflict. When we encounter dishonesty, greed, or injustice, for instance, we may need to confront and contain it with verbal or physical force. But given our imperative to care for this planet now and into the future, it makes little sense to squabble with, separate ourselves from, and even kill, our earthly compatriots. We all need each other, to preserve the precious blue dot.

The critical pathway…

The pathway to a positive future on this speck in the universe? In his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King asserted that to “transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood” we must “evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

With love, we should do our work – whatever role we play in whatever earthly locus, small or large, that we find ourselves. We must cherish the world, our human companions, and our place in the universe.

The earthrise photo, rendering salient our common destiny as human beings, illustrates the necessity of making the quality of life on this earth as good and equitable as it can possibly be for all people.

We at Wilder Research play our part, as we undertake various types of research intended to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities. We look forward to working with others during the coming year on many projects that will address key issues, inform significant decisions about policy and funding, and enable community-serving organizations to carry out their activities more effectively.

As we enter 2019, I have hope and optimism. We can unite in love with our partners to do our best in the portion of the earth that we can influence. If others around the world similarly join together and act in their locales, we can transform the livable surface of this 510 million square kilometer rock into a habitat that sustains all human beings as we journey through the universe.

Happy New Year!