Questa è la prima parte di un lungo, lungo post che sto scrivendo da giorni. Tradurrò tutto in italiano, prometto. Ma sento che la lingua più appropriata, ora come ora, è l'inglese. Spiego sotto il perché. A presto col resto ^_______^
What I want to say here requires accuracy to be fully understood. Extreme care.
It's quite complicated. It took me a while to figure it out.
That is one of the reasons why I’m not writing in Italian, my mother tongue, and I apologize in advance for every mistake I'll make. I feel that writing in a language not “natural” to me, that I acquired later in life, applies some necessary constrains on the way I express my thoughts. It forces me to choose accurately every word to be sure I'm conveying the intended meaning, to pay scrupulous attention to the relationship between what’s on my mind and the physical, transmissible manifestation of that content. Another reason is a peculiar characteristic of English: its concision. It’s a neat, streamlined language, fairly simple to use but deep enough to serve well in complex explanations, a tool to articulate broad concepts with a few, simple words. It works particularly well, I think, when you’re talking science, so it’s perfect for this.
Ok, I can imagine your puzzlement… “Yeah, so what? Why are you chatting away on language? What’s the point?” You’re right, but let me indulge a moment, then I’ll cut to the chase.
Properly telling what I want to would require graphs, charts, diagrams and photo, because what I'm going to say is real but requires proofs to be believed. There are aplenty, but not here. I have been thinking about it for years and this is only the end of a steady, informed, prolonged reasoning process: it would require an essay I don't have the time to write. But I can't wait anymore. I just want to tell someone because I think I realized in detail something amazingly important, at least for me.
I want to talk about the future. I want to talk about what I see when I close my eyes and think about the potential of our mind. I think of a time I won't see, because I'll be as dead as a rock, but it doesn’t matter. I think of us people, all of us. The whole human race.
That is a particularly comprehensive “we”. Only a few persons really realize that we truly are all one and the same. We are the only conscious minds we are aware of on this or other planets. We are the only living species in the Homo genus of the Hominidae, the great ape family. We out-competed or simply wiped out by outright genocide every other species of Homo until we remained alone. We are very young, especially compared to the timescale of Earth, which is 4,5 billion years old. Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa only about 200,000 years ago, and we started leaving signs of culture only around 50,000 years ago. Recorded history began only 7,000 years ago.
We are latecomers. Brats, and spoiled ones at that. We are separated in groups and nations, often at war with one another, frantically scrubbing from the surface of the world what we need to be sure to be alive tomorrow morning. We can't see that our divisions are mainly caused by our short, insignificant lifespan. This triggers all the other problems we usually have when facing our everyday challenges. We wouldn't be striving blindly for personal advantage in spite of the consequences inflicted on the whole species, or even on our close neighborhood, knowing that we will be there to face them three hundred (or more) years later. Nowadays it is increasingly easier to see ourselves as a global community, to understand that the world will go on after our death, but we are still far from a deep awareness of this concept. Thanks to communication technology we have developed all the intellectual tools to cooperate as a whole. But we don't use them.
We usually choose to fight each other instead.
Whole nations, rallied up by propaganda studied to obtain a visceral response, try to grant themselves more profit through conflict, using the gullibility of individuals, exploiting faith and its blind willingness to be deceived, avoiding with every possible mean the development of rational inquiry unless it's enslaved to the powers that be – unless it’s not rational at all.
Our goals, as individuals and societies alike, are limited by our short-sightedness.
Our capacity to foresee what the outcome of our actions will be and act accordingly is obfuscated by the childish lie that it doesn't matter, because we won't be there in the flesh. The oil peak, the climate change... it's like we all believe in the reassuring tale that our descendants will take care of them, someone else, someone responsible, someone that's not us.
Well, we are that responsible someone. We are, very literally, stewards of the land, and this is a fact, not a fancy spiritual supposition. But we are terrible stewards indeed.
We ought to make plans, real ones, and we're not doing it. Not in the least. We squabble for air like chickens in a rapidly shrinking cage instead of thinking of a way to get out. We seem to be really, really stupid.
It concerns me.
I can't see why we shouldn't be planning our future for a span of at least a few centuries, better millennia. 5 or 6 hundred years could be the bare minimum to program short- and mid-term policies, set out a political, sociological, scheme, give birth through trial and error to a “permaculture” (the term is from Stephen Baxter's “Manifold” series, a much needed neologism that I thank him for) we can rely on. This is to say, a culture that will remain stable for an undefined period of time. This does not mean stagnation, because such a culture needs to accept diversity and the possibility of change just to avoid imploding on itself, but also to guarantee innovation, creation, development of new scientific fields and ideas. Many arrangements are possible, the really important thing is that none of them should lead to the destruction of the civilization it serves. We need to learn true reciprocity to reach peace and stability, because the old maxim “one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself“ is a good, rational way to preserve both the species and the individuals. This kind of culture is the starting point needed to set up a permanent state of cooperation. Building it will be our mental sanity test. If we are able to do this by consensus, without the need for and burden of authoritarianism, we have what it takes to go on and maintain it. Complete unanimity is obviously really hard to obtain, if not impossible. We should be particularly cautious not to impose on the unwilling and, at the same time, be sure that everyone understands what we are doing and does not try to stop us, whatever they feel about it. They need to see the evidence. We need to work for a way of thinking, feeling, organizing ourselves, to emerge from the common awareness that we have to. Maybe for the first time in human history, we have the means to deliberately create a fair, if not just, way of living, one that could be achieved only if we see, not beyond doubt but beyond any reasonable (and I mean “rational” too) doubt - that we must if we want to survive. An entire species engaged in a project of social engineering on itself. We can finally become responsible for ourselves, for our actions, for our uninterrupted existence in the future. Some things are far too fundamental to be left to our irrationality, to faith, to dumb choices done by individuals unable to see the damage they're doing to themselves. This could be the first collective step into a self-consciousness that only a handful have experimented before.
With a tool like this, we could put up an honest fight for our survival or, why not, for our thriving among the stars.
We can get there even before reaching the permaculture. I said we should be planning on the long term. But how long is “long”? 5 hundred years is only a start, the minimum. We have to plan ahead, hundreds of thousands of years ahead, especially when considering economics and resources. That will be the foundation of a much wider and deeper round of planning.
We could, and I think we should, be on Mars by now, or have a permanent base on Luna.
We really should, because we are like the crew of a generation starship... that is, a slower-than-light spaceship, traveling to nearby stars, in which the original occupants grow old and die, leaving their descendants to go on with the voyage.
Think about it.
We live our lives off in a closed, self-sustaining environment we have to maintain if we want to remain alive. We run on limited fuel, have limited resources and space. We transmit our culture to the next generation, in order to keep the society functioning, the crew healthy... but usually we don't pay much attention to the ship. We haven't realized yet that we are confined here. We can't see the hull, or the roof, just because they're not made of steel or concrete. Our atmosphere is our cage and shield, and a flimsy one at that: only about 10 km thick. The phrase “sky's the limit” it's quite claustrophobic, when you think about it.
Well, we can take brief strolls outside our planet-sized starship by sending out shuttles, but we are trapped in a gravity well that forces us to use crude, expensive, controlled explosions to lift insignificant masses from the ground and hurl them into space. It's not easy and it's not cheap.
Finding a way to launch in orbit great masses at a fraction of the price is the starting point of human expansion in the solar system. And expansion we need, for we are countless. Until we don't settle our growth rate to maintain a stable population we're doomed to look for new land to inhabit. That is possible and, I think, a viable temporary solution until we learn to control our birth rate by social means.
(to be continued... )