Perchance to Dream – a blast from the past post February 2011
In the last day, I noticed a lot of postings on Facebook about the shuttle. And this made me realize something about space, and what space means.
I haven’t been exactly paying attention. Whenever a novel is done – let alone a novel that was delayed due to my stupid body, once more, reminding me that these things come without warranty – there’s a lot of things I’ve been putting off that have to be dealt with. Particularly when I’m plunging straight into another couple of books that need to be finished, both of which are ready to enter ‘final phase’ (the phase when things are coming together and I work in a sort of white-hot haze.)
So, in the last couple of days I verified that my kitchen does, indeed, still have a floor by removing all the fur and grime that had accumulated over it; reduced the waiting Everest of laundry to a mere Pikes Peak; did grocery shopping; made sure the kids are still alive (you never know, and zombie children are such pains); cleaned the cats water fountain; removed approximately three Haveys from every surface in the house, including the floor (a Havey is a measurement of fuzziness. It equals about an inch of fuzz on everything.)
As has been obvious from this blog, I’ve logged on to the net maybe twice/three times a day, if that, and I haven’t exactly been thinking about the internet.
Even so, I couldn’t avoid postings on the shuttle.
. Perhaps it is a function of the type of friends I have, but for a day, posts on the shuttle seemed to overshadow even the endless political postings by people who should know better about what they put on their professional Facebook pages (Hint, if you feel free to put it up in a place where your potential bosses will read it, you’re not talking truth to power. You ARE the power.)
It reminded me a lot of the moon landing. For a moment, for a blessed few hours, we looked up from the ball of mud as all eyes turned to space and to what we all knew in our hearts was the next movement for our species. Remember, I wasn’t an American then, but I felt it too. And it wasn’t just me. Within a week our elementary school teacher, in this tiny one-room school house, started talking about how lucky we were to be living in a time when we might grow up and go to space. At various get togethers arranged for kids, the various, insanely-cheerful songs of the row your boat variety suddenly included references to the lunar age, to man of the space age. (Oh, I’m sure some Soviet scientists were furious that day. Bureaucrats even more so. But doubtless even they were in awe.)
The difference of course, is that the moon landing was a first and everyone pays attention to a first. So you might think it means nothing. It doesn’t explain the attention paid to the shuttle, because we’ve been expecting the end there – we know it’s an expensive program and it’s being shuttered.
And yet. And yet there’s something that calls us to space. In Space Engineers, Simak posited that we always longed for the stars, because we’d known we come from there. Of course if I wrote anything suggesting that, it would get buried under screams of outrage – even if I wrote it metaphorically, so I won’t. Beautiful and chest-expanding as that idea is, the explanation is much simpler.
As some of you know when I’m sick I read biology and anthropology manuals and sites. (Unless I’m REALLY sick, in which case I read about dinosaurs. It’s like comfort food.)
Our species – all species – have two modes: expand range or die. As my friend Dave Freer put it, we’re a species of colonists. It’s what we do. Every human race, every human culture longs to expand and most of them have, with varying degrees of success. Expansion is healthy both for the new culture and the one left at home. Innovations are bought back; inventions are sparked; restless young men are given productive outlets.
Are expansions within Earth and into someone else’s territory different? To an extent. It could be argued, though, that from the very long term perspective those expansions have, ultimately, been for the benefit of humanity in general. (Yes, I could expand on this, but not at six in the morning on a day when my to-do writing list is overflowing the page. Also, I suspect to explain it in detail would take a book. However, take the fact that as a whole humanity is now – at the end of expansionary movements and wars of conquest that started in the paleolithic – not only more numerous but more long-lived and healthier than ever. Then connect the dots.)
Whether our expansion is a good thing for anyone else, frankly, is a matter of total lack of concern to me. I know it’s chauvinistic and irredeemable of me, but when it comes to choosing between my own species and hypothetical blue aliens with linked in pony tails, I’m going to choose my own species. And no, I don’t care how ecologically sound these hypothetical aliens are, or how loving-kind or how perfect. Heck, I wouldn’t care even if they stopped being hypothetical.
Yes, I know, you’re looking at me in horror. But there are things that are so basic, so simple, so fundamentally gut-right that it takes years and years of education and an exquisite attention to moral formation to make people ignore them or think otherwise. Arguably our system does just that to people, just now.
And that’s insane, because even herbivores fight for their herd. You never see cornered antelope go “Oh, look, it’s much better for our herd if we let the lions eat the weak and the old. I mean, it’s not like they can live forever. And what right do we antelopes have to take over the area? Everyone knows we overgraze and destroy bio diversity.” The reason antelopes don’t do this is that they haven’t spent twelve plus years listening to how the species they belong to is harmful and useless and should go extinct for the sake of higher values of a nebulous kind. Lucky antelopes.
I did spend sixteen plus years listening to what horrible creatures humans are. I’ve also read countless books to the effect. But, aw, shucks, as my parents found out from the moment I could move around and say “no” I’ve never taken suggestion well. Also, I’m a mother, (no, not in the sense you guys call me that) and I’m selfish. I’d like to see my line of descendence stretch all the way into the future and if possible to the stars.
Those posts yesterday proved that despite schooling, despite instruction, despite the fact that the rest of you aren’t as tri-plated irascible, stubborn b*tches as I am, (which is a good thing. A world full of me would be terrifying, not to mention boring) most people at a gut level feel the same yearning to push our species past the ball of mud and on to new and bright frontiers.
Oh, we know it won’t all be blanket trees and candy fields. If anything we know the dangers far too well. We know in this wave of expansion as in many others, men and women will die, and we’ll lose some of our true best and brightest. Doesn’t matter. In reaching beyond one simple planet, they will bring a better life to the vast majority of us. A life so rich, so free, so full of security and abundance that we can’t imagine it, and our ancestors would have called it heaven.
And that is why I’m talking about it in the future, despite the last decade or so of our being assured this expansion would never happen; despite the last two decades of our being hectored on how this was a pipe dream and we had to learn to be good stewards of this one, tiny corner of the galaxy.
Look my friends, here is wax. Block your ears against the siren song of the nay sayers, the guilt-trippers and the scared sisters who always, always prefer their fireside to the discovery of new lands. Their ilk has always existed and always will. Someday our descendants will come back from their distant space colonies, conquer their descendants and bring them the innovations we discovered meanwhile. And then some of their descendants will join in the expansion to another galaxy and – if it’s possible we’ll find a way – another universe.
Oh, things look nasty right now, but the way we’ve been doing space is expensive and not very efficient. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent decades (since we went to the moon) is that not only isn’t big government necessary for big projects, big government is usually an hindrance to big projects, (it tends to be staffed by all those fireside sisters.)
So, government is broke and won’t be doing much for us. That’s fine. Not a problem. Le us do for ourselves. Let us try many ways to get into space. the best will succeed, and after that we’ll continue trying.
Look up into the skies at night see all those stars? Your descendants (direct or collateral) and mine will walk in planets circling them. They’ll be born and die, war and marry in worlds we can only imagine. They’ll change, they’ll grow, they’ll understand more than we can know.
And they’ll dream of bigger things.