Friday, January 1, 2010

Out There, Thataway

The Great Red Spot as seen from Voyager 1 This...

This is the year we were supposed to make contact and if we had listened to Arthur C. Clarke we'd either be on our way or packing for the trip. To Jupiter, that is, where the monolith awaits. Sure, that's science fiction, but so what? Weren't we supposed to be living in the real life equivalent of Walt Disney's Tomorrowland by now? This is the future, isn't it?

Sometimes I wonder. We're still fighting wars over religion, energy is neither cheap nor abundant nor clean, cars continue to run on gasoline for the most part, and we're no closer to colonizing the moon than we were in 1969. It seems to me a lot of things were going to be different. What happened?

For one thing, the Cold War is over. In the 1960s, we were terrified the Russians would place the bomb in outer space, so we had to get there first. Exploration was never really the main point. Sure, it was a part of it, but once we'd taken that small step for mankind, the air began rapidly leaking out of the balloon. We shouldn't be surprised, it's always that way when there's no vision driving our efforts.

And, ironically, that is where it all begins. Not with economics, not with realism, not with practicality. We've got more of those than we know what to do with. What we need is vision. Without it, the people languish. To transcend limits, to exceed expectations, to reach the unreachable star, we need an overriding sense of what is possible, of what can be achieved if we work hard enough, long enough, and we work together.

Negative thinking looks at political disparities, racial and social inequality, religious fundamentalism, economic restrictions, and tells us the obstacles are too great to hope for anything apart from symptomatic relief. One thing we can count on, as long as our problems are the primary focus of our attention, we'll never get beyond them.

Vision takes everything we face and puts it into perspective. Like bored siblings, we can't keep our hands off each other because we don't have anything else to do with them. We are long past the point where we can indulge our cosmic isolationism. We don't need to go looking for "little green men," but we do need a vision that unites and takes us, in the words of Captain Kirk from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, "out there, thataway."

Robert Kennedy quoted George Bernard Shaw frequently, "Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say, why not?" If the "future" is going to be anything more than literary fantasy we need to get busy asking the same question and then providing some answers.

Our own answers.

(Public domain image of Jupiter's great red spot taken by Voyager I via Wikipedi)
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