“Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
Edgar Dean Mitchell is a former NASA astronaut. He was the sixth man to set foot on the moon. As he stood on the lunar surface and gazed back at planet Earth, he was profoundly moved. Later, he wrote this about the experience:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”
It is so very true: your appreciation of a problem is only as large as your perspective of it. If all you can see is yourself, everything centres on you. If all you can see is your family, your every endeavour is to benefit that family. If all you can see is your community, you become narrowly ethnic in what you want to achieve.
If your organization is all there is for you, maximizing the returns to that organization becomes all-consuming. If your nation is your everything, you become a blind nationalist who might see nothing wrong with killing the children of a neighbouring state. If your religion is your raison d’être, then all those who don’t share your faith become suspect.
But if you could haul yourself a quarter of a million miles out to the moon, and look back on this planet, you might see many more things. You might see that there is something called humanity; and something called nature; and something vast and mysterious called the universe. With those enhanced perspectives you might find yourself in the position of Mitchell, who began to appreciate a deeper meaning to existence.
I, too, wish we could haul every politician, every bigot, and every zealot out there, and make them gaze back upon their planet. And to every one of them, I would want to say: “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
This planet? It’s all we have. We have nothing else, and we have it together. It’s ours; it doesn’t belong to some of us, it belongs to all of us. Our oceans, our atmosphere, our ecosystems – they’re ours. We have drawn artificial lines all over this planet, and tried to pretend we own parts of it. But we own nothing. We ourselves are transient visitors; we have an unpredictably short tenure on earth. So how can we own anything on it?
And so I can’t wait for mass space travel to become a reality, so that we can haul some people out there. All those who think they are here only to work for their families; their clans; their shareholders; their political parties; their nations; their religions – they all need space travel.
They need to look down on what they have, and see that there are no boundaries. Border controls, skin colours, prayer rituals – they are illusions. They are conceits we have constructed. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. We are humans, and this earth, Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot,’ is our home.
If we could think like that, we would stop our senseless wars over territory; we would stop being saints to our children and devils to our neighbours; we would not exhaust our years in the brainless pursuit of profits and bonuses; we would not pollute our oceans and lakes or uproot our trees or slaughter our elephants. We would not desecrate the only home we know.
Do you really need to travel out in a spacecraft to see this truth? Close your eyes to your immediate surroundings and expand your vision to see what’s really there. And then say to yourself: look at that, you son of a bitch.
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