This post finds itself smack in the aftermath of the the 40th anniversary of the first humans on the Moon. I want to go on record: This set of excursions was bar none the greatest act we the bipedal, swimming, fire-playing primate race have ever performed. Others have said this, so I feel a tad unoriginal. But: Those who will know us only dead, will know mainly, that we lived at that time.
This was a technological St. Petersburg. A Czar said we're doing it, and threw royal treasure at it. And a loving populace dreamed the dream right alongside; didn't have to be forced, but ran, fell over each other with achievement. Many did say no; nyet; yeah-but; maybe. So many others went blazing ahead nonetheless. I send out no apologies for my glowing admiration of the entire Apollo program, noting the nationalist cinder at the heart of that pearl. It did have to happen some way. Beating the Russians? I'll take it. Because these achievers were essentially an over-the-horizon culture.
Suppose we do turn away from space exploration, under the twin weights of its inescapable difficulty, and the fruiting of "we've got enough problems here on Earth" arguments. And we become an island people. Islands are nice, aren't they? We know of the breadfruit. We know of the pig. We know of the wool sweater. We have our traditions, and none on the island ever stray too far from them, because, hey, it's an island and the elders and their enforcers are never far away. We like our sex. We like our yearly festivals. We have a way of crafting complicated little objects that are treasured by all at gift-time. We built sleek, fast boats which we use for zipping from one side of the island to the other. We have our problems with shoreline erosion. Disease. Fatherless families. Deforestation. Fits of symptomatic overpopulation. Economic outcasts. Agitators. Criminals. We deal with them the best our traditions allow. But what we all -- enough of us -- have agreed on, is that we can't be dreaming about other islands until we learn to really, really live on this one. After all, we've seen the few other islands we can reach; they're desolate and without fresh water. So we will be born, die, laugh, cry, bang back the nail by generations (is it moving?) here where we are, trying to really, really, finally get it right. Before worrying about what's over the horizon.
I've described a culture I couldn't care less about belonging to. Populated by nice well-meaning folks, bouncing with Baroque distractions, but fundamentally hollow for me. I'm not an explorer; I only play one through the movements of my hands and the traces they leave on a flat surface. But I work in my vein because what's out there is at least as important to me as what's right here, and should my culture ever manage to slam the lid on me, something akin to suffocation would ensue. Perhaps even, the fate of a grizzled renegade, stealing away on an illegal, resource-wasteful voyage along with other malcontents and canoe-builders, forced alike to become physical explorers because metaphorical ones no longer have the cultural oxygen to live.
And so my preachment, provoked by all the noise around the anniversary and the inevitable arguments of expense and worth, boils down to: If I can't have space, I'm gonna die. This, to one in a race of wanderers, is sheer practicality.
And it is the dreamers who, trying to avoid the painfulness of an ill-fitting culture, find it in their hearts to provide the rest of us with a smidgeon of the possible-- a flash of inspiration -- so that we can see our way beyond the cloying and invisible forces of culture that seek to keep our lives contained and proscribed.Much love and gratitude to the Mark Zugs of the world who find culture intolerable enough to dream well past its confines.
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