‘The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…’
50 years after landing on the moon the media and scientists still dream about further exploring space. Yet the images of planet earth have shifted our focus: we return to where we started, with a renewed awareness of the place we have always lived in.
It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that recently it was the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon: news bulletins reported it extensively and many articles were written on this subject. My very first blog ‘Space travel and crime reduction’ for this blog site in 2012 was related to this theme. Rereading it, I can still fully subscribe to its content and I realise that it laid the foundation for the various themes I have written about in my subsequent blogs.
A major shift in vision
In the first blog I referred to the fact that looking at our planet from outer space had not only had a transforming effect on the minds of the astronauts, but in a wider sense this image of planet earth has generally made us more aware of what being part of life on a planetary scale is really like. Many other writers have been captivated as well by this major and hopeful shift in vision, and in time its significance has only increased. It reopened our minds to life’s mystery. I believe that through this shift we are reconnecting back to the original way of seeing and belonging that we all are born with, but somehow have lost sight of while growing up.
I was – and still am – convinced, that this renewed kind of awareness can also open up and heal the egocentric minds of criminals, by making them feel included in the human community again (and, in a larger context, even in the Earth Community). Although I acknowledge the great achievement of space travel and landing on the moon, I was quite disappointed that for the 50 year celebrations the media barely paid attention to this shift in focus on our own planet. Instead I heard enthusiastic reports about the ongoing competition between several countries (which now do not include just the US and Russia, but also countries like China, India and Israel) to be the first one to put a woman on the moon or about possibility of sending people to Mars.
A new civilisation?
It reflects the still dominant view among some politicians and materialist scientists who believe that space travel will sooner or later result in a new civilisation on some other planet. They dream about making a brandnew start, not unlike what the European colonists had in mind when they sailed to the ‘New World’ a few hundred years ago… Although it is argued that it is historically and scientifically relevant to keep on exploring the cosmos, it really is a continuation of our deeply ingrained imperialistic urge to exploit everything for our own benefit – which coincidently is also responsible for the current crisis we are now facing on a global scale.
It is not hard to see that the importance of further space travel and competition between countries is in line with the return to nationalism and increased border control that we can witness in many countries today. Although space travel has always been placed in the progressive light of exploration and scientific progress, it is also fed by conservative and defensive thinking. The conventional attitude towards extra-terrestrial life has always been a mixture of fascination and fear. We long to discover life on distant planets, but if their (highly intelligent) inhabitants manage to visit us first, somehow we expect them to have violent intensions. This is why defense departments and armies have always played a prominent role in checking the reports of extra-terrestrial visits to our planet.
The first woman on the moon?
To continue pursuing this road will not bring us in touch with ‘a close encounter of the third kind’, and – placed within realistic contexts i.e., the widening gap between the rich and poor, climate change and growing conflicts between countries – must rather be qualified as escapism of the worst kind. When it comes down to putting the first woman on the moon: this idea has probably been born in the same (white) masculine minds that once created the rocket from their own images, and is fed more by the international competition between the countries mentioned earlier than it is truly serving gender equality.
I hope the picture I have painted here is not too bleak. For I believe that we are dealing at the moment with just a temporary setback, and that underneath the surface planetary awareness born from the beautiful images of our blue planet is still spreading. It is quite obvious that since we have been confronted with the iconic images like ‘Earthrise’, something has fundamentally changed in us, psychologically and spiritually. The famous, prophetic words from the American/English poet and playwright T.S. Eliot are appropriate here:
‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’
When we compare the potential planetary options, isn’t it logical that we must choose the one planet that is already bursting with an enormous diversity of life? That is what the images of earth from outer space are reminding us of every day. A painful reminder perhaps, when seen in the light of history. To observe and acknowledge what we have overlooked in our direct vicinity or what we have consciously excluded, is to become truly adventurous and explorative. The only way forward is to finally start learning to cherish the abundant diversity of our own planet – in all senses of the word. I’m sure that this will have a beneficial, even transformative effect on anyone – criminals included. We just have to have a little more patience.
Photo on top: NASA, taken by Apollo astronaut Bill Anders on 24 Dec 1968.