Sunday, October 16, 2016

Navigating the playground

Even normal elections are a little weird for me. This one, being anything but normal, is setting new standards for weird. It isn't so much the candidates themselves. American politics is a blood sport. The two dominate political parties of the USA have been at each other's throats for as long as I have been alive. Neither cares for anything but getting into and staying in power. Actually serving the people of the US is a distant second, if it is a consideration at all. Being leaders of a society helping set a course in history that benefits all of human kind? Never a thought at all. Though I don't remember the earliest of the 15 elections in my lifetime (16 is the one in the works at the moment) it seems to me, since Carter beat Ford, each has gotten a little more ugly than the one previous. A trend that seems to have accelerated on some kind of exponential curve since Clinton beat Bush I. But that isn't the reason I think elections are weird, and this one particularly weird.

There is this thing called “deep time”. It is the concept of time, not as it fits our human scale, but as it fits the history of the earth, the solar system, and the cosmos. I am a fan of the idea. I suspect a lot of sailors are. It is near impossible to be too full of one's self out in the big, particularly at night. If it is a quiet night with calm waters reflecting the stars back at themselves and no horizon to be seen, a small boat becomes a true spaceship, afloat, with the galaxy shining in all directions as far as the imagination can reach. The knowledge of billions of years passing while it all unfolds fits; the idea that our entire galaxy could easily be erased with the cosmos barely noticing doesn't seem outlandish. The evolution of the cosmos is mostly mystery, as is how our little lives fit into the show.

If allowed, the awareness of “deep time” (and its compatriot “deep space") will seep into and completely rebuild a world view, slowly filling the mind and heart with a perspective that is rare in a modern, western society. Deep time will erode the hubris of seeing the history of the earth as nearly identical to the history of the human race. It will erase the illusion that the evolution of the cosmos “led” to our scruffy little claim on intelligence in some preordained way. If one is lucky the delusion gets replaced with delight. All is mystery and we are the newest thing around, just getting started. We should be like children in a playground; laughing, discovering, and learning. And, in a lot of ways, we are. We have shot rockets to the moon and nearby planets. Two of our toys have left the solar system and are now in “deep space.” We have written stories like “quantum mechanics”, “string theory”, and “relativity” that, while not completely accurate and nowhere near complete, will help pass what has been learned about the cosmos on to the next generation.

But our playground has some bullies trying to spoil the fun, small minded little tyrants throwing fits and demanding that they get a bigger share of the cookies. They assault the ones weaker than themselves and group into nasty little gangs that often fight with each other. I, for the most part, think it a good idea to cordon them off into an empty corner of the playground and let them have at it. Sadly though, they tend to throw rocks around that hurt those not interested in their bickering. And they have their hands on big rocks, ones that could knock down pretty much everything and hurt everyone in the playground.

They can't actually destroy the playground itself, just the toys and shelters we have built on it. The idea that human race can “destroy the planet” is a bit more hubris on display. It isn't even likely that the human race can even destroy itself. The planet will, eventually, be destroyed. But it will take an exploding star to do the deed. Human kind will be long out of the picture by then, having either faded away or evolved into something new. Either way eons of the earth being a desert planet (think Mars) before the sun makes its final assault, will make it unlikely any intelligent beings will be around to rue the day.

Oddly enough, I think the idea of deep space and deep time, ideas that are new to western minds raised on western religions and philosophies, are helping spark the worst of the bullies. They are aghast at the idea that they aren't that important, that no one important is taking notice of them, that the cosmos looks upon their antics and tantrums with complete indifference. It is an idea, a knowing, big enough to knock the pins out from under a society built on a delusion of importance, and some are having a tough time coming to grips with the reality. We can make the playground a garden or a garbage dump, nothing will stop us from doing either one.

Anyway, elections are weird because they are always about the bullies. They are always about wars and borders, throwing rocks and stealing cookies. They are never about delight, learning, growing, discovering. The most childish (in the worst way) among us strive to win. Some of the equally childish (in the worst way) among us take up sides, tagging along behind the bullies hoping for a cookie or two out of the stash that has been stolen from others.

The child-like among us (in the best way) can't avoid the whole mess, much as we might rather be playing with our toy boats, learning how to swing on the big swing, or meeting and making new friends. For the time being, the bullies have taken over much of the playground.

Still, in my more optimistic moments, when the muse of deep time and deep space breeds hope, I like to think that the bullies are a minority, a temporary inconvenience, an aberration that attracts more attention on the playground than they deserve. I like to think that, someday, the rest of us will grow up enough to take their rocks away, rescue the stolen cookies, and go about the playground of fitting life into the universe without giving the (now harmless) bullies much thought.

But we haven't grown up that much, yet.


Leonard Webb said...

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”

Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

TJ said...

Leonard, I like that, thanks.

Dennis D said...

That's two of my favourite bloggers mentioning deep time

What are the odds of that happening?

TJ said...

Dennis, much of what I read has deep time and deep space as the underlying view of the cosmos; not much of a surprise since I tend toward science and space themed news sources. It is, and has been for several years now, at the core of my own take on the universe, our place in it, and all related subjects. Once in a while I mention "the magic" in this blog. Virtually every time I feel a touch from that mystery, the muse of deep space and time is nearby. It aways serves to put this life into a different context than the one that underscores the news cycles or days of working.

Human kind has yet to invent a system of government or economics that works very well, not a surprise when one remembers that we learned to write just several thousand years ago and that we have much in common with the tribal ape like creatures of our evolutionary past.

As for the reluctance of people to admit our pace in the cosmos; Einstein uncovered general relativity just 100 years ago and Hubble discovered the expanding universe less than 100 years ago. Seeing that it took the Catholic Church 350 years to admit that Galileo was correct about something as basic as the earth's place in the solar system, (and that happened just 23 years ago!) it isn't a surprise that some of human kind is struggling with the ramifications of deep time and deep space. Actually, I should probably be more optimistic about our species. All things considered we might not be doing all that badly in the "growing up" department.

Not that there is much evidence of that in the current political campaign.

Matt Mc. said...

I love the idea of a boat becoming spaceship in calm seas and open skies.