this newsletter has never respected any deadline of any nature. I have always given absolute priority to have something relevant to communicate, never surrendering to self-serving celebrations. Nor would I have made an exception this time, and I would have waited, maybe for one month, for all the articles of the new number of TDF to be ready.
But the events of December 26th 2004, which occurred in Southern Asia, have decided otherwise. I thought that the new-humanist point of view can be of some help, in the assessment of such facts and, above all, in the formulation of new visions of the world and new strategies, more suitable to this age. Therefore here I am, trying to put in a logical order the jumble of thoughts lifted by the Seaquake of Sumatra and by the consequent Tsunami that struck all the countries faced on the Oriental Indian Ocean.
First of all I want to express my friendship, proximity and solidarity to all the populations struck by the disaster, and particularly to whoever (both residents and tourists) has lost dear people in the disaster.
In many quarters it was described as an epoch-making event, unprecedented, that strikes straight at the concept of humanity as a whole. We listened to considerations on the stinginess of Western aid, and on different ideological oppositions: prevention vs. business, ethical tourism vs. wasteful tourism, ecologism vs. consumerism, charity vs. aids for development. I also listened to criticisms of militarism that concentrates huge resources on destructive strategies, rather than on the protection of human lives and activities. And somebody called for a philosophy of values, able to supercede the cold economism of a politics that celebrated, early, the funeral of all the ideologies. For once, in what I read and heard on the media, it seems that science and technology were not targetted by the comments of opinion-makers and politicians. This is due, without any doubt, to the resurgence of the blind strength of Nature with all the brutal ferocity of an adversary: only our myopic haughtiness was able to make us believe that such an enemy was defeated and worthy of our condescending pity. I have heard someone quoting Japan, and partly also the emergent China, as virtuous examples of research and application of anti-seismic technologies and systems, able to concretely protect lives and buildings, in one of the most seismic areas of the planet.
I just want to mention, at glance, the ideological sterility of the ones which oppose the concept of prevention to the one of business: we can make business by the prevention, the safety and the reliability of the systems and the structures, as it was shown in Japan and other virtuous areas. If the business' objective is the protection and safety of human life, why should we demonise business? The (ethical) problem is how to extend such business (and other ones) and its benefits to poor areas. The (technological) problem is how to bring business out of the boundaries of our mother planet, creating safe artificial ecosystems, for us and for the humans to come. We need the business method, to work and to survive: it is still the only available exchange tool, that can be used (as all the tools of our culture), both in an ethical and in a non-ethical way. Last century saw various attempts of overcoming the market as socio-economic paradigm. All of those tries ended badly, and however they're not re-proposable in the modern post-industrial society. From those attempts, however, something we should have learned. As Nobel Amartya Sen told in an interview some years ago, the abolition of the market is a fanciful and self-defeating objective. A worth objective is, instead, the abolition of commercial barriers and monopolies, which still prevent the poors and the outcasts from entering the market and undertaking. To free the market, therefore, and to free the business: options that almost coincide 1:1 with the demand of an objective and free information, free from any affairs and patronages, be they of bureaucratic or monopolistic nature.
Undoubtedly natural disasters, in comparison to those provoked by man (typically wars), are much more worrisome, especially when they move the rotation axle of the planet, and they cancel in a few hours whole populations - something that even the mind of the worst tyrant ever existed could never conceive. We shall appeal to a science-fiction tyrant: Dart Vader, with his Death Star, the absolute weapon, endowed with a laser gun able to break a planet and to disperse it in minuscule pieces through the space. I believe therefore that the ones which spoke about epoch-making event are right. This event brings us to reason about the condition of extreme brittleness of us Humans, inhabitants the surface of a small planet in the midst of the Void.
I think that, during these days, many Earthlings formulated such a thought. There are, obviously, many different ways to react, according to the different metaphysics, nihilist on an extreme of the range, humanist on the other head. The discussion about prevention makes me, humanist, well to hope, provided that it won't quickly exhaust, just after the clamour will be appeased. The danger, induced by apparently incontestable events of such course, it is that after clamour depression will follow, sister and mother of the nihilism: there's nothing to do, if the future of our planet foresees an intensification of crust fractures, we cannot do anything else than to resign to the end of our civilization. I can foresee even the emerging of movements supporters of a suppository "justice" (natural or divine: up to your taste) that, as in the biblical event of the Babel Tower, sweep away or at least confuses our kind, seen as an avid and arrogant parasite, deserving a similar destiny.
Personally, I immediately want to put myself decidedly in opposition, to any position expressly or implicitly contrary to the defence of my kind and of the Civilization. I prefer to run the risk even to appear a bit disrespectful, toward the people died in the disaster, and at such extent I re-confirm my deep respect for all the victims of the cataclysm. As a new humanist, I maintain that it is our duty to save each life and its descent, because their work and/or their ideas could be precious to solve some of the problems we have to face. But I want immediately to propose a key of interpretation, perhaps not less worrisome, nevertheless set up to the hope and the good will, against any idea of renouncement and/or abandonment to the natural or divine fate. It will be maybe worth to remember that, also in the Jesus Christ's words, he encouraged "men of good will": such words didn't certainly suggest to abandon ourselves in the hands of Nature and its presumed moralizing actions.
To any religion of Death, whatever the aberrant metaphysics that inspired it - militarism, religions of the sacrifice, of the punishment or of the revenge, ecozism, rests of coercive collectivist ideologies by now superseded by history - we have to oppose a religion of Life, i.e. the union of men and women of good will, not resigned to the end of the only intelligent species of the known universe. In order to share and to support such religion, it is not required to believe in a Superior Entity, but obviously each one shall remain free, if he/she wants, to iconise his/her own faith in Gods or Goddesses symbolizing life, love, the continuation of our civilization, the liberty, the search of an higher ethics in our human relationships. And, why not, a more gentle relationship with the rest of nature. It doesn't mean to renounce to fight with nature for our survival,
to eat other species (animal and vegetal), and neither to be gentle because we are afraid of its revenge: we want to be gentle because we are human, we are intelligent, and we are
(ethically) superior to the ferocious nature's laws.
The secular ones, and all, obviously should constantly remember and to carry on the work of the figures of the past, men and women, great and small ones, famous and unknown ones,
believers, ateists and agnostics, which believed in the future of
our kind, and contributed to the cultural progress of our Civilization.
It should spontaneously be born (but it isn't, because our culture lead us not to see things that are evident in front of our nose since centuries) a consideration: as soon as we will establish self-maintaining colonies at least on another celestial body, as soon we will halve the possibilities of extinction of our kind. Please also see, on this topic, my "Answer to James Van Allen on Astronautics", in which I discussed exactly such aspects.
But I recently found, on the web, a wonderful metaphor, proposed by an American philosopher: David Buth. What is really amazing, is that a couple of years ago I formulated the same identical metaphor.
Earth is not sick: She's pregnant!
Two years ago I proposed a document to the yearly congress of the International Astronautic Federation, whose title was:
"Lady Earth, would you like to have a
baby?". The document discussed this concept indeed: a Baby Solar Civilization, given to the light by our Mother Earth, impregnated by the technological and cultural progress of human kind. In the paper, and in a book of mine not yet published, I discussed the role of the pressure in the process of pregnancy. The pressure grows up, and it's a dangerous process, that can bring to a disastrous abortion, and to the death of both baby and mother. However the pressure is useful, and inevitable, if we wanted that a pleased event followed to pregnancy. David Buth introduces some considerations of great relevance, speaking about the awareness of the pregnancy, and about the need of assistance.
Similar comments we can also find in a 2003 article of mine: "Why not to hope (and work) for a miracle??": Lady Terrestrial Civilization is pregnant, and it will give birth to a little baby Solar Civilization, but nobody takes care of such pregnancy, so we risk the abortion and the shutdown of the process. As in a pregnancy (or in a boiler) the pressure is growing up (number of individuals, increasing in a closed system). If we keep on not recognizing this critical process, and we don't start to assist it and to check it (opening at least a valve, to start modulating it), the boiler will explode or (in the opposite case) we will get the shutdown of the pressure with the abortion of the process. Today we could also say that such valve exists, and it appeared in 2004, year for so many reasons disastrous, that however also saw some events of enormous positive course. The "valve" is called SpaceShipOne, and opened the hope for a low cost access to space, finally affordable to private entrepreneurs of good will!
David Buth compares the pregnant biosphere to the hypothesis of Gaia, proposed by Dr. Lovelock. I owe to confess that the Gaia's hypothesis never attracted me too much, until now, since it was mainly used by the nihilistic thought. Obviously nothing prevents us to take out, from any theory, any conceptually positive items it might contain. Since in our globalised political strategies the space colonization is still (absurdly) considered less than an option among so many - a matter of speculation for a bit fanatical researchers - our biosphere is exactly in the conditions of a pregnant woman that isn't aware about her pregnancy, and even doesn't know that children can exist.
Buth says: a pregnant woman experiments an unsustainable growth in her abdomen, in her own reproductive organs. Just imagine how much such process would be appalling, if She didn't know the pregnancy. Likewise, Earth is experimenting an unsustainable growth of the human population - that, in our metaphor, is the Mother Earth's reproductive system. A pregnant woman bears changes in the chemistry of her body. Likewise, the biosphere is suffering climatic and chemical changes, of air and water, because of the pollution induced by human activities.
The pregnancy and the birth, before the advent of the modern medicine, could be very dangerous for the woman. The death of the mother or the child was rather common. Likewise, the nuclear weapons, the pollution, and the resources problems, threaten the civilization (although the biosphere has survived to very worse conditions). A conscientious lady treats her own body with greater care during the pregnancy - eating well, sleeping a lot, avoiding smoke and alcohol, and she submits herself to an appropriate medical monitoring. The implications for Lady Earth are obvious, considering that doctors or experienced midwives don't exist!
In our Mother Earth's metaphor, the task of humanity is obvious. We are here to help Mother Earth to give birth. We are the reproductive apparatus, and part of us is the fetus, that is growing. The dinosaurs failed, after a long period of success, because a comet or an asteroid, seems, struck the Earth and swept them away. Subsequently a kind able to fly in the space is evolved - and that is able to avoid the same destiny, expanding itself out of Earth. The expansion of the life environment of a kind is a rather frequent and well-succeeded survival strategy. The expansion in the solar system and, subsequently, in the galaxy, should assure a substantial and immense capital of survival to our kind.
I have wanted to put my matters together with those proposed by David Buth, not out of foolish boasting, but to underline their complementarity, and above all because it seems to me extraordinary that the same metaphor came to mind of two people, living thousands of kilometres of distance, and they never came in contact before! I also do want to read such fact as a kind of sign of the destiny (our history saw other miracles, and we could say that our kind reached up to here thanks to a long series of miracles; therefore why not to give a value to unequivocally positive signs?), or however as a proof of the great value of this metaphor, turned to the future and to the hope of survival for our kind and our Civilization! Close to the grief for the victims, together with doing our best to help the people struck by the break-up of the crust near Sumatra, this thought can perhaps help us to choose an active strategy, of prevention, of assistance, of acceleration in the development of the Space Economy.
One birth of ours is outlining, in many senses: a Baby Solar Society, a more ethical Civilization, a society able to use very better the abilities and the talents of all the Earthlings:
Mother Earth begun her contractions, and the pains of the birth are drawing near, let's take care of her, and let's help her to give birth!
I think that we are in serious delay. We should already have at least 20 years of experience of life and working on the Moon. We should be very much more in advance, in solving the main problems, about supporting the human life out of Earth: the artificial gravity, to fight the bony and muscular decadence; the defence against cosmic radiations; the generation of oxygen and water; the cultivation and breeding of food in completely artificial environments. Such delay becomes more and more serious: think if Mum pushed us out of her uterus before we are leastly ready to survive! It is therefore extremely urgent and vital relevant that this vision of pregnancy and birth spread more broadly the possible among all the Earthlings of good will: each one of us can do something.
The pages by David Buth was on the NASA' web site: http://www.nas.nasa.gov/Services/Education/SpaceSettlement/Basics/wwwwh.html
But misteryously disappeared during first days of
2005 (!). Now it is here.
A comment by Michael Martin-Smith, who kindly revised the English version of this newsletter:
You will find also in my book the idea that, if you follow the Gaia hypothesis (namely that the Earth and biosphere have helped to nurture each other) it is logical to see Earth's biosphere as a kind of Mother; the function of Mothers is Procreation.
We should also reflect that the ability to recover from the Asian tragedy requires aid from affluent countries and revived local economies; the move to limit growth in the name of ecology, as advocated by the Kyoto Treaty, directly opposes this possibility - it is all the more ironic that even the proponents of Kyoto offer no guarantees that we will delay global warming by more than a few years - even if we assume that the global warming we observe is all due to Humankind.
It would be ironic if the world sacrificed £150 billions per year and impoverished billions only to have little or no effect on climate change. We should surely look for cleaner and more efficient energy - but not put on hair shirts! This will help no-one.