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A Cosmic Pilgrimage

How can we endure when we continually fail to learn?

“Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”

Philosopher and astronomer Carl Sagan often pondered the idea of humans navigating away from our planet Earth and finding a new home among the stars. To him, as to me, this idea was a source of fascination and excitement — after all, the possibilities of where we could end up are theoretically endless. But it was also one of consternation. For our home is finite and the only way we can endure as a species is to emigrate from the shores on which we were born. To borrow a pertinent line from Chris Nolan’s Interstellar: “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”

Sagan spoke also of how the species to achieve this will not be our own. It will be one similar to us, for sure, yet different in even more ways. To what he was referring here was not a species with a scientific and technological capacity beyond our own — although that would of course be a prerequisite for such a monumental undertaking— but a species which has fundamentally evolved spiritually; in the mind, the heart and the soul. A species which has stripped away the chains of all the ‘ocracies’ and developed within itself an altogether more composed emotional canvas.

Picture, for a moment, a scenario where we’ve identified a habitable planet like Earth and designated it for human colonization. We harness the scientific know-how required to not only get there but to transport every member of our species. We could, for all intents and purposes, leave tomorrow.

At once the idea throws up a plethora of complexities, beginning, perhaps, with what would we bring and what would be left behind. Materials, resources, machinery, entertainment, ancient art and architecture — would we simply abandon history itself?

But that’s not what’s really wrong here. What prevents us from embarking on this cosmic pilgrimage to new lands and undiscovered worlds, as Sagan would put it. Just imagine day one. Where would boarders be drawn? Which religion would prevail and assert dominance? How would wealth be divided? Which economic system would be implemented — would the poor and working class remain poor and working class? Would the elite retain their wealth? What kind of structure, if any, would be in place?

In fact, perhaps even these questions are premature — let’s start with whether we would even bother taking everyone. Surely there would be some arbitrary system in place which prioritizes government officials and the rich, leaving the “lower class” or portions of it to carve whatever living remains on a desolate world we and our ancestors once called home.

In other words, it would be a disaster. An embarrassment. One can’t help but imagine some watchful alien species being impressed by the practical achievement only to hang their heads in dismay as we resort immediately to hate and land-grabbing. It surely wouldn’t take long for the first new world war to rip irreparable wounds in unspoiled land.

The simple fact is that humans, as we are in this moment, are simply not mature enough.

If history has taught us anything it’s that we don’t learn from it. That quote we opened with, which has been echoing in receptive ears since it was uttered, remains the most poignant example of this. Within the context Sagan was speaking about the past, yet can we truly distinguish these words from how the world is today? Have our rulers forgone their lust for war and dominance? It’s disguised in propaganda and rhetoric and fear-mongering nowadays (there’s no evidence of weapons but we say they’re a threat so we’ll just bomb them and take their oil), but it’s no less prominent.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine we’re a civilized society compared to generations past — most of us, even those without disposable income, enjoy luxuries not afforded to our ancestors and equality is ostensibly coming to the fore. We are, at the very least, finally recognizing that rich white dudes control everything and always have.

And yet we remain completely subjugated by systemic plutocracy and despots who bicker and start wars at the expense of the rest of us; selfish egomaniacs whose only desire is to gain just a little more wealth under the guise of being for the people. Nothing, in the most fundamental way of things, has changed.

The questions we must ask ourselves, therefore, are not mechanical and practical, but rather philosophical, abstract and moral. We know what we’re capable in the realm of science, what incredible leaps we’ve made and how much else is left to be discovered in the infinity of space. But none of this has truly evolved us as human beings with beating hearts and vibrating souls. From the earliest tribes trekking across continents to landing robots on Mars, we’ve always been pioneers and explorers. But we’ll never feel the exotic soils of those new lands between our own fingers until we truly come together as one intelligent, curious, united species.

That, in the end, is what we must figure out.