Insurrections and Space Telescopes
MAGA, NASA, and Split-Trajectory America
2021. The year of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Two radically different trajectories in American culture, on display for decades and accelerating toward opposite destinies. Let’s call it split-trajectory America—MAGA and NASA, fascism and futurism, old violence and new vision, side-by-side, right before our eyes. [See Table 1]
MAGA came for the Capitol. Since MAGA leaders will not be punished, they will come for the Capitol again, via votes or violence. Unless philosophically defeated, it’s only a matter of time until they come for the telescopes, until MAGA comes for NASA.
Sooner or later, MAGA (or whatever incarnation is to come) will realize that their existential threat is not Antifa or critical race theory, but rather NASA and all the sciences and technologies fueling the rapid rise of religious non-belief—parallels illustrated later in this essay. The MAGA anti-science worldview has been building for decades, with creationism and conspiracy theory spreading almost unchecked in America since the shutdown of the Apollo program. At the same time, there has been a dramatic rise in religious non-belief, now including almost 25% of the population. That’s the “cancel culture” MAGA should be worried about!
Anti-Science in America
The MAGA anti-science and creationist forces have been politically ascendant since President Reagan followed astrology charts and embraced the “Moral Majority.” [See Table 2] During the Reagan era, the Moral Majority and its creationists (evangelical, fundamentalist, etc.) began pursuing political power to fend off secularism in the wake of Apollo and the 1960s, especially the rise of equal rights, feminism, and environmentalism. Attacks on the science of evolution accelerated, manifest in the Orwellian ideologies of “creationist science” and “intelligent design.” The MAGA ideology gained more power in both Bush administrations, billionaire Ross Perot’s “United We Stand” and Reform Party, and the Tea Party movement — all of which prefigure MAGA and Trump.
Let’s not forget what George H. W. Bush said on the campaign trail in 1988: “I will never apologize for the United States of America—ever! I don’t care what the facts are.” Dismissing the facts? Not a problem. Bush was elected president in a landslide. Welcome to Alt-Fact culture. Creationist science to QAnon.
Growing up in Texas, I personally saw this happening all over the Lone Star State. I saw evolution and genetics routinely dismissed, as were NASA’s scientific discoveries. Sure, the space shuttle was popular, but the expanding universe not so much—13.75 billion years of cosmic evolution does not fit into the biblical timelines. It’s hard to keep Earth the center of everything in a universe stretching across 100 billion light years. Easier to deny it all and keep the sacred texts to secure the borders of thought. This happened all across America.
MAGA flourished in the Trump-Pence administration, with mask-free Covid policies that enabled the deaths of over 1,000,000 Americans (updated May 17, 2022), while also denying that white-supremacy fuels police brutality and racist mass shootings— showing that MAGA is neither moral, nor pro-life, nor making anything great again. Meanwhile, NASA is peering ever deeper into the cosmos, revealing a vast, wondrous, and awe-inspiring universe of two trillion galaxies stretching across 100 billion light years.
The American Left is not without blame for this sorry situation. Though not anti-science, the Clinton and Obama administrations were hardly atheist or outspoken secularist. There’s too much fear of losing religious voters. Anti-science (or “I don’t care about science”), pseudoscience, and conspiracy theory are quite present among the Left, especially in the wellness and spiritual communities—where Q has gone viral. Of course, “New Age” nonsense has been proliferating since the 1970s. The only time the activist Left gets excited about science is with regard to nuclear power, climate disruption, or genetically modified food. The discoveries of astronomy and space telescopes, not so much.
Into this void, enter Fox News, Alt-Fact, MAGA, and QAnon, the next stage of conspiracy spanning Roswell to JFK, Ancient Aliens, fake moon landings, The X-Files, the History Channel, and The Matrix. After decades of exposure to religious and conspiracy propaganda, we’re left with the absurdity of MAGA tribes claiming to have taken “the red pill” and believing they are the forces of “truth,” forging a future going in reverse.
Two Trajectories in the Universe
It’s not that America is merely divided into two different media “realities,” such as Fox News versus MSNBC, Tucker Carlson versus Rachel Maddow, or Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity versus Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah. Rather, America has been launched on two utterly different trajectories, destined for entirely opposite coordinates in space and time, two tomorrows on a tiny planet in a universe that is either 10,000 years old or 13.75 billion years old. Think MAGA megachurches versus NASA’s Mission Control.
As it has with many possible futures, Hollywood saw the split-trajectory coming. Just as NASA was launching humans to the moon in 1968, Hollywood delivered the space age classics—Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Planet of the Apes sent humans into an anti-science future, while 2001 hurtled us into a vast universe in which a new cosmic philosophy beckoned. Amazingly, NASA followed these exact trajectories in the first two flights to the moon.
Apollo 8. In December 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon ten times and gave it meaning in a philosophical leap backwards—reading from the Bible’s “Genesis” to a global TV audience of one billion people.
Apollo 11. In July 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon and gave the moment a secular meaning with Neil Armstrong’s immortal line — “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
From anti-science culture to conspiracy theory to the mysterious majesty of the universe, Planet of the Apes and 2001 remain profound and prophetic in their expression of split-trajectory America in 2021.
Apes to Astronauts to Science Denial
2001 begins with a tribe of apes on Planet Earth and ends with humans contemplating their destiny in deep space, while Planet of the Apes begins with humans in deep space and ends with a tribe of apes ruling the humans left on Earth. More specifically, these ape rulers are a tribe of anti-science, evolution-denying, warrior primates who fight against any knowledge or any future that counters their “sacred scrolls.” When the top ape “scientists” are presented evidence of evolution, it is denied and dismissed as a conspiracy theory. The metaphor is clear — the ruling apes are the racists, creationists, and fascists of the future, and therefore destined for a return to the past. Make America Great Again.
A Blank Slate and an Alien Conspiracy
In contrast, 2001 offers the human species a truly new future, with the black monolith inspiring the evolution from apes to astronauts, bone throwers to space farers. The black monolith symbolized a blank slate for writing a new philosophy for the human species. Unfortunately, 2001 also presents a conspiracy theory which has replicated around the world. In the film, we learn that scientists have discovered a monolith on the moon and are keeping it secret from the rest of humanity, apparently for fear of social upheaval. This narrative was hijacked by Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods (1968), a worldwide best-seller that has morphed into the “Ancient Aliens” mythology, amplified by the History Channel’s long-running TV series, Ancient Aliens. Millions upon millions worldwide believe this pseudoscientific conspiracy, which is fast becoming a new religion.
Strange Destinies for America
Confronting the vast universe with visions of evolution and devolution, respectively, 2001 and Planet of the Apes end with a single astronaut in a strange place facing an even stranger destiny. In Planet of the Apes, the astronaut Taylor is on his knees on a beach, before the scorched ruins of the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, modern civilization had been destroyed, likely in a nuclear apocalypse. In 2001, the astronaut Dave is in a strange hotel-like suite, now very old and lying in a bed, pointing toward a black monolith in the room. Viewers are hurtled through the monolith to see the Star-Child staring at Earth against the cosmic void, waiting for a new philosophy for the human species.
In effect, Planet of the Apes and 2001 are existential and philosophical masterpieces which symbolize the metaphorical destinies of MAGA and NASA, the signposts for split-trajectory America.
One trajectory culminates in the Capitol Insurrection, with the goal of seizing political power though violence. It’s the Earthly future of evolution-denying, howling Q-Shamans ruling America under the directives of Disneyland, celebrity billionaires, and the sacred scrolls of conspiracy theory (Bible verses and Q prophecies).
The other trajectory leads to the James Webb Space Telescope. It’s the cosmic future of enlightened space-farers, having evolved from apes to astronauts and exploring ever more of the universe on behalf of the human species — tiny, but brainy and curious creatures, living on a speck of a planet in the Milky Way. Both trajectories are accelerating amid the consumer sprawl of America and the fossilizing wastelands of the Anthropocene.
The Radical Futurism of 2001 and NASA
Stanley Kubrick had it right — 2001: A Space Odyssey showed the need for a 21st century philosophy, an entirely new cosmic worldview for the universe unveiled by science and technology. Via the black monolith and the Star-Child gazing at Planet Earth, 2001 perfectly anticipated the philosophical challenge posed by NASA’s incredible achievements. When the final chapters are written about America in the future, NASA will go down as America’s greatest contribution to the human species. 2001 and NASA express the most radical kind of futurism, the need for an entirely new philosophy for human existence in the face of our new and ever-expanding view of the universe.
The Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes 
NASA has been on the forefront of space telescopes since 1968. Of all the space telescopes, two have become the most iconic—the Hubble Space Telescope and the soon-to-be launched James Webb Space Telescope.
The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble, who made the twofold discovery of other galaxies outside the Milky Way and the expanding universe. Since then, NASA has ramped up the cosmos on a massive scale—revealing a vast universe of galaxy clusters and giant stretches of expanding emptinesses, networks of stars and supervoids sprawling across 100 billion light years. Launched in 1990 and orbiting 350 miles above Planet Earth, the Hubble Space Telescope has shown the universe to be populated with two trillion galaxies and three sextillion stars, along with untold numbers of planets, supernovas, and black holes. The energy of the universe is destined to last for trillions upon trillions of years.
The Hubble telescope is soon to be followed by the James Webb Space Telescope, which will float in space a million miles from Planet Earth. Armed with infrared sight (and many other viewing technologies) and 100 times more powerful than the Hubble, the Webb telescope will seek out life on other planets and penetrate ever deeper into the universe. Who knows what discoveries lie ahead for NASA? [And the European Space Agency, which contributed to both the Hubble and Webb telescopes.]
The NASA Sublime
Hubble’s most famous images are the “Deep Field” images, wherein the space telescope was pointed toward tiny patches of “empty dark sky.” Gazing into the patches for days at a time, distant photons trickled in to reveal thousands of galaxies in what were thought to be expanses of empty space. The images are beyond epic, among the most profound images ever captured by a telescope.
The Deep Field images trigger the sublime—the moment when there is a tension between our perceptions and our reason, when our senses are overwhelmed, yet our minds can still order the percepts into knowable, pleasurable, and terrifying concepts. In such moments, we grasp three concepts simultaneously:
—the affirmation of human rationality and annihilation of our centrality
—our exaltation before the cosmos in tandem with the extinction of our species’ dominant narratives
—and the sense of human freedom in conjunction with our current void in meaning.
In our infinitesimalness, we can feel connected to the universe or crushed by its infiniteness. The sublime moment is poignant with emotional, cognitive, and aesthetic overload — what Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell called an “explosion of awareness.” Whether through moon landings or Hubble images, NASA has been the source of numerous sublime experiences. The sublime is not a mystical or religious experience; it’s a profoundly existential aesthetic experience. That’s the same experience we get on Dave’s journey into the Star-Gate in 2001.
The Philosophical Challenge: A Shared Destiny
No doubt our discovery of the vast cosmos and our non-centrality ranks not only as our greatest triumph, but also poses our most important philosophical challenge. We face the paradox of having discovered a sublime universe, and yet we are so tiny and insignificant within it that our existence might be meaningless. In this magnificent achievement are the greatest opportunities for human enlightenment—the sublime experience and “explosion of awareness” are the starting points provided by 2001 and NASA.
Collectively, space telescopes and the sublime images they reveal serve to connect the infinite and the infinitesimal in us — as individuals and a species — and clearly suggest a shared destiny for a diverse humanity on our tiny planet. Borders, nations, and tribal warfare become absurd in the sublime and in any sane philosophy that accounts for the discoveries of NASA and space telescopes. In my view, it is the sublime that unites and connects a diverse humanity to it evolutionary-cosmic origins as stardust, members of a single species, with everyone sharing universal human rights.
NASA and Religious Non-Belief
Precisely as the Cold War was ending, two media technologies were unleashed on human consciousness — the Hubble Space Telescope and the internet (followed by social media). The Hubble was launched in 1990, but was needed repairs and did not provide clear images until 1993. The internet began its global explosion in 1990–1991. The popularity of both technologies correlates with the rise of religious non-belief in America.
Prior to the Apollo program (1966–1972), religious non-belief in America hovered around 2–3% of the population. Since the Apollo program, religious non-belief has been increasing, especially since the Hubble telescope, the explosion of the internet, and the proliferation of social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
This should not be surprising because social media permit the bypassing of traditional distribution channels, especially for science information and science videos. Of course, most everyone wants to blame social media for the world’s problems, especially fake news and the hateful political tribalism spewing everywhere. But, just as social media can distribute hate and fake news, it can also spread truth and real science.
YouTube alone contains thousands upon thousands of science videos, some with millions of views. The Hubble Deep Field videos often have many millions of viewers. Plus, science series like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos are available online for repeated viewings. So are hundreds of other scientific documentaries. Tyson and Cox are among the growing number of celebrity scientists. Links to science videos, memes, diagrams, charts, and articles are shared throughout social media, from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest and beyond. I have seen these very things happen with my books, videos, articles, and graphics/diagrams.
There is zero doubt that NASA has played a key role in the rise of religious non-belief. Of course, some scientists are MAGA. Doublethink can infect anyone. Unfortunately, secular philosophy has failed to keep up with the radical futurism of 2001, NASA, and space telescopes.
The Failure of Secular Art and Philosophy
In 2001, Kubrick depicts a future in which humans are propelled into a massive and majestic cosmos, a universe in which we are not alone and have the potential to become enlightened about our true existence. That’s the message of hope in 2001, with the Star-Child appearing against the blackness of the cosmos, our planet in its gaze as the film ends. So far, secular art and philosophy have yet to etch the new narrative on the black monolith.
In the wake of 2001 and NASA, secular philosophy has failed to develop a widely-embraced narrative that provides a sense of hope, meaning, purpose, and a shared destiny for all the humans living on our tiny planet. Superheroes, tribal identities, and endless consumerism are nowhere near enough. Star Wars, SpaceX, strip-mining the moon, and terraforming Mars do not represent forces of a new philosophical enlightenment—they represent the same old tired narratives of tribal warfare, conflict and colonization, and ecological destruction of uninhabited wilderness territories.
At the rate we’re going, the U.S. Space Force will be run by MAGA and Houston’s Ted Cruz will be Earth’s first emissary to the Ancient Aliens. Greetings from the Planet of the Apes, where radical futurism is countered by paranoid fascism. Yes, “fascism” is the correct F-word. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
The Paranoid Fascism of MAGA
In contrast to NASA’s radical and hopeful futurism, MAGA is the incarnation of paranoid and hateful fascism. Just as NASA is pushing further into the universe, MAGA is seeking to go back in space and time.
Ultimately, MAGA and all its predecessors want to retreat to an America of a mythic, nostalgic, and romanticized past. It’s essentially a Disneyfied America, where U.S. history is purified and stain-free, with little regard given to the horrors of slavery or near-annihilation of native peoples. For some MAGAs, it is America of the 1950s, when TV was magical, the suburban nuclear family was the next utopia, and the Pentagon’s God-fearing nukes were winning the Cold War for the Christians and capitalists. For others it is a Disneyfied 1861 or 1776, where they can cosplay as Braveheart-style freedom fighters protecting the Constitution from anti-slavery Yankees or lead the Tea Party revolution against the British redcoats, who surely wanted to tax their guns and freedoms. Substitute Antifa and socialists and you have the enemies to be vanquished in 2021.
For decades, all inconvenient scientific facts — evolution, genetics, the expanding universe, trillions of galaxies, Earth as the center of nothing — have been routinely dismissed or countered by alternative facts. Such alleged “facts” are cherry-picked from the sacred texts and conspiracy theories. We are constantly told to be respectful of such beliefs because they come from religious Americans practicing their First Amendment rights.
Just because someone believes something does not make it true or sane or that we all must bend the knee. That’s especially true because the First Amendment clearly mandates the separation of church and state, a separation long under attack by the MAGA ideology. Just look at the Christian signs and flags at the Insurrection, along with the wooden crosses six feet tall.
Twitter Booting Trump: The Free Market in Action
Twitter and Facebook have every intellectual right to boot Trump and the Pillow dude from their platforms. That’s because there is no First Amendment requirement that media platforms be provided to people spewing lies, attacking sanity, organizing criminal behavior, and attempting a coup d’etat at the U.S. Capitol. That I will not hand someone my laptop to spout Revelation prophecies or Q theories does not mean I have banned someone’s beliefs. By booting Trump off their platforms, Twitter and Facebook showed the free market in action, the very “self-regulation” championed by conservatives in their defense of capitalism.
Surely, religious beliefs are protected from government censorship by the First Amendment. So are atheist and existentialist beliefs. All such beliefs should remain protected from government control. But MAGA’s religious freedom does not mean those religious beliefs should be from critique, especially when those beliefs are inspiring the overthrow of American democracy and a descent into madness. Time’s up!
After all, 1,000,000 Americans are dead because millions of true believers choose not to wear N95 masks and self-righteously believe God and the Second Amendment have their backs. Lulz. Only decades of anti-science creationism can inspire such absurd cosmic narcissism, the belief that God has a special insurance plan and eternal home for their mighty MAGA tribe—on a speck of a planet orbiting an ordinary star, in a galaxy of 400 billion stars, in a NASA universe of two trillion galaxies. And the all-knowing God or Creator has yet to take the time to photobomb a Hubble image to convince the skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and existentialists on a tiny planet. Terabytes of data, not one deity.
N95s are not needed, but AR-15s are locked and loaded. The pandemic is exaggerated, but Antifa is everywhere. Welcome to MAGA-land.
If a nuclear war happens with China or Russia, then remnants of MAGA might be ruling a few tribes huddled next to the radioactive remains of Trump’s Wall, an instant wasteland scenario like Planet of the Apes.
More likely, the wasteland will be a more mundane, subtly eroding America amid the 24/7 spectacle. MAGA yearns for a Christian Nationalist-White Supremacist consumer sprawl, populated with malls, megachurches, and sports cathedrals, all providing meaning and purpose by serving the tribal narcissism. The police will be militarized and the prisons will be packed, mostly with people of color. The Pentagon will be armed, precisely as the infrastructure crumbles, education collapses, and the ecosystems are trashed, from dirty lands to rising seas to C02 skies. Out west, there will be Trump’s Wall, patrolled by drones and border agents, chasing down immigrants and graffiti artists.
As with all fascist regimes, America will crater. No longer funded and overtaken by skyglow, America’s observatories will eventually become relics and ruins—their polished mirrors shattered by MAGA bullets.
Who needs science or cosmology anyway, when Q and Alex Jones foretell the future to come? Q is the new Nostradamus and Infowars is the new Revelation. The prophecies never have to come true. Screaming, scrolling, and sharing replaces thinking and reasoning, while the flag-waving masks the anger and nativist hate hidden behind the patriotism. Ford F-450s and Toyota Tundras are loaded and ready, armed with 6-packs and AR-15s, bumpers and rear windows tatted up with MAGA stickers, roaring down American streets and highways — Trump flags and Blue Lives Matter flags flapping in the wind. Four-wheel drive fascism, American ISIS.
President Trump and his sycophants sought to overturn a fair election, based on outright lies and evidence-free conspiracy theories from QAnon. Fox news personalities championed this nonsense, as did the My Pillow dude, straight out of the Q casting room. The insurrection was an attempted coup d’etat to install Trump as a dictator. Nothing has happened to any of the political ringleaders—Cruz, Hawley, Brooks, Gosar, etc. The 147 Republicans voted against certifying the election? All are still in office, facing no penalties. That’s why Trump will not be convicted. There is no “rational” Republican Party, there is only a GOP taken over by MAGA-fascism. Now Fox and many in the GOP are trying to gaslight everyone about what happened.
Seventy-four million Americans voted for Trump and most Republicans still approve of Trump, showing that armies of true believers are ready for a fascist America, with reason, science, and decency all tossed aside. Tell-tale proof is that the true believers simply don’t care if 900,000 (total updated January 2022) fellow citizens die horrible, lonely, suffocating deaths — deaths largely preventable by wearing properly-fitted N95 masks, not some filthy, paper-thin bandana dangling off their lower lips.
The evidence is overwhelming, MAGA ideology is not going away any time soon. Let’s not forget that the majority of Americans supported the torture policies of the George W. Bush administration. Now MAGA openly calls for the murder of politicians and the media. Believe them. They will turn their guns on the rest of us.
The Insurrection: Preview of “Planet of the Apes”
The attempted insurrection featured MAGA tribes scaling walls like apes in trees and freedom warriors going medieval—busting in and ransacking the Capitol. Inside, there was urine on the floors and feces smeared on the walls. The Insurrectionists chanted and carried Trump, Christian, and Confederate flags. QAnon T-shirts, tactical gear, plastic handcuffs, pipe bombs, and calls to kill elected representatives. All streamed live around the world via Parler, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
Easily, the most symbolic was Jake Angeli, the self-described “QAnon Shaman,” who wore buffalo horns, carried an American flag on a spear, and howled throughout the Capitol, while skillfullly posing for photo ops. Buffalo Boy eventually took his seat in the chair of the Speaker of the House, showing the world the full expression of the Trump-Pence regime and MAGA America — welcome to the Planet of the Apes.
2021: Fascism and Futurism
America remains torn between the sacred scrolls and a secular destiny, a split trajectory in 2021 illustrated by the violent insurrection and the James Webb Space Telescope. Paranoid fascism and radical futurism, side-by-side, right before our eyes. It’s like we are living in a split-screen movie theater watching Planet of the Apes and 2001 at the same time.
The warnings are clear. Secularists and religious non-believers (atheists, agnostics, scientists, etc.) will have to mobilize on a massive scale or it will be too late to save sanity and democracy. The “Science March”of 2017 is a good start, but is nowhere near enough. Intellectual and political activism is needed long-term to stave off a MAGA-run America.
Meanwhile, the ultimate challenge facing 21st century secular art and philosophy is to develop a universal narrative that connects the human species to the starry skies from which it emerged — to reconcile our cosmic irrelevance with a shared destiny of hope, peace, meaning, beauty, and discovery. Perhaps then we can begin transcending our current ideologies and creating a vision for an Earth-protecting and space-exploring civilization that is sane and humane, ecological and technological, optimistic and inspiring, meaningful and beautiful, respectful of other planets and life forms, and grounded in the art and science of the cosmos as best we know it.
If this fails, then astrophysicists and astronomy fans don’t be surprised when MAGA comes for the telescopes. First with funding cuts, then with violence. Don’t be surprised when MAGA uses their Second Amendment bullets to shatter the shiny mirrors of science and secularism at the world’s observatories. It’s only a matter of time. The warning was smeared on the walls of the Capitol on January 6.
1] There is increasing pressure for NASA to rename the space telescope. Here’s why. As explained by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, Lucianne Walkowitz, and Brian Nord: “James Webb, a career civil servant whose time at the Department of State under Truman included advancing the development of psychological warfare as a Cold War tool, was later the NASA administrator who oversaw the Apollo program. When he arrived at NASA in 1961, his leadership role meant he was in part responsible for implementing what was by then federal policy: the purge of LGBT individuals from the workforce. When he was at State, this policy was being carried out by men who worked under Webb.” The evidence suggests Webb clearly supported these governmental policies. Webb also participated in making “psychological warfare” a tool of the military industrial complex during the Cold War. Though Webb did great things for NASA during the 1960s, his overall legacy of homophobia and support of psychological warfare make his name the wrong name for the space telescope that follows the Hubble. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, Lucianne Walkowitz, and Brian Nord, “NASA Needs to Rename the James Webb Space Telescope,” Scientific American, March 1, 2021.