Negative is as humans do

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Stephen Hawking, world renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist, after studying the big questions of us humans (a form of Where’d we come from? What’re we doing here? Where are we going?), decided that our salvation as a species lies in space.

When he says, “Our genetic code seems to include selfishness and survivalist instincts,” he concludes that because we continue to procreate beyond our ability to feed ourselves and in the meantime ruin our nest so we can have air conditioning at all times and 2,000-pound vehicles to drive two blocks to buy a pound of bread, we better concentrate on manned (or as he corrected himself, “personed”) space exploration.

Sounds reasonable, but think a minute. As Earth shrinks and sickens with our procreation and selfishness, it might be true that our survivalist instincts would be put to better use exploring other places to live than in continuing to hope for the best here as we consistently maim and kill one another and our planet. It is inevitable that sooner or later one of us is going to use the weapon we invented that will ultimately kill us all and poison this small blue dot anyway.

But that probably means that even if we do look outward rather than homeward for our salvation as a species, we’ll no doubt be taking our inventions with us into space, thus dragging our death march to other planets, galaxies and universes. So, why bother exploring at all?

If humankind is so brilliant to discover how to make language and write poetry, make music as touching as birdsong and dramatic as thunder, decipher the physics of earth in order to incorporate these findings into food and flight and flush toilets, design electronics that can give us access to all our world and its knowledge, and, yes, take us into space, I think because we also fell in love with killing it has turned out to all be for naught.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” said prison guard Strother Martin in the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke.” That’s for sure. What we have here is a need to pause a bit and work on human relations. Surely we have enough inventions and new toothpastes for a day or so; how do we learn to get along? How do we choose to use black powder not for killing each other but just for making fireworks? How do we figure out we might keep our words and deeds in check instead of saying hateful things to and about others? How do we just say no to, “Well, if I invented it, I guess I have to use it”?

Learn some discernment, humans. Learn some restraint. Or maybe it’s just kindness that we need. Be kind to your babies so they will grow up kind to others and not despair at their own inadequacies as to shoot up a school, a movie theater, a dancehall.

Is it possible, do you think? Or are we simply the sum of our parts? However capable of genius, we are a bit warped and crooked, tempted by power or getting even, so we’re willing to use the sum of ourselves in whatever way comes into our minds, knowing but not caring that the thought, the invention, the not caring may hurt others as well as ourselves.

That our brilliance is really our spoiler means we are not brilliant at all, but as Hawking says, selfish. We are not survivalist in relation to neighbor, community, planet. We can talk the talk of goodwill toward all but we can’t quite give up the smugness of top-of-the-food-chain misconception to walk the walk.

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