When you want to destroy someone you always define them as unpeople – not really human – monkeys maybe, idiots maybe, machines maybe, but not people.
-Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind
Our science and our technology have posed us a profound question. Will we learn to use these tools with wisdom and foresight before it's too late? Will we see our species safely through this difficult passage so that our children and grandchildren will continue the great journey of discovery still deeper into the mysteries of the cosmos? That same rocket and nuclear and computer technology that sends our ships past the farthest known planet can also be used to destroy our global civilization. Exactly the same technology can be used for good and for evil. It is as if there were a God who said to us, “I set before you two ways: You can use your technology to destroy yourselves or to carry you to the planets and the stars. It's up to you.”
-Carl Sagan, Cosmos
I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: the great initiative in this war is ours, the initiative to stop it must be ours… And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
-Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam
Though the Amtrak train from Oakland to Salinas comprises a small fraction of America’s railway network, there is an abundance of beautifully flowing scenery and inspiring curiosities to observe during this two-hour trip. These things – natural and manmade – exemplify the beauty of this country, and are testaments to the remarkable diversity of its geography and people. I often rail against the United States government, and rightly so, but sharing a train with a diverse array of citizens and visitors traversing the gorgeous inland landscape of the Central Coast is a experience which serves to reaffirm the fact that our nation has come a long way in the ongoing fight for the preservation and expansion of protected lands and seas, as well as in the defense and further attainment of liberty. Although we still have far to go to ensure that our nation and species can prosper in a paradigm of justice, peace, and freedom, we should be proud and appreciative for having made it this far.
I believe that the overwhelming majority (at least ninety-nine percent) of people on Earth are good, but that there is a bad minority which is better organized and therefore running the show. I believe that people desire to live in peace and freedom together, regardless of race, color, or creed (the eight million inhabitants of New York City are a testament to this). I believe that the United States of America is the most beautiful country I have ever stepped foot in, and although it’s painful to reflect upon the fact that the roots of our nation were founded on slavery, genocide, and annexation, I am grateful to those people have fought with their lives to save the natural places and soul of this country. But when I think of the treacherous, psychopathic, barbaric, despicable, and borderline-suicidal actions and ideologies held and exercised the corporate-sponsored government, military, and politicians who are carrying this nation forward, I am reminded of the difference between a nationalist and a patriot: a nationalist is one who supports their government and other predominant national institutions in any endeavor, however foolhardy or immoral; a patriot is one who speaks out against their government when it acts against the interests of its citizens, territory, and values, and can relate to patriots in other countries. A nation can only be as good as those individuals that reside within it, and like all individuals, our nation is flawed and fallible, capable of taking steps of both angels and demons. As Martin Luther King states in his sermon, Unfulfilled Dreams:
There are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do." We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, "Lord, make me pure, but not yet." We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul, "The good that I would I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do." Or we end up having to say with Goethe that "there’s enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue." There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.
Since its inception in 1776, the United States has been embroiled in conflict for 93% of its existence. We seem incapable of extricating ourselves from this vile habit and insane addiction to perpetuating war for the sake of money and resources. The United States Congress recently allocated $573 billion to fund the Department of Defense (which, prior to 1949, was called the Department of War). It’s important to remind yourself that aside from the fact that a significant portion of this money could be put to better use at home, these funds are being used to sustain the aggressive military force of an Empire that is inflicting death upon innocent people and ecosystems alike. When you step back and look at the world from a global perspective – that billons of human beings are scuttling about like microbes on this relatively small planet floating through space, and that we’ve created these nation-states with invisible borders which separate us, and therefore each major nation, locked in a global standoff, pours vast amounts of energy and resources into sustaining their individual militaries, fueling wars, and maintaining a system of nuclear weapons aimed at each other and capable of obliterating life on Earth – then the insanity of the situation becomes more evident. What are we doing attempting to annihilate each other like this? What are we doing pushing buttons to launch missiles which blow up innocent people and devastate this sacred planet? That almost every major power on Earth possesses nuclear arms and is prepared to destroy each other is absurd enough, but when you incorporate the fact that weapons manufacturing, warmongering, and bomb dropping comes not only at the expense of innocent human life, but at the expense of the ecosystems that all of humanity and most other plant and animals species in the natural world are dependent upon in order to survive, let alone thrive and prosper, it becomes imperative for the sake of our lives and future to identify the murderous monsters who are responsible for proactively sustaining this suicidal structure of inevitable self-destruction and remove them from power.
It is both heartbreaking and mind-boggling to watch humanity barrel down this current spiral of terror, toward an unknown yet unpromising abyssal destination, perhaps not unlike those which we have visited in the past, but maybe now for the final time. We have missed so many opportunities to turn away from this masochistic path and embark upon a brighter, more promising and sustainable one. Yet we continue to make the wrong choices, and in this possibly fatal sojourn we are unfairly bringing down everything alive in the world. 99% of all creatures that have ever lived on Earth have gone extinct. Our time will eventually come, yet we appear hellbent on accelerating the day of our demise. The existence of life in the universe and on Earth is an inexplicable and incomprehensible miracle. Endowed with the wisdom and comissioned with the honor to be stewards of the myriad marvelous creatures on this living planet – a planet that defies nearly impossible odds and is flowing with rivers, flourishing with forests, pumping with molten lava, coursing with seas, and is breathing like a lung and beating like a heart - we must cherish this world, learn from it, and defend it with our very lives if necessary, for without Earth we and everything we know are lost and doomed.
We use the word "monster" to describe an animal somehow different from us, somehow scary. But who's the more monstrous the whales, who ask only to be left alone to sing their rich and plaintive songs, or the humans, who set out to hunt them and destroy them and have brought many whale species close to the edge of extinction?
-Carl Sagan, Cosmos