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    Regarding the Pain of Others, Decontextualization in the Media, and the American Penchant for Apathy

    The radio program To the Best of Our Knowledge recently aired several interviews as part of their Regarding the Pain of Others broadcast.  The episode featured interviews the war photographer Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004), author of Regarding the Pain of Others, and Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar, creator of “The Rwanda Project” and who traveled to Rwanda during the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide there.  Susan and Alfredo make numerous significant points, and transcribed below are some of the points that hit home for me.   (Sidenote:  if you’re interested in reading an excellent book on the Rwandan Genocide, as wells the roots of several other conflicts in Africa, I would highly recommend Bill Berkeley’s The Graves Are Not Yet Full.)

    with Alfredo Jaar:

    Steve Paulson: What did you come away understanding?

    Alfredo Jaar:  I felt that human beings can do terrible things to each other.  This is something I knew of course from history but I had never experience this in such a vivid and personal way.  I went away feeling ashamed of being a human being. I went away want to commit suicide because I couldn’t believe that, as a human being living in the world today, I had allowed this to happen.  I felt guilty.

    Steve Paulson:  Because there were news reports that this was going on while it was going on, and in fact there were plenty of reports that something terrible was going to happen even before it did.

    Alfredo Jaar:   Absolutely, but unfortunately it was on one hand played down; second, most media did not use the word genocide so we would not intervene because, as you know, there’s a convention that forces countries to intervene if it is officially a genocide, so the State Department asked not to use that word and most media complied.  The way the media works today – everything is decontextualized.  You open a paper, you might find a couple of photographs about this horror, but next week you have the new model from Toyota, and the next page you are invited to take vacations in Hawaii at a great price by this airline, and then you move on.  So, everything is decontextualized, so an image of pain, of suffering, is drown in a sea of consumption in the media today.  So it’s very difficult to affect change through the media in the way it’s built now.


    Image from: The Graves Are Not Yet Full

    Interview with Susan Sontag:

    Susan Sontag:  There are two pivotal moments in the history of war photography.  One is the Spanish Civil War, where for the first time a war was covered by photojournalists, most famously Robert Kappa, who had cameras that were portable.  Before that photography was basically the camera on a tripod, so the photographer was not going into the thick of battle.  But once the portable Leica and film that could shoot thirty-six images before reloading was developed, you had the photographer going into battle and producing images which really set the standard for what war photography could be.  That was on the whole very partisan photography – the famous images from the Spanish Civil War are all from photojournalists who were on one side, namely the Republican side; they were against  the fascist rebellion lead by Franco which did in fact triumph.  And the Vietnam War, that was the second turning point where again, most all the photography was taken by partisan people who sympathized with the suffering of the Vietnamese and of the American soldiers – and they were not for the war.  And a lesson was learned from the Vietnam War by governments making war: that was that one must not let photojournalists have free reign.

    Steve Paulson:  And you don’t see that anymore.  I mean, in the first Persian Gulf War there are very few pictures of actual combat.

    Susan Sontag: Actually, the model for that was in an even earlier war.  A small war waged by Prime Minister Thatcher; and when the British expeditionary force was dispatched to Argentina to recapture some islands off of Argentina that the British owned, Thatcher essentially forbade journalistic coverage or controlled it so thoroughly that virtually no battle scenes or scenes of the carnage and the deaths were caused in that war [sic]…

    Susan Sontag:  It’s absolutely true that there is voyeuristic impulse in many people, in most people, and they will slow down to look at the car wreck and then say, “Wasn’t that terrible?”  We are attracted in some way to these images; the basis on which we’re attracted is rather complicated.  Maybe it’s that we want to experience that we are safe.  You see, if I can go back to the idea of the whole book, Regarding the Pain of Others, what does the title mean?  It means that we are safe, and we’re looking at something happening to other people, but we’re not there, we’re here.  We’re here looking at a magazine or a newspaper, we’re in front our television sets, we’re looking at images on our computer, and the terrible things are happening somewhere else.  So why do we do want to look at them?  First of all we think that we ought to look at them maybe, we have an obligation to look at them, to know what the world is really like, maybe we have a particular identification with the struggle or particular interest in it, maybe we’re testing ourselves to see if we really can look at terrible things, like a kind of ordeal.  But I think in all of these expereinces something is happening which I think is real and at the same time very questionable, that it’s there and its’ not here, and if you’re not looking at it, you’re not responsible.   

    Steve Paulson:  In a sense it removes us from the suffering, and I don’t want to overplay this, but we can perhaps feel a little more virtuious by going through the pain of looking at these, but also in the back of our minds we know that’s not us, we’re safe, we’re innocent.

    Susan Sontag:  One, it’s not happening to us, and two, we’re not doing it.  Now the second assertion may be a little questionable.  If you’re country has gone to war with another country, do you have a responsibility to oppose that war?  I think that the images tend to make us feel passive, but I don’t think, as I used to think, that they necessarily desensitize us.  I think they only desensitize us when we’re told, “This is a, age old conflict, there’s absolutely nothing to be done about it, it’s hopeless,” then I think you say, “Oh that again,” and you switch the channel.  But if you have been told that something can happen, something can be different; if you have another political context, I think these images can be very mobilizing and I don’t think you get used to them.

    Steve Paulson:  Well, also, I think we tend to feel these days that given the reach of the modern media, that we see everything, that we see all the horrors, but that’s actually not true, we don’t see the worst of it.  Going back to the September Eleventh attacks.  We saw repeatedly the planes smashing into the World Trade Center, we saw almost no images of the dead bodies, and clearly they were there, but people choose not to show those.

    Susan Sontag:   Yes there was a great deal of largely self-censorship, which of course is the most powerful form of censorship, of the images of World Trade Center and the Pentagon – there are virtually no images of the destruction of the Pentagon and of the people who were killed there – and there were a lot of photographs that were taken, this is well known, of very gruesome things at the World Trade Center.  And what was the reason that the people who control the media gave about this?  “This isn’t helpful,” or something you hear very often, “This isn’t good taste.”  Now I’m very suspicious when people talk about good taste as a reason for not showing something.  It’s felt to be unpatriotic, it’s felt to be demoralizing, there are all sorts of reasons…

    Steve Paulson:  Well, the other reason that’s often given is that it would be disrespectful to the families of the dead, that somehow it would be dishonoring the memory.

    Susan Sontag:  Yes, but that’s because Americans have the rather obscene habit of thinking that American lives are worth more than anybody else’s lives and American lives have an entirely different value than other people’s lives.  We don’t have a problem about showing a foreign dead, we have a problem showing American dead.*
    African-American Civil War Soldiers Burying the Battlefield Dead, Library of Congress.

    *I disagree with her last point.  If U.S news media regularly showed the foreign civilians massacred abroad by tax-payer-funded weapons; if the American public had to contend with an onslaught of images of manifold dismembered bodies of women and children destroyed by the bombs and bullets we’ve manufactured and launched, then many of our nation’s problems would be solved.  The American people would demand an end to these wars, we’d bring the troops home, close foreign military bases, save hundreds of billions of dollars, and no longer would be washing our collective, figurative hands in blood.  But instead of doing the smart and moral thing, we’re wading neck-deep in ignorance and consumerism, and shall one day drown in it all wondering what we did to deserve this.


    Irish Hunger Memorial – Part I*

           Illuminated on the interior tunnel and exterior walls of the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan are a multitude of quotes and excerpts pertaining to the Great Famine which haunted Ireland between 1845 and 1852.   During this famine, approximately one million people died and another million emigrated from Ireland, thus reducing the country’s population by 20 – 25%.  The quotes and excerpts portray the grief and horror that Irish suffered during this sweeping famine, and are glimpse into the suffering that millions of people presently endure for want of food.   (If you want to read an amazing novel on the Irish Famine, I would highly recommend Famine, by Liam O’Flaherty.)

    Here are some of the quotes, mostly written by Irishmen, who comprise a disproportionately high number of incredible writers:

    In a country that is called civilized, under the protection of the mightiest monarchy upon the Earth, and almost within a day’s communication of the capital of the greatest empire in the world, thousands of our fellow creatures are each day dying of starvation, and the wasted corpses of many left unburied in their miserable hovels, to be devoured by the hungry swine, or to escape this profanation, only to diffuse among the living the malaria of pestilence and death.

    -Isaac Butt, The Famine in the Land, Dublin University Magazine, 1847

    Fever and dysentery and dropsy have already recommended the work of death, and the solemn and sober conviction on my on my mind is that unless prompt and adequate means are adopted to arrest this terrible calamity not hundreds, not thousands, but the great population will be swept, as with the besom of destruction, off the face of this land.

    -Samuel Stock, Rector of Kilcommon, To Prime Minister John Russel, 1847

    Eviction notice and evictions [1846 – 1854]: 188,346 families, approximately 974,930 persons.

    -Tim O’Neil, Famine Evictions, 2000

    In some cases, it is well known, when all other members of a family have perished, the last survivor has earthed up the door of his miserable cabin to prevent the ingress of pigs and dogs, and then laid himself down to die in this fearful family vault.

    -James Hack Tuke, A Visit to the Connaught in the Autumn of 1847

    A brooding stillness, too, lay over all nature.  Cheefulness had disappeared, even the groves and hedges were silent, for the very birds had ceased to sing, and the earth seemed as if it mourned for the approaching calamity, as well as for that which had been already felt.

    -William Carleton, The Black Prophet, 1847

    The habit of pilfering potatoes and cabbage, and even plucking wool from the backs of the sheep in the fields, is common, but it is induced by destitution; a constant struggle is proceeding between humanity on one side and hunger and nakedness on the other.

    -Father Lyons, Parish Priest, Kimore Eris, Co. Mayo 1835

    God shares with the person who is generous.

    -Irish Proverb

    The land in Ireland is infinitely more peopled than in England; and to give full effect to the national resources of the country, a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.

    -Thomas Malthus, An Essay of the Principle of Population, 1798

    Here I found a company of would-be intelligent Irish and English aristocrats who were professed enemies of the poor Irish, calling them a company of low, vulgar, lazy wretches who prefer beggary to work, and filth to cleanliness…it is an established law of our nature to hate those we oppress.

    Asenath Nicholson, Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger, 1847

    1996: More than 25% of the world population lives in poverty.  1.3 Billion live on less than $1 per day.  160 million children are moderately or severely malnourished.

    -UNDP Report, 1997

    The Irish Famine, a litany of death, suffering and emigration, left an indelible mark on our psychological landscape.  It resonates profoundly in Ireland and the throughout the global Irish family.  Famine has long ceased to haunt Irish homes, but for millions of our fellow human beings, its deadly march continues.  In commentating victims of the Irish Famine, we must renew our pledge to feed the hungry and to end the scourge of famine and poverty worldwide.  We all live in each other’s shadows.

    -Mary McAleese, President of Ireland


    *I did not transcribe the quotes on the exterior walls, but will send Divided Core’s brightest and most peripatetic contributor back to NYC for this purpose next March. 


    Dr. Andrew Wile on Human Chauvinism and Consciousness

           This year, I received some bad news, the specifics of which are irrelevant (nothing that affects my physical state of health, only personal career goals).  After telling me the bad news, the Indian man, seeing me on the brink of tears, said an amazing Freudian slip which fit my life perspective precisely.  He said, in broken English, “Aaron, everything happens for no reason.”  I smiled and shook my head because I couldn’t agree more, for I have always reminded myself that good things seems to emerge from the worst of circumstances (and vice versa), that even in death there shall spring life. 

            On Wednesday I heard a 1998 speech from holistic health hippie, Dr. Andrew Wile, broadcast on KPFA as part of their fall fundraising drive.  Wile seemed to have had a similar “everything is going to be okay” perspective insofar as humanity’s  fate on Earth.  I would highly encourage you to listen to the whole speech (start at the 35 min. point of this video).


    Dr. Andrew Wile:

                It’s nice to be among friends.  I wish I could tell you, I wish I could join in all the warmth of this occasion to tell you that the revolution in consciousness is moving right ahead, and that we are about the transform government and external reality as a result of that, but, know you, it ain’t so.  And I say that as somebody who goes through the Iron Range of Minnesota and passes through airports and looks around me, and I have to tell you that I feel that the majority of human beings that I encounter operate mostly out of fear, guilt, and when people operate from those emotions, they are dangerous to themselves and to others.  We are very small minority, a very small minority – and have no illusions about that –  and whether our minority will grow fast enough and be able to influence humanity fast enough to avoid the catastrophe that is certain to come if we persist in the ways that we now persist, I don’t know. 

              And if we can’t, if it may be, as it appears – that our ability to manipulate the environment – our technological ability – is disparate with our ability to control our own emotions, that may be a fatal flaw in our species, it may be.  If it is that has to be alright too because I feel, and this is based on a lot of my experiences with substances that we all know and love, that deep down everything is all right and it’s the way it’s supposed to be, and there may be a lot of drama in between, but it’s all alright.  I upset people a lot when I say – but this is true – that I am not a human chauvinist.  If our species destroys itself, which is a possibility – I don’t think there’s any way that we can destroy life, by the way, or the life process, or consciousness, which I think preceded life and preceded the human organism and the human brain – if that happens, it’s okay with me if something else gets a chance, and if the life force experiments with a another form; that’s fine, that’s okay, too. 

                    I hope that doesn’t happen, I will work to try to keep it from happening, but either way it’s alright.  Now, if there’s any hope of keeping that from happening, it has to involve basic change at the level of consciousness.  And particularly it has to involved basic change in the nature of science and technology, which has become the religion of our society…

  by Alex Grey


    Alan Watts Commencement Speech: The School-Work-Retirement Hoax

           The following section of the Alan Watts lecture transcribed below pertains to the school-work-retirement hoax that many members of first-world societies find themselves trapped in.  I have a good job at a hospital, and I say to myself, “I like my job,” but once when I was camping in the mountains I ran into an accountant who was hiking with a free-lance artist and I had to revise my views on how great I had it as a result of interacting with them.  The free-lance artist was traveling the world and going camping whenever she pleased, whereas the accountant said to me that these were the only four weekdays that he was able to take off all year.  I replied, “Yeah, it’s crazy that we can’t manage to find the time to take off and to…”  He finished by sentence by saying, “To actually live.”  I was pretty much in the same boat as him.

             I still am in that same boat.  I work with several people in their 50s and 60s whom are never happy at work but endure the grind for money.  I tell myself that I will never be like them because I vow to build now a means of support that will prevent me from being 50 and 60 years-old and having to work at a job that I dislike.  I think a huge problem is that older people have not cultivated a passion throughout their life, and after retirement they feel lost because they don’t know how to spend their time.  Furthermore, too many people let their health deteriorate and thus are unable to fulfill their dreams due to their own physical limitations.  Currently, I sometimes work side jobs, and I’ve realized that this whole working for others thing on my free days is a way of taking the easy way out.  Instead of doing the hard thing, which is to sit down and produce creative work, I choose to go work for someone who has in fact build something of their own and is a manifestation of their dreams, I and rationalize working for them because I need money when I fact I could just as easily make the same amount of money in the same time by doing something like drawing a piece of art and selling it.  What I am describing and what Alan Watts mostly talks about can be interpreted as “first-world problems,” but he communicates a critical point:  that if we are tricked into valuing the wrongs things – the things that separate us from nature, each other, and the mental and physical places that help us forge a spiritual connection with the cosmos – then we increase the chances of collective self-destruction and decrease the chances of living together or alone as happy, independent, and intelligent people.

    Alan Watts:

              Now, I’m particularly interested in what Dr. Weaver said about the attitude of the family to children because we have an absolutely extraordinary attitude in our culture and in various other cultures – high civilizations – to the new member of human society.  Instead of saying, “Thank you,” to children, “How do you do? Welcome to the human race; we are playing a game, and we are playing by the following rules… We want to tell you what the rules are so that you’ll know your way around, and when you’ve understood what rules we’re playing by, when you get older you may be able to invent better ones.”  But instead of that we still retain an attitude to the child that he is on probation; he’s not really a human being, he’s a candidate for humanity.  And therefore to preserve the role of parent or to preserve the role of teacher, you have to do what they do in the Arthur Murray School of Dancing, which is that they string you out; they don’t tell you all the story about dancing because if they tell you you’ll learn in a few weeks and go away, and you’ll know it, but instead they want to keep you on.  And in just this way we have a whole system of preparation of the child for life, which always is preparation and never actually gets there.

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel

               In other words, we have a system of schooling which starts with grades.  And we get this little creature into the thing with a kind of, “come on kitty, kitty, kitty,” and we get it always preparing for something that’s going to happen.  So you go into nursery school as preparation for kindergarten, you go to kindergarten as preparation for first grade, and then, you see, you go up the grades until you get to high school, and then comes a time when maybe if we can get you fascinated enough with this system you go to college, and then when you go to college if you’re smart you go to graduate school and stay a perpetual student and go to be a professor and go round and round the system.  But in the ordinary way they don’t encourage quite that, they want you after graduate school, or after graduation – “commencement” as it’s called, beginning to get out into the World with a capital W – and so, you know, you’ve been trained for this and now you’ve arrived.  But when you get out into the world at your first sales meeting they’ve got the same thing going again, because they want you to make that quota, and if you do make it they give you a higher quota.  And come along about forty-five years of age, maybe you’re vice president, and suddenly it dawns on you that you’ve arrived, with a certain sense of having been cheated because life feels the same as it always felt and you are conditioned to be in desperate need of a future.

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

               So the final goal that this culture prepares for us is called retirement.  When you will be a senior citizen and you will have the wealth and the leisure to do what you’ve always wanted, but you will at the same time have impotence, a rotten prostrate, and false teeth, and no energy.  So all…the whole thing, from beginning to end is a hoax.  And furthermore, some other aspects of the hoax, just for kicks:  you are involved, by in large, in a very strange business system which divides your day into work and play.  Work is something that everybody does, and you get paid to do it because nobody could care less about doing it – in other words, it is so abominable and boring that you can get paid for doing it.  And the object of doing this is to make money, and the object of making money is to go home and enjoy the money that you’ve made.  When you’ve go it, you see, you can buy pleasure.  And this is a complete fallacy; money never can buy pleasures because all pleasures depend upon not putting down a symbol of power – money – but upon disciplines.  In other words now in Sausalito, where I live, we have pier after pier full of fine boats – motor cruisers, sailing boats, all sorts of things – which nobody ever uses because they’ve been bought on the falling for the ad line that “if you buy this thing you will have pleasure, you will have status, you will have something or other.”  But then they suddenly discover that having a boat requires the art of seamanship, which is difficult but rewarding, therefore nobody has time for it and all they do with the boats is have cocktail parties on them on the weekend.  And in myriads of ways, you see, you go home – we’re the wealthiest people in the world – and you would think having earned your money and go home you would have and orgy and great banquet and so on, but nobody does, they eat at T.V dinner, which is just warmed-over airline food, and then they spend they spend the evening looking at a electronic reproduction of life which is divided from you by a glass screen – you can’t touch it, you can’t smell it, it has no color, except maybe if you’re very wealthy it has color, but by and large it doesn’t – and you look at this thing, and you have a strange feeling, you see, that the whole procession of grades that was leading to something in the future, to that goodie, to that gorgeous, voluptuous goodie that was lying at the end of the line, it never quite turns up.  And this is because from the beginning we condition our children to a defective sense of identity.  And this I think is the most important feature in the whole thing: that a child grows into our culture – and I repeat, this is not only in western culture, it is equally true in Japan… We condition the child in a way that sets the child a life problem which is insoluble, and therefore attended by constant frustration.  And as a result of this problem being insoluble, it is perpetually postponed to the future so that one lives – one is educated – to live in the future, and one is not ever educated to live today.

    Die Elster auf dem Galgen.jpg
    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Magpie on the Gallows

               Now I’m not saying that the philosophy of carpe diem – let us drink for today for tomorrow we die, and not make any plans… what I am saying is that making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present.  Because when you make plans for the future and the mature, if you can’t live in the present you are not able to enjoy the future for which you have planned because you will have in you a kind of syndrome whereby happiness consists in promises, and not in direct and immediate realizations.  So long as you feel that tomorrow it will come… as we say in common speech, “tomorrow never comes.”   But everything is based on the idea that you will get it tomorrow, and you can enjoy yourself today, so long as tomorrow looks bright.  But Confucius once said, “A man who understands the Tao in the morning can die contently in the evening.”  That is to say that if you have ever lived one complete moment you can be ready to die, you can say, “Well, that was it, that was the good, that… I’ve had it,” you see?  But if you’ve never lived that complete moment, death is always a guy who like comes into a bar at two-o-clock in the morning and says, “Time gentlemen, please.”   And you say, “Oh please, one more drink, not yet.”  Because you haven’t really had the feeling that you ever had it, that you ever got there.

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

    Here’s a short animation, done by the South Park guys, paraphrasing some of the points transcribed above:



    We Stand to Lose Everything

    We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.

                                                                                                                      -Carl Sagan

             As the 100th anniversary of World War I rolls around, dignitaries and diplomats are commemorating the costly victories and tragic losses of that brutal and gaseous four-year melee which resulted in the deaths of somewhere between ten to sixteen million people.  World War I set the stage for its horrific sequel, World War II, which showcased another four years of cataclysmic and agonizing destructive mayhem, replicated genocides, the ghastly human penchant for mass murder, and the creation of a Hell on Earth in which millions of people died on battlefields, in death camps, and of disease, starvation, and lack of sanitation in galactic pits of unfathomable misery and suffering.  World War II then set the stage for the Cold War, in which the United States, the Soviet Union, and eventually other jingoistic nuclear powers held humanity hostage by means of threatening the aggressive use of apocalyptic warheads capable of annihilating human life on Earth.  In the Cold War, the U.S and the U.S.S.R sparked numerous conflicts fought vicariously through various third-world states in a series of proxy wars that galvanized and stimulated the lethal weapons industry which then, as in now, fed off the manufacturing of bombs, tanks, war planes, guns, landmines, and bullets, and has killed millions of innocent men, women, children, and other beautiful forest and sea-dwelling creatures that had nothing to do with the insane quarrel between the bipolar megalomaniacal superpowers and the psychopaths who dragged the world the brink of thermonuclear oblivion.  Due largely to these three conflicts (WWI, WWII, and the Cold War) and the implementation of economic policies stemming from flawed ideological bulwarks (Capitalism and Communism), as well as the flat-out neglect and heartlessness exhibited by the haves and projected upon the have-nots constituting the bulk of the global community (in 1945, the global population stood at 2.5 billion; by 1970 it was 3.5 billion; today, it is 7.2 billion, with 220,000 people added each day), the 20th century is calculated to be the bloodiest in human history where upwards of a hundred-million people are estimated to have died violent deaths.  Enter the 21st century.   Despite the ostensible end of these major conflicts, and within the context of a temporary, albeit mercurial, equilibrium of geopolitical power in the international arena, nine countries are currently stockpiling and maintaining an arsenal of over 16,000 nuclear weapons which can obliterate civilization on Earth instantaneously.   

            Today, as conflicts rage and tensions flare between nuclear powers (the United States, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, India, China, North Korea, the UK, and France), humanity stands the same distance from the edge of a nuclear holocaust as it stood during the height the Cold War, when weapons were being tested, developed, and shuffled around the world in planes, trains, and submarines by crazy men wearing suits and uniforms who perceived all those that appeared different from them as subhuman enemies, and treated the world as giant game of Risk.  If the current course of international political affairs is maintained – with all these senseless and devastating wars, these inhumane conflicts that bring out the very worst in our species and see us reduced to cold-blooded barbarians on the battlefield and apathetic, desensitized, tax-paying automatons who do not see the indirect consequences of our decisions and actions at home – we will bear witness to the aggressive detonation of nuclear weapons between nations and it will likely set back the advancements made by our species by a thousand years.  It is an absolute miracle that since August, 1945 a state has not yet again dropped a nuclear weapon on another state, but the laws of probability dictate that an eventual outcome of the deadly formula operating within the international arena will be nuclear war, it is only a question of when and where.  Once this happens and humanity spirals into its darkest hour, we may realize what we have lost.


    Image from:

            We will have lost the greatest thing that we have ever known and that is the balance of life on this miraculous planet.  We will have lost our chance to amend for our mistakes and restore the ecosystems that we have destroyed, to treat nature with respect and explore this rare and beautiful world in awe of the glorious wonders and fascinating creatures that exist and flourish upon it.  We will have lost our humanity – the chance to work out our differences, to help others, to pick them up when they fall down, to learn from each other, to create art, to travel, to make friends, to make love, to have children and raise them so that they may live to realize their full potential.  We will have lost the chance to discover the universe, to last long enough as a species to see if there are organisms living beyond our solar system and to have our minds blown by the contents of the worlds that revolve around other suns and distant stars.  After a full-scale nuclear war, we will have lost everything. 

            Due to our high intelligence, humans often feel entitled to do with the Earth as they wish, to take what we want and partition it up as we please.  Yet when the missiles fly over the surface of Earth there are no borders or nation-states mapped out below, there is just land and water and ecosystems and creatures.  When a bomb detonates it detonates on Earth, destroying a part of the system of life that the party whom launched the weapon depends on for survival.  As with environmental destruction, weapons also destroy innocent animals that have an interest to live out their time on Earth, but have no say or significant means of resistance as we slaughter the natural habitats of this planet wholesale.  In a grand historical context, the human species has not been around for very long.  If the age of the universe is represented by a 400-sheet roll of toilet paper, with the dinosaurs coming in on the 19th sheet from the end and going extinct at the 5th sheet from the end, then on this toilet paper timeline human beings appeared only on the last millimeter of the last roll. 

            Take care of this planet; stop abusing it and each other, rise up against injustice, remove those from power who would see that this world be carved up and sold off and humanity enslaved.  Once different cultures realize the multitude of values that they share in common, including an appreciation for nature and humanity, we will see how we’re getting played against each other and will begin to dismantle the structure of power which threatens life on Earth, and we will begin to build a different structure which respects and preserves life.   So let’s get our act together and clean this planet up, before the aliens arrive.   

            The conventional bombs of World War II were called ‘blockbusters.’  Filled with 20 tons of TNT they could destroy a city block. All the bombs dropped on all the cities during World War II amounted to some two million tons of TNT, two megatons. Coventry, Rotterdam, Dresden and Tokyo – all the death that rained from the skies between 1939 and 1945 – hundred thousand blockbusters, two megatons. Today, two megatons is the equivalent of a single thermonuclear bomb, one bomb with the destructive force of the second world war. But there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The missile and bomber forces in the Soviet Union and United States have warheads aimed at over 15,000 designated targets. No place on the planet is safe.

            The energy contained in these weapons – genies of death, patiently awaiting the rubbing of the lamps – totals far more than 10,000 megatons, but with the destruction concentrated efficiently, not over six years but over a few hours. A blockbuster for every family on the planet.  A World War II every second for the length of a lazy afternoon.

            The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 70,000 people. In a full nuclear exchange, in the paroxysm of global death, the equivalent of a million Hiroshimas would be dropped all over the world. And, in such an exchange not everyone would be killed by the blast and the fire storm and the immediate radiation. There would be other agonies. The loss of loved ones; the legions of the burned and blinded and mutilated; disease; plague; long-lived radiation poisoning the soil and the water; the threat of stillbirths and malformed children; and, the hopeless sense of a civilization destroyed for nothing. The knowledge that we could have prevented it and did nothing.


                                                                                                                                                                              -Carl Sagan, Cosmos