Thursday, April 4, 2013

The big dreams are hidden

There is a need for projects that require exceeding our current abilities. When we are pushed, we can achieve great things. A prime example I think, was the space race. What the Americans especially pushed themselves to do when confronted by the possibility of Russian dominance of space was quite simply, awe inspiring. It was expensive yes, but the benefits that flowed from it far surpassed the money that was put into it. The political will faltered and now NASA seems to remain, perpetually 20 years away from putting a man on Mars.

It's not that these projects don't exist any more. They do - I'm thinking here of the various plans currently being formed to bring asteroids into earth or moon orbit and mined. The SpaceX challenge got us privately owned space flight. And I'm not just talking about space exploration. There are groups that would see us use our knowledge and abilities to decrease human suffering. There are projects aimed at bringing sustainable and non-polluting electricity and refrigeration to large areas that currently don't have it. The thing to notice though is that they all tend to be privately led rather than public ventures.

I'm not entirely sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the plus side, thing are getting done. On the downside though, these things are not in the public eye. Our societies are not looking to the better worlds that we can build. In the debates about climate change the general response of governments has been to submit to the primary source of activity, unfortunately in this case, opposed to any activity at all. It's as if the governments of the world have opted to follow rather than lead.

And it's not that it's not possible financially, for governments to lead the way. The choice is one of the distribution of funds. As much as I would like humanity to be striving outwards into space, I think it applies just as much to other projects - reducing the effects of poverty, living sustainably or making lives longer and better.
When someone says, “We don’t have enough money for this space probe,” I’m saying, “No, it’s not that you don’t have enough money. It’s that the distribution of the money that your spending is warped in some way that you are removing the only thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow. You remember in the ‘60’s and 70’s, you didn’t have to go more than week before there was an article in LIFE magazine about, “The Home of Tomorrow,” “The City of Tomorrow,” or the “Transportation of Tomorrow.” All that ended. After we stopped going to the moon, it all ended. We stopped dreaming.
-Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the defunding of NASA. 
The big projects are there, but because the governments are involved any more the public doesn't see them. Which means that we end up with the problems of everyday life as our focus, they become our life rather than problems we have to solve so as to be able to create a better world.

Thus ends my somewhat maudlin reflection for the day.

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