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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Friday, November 01, 2013

 
Would this cosmic message fly today?

by David Atkins

When America sent a reconnaissance spacecraft called Voyager out into great beyond in 1977, knowing that it would one day leave our solar system never to return, our scientists gave thought to the possibility that an alien civilization might discover it. We feared then, even more so than today, that our fledgling civilization might destroy itself utterly, and wanted any potential alien beings who might happen upon our craft to know who we were, what we were like, and we aspired to be. To that end we passed along diagrams of our language and numerical system, our location in the universe and the galaxy so far as we could describe it, details of our physiology, and pictures of our lives and civilization.

We also included a message signed by President Jimmy Carter, recorded in electrical impulses that any beings of advanced intelligence would be able to translate into words. That message, still hurtling out into space from our civilization to parts unknown, reads as follows:

This Voyager spacecraft was constructed by the United States of America. We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit the planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.

We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some--perhaps many--may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:

This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.
The tone and message of the message should strike the modern reader as oddly optimistic and daringly progressive. It clearly assumes that the modern nation-state is a temporary and anachronistic step on the way to a global civilization. It assumes that "our problems" such as poverty, illness and the like can, should and will be solved. It assumes that, much as the nation-state will be subsumed into a global civilization, so too will the denizens of Earth hopefully take our place in a greater galactic community.

It's a profoundly hopeful and inspiring message. It's also one that would sadly likely never be written today by a sitting President.

Imagine for a moment what modern Congressional Republicans might say if President Obama had included this statement. First, Republicans would demand to know why we were spending tax money on space exploration instead of cutting taxes on the rich. Then they would accuse the President of wanting to destroy America in service of a United Nations Agenda 21 conspiracy. They would accuse the President of arrogance in attempting to "solve the world's problems" rather than adhere to an ideology of private property protection and low taxation.

When the Left talks about how far the national conversation has shifted to the Right, this is what we mean. In spite of huge advances in civil rights, we live in a political society where sentiments such as those we placed on Voyager seem anachronistic and almost shockingly liberal.

That's a problem. It means that we as a society, as a culture and as a civilization, are making a headlong retreat from what makes us human, from what binds us to one another, and from what will ultimately drive us forward toward a successful future if we are to share one at all.

And for what? So that billionaires can steal more money while stoking jingoistic sentiments so that no one notices the optimism we have lost? That's shameful and inhuman.


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