Mind Over Materialism
This morning at approximately 10:31 P.M. PDT (2:30 A.M. my time), a team of scientists from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project successfully landed a rover aptly named “Curiosity” on the surface of the red planet.
NASA ran a live feed of the proceedings, showing us a team of dedicated men and women huddled around computer monitors evaluating hundreds of individual data streams that detailed everything: the angle of descent, air and surface temperature, sensor health monitors, fuel consumption, and distance to target. Each scientist had a specific task, and as each rattled off their successful status updates during a nearly flawless descent, you could feel the doubt and tension escape from from faces young and old alike, and see the most pure and sublime manifestation of joy take its place.
They were radiant.
They were not alone in their jubilation. The feed was magnetic, and some of the best television ever aired. Millions of eyes around the world watched in quiet wonder: crowds gathered around a huge monitor in New York’s Times Square chanted, “Science! Science! Science!,” and the Internet unleashed a torrential flood of supportive wishes, prayers, cheers, and vows of everlasting love upon the men and women in the control rom. Stars were born; a guy with a faux-hawk almost instantly became the coolest scientist on Twitter, and the older gent with the long hair monitoring the telemetry feed moved millions to tears as he openly wept at the project’s success. There were jokes about monoliths, Marvin the Martian, Stanley Kubrick, and even the rover itself joined in on the fun with a subtle nod to Wil Wheaton’s long-term evangelizing of the project with the tweet:
I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL
Joy was the rule of the night as, once again, mankind demonstrated that intellect can overcome even the most labyrinthian logistical challenges through the simple application of a steady will. These NASA scientists, some so shy as to blush in the presence of a camera, proved that humanity can do great things when we choose to.
So why aren’t we choosing to do more?
Right now, our political leaders are pissing on each other’s shoes over whether or not to give the wealthiest of Wall Street yet another kickback in their never-ending quest for material comfort and freedom from responsibility. As the rest of the country suffers beneath an economic malaise brought on by the very groups the politicians are now trying to appease, sacrifices are being made that all but guarantee successes like tonight’s magnificent mission to Mars may not ever be seen again. NASA’s budgets have been slashed to ridiculously low levels, science and educational programs around the country have been butchered to the point of fiscal impossibility, or worse, saddled with a non-sensical Christian fundamentalist ideology that actively denies the kind of research necessary to advance human thought and, yes, bring us closer to God.
This is folly of the highest order, and should, realistically, piss off all but the most cynical of souls. Humanity needs to understand the universe. It is not a knowledge that can be bought with spare change dropped into some sort of corporate collection plate passed around once every blue moon. Science should never be a charity, subject to the fickle benevolence of materialistic masters, but a priority as religiously (yes, I used that word) protected as the Second Amendment (that was intentional as well) or the right to vote.
Trust me when I say the upper class in this country is doing pretty well for itself. Where you have your Social Security to look forward to (hopefully), they have millions squirreled away in such tax-free vacation spots as Belize, the Cayman Islands, and the snowy hills of Davos. Where you are working 60-70 hours a week, they’re blowing in the office to pick up a change of shirts for the next round of golf. While you live in total fear of what might happen to you and your family should tragedy strike, they strut about with near-absolute impunity – free from prosecution, or even condemnation for their mistakes or outright abuses.
Why, in the name of Christ, do our politicians reward the worst role-models society has to offer, and punish the ones we should exalt for the intelligence and devotion to an ideal. Greed is not a virtue. Knowledge, on the other hand, is. I could give a rat’s ass about where Jamie Dimon is going to find his next billion (though I suspect it will come at my expense), but I am entirely invested in where NASA is going to get theirs. If it takes a tax increase to further our intellectual development as a species, so be it. Tax the hell out of me, and while you’re at it, tax Jamie Dimon as well (that fucker needs to pay for something).
Go and take a look at the videos of the Mars Curiosity landing. Take a long hard look at the expectant faces around that room. Look at the hope in their eyes. Look at the way they lean into one another in expectation. Look at the way they depend on one another.
And finally, look at the joy on their faces as the realization that years of cooperation and collaboration have moved from the theoretical to the crystalline real. That is the beauty of science. That is the dream of progress. That is what it means to be alive. That is what it means to be human.