Liddick: Eclipses and the Great America Humbling (column)
August 28, 2017
While watching last Monday's solar eclipse, it struck me that I was seeing a reminder from the universe of the place human wants have in the grand scheme of things: None. While we fancy ourselves Masters of the Universe, deluding ourselves by thinking that we really matter, we were reminded Monday before last that our preferences don't amount to a grain of sand on the shore of the cosmic ocean. Wish though we might for more time in the moon's shadow it moved on, obeying the inexorable laws of celestial mechanics. Clever though we are, we cannot stop an eclipse nor lengthen it by so much as a millisecond.
A predictable part of the solar system's dance, eclipses have been going on for a very long while: Neanderthals and much earlier, dinosaurs, saw them. They will continue to happen long after the only memento of man on Earth is a thin but ubiquitous layer of iron and aluminum oxides, mixed with abundant rare earth elements somewhere in the geological layer cake of Earth's crust. Nothing like witnessing an astronomical phenomenon to lend a sense of perspective.
So here we are, humankind in our teeming billions swarming over the surface of our planet. We are profoundly divided by many things: politics, faith, culture, history. We have committed gruesome depredations on each other in the name of these things, or to satisfy various appetites. Occasionally, some will do what is inconvenient to themselves to assist their fellow humans, but that is rare.
We are all members of the same species and mostly have the same wants. Security of life and possessions; long and healthy lives; reasonable prosperity and comfort; the satisfactions of family, friends and meaningful work are among them. It's not a long list. So it's not the what that sets us against each other; it's the how.
Certain of us think prosperity is best achieved by allowing markets to function in the freest way possible. Generally, they accept a greater range of outcomes as a price for better overall performance. Others believe that only the leveling hand of government can provide a decent living for all. They trade freedom — including the freedom to fail — for the surety of a mediocre income financed by levies on the best performers.
Some see governance as the right of all members of a society; saying only that guarantees the government will respect everyone. They risk chaos or paralysis to give everyone a say. Others insist that only a certain group have the right to rule based on family, class, wealth, race, religion or other factors. The latter often couple their claim to arguments about the moral superiority of those they wish to empower, providing stability at the cost of insularity.
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One faction argues that a nation-state with multiple cultures is stronger through diversity; they flirt with Balkanization in the name of equality. Another says that unity on basic social, political and economic concepts strengthens the nation; they buy cohesion by surrendering multiple viewpoints.
Some (our founders included) think that any speech which is not treasonous must be tolerated in the name of preserving basic freedoms. They wager liberty against outrage, favoring the former. Others think some ideas so unnerving they must be suppressed by any means necessary; they weigh freedom against hurt feelings and find for the latter.
None of these opinions are intrinsically wrong or evil. They are simply different approaches to the same basic ends. The people who voice them are likewise neither evil nor even wicked; they simply have different ideas.
We have ways of testing those ideas. Although mercurial individually, humans in groups are almost as predictable as the celestial mechanics that, every 18 months, put the moon's shadow somewhere on Earth for a couple minutes. Better, we have clear records in history about the impact of almost any sort of economics, government, society or any other conceivable human endeavor. They are what allow us to see true evil in human form.
Tragically, many cannot read the record and others do not care to; for them, history is just an unending litany of violations and betrayals involving politically correct cardboard villains and victims. This is purposeful smashing of powerful analytical tools by people who see their opponents as "irredeemables" and themselves as morally justified. And as such, possessed of special powers to discover and punish the devils among us.
Which only hastens the day when the moon's shadow will fall on an Earth devoid of humans.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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