World’s in a bit of a mess at the moment, isn’t it? Wars and conflict. Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK. The ice caps melting, species becoming extinct, pollution, internet trolling, fake news, stabbings, car bombs. If there are living beings on any one of those seven new planets the astronomical community has recently been getting so excited about, and if those beings can see us and what we’re up to, you wouldn’t be surprised, would you, if they’d taken one look at us and switched their lights off so we can’t see them any more – that way hopefully ensuring we’ll give up any thought of visiting.
What is it with us? We seem incapable of coming together and sorting out our differences without resorting – or threatening to resort – to violence in some form or other. If you were an inter-galactic psychologist and the human race came in for assessment, you’d mark them down as in urgent need of therapy and as needing to be kept off the streets while undergoing that therapy.
Something’s gone wrong. Or maybe it was never right in the first place. Go back as far as you like – in Europe at least – until the mists of time become impenetrable and you won’t come across any green and pleasant land where peace and sanity ruled. It seems we were always like this. So what’s the point? What’s the point of filling a planet with a race of beings who, as soon as they’re here, set about brawling, fighting and killing each other?
And yet, throughout the centuries, still small voices there have always been. They haven’t been much listened to, generally speaking. They’ve often been decapitated or even disembowelled for their trouble – or crucified, for that matter. But a lot of what they’ve said or written has somehow survived. Which may be seen by optimists as a good sign; that somewhere in the breast of opportunist, aggressive, warring man – (usually male, I’m sorry to say) – there beats a gentle heart. I don’t know though. I can’t help thinking that if we go on like this, we’re going to blow ourselves up or – more likely – so delay or even disregard the warning signs that are everywhere around us now, that the planet becomes uninhabitable and we all simply die off. Like so many of the birds and animals, wild flowers that once flourished around us. If an inter-galactic ecologist were to come round to the house of the human race and see how we’re treating things, they’d have everything immediately taken away from us as unfit to own pets, flowers, animals – in fact any living thing.
And yet, with all that, we’re capable of such lasting beauty, such creativity, such selflessness. Julian of Norwich, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dire Straits, Katharine Hepburn, Caravaggio, Martin Luther King, Ghandi – the list goes on. Do their works come from a compartment in the human mind entirely separate from and unconnected to the one that produces nerve gas, nuclear missiles – the one that discriminates and tortures? Or does each of us have within us the capacity for both? And if that’s the case, is it simply a question of choice – which way we go? Like – what shall I do today – paint the Mona Lisa or create a device that will blow the legs off people that tread on it?
No. There’s more to it than that. And I think we need to find out pretty soon what it is – and then act on it. Otherwise nobody on this planet, including babies yet unborn, might see the end of this century. Then those people on those far-away planets can safely switch their lights back on again.