Progenitors, Inheritors, or Inconsequential Players

A Social Studies post examining our past and future role in the Universe.

For as long as humans have inhabited the Earth, we have looked outwards, towards the vast expanse of space that glitters and twinkles in the sky. Always has the emphasis been on exploration of the Universe before exploration of our own planet; arguably, the Universe has been prioritized over exploration of even our own species. The differentiation between humanity, and the other species that we share our world with can only be the insatiable thirst for learning that drives us. ‘Wanderlust’ is a core component of what we are. You can call it the human condition, that which causes us to push our own moral, physical, intellectual and creative boundaries.

Our personal and individual struggles for meaning and purpose in an environment that does not provide one, cause us to have hope that answers to these systemic problems of human nature exist just outside our vision. We grasp at the stars and seek wisdom.

Even as civilizations have risen and fell, our greatest strength as a species has been the preservation and continuation of learning that has given us elevation to higher levels of consciousness; in turn, changing our focus away from internal survival challenges. In the past 100 years, we have progressed further and faster than any historian predicted we would. In the past 100 years, we have made discoveries that completely and radically changed all of our past understandings about science and our role in the blackness. Now, we are sending expeditions into the void, hoping to colonize other planets or to find the beginning of it all.

Scholars, scientists and other seekers of knowledge would argue that so long as we are conscious, it is our birthright to understand. That if we can observe, it is our privilege and our duty to observe. That if we have the capacity to create we must exercise that capacity in its fullest extent. But how can we justify the involvement of humanity in a scope far greater than our origins? As we reach out from our blue orb hanging in the dark, we threaten infinite possibilities with our presence – are we so arrogant a species as to believe that we are the only conscious inhabitants, and that we alone can exert ourselves unto a solar system, a galaxy, a universe? Even simply observing means we have irrevocably altered the course of both the observer and the observee’s path. Furthermore, if in our pursuits of the cosmos we can answer our own quest for self, what will be left? If all the destruction and suffering we have caused so far has not come close to satisfying the catechism in our identity (why are we here), then what right do we have to keep forging ahead?

For example: we have proven ourselves to be fairly ill-fitting custodians of but a single planet. How can we guarantee doing better on Mars, or any other planet that we aim to build society on? As private space travel becomes more and more realistic, will we repeat our mistakes of the past and let space become militarized? Will overly nationalistic leaders begin a space war in our pilgrimage outwards? Will we pollute everything we can in our own inflated sense of importance?Taking over that which is within our reach is narcissism at its finest.

There is a school of thought that would say we would be ethically wrong to prolong our species lifespan by raping and mutilating another planets resources – and the thought of expanding beyond the solar system to escape the threat of heat death five billion years from now is complete antithesis to them.

A different group of thinkers would be scandalized at the idea of not exploring. “I think, therefore I am.” These dreamers take that idea one step further, where it becomes: “We are conscious, therefore it is ours.”  Supporting this group is the very strong desire to sustain the survival and continuation of the human race, no matter the cost.

As always with questions such as these, neither answer is categorically correct. A Nihilist, someone who has no beliefs or values other than perhaps that of destruction, may agree with either side of the debate depending on whether or not they prioritize the corruption of humanity over that of the universe as we know it.

Where does our selfishness end? Where should it end?

This is the question I pose, and I am strongly looking forward to continuing to explore it in this years Social Studies unit.

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