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The Long View

The shocks of this Age are the shocks of pace. Change accelerates around us so rapidly that we are strangers to our own pasts and even more to our futures.   Gregory Bateson comments, "I think we could have handled the industrial revolution, given 500 years."

In 100 years we have assuredly not handled it.   We manufactured an "Age of Discontinuity" (Peter Drucker) whose time horizon forward is terrifyingly close - 4 years in politics, 10 years in major corporations.   I feel serene when I can comfortably encompass two weeks ahead.

That's a pathological condition.

But I think it will pass, partly from its pure unworkability, partly from the move of some of humanity into space.   The project of space exploration, industrialization, colonization, and migration is so big and so slow and so engrossing that I think it will bring the rest of human activity into its pace.   If you want to inhabit a moon of Jupiter - that's a reasonable want now - one of the skills you must cultivate is patience.   It's not like a TV set or a better job - apparently cajolable from a quick politician.   Your access to Jupiter has to be won - at its pace - from a difficult solar system.

With the first color photograph of the Earth from its Moon, the whole Earth became a political idea and ecology a political movement which has continued to strengthen in its 11 years so far.   Though I have thought at times that the health of space perspective on Earthly activities has gone as far as it can, recently I'm not so sure.

The reach of human intelligence to the stars is an enormous undertaking.   When I grasp the reality of that, not just the words, but the actual project, a religious scale of presence that spans centuries comforts me.   Feeling comfortable and curious that far forward, and therefore that far backward, I begin to feel at home again.   Interested in events longer than the ego's prison of "my lifetime", I'm free to care for other large continuities such as the life of the Earth and the drama of human culture. Previously overwhelming urgencies, like the deadline on this book for me, fall into microcosmic place - worth doing, connected, but not urgent.

Religious-scale projects' - and their comforts - have often scourged humankind.   I'm thinking of Egyptian pyramids, Moslem jihads, Mongol hordes, Christian crusades, the Third Reich, world Communism, maybe science itself.  Part of their hazard is that they become their own universe - an infinite regress of self-reference grounded nowhere.

Space exploration is grounded firmly on the abyss. Space is so impossible an environment for us soft, moist creatures that even with our vaulting abstractions we will have to move carefully, ponderously into that dazzling vacuum.

The stars can't be rushed.   Whew, that's a relief.