Saturday 27 April 2013

Quaraxx-Anto : New Penpal

Dear Quaraxx-Anto,

I trust it is acceptable for me to use a much-abbreviated version of your name.  It was a pleasure to meet you at the intergalactic penpal conference, and I am honoured to be a window into my world, as you are into yours.  That being said, I am an imperfect pane of glass with a lot of dust and dew, a frame that rattles in the wind, and a view that is sometimes obstructed, typically cloudy, and always in the one direction.  I’ll do my best.

One thing I learned at the conference was that it is a little ridiculous to say, “our planet is in trouble.”  Everyone’s planet is in trouble, from meteors and comets and suns and moons and even unwanted visitors.  The Earth rock is no different, though we like to believe we’re a threat.  We haven’t mastered – or even apprenticed in – the power to interfere with its orbit around its star, to suddenly warp the polar balance, or to blow it into smaller pieces.  No, Quaraxx-Anto, my rock is doing fine.  Our civilisation and species, however, and all the other life with whom we inhabit this place – that’s a different matter.  

Another thing I learned at the conference was that it is a little redundant to say, “our civilisation is in trouble.”  Of course it is!  There wasn’t a single ambassador I spoke to who represented a world without risk.  Some were blas√©, of course, some cocky and preachy, others impoverished with passion (you know who I mean…).  But it’s only logical that life, consciousness and society encounter danger – indeed, how could these things exist without it?  Can life exist without death?  The Burog-Bora we saw in his fat green wheeling throne might say yes, since he/she has never died and can’t remember being born.  But I spoke to an engineer from Planet 4568322 (his name for it, not mine) who said that the constituent parts of Burog-Bora do experience death before regeneration, and that he/she cycles through matter.  It is likely that only 0.00001% of his/her matter is retained from about 1.6 billion years ago, the earliest verifiable date of his/her existence.  Consciousness passes on, but what is that, really?  Is the Burog-Bora at this year’s conference the same as the one from last, even if he/she does have the same memory, personality, and faces?  

One of our planet’s scientists and orators is a man named Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and I remember watching a speech of his some time ago.  It wasn’t in-person – because of our inherent physical challenges, all humans cannot be in the presence of all other humans at the same time, so we have recently developed communication tools to give the illusion of intimacy.  Anyways, Tyson said something I hadn’t really thought of before: that life is the logical consequence of complex chemistry.  I know this is probably obvious to you, but we humans have developed an exceptionalist attitude to the universe in our long isolation; we are alive, but we must be fundamentally different from the animals (the other species); and life may be composed of matter, but it must be altogether special, sacred, unique – fundamentally different from that matter.  When you think about it, though, it’s all the same substance following the same laws in varying circumstances.  The logical result of the Big Bang (I know, I know, but it’s what we call it here), in the current circumstances, is some matter; the logical result of matter in a universe this size, in the current circumstances, are an enormous, potentially incalculable number of stars and galaxies; the logical result of this many stars and galaxies, etc., are planets; on some of those you’re bound to get water, then amino acids, then simple life, to complex life, to intelligent life, to civilisation, to intergalactic penpal conferences.  

Anyway, I’m sorry if that was a little long-winded, but what I mean to say is that it’s all in a little trouble, all in a little flux.  Atoms split, chemicals explode, life survives, civilisation struggles, and there was that very weird six-planet, four-gender love polygon at the IPPC which could’ve ended up messy.

I mention that because I was going to start off this letter by saying, “our civilisation is in trouble.”  I was sitting near one of those communication devices I mentioned earlier, and it was all bad news – it’s kind of a joke here on Earth, that the news is all bad.  Perhaps we like it that way.  But it certainly makes a human feel precarious.  Millions unemployed and in the streets, vigilant or otherwise, sweatshop buildings collapsing, national leaders (we still have world leaders)  in their suits (we still wear clothes which identify class) rattling sabres (not so much), economies in trouble, debts soaring, and countless catalogues of half-beautiful, half-naked people trying to make me buy perfume (I don’t).  We have nuclear, biological and chemical weapons dotting the globe and under the apparent authority of a breathtaking variety of human egotistical masterpieces.  We have ethnic hatred, religious hatred, ideological hatred, historical hatred, sexual hatred, geographical hatred, and just plain guy-next-door tribal hatred.  There are people bombing other people for grand reasons, philisophical reasons, resource reasons, monetary reasons, absurd reasons, and no reasons at all.  We justify and condone the guy on the right and lynch the one on the left, but only after bidding for the interview and advertising rights to each.  We are too many, too greedy, and too dirty, and are cooking ourselves alive in the toxic soup of fix-it-tomorrow.  We’ve got new mobile phones and old mass poverty, new hamburger arrangements and old hunger patterns, new bullshit and old bullshit.  It’s all televised, shared, and entirely in someone else’s hands.  We all wonder who that someone is, but we are damn sure they exist.

That’s the state of affairs here on Earth – or, more of a snapshot from the grimy window.  Its frame is shaking right now, and as usual I can’t yet tell if the storm is a personal or a global one.  Is that a hailstorm or is it me jumping up and down?  Am I jumping up and down because of the hailstorm, or is it hailing because I’m jumping up and down?  Maybe that’s the problem with us over here, that we often can’t tell the difference?  Or, maybe that’s the point.

I for one am a hopeful member of my species.  It is said, even bemoaned, that this is an age of cynicism and decline, of reckoning and decadence.  But our tools of measurement are primitive, our examples are obselete, and our humanity is intact.  We have been in trouble before, aware of it or not, and we always will.  I don’t believe that forward progress or even survival is inevitable, but I do believe it is possible.  At least for a while.  

In the meantime, it is heartening to consider that, if there really is only one intergalactic penpal conference in all the universe, and if you follow the logic of logical conclusions, then we’ve quite possibly hit on the meaning of everything.  

I look forward to reading the dispatches from your ‘planet’ – I won’t bother spelling it out.

Until then,