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Category: Big Picture

Pique Experience
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Survivors” that pops up to the surface of my brainpan during moments of murderous frustration. I won’t go into the details of the plot; the tidbit I focus on is a simple confession that comes at the very end of the story.

The confessor is a Douwd, an immortal energy being with powers beyond mere human understanding. You know, the usual stuff. Anyway, he cops to Captain Picard that he did this really bad thing to some other aliens, the Husnock, who had killed his human girlfriend. He destroyed them all, he admits; not just the marauders, but every Husnock, everywhere in the universe — with a single thought.

Now, it should be said that the Husnock were bad. For the sake of this writing, let’s call them the worst aliens ever: cruel, violent, remorseless. So they definitely had it coming. Furthermore, no other life forms were harmed, just the Husnock. Still, to use your power to kill all of them in one terrible fit of pique is a sobering thought.

What if I could do that? What if I could respond to my own murderous frustration by killing all terrorists everywhere, or all despots, or all real genocidists? But then I think of that immortal energy being, with all his supersmarts and superethics, lugging around a conscience with 50 billion deaths on it, and I can feel the rage ebbing away. Truly, I am not wise enough to wield such power.

For just the gophers in my yard, though, I think I could handle it.
Help!
Here on Earth, life is sweet. Oh, there is plenty of suffering, to be sure. War, poverty, obsessive greed, and natural disasters all take their toll on humanity and other living things. On the whole, however, we are a caring species. We want to help; we try to reaffirm that life is not only sweet, but is also worth preserving for everyone.

Consider, however, star system 3C321. Two galaxies, orbiting one another, comprise the system. Each has a giant black hole at its center. Black holes are a little scary in general, but there’s nothing particularly alarming about such an arrangement.

The black hole in the larger galaxy, though, is sending out a monstrous jet of particles, X-rays, gamma rays, and other radiation. The jet is traveling nearly at the speed of light, out into the space around the galaxy. Even this phenomenon is not that unusual — except that this titanic bolt of destruction is slamming directly into the smaller galaxy!

The result, it is thought, is catastrophic. Tens of millions of stars will be affected. The wholesale destruction of planetary systems is taking place. Quadrillions of sentient life forms — many of them much smarter and nicer than we are — are being annihilated. And, if left unchecked, the obliteration will continue for tens, even hundreds of thousands of years.

And yet we stand by and do nothing!
The Same Boat
I have always been comforted by the notion that “we’re all in the same boat.” It carries with it the implication that, in spite of all our differences, we have something fundamental in common, something that binds us together — potentially in a mutually beneficial way.

Whether the ‘boat’ here is the planet, the nation, or the neighborhood, it will most likely succeed if everyone on board is working to make that happen. The ‘same boat’ idea is, in fact, part of the core argument for democracy itself. Since we all have a stake in a safe journey, we should also have a say in how the boat is managed and maintained -- and where it should be headed. We should decide our own fate, that is, not a king, not an oligarchy, not the Koch brothers.

I suppose you could take the Ayn Rand approach and imagine that we all have our own separate boats and navigate them as we see fit. In some ways, that’s true; in most ways, however, it’s a crock. Nothing really big or important is accomplished by lone individuals. We need each other to do the big stuff. Furthermore, we are by nature social animals, destined to succeed as a group or not at all.

I also think that the ‘same boat’ notion is an argument for hope — unless you’ve completely caved in to a cynical world view. We might be tempted, for instance, to throw someone off the boat just because they don’t agree with us or because we don’t like their face. To do so, however, would be to deny our own humanity — and to betray any higher aspirations that still exist in us. I prefer to think that most of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do that. You can call that an article of faith on my part, but cut me a break. Right now it’s the only thing standing between me and hopeless cynicism, and if it fails, I won’t give a damn about the boat or anything else.

So the boat sails on, and its best (and possibly only) hope for a safe voyage is as a truly joint venture. Our fortunes, whether we like it or not, are bound together by our common aim: survival — and maybe the dream of happiness.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon