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Can–Must–Politics Save Us?

In 2011, our local paper published a column by Charles Krauthammer. I seldom read the late columnist’s op-ed pieces, but in 2011 but the headline caught my attention and I was hooked: “Are we alone in the universe?”

His subject was the recent discovery of two Earth-size planets orbiting stars under conditions that might support life. Whether they could support Earth-like life is uncertain, if not unlikely, but apparently one astronomer believes that within a year or two we will find a planet of the right size and in the right place.

Krauthammer notes, however, that for all its excitement, a profound sense of melancholy blankets the quest to connect with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe because the universe responds with thundering silence.

In other words, we’re it, and that makes no sense. People in a position to speculate on such things say that intelligent life can exist elsewhere—that “they,” the others, must be there—but we find no evidence that intelligent life does exist. Why?

Short answer: Carl Sagan and others suggest that, tragically, advanced civilizations destroy themselves. “In other words,” the columnist writes, “this silent universe is conveying not a flattering lesson about our uniqueness but a tragic story about our destiny.” Is intelligence a curse, ultimately fatal? Apparently so. Grim stuff.

Bringing the point home, Krauthammer reminds us that biological pathogens and nuclear weapons in the wrong (human) hands could do the deed. After all, just seventeen years after homo sapiens discovered nuclear power, Russia and the United States came within inches of mutual (that is, global) annihilation. What will—what can—save us?

The answer, surprisingly enough, lies in politics, where politics is “understood as the ordering of society and the regulation of [humanity’s Promethean intellectual] power to permit human flourishing while simultaneously restraining the most Hobbesian human instincts.”

Some might think that we’re doomed for sure if it comes down to politics to get things right, at least until we realize that politics does not devolve to politicians (at which point the future does begin to look a little uncomfortable).  The fact is that we are all political animals, we are all involved in structuring humankind’s intellectual power to some kind of end. The only question is what that end goal—human and planetary flourishing, say—looks like. As political creatures connected to faith traditions, if not faith communities, we bring to the process a profound moral sensitivity and highly developed ethical considerations. Right and wrong, good and evil, the Golden Rule, the summons of Love, as part of the political process, might we really bring a just and flourishing humanity to fruition?

1 thought on “Can–Must–Politics Save Us?”

  1. I love this! OK whether there is other life or not, we are currently alone in our solar system and incapable of getting even to its farthest reaches with resorting to use of engineered voyagers. I watch and re-watch all of the programs about the success and failures of these space programs. I firmly believe we are special creatures and that God meant us to explore to the ends of the universe, so failing at life on this planet is totally unacceptable. Where will you bring this chapter in this book. I am intrigued. During my stint with Governor Brown I had the opportunity to meet many of our planet’s amazing people among them Jacques Cousteau, Rusty Schweikert who was on a moon mission, and Carl Sagan, who at the time was wrestling with his beginning of believing that there must have been a higher power involved with the creation of the universe. Interesting and fascinating man — very gentle, very low keyed; I would say almost shy. I realize how very fortunate I was to have had any little bit of time in the company of these men. I remember telling Sagan that I wish I would have been born more into the future so I could ride a space ship into the depths of stars and planets. Perhaps in another way, I still will!

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