Image Source BBC
A Soyuz rocket leaves the Bainkour Cosmodrome to take a new crew to the ISS, representing the greatest achievement of our species and all that is good in it. It is symptomatic of a remnant of the pioneering spirit that has led us to the domination of our biosphere and made us the most successful species (in terms of complexity and versatility) that our planet has ever seen. It is no mean achievement, and many times in our past we might have become extinct had it not been for some fortuitous circumstances coupled with our own ingenuity. What has distinguished us from all other species goes beyond what we label "intelligence". It is not merely the capacity to process information and manipulate the environment with our opposable-thumb-equipped appendages, but the desire and the drive to learn and explore and stick our neck out, that has set us apart.
In the past the great expansions of our species and the great migrations (including recent ones like the American conquest of the wild west and the Russian conquest of Siberia and the far east) have been driven by economic factors - a thirst for resources and food, driven by the people at the bottom of the pyramid, who had the least to lose and most to gain from taking risk and braving the dangers of the unknown. The rich might finance the discoveries and administer the empires, but it is always the poor who actually make the land their own and make it productive, and provide the expendable numbers who die and reproduce to push ever further the boundaries of the domain of mankind.
We already dominate the land masses of our planet, and we are fast stripping them bare and the unsustainable nature of our civilization is making itself obvious to even the most obtuse among us. Millions of our fellow men go hungry because we just cant be bothered about feeding them, our civilization has insulated most of us from human suffering and has insidiously sucked us into a vortex of shallow entertainment to the point where we are perpetually bored. This is a result of the complete lack of opportunity for worthy exploration and meaningful risk in our societies today. The only risks we take - in mountains and rivers and jungles - are for our entertainment and pleasure. Perhaps today, even when so many of us have so much leisure and vast resources and knowledge bases at our command, the number of explorers and pioneers as a percentage of the population is at an all time low. And so our kids do drugs and play video games and preach jihad when they should be picking up the skills that will stand by them on some worthy task.
The reasons for this web of interrelated problems lie in the fact that our species is at a crucial point in its history, we are at the base of a great leap, one that we cannot break up into manageable hops and cannot hope to take in the natural course of events - because, the next phase in the expansion of our species must play out in the vastness of space and the depths of the ocean. It is not possible for individuals or small groups to participate in this,without heavy investment from the defining institutions - nation states - of our era. The very nature of the challenges we face is such that they require us to act together as a species rather than as a collection of random individuals, and so far, we have shown ourselves to be quite incapable of doing anything of the sort. We have been vacillating for decades if not centuries, bickering and butchering, we have become soft and feeble minded. The lives of men - and any meaning that might be found in them - are determined by the quality of the ideals and utopias they choose to pursue, and we have spent too much of recent history in the bloody and perfidious pursuit of narrow, contradictory and stunted ideas. Men need worthy challenges and dangers to bring out what is best in them, men need impossible odds and mighty causes to bind them together and it is up to our leaders, who are in the privileged position of being able to allocate the truly vast resources brought together by our civilization to give mankind the chance to galvanize itself, to sally forth into the unknown and conquer and toil and set up new worlds.
The conquest of the oceans and of the solar system will provide inspiration to a disillusioned race, it will revitalize the population, it will provide chances for the risk takers to seek fortune and the the frustrated to redeem themselves, it will be the most splendid stage men will have ever had to cover themselves with glory. It will distract the devout among us from the rantings of priests and save the skeptical from the blatherings of politicians, it will force the greedy to be brave and the offer the bored a chance to be audacious, Men will see vistas and wonders hitherto unimaginable, and that is why we live is it not - to go further, venture deeper, learn more than ever before ! What can be more pointless than stagnation and the pursuit of money and riches without tying it into exploration and knowledge ? what can be more boring than living exactly like our forefathers, seeing only what they have seen (now polluted, and on a computer screen), what can be more sad than young men looking for adventure in computer generated illusions !
It is time mankind dared to live and dream again. It is time we realized, as our faraway ancestors did, that our species and the pursuit of knowledge and the exploration of the unknown are things glorious and magnificent enough to die for. The physical and psychological challenges of space and the deep ocean await us, we must accept them, we must live again !