Thursday, August 4, 2005

Heroes

If there are two people whose writing inspires me the most, they are Bertrand Russell . . .
Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth--more than ruin--more even than death . . . . Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
. . . and Carl Sagan.
But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Brilliant.

2 comments:

  1. you should read hume.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, Russell was the man. His writings on Christianity were the first I read as a young man that helped to push me from agnostic to outright atheist. He didn't just say Christianity was implausible, but that it was harmful. I loved it.

    Speaking of religion, why did no one on this planet warn me to never, ever, bother renting "Constantine"? Yesterday I wasted a perfectly sunny Seattle afternoon on that Catholic pseudo-horror film.

    ReplyDelete