There’s a joke that the word politics comes from the Greek ‘Poly” meaning many and “ticks” meaning blood-sucking insect. I’m not inclined to argue etymology—or entomology—but after watching part of a documentary about the Voyager program, I realized that political activists have sucked the joy out of a whole lot of places, including science, and planetary exploration. Instead of rejoicing over new discoveries and amazing accomplishments, the only thing on the news is division, accusation, and the infamous Shirt-storm. What in the name of little green apples happened?
How many of you knew that Space-X recently had a successful launch and controlled landing of their rocket? I’d missed it, until Dorothy Grant sent me a link to the footage. The news was full of Charlottesville and the US president saying or not saying something. And a few seconds about the start of football season. Nothing about an amazing accomplishment, nothing about a small triumph on the way to returning to space. Nope, it was all race this and radical that and eeeeeeeevil statues.*
When I came home Wednesday from choir, a PBS special about Voyager was on TV. The spacecraft were reaching Jupiter when I came in. The people at JPL and the other space centers were wild with excitement, talking about how they didn’t want to go home, how they tried to stay awake to watch as the images came in, about the discoveries and thrill of the moment. Even today, older and grayer, their eyes shine as they recount those days. There’s a fierce joy in the scientists and technicians as they describe Voyager’s explorations of Jupiter, the Jovian moons, and Saturn. The sense of wonder radiates out of the screen. It’s still infectious.
I started to choke up, because that seems to be gone. The excitement of landing a space probe on a comet and getting good data was crushed by a few people’s fury over the lead scientist’s shirt. NASA shifted its focus from exploration and returning to the Moon to “Muslim outreach.” (Nothing personal against the folks from NASA who got assigned to that project, but I really do not care to imagine ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Qods Force, and Jamaat Islamia with rockets larger than an RPG.)
One of the hallmarks of Great Causes™ is that they leave no room for delight and wonder. Everything in life is about The Cause, and The Cause comes before anything else. Thus a scientist overseeing a project that successfully lands a space probe on a comet and takes samples and sends data back to Earth is not someone to be complimented or someone to celebrate with. Oh no, no, he must be excoriated because he’s wearing a shirt with a pattern of attractive young women and rockets on it, a bit like the old pulp sci-fi covers. Feminism and “not objectifying women” and “it must be harassment!!!”
completely overrode what the man and his team actually accomplished, and he was forced to recant of the heinous sin of . . . wearing a shirt that a female friend and colleague had given him several years before. Because The Cause was more important than the accomplishment. It sucks the life out of everything not related to it.
Sense of wonder and eager excitement are less important than serving the Great Cause™, whatever that cause may be. I passed around a link two weeks ago to an essay complaining because the path of totality of Monday’s eclipse only crossed majority-minority areas in South Carolina, and missed several locations important to the civil rights movement and African-American history. Even the eclipse had to serve A Cause. It couldn’t just be enjoyed or studied.
Every time I encounter a Great Cause™ supporter in real life or through various media, I am reminded of Ayatollah Khomeini’s dictum that “There is no joy in Islam.” Nothing can be savored or enjoyed unless it serves The Cause, and no accomplishment is worth acknowledging unless it is for the good of The Cause. That includes the pursuit of knowledge and things like astronomy.
I can all-too easily imagine a group of frowning faces around a conference table looking at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope or other telescopes and demanding to know, “How does this advance the Cause of [whatever]? Are there enough [whatevers] on the team? Could this image traumatize [whatevers]? Why is money being spent on star pictures when it could be spent on Advancing the Great Cause™?” and so on.
To which I say blargh. Killjoys. Sometimes a star is only a star. I write stories and love stories with a sense of wonder, with an intake of breath for the beauty of a moment, with amazement at something so neat as a full eclipse, with awe at the Milky Way stretching across the dark sky in midwinter, starlight blue on the snow.
Don’t let your cause kill that. Don’t ever let go of wonder, and laughter, for the sake of a cause. The world’s too serious to lose joy.
*Anyone else have the occasional fond dream of an “offensive statue” turning out to be one of the Weeping Angles from Doctor Who and sending members of [insert your personal least-favorite, most obnoxious group] back in time a few hundred or thousand years?
Edited Sunday, August 27: Welcome, Instapundit Readers. Thanks for stopping by!