A student told me about a story he had read in The New York Times. According to the story, NASA launched a spacecraft with a mission to smash into an asteroid to see if it could “nudge it into a different trajectory.” The experiment, called “Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART,” seeks to test the ability to divert asteroids that might pose a risk of colliding with Earth. Nature has too many ways to cause such disasters, and such experiments only distract us from where the real solution lies—in human society.
It is not as though the idea of an asteroid hitting the Earth is absurd. It’s happened before and it can happen again. The problem is that instead of dealing with what we really need to fix in our lives, we turn our thoughts to imaginary future dangers whose chance of materializing is miniscule, while the real perils come from the people around us, and these are the ones we need to fix. Instead of sending darts into space, we should aim at our hearts.
All the real problems that plague our lives are our own doing. Accelerated inflation, pollution of water, air, and land, wars and terrorism, poverty, depression, substance addiction, social division—not one of these problems is natural, all are major crises, and all are manmade.
We need to stop looking to outer space in search of threats, and start looking at each other asking how we can learn to live together. We need to start asking real and painful questions: Why do I hate my neighbor? I cannot sustain myself; I am dependent on others to provide what I cannot provide for myself, but at the same time, I cannot stand others. Why is this so? Why am I like this?
Of course, not everyone feels these questions so poignantly, but to some degree they exist in all of us and poison our relationships. If we cannot admit this to ourselves, we should take a look at the statistics and see how many people are escaping reality through drugs or countless other forms of addiction. We should look at the growing number of violent incidents, the intensifying hostility between countries that are economically interdependent, and the growing political divisions within countries and societies.
Human society is falling apart, and this is a far greater danger than a shooting star. If we solve our social problems, we will be able to solve all other problems. But if society falls apart, we will not solve anything, ever. Therefore, our first priority should be to overcome social rifts and alienation of all kinds.
Until we reverse our attitude toward each other from alienation to connection, from indifference to mutual responsibility, preoccupation with any other “threat” is a distraction that will only postpone the correction we really need to make. This, in turn, will make the correction slower and more painful.
Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL/Steve Gribben