Wednesday, March 19, 2014

IN OUR IMAGE?

Carl Sagan really knew how the illuminate our prejudices.



This picture was taken last year by the Cassini space probe. That little dot below Saturn's rings is the earth. Carl Sagan's pale blue dot. Yeah, we're the center of the universe all right.

“This conceit is brought close to culmination in the notion that we are created in God’s image: The Creator and Ruler of the entire Universe looks just like me. My, what a coincidence! How convenient and satisfying! The sixth-century-B.C.  Greek philosopher Xenophanes understood the arrogance of this perspective:


‘The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair…Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen….’

Such attitudes were once described as ‘provincial’ - the na├»ve expectation that the political hierarchies and social conventions of an obscure province extend to a vast empire composed of many different traditions and cultures; that the familiar boondocks, our boondocks, are the center of the world. The country bumpkins know almost nothing about what else is possible. They fail to grasp the insignificance of their province or the diversity of the Empire. With ease, they apply their own standards and customs to the rest of the planet. But plopped down in Vienna, say, or Hamburg, or New York ruefully they recognize how limited their perspective has been. The become “deprovincialized.’

Modern Science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” Carl Sagan in The Pale Blue Dot.

Ah, Carl. To bad you passed beyond the veil between the worlds far too soon. We could certainly use your unique ability to illuminate pure, unmitigated willful ignorance and almost criminal idiocy.

Unfortunately we have plenty of boondockers in this country. Unfortunately, instead of realizing their provincialism when confronted with the country outside their little backward corner of the country they don’t deprovincialize. They insist that the rest of us conform to the prejudices they brought with them out of the back country. They need to be reminded that this is the twenty first century not the first, seventeenth or the nineteenth century and that the rest of us refuse to pretend otherwise.

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