Eclipse of the future

“May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace.”

August 21, 2017 21:03
3 minute read.
A boy plays with a ball in front of damaged buildings during Eid al-Fitr celebration in Damascus.

A boy plays with a ball in front of damaged buildings during Eid al-Fitr celebration in the rebel-held besieged Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria June 26, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS/BASSAM KHABIEH)

On February 26, 1979, while covering the last total solar eclipse that could be viewed from the United States, ABC News correspondent Frank Reynolds was swept away by the emotional impact of the moment.

Waxing optimistic as the moon moved between the sun and Earth and cast darkness on northern portions of America, Reynolds said that not until August 21, 2017, would another eclipse be visible from America.

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“That’s 38 years from now,” Reynolds noted, in a video that recently has gone viral. “May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace.”

Well, Reynolds’ prayer was not realized. And it is doubtful that the veteran ABC anchorman truly believed it would.

The US had just a few years earlier pulled its troops out of Vietnam; Watergate had rocked the nation; crime in New York City was at an all-time high; OPEC had initiated a fuel crisis; president Jimmy Carter gave his infamous “malaise” speech. Abroad, Russian troops were preparing to invade Afghanistan while the US backed Mujahideen who would metamorphose into al-Qaida; the Iranian Revolution would bring to power an Islamist regime that would soon embark on a long and bloody war with US-backed Iraq; China was a little over a decade into the throes of its Cultural Revolution, which resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths; South American countries such as Argentina and Chile had been taken over by fascist juntas.

It would be even more naive to expect that when the next solar eclipse comes along we will witness anything close to a messianic-like era of prosperity and mutual love.

If anything, the obstacles to world peace seem even more daunting today. A vicious civil war has ripped apart Syria, generated the worst refugee crisis in recent history and provided a breeding ground for jihadists. Under Xi Jinping, China has become increasingly belligerent in the South China Sea while strengthening the Communist Party’s hold on power and ruthlessly stamping out opposition.

Russia is ruled by a despot who seeks to expand his influence not just in the Ukraine and in the Caucasus but in the Middle East via Syria. Meanwhile, the US is under the leadership of an impulsive, erratic leader who is beginning to lose the confidence of leading Republicans such as Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who last week in the wake of Trump’s comments on Charlotteville said: “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” His saber rattling and comments about “fire and fury” raise questions about the chances that this petulant leader might launch a misguided and not thought-out military offensive.

That’s not to say that humanity has failed to make progress.

As Yuval Noah Harari has pointed out in his latest book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, we have largely succeeded in overcoming the three most devastating phenomena that cut short the lives of human beings in the last century: conventional wars, famine and disease.

According to Harari, in the 21st century the major challenges that will face humanity will be very different. The growing gap between the haves and the have nots will deepen as knowledge becomes increasingly important in a hi-tech-oriented world in which robots replace humans at menial jobs. Humans will have to learn to cooperate more on a global level to grapple with environmental dangers.

We will increasingly engage in the manipulation of our genetic makeup to overcome weaknesses and imperfections and improve intelligence. Extending life will be a major impetus for innovation. So will the pursuit of happiness in a world where material comforts and higher standards of living have decreasing returns when measuring humans’ subject feeling of well-being and sense of purpose.

Technological advances are moving so quickly it is impossible to foresee how they will impact our lives and transform our societies. Four decades ago, when Reynolds sought to envision what the world would be like today, he could not have guessed how radically the Internet and cellphones would transform our lives. Similarly, today we cannot begin to imagine how different the world will be 40 years from now.

World peace might be too much to ask for. Our sights should be set on more modest goals such as combating global environmental dangers, extending life expectancy and seeking ways to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

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