What I like about the science fiction television series Star Trek in its many incarnations, besides the fact that I simply enjoy science fiction stories, is the overall sense of optimism that it embraces. It takes a positive view of the human race. It is the same reason that I so enjoy the British import, Doctor Who, which is likewise very positive. The Doctor, as the time traveling Time Lord is called, likes the human race very much, thinks we’re wonderful, and devotes most of his energy and attention to protecting it and helping it along. Every week, my youngest daughter and I make a point of watching an episode or two of Doctor Who, which just began its new season on BBC America.
Recently I was thinking of the optimism inherent in such shows and how radically it contrasts with what I find among some critics of humanity. There are several websites online devoted to science fiction and to space exploration. Most of these sites will allow readers to add their comments, like letters to the editor, after the articles. I don’t really have the time or interest to write such comments myself, but I will on occasion read them and every so often I find myself appalled at what some otherwise rational human beings write.
Inevitably there are those who believe space exploration is a waste of time and money, even as they depend upon communication satellites for their television and GPS navigation in their cell phones. But what I find really inexplicable are those who think it’s utterly wrong for the human race to even think of colonizing other planets. Such individuals believe that we have no business visiting other planets when we have so thoroughly messed up this one and they fear that we’ll ruin the universe just like we’ve “ruined” the Earth. Often times they go on to criticize all the modern farming methods that have allowed human beings to multiply beyond what they believe is the proper “carrying capacity” of the Earth. I read one commentator who argued that there are at least four billion too many people on the planet and that the green revolution is to blame for the over population.
Why are some people such misanthropes that they decry the existence of human beings? Would such individuals be happier if those four billion had starved to death instead?
And is their underlying assumption even true? Is it the case that humanity has “messed up” the world?
Do human beings do evil things? Certainly. Have we always made rational use of the planet? Of course not. My children sometimes annoy me. They are messy and I’m constantly having to clean up after them. Occasionally one or the other of them will clog up a toilet. I thought buying diapers for them was expensive. That’s nothing compared to the expense of teenagers, what with my oldest driving, using up gasoline, and increasing my insurance premiums simply by virtue of having a license and getting behind the wheel. They regularly need our attention, they have schoolwork and occasional crises. They don’t always do exactly what we want them to do and they occasionally make mistakes. Their judgment is often flawed. They bicker and argue with one another and don’t always get along.
Before we had children, my wife and I had a neat and orderly house. It was quiet. We didn’t have to purchase anywhere near as much food as we currently buy.
And yet, I find being a parent and having children is still a rewarding aspect of my life. I appreciate watching the development in my children, their growing independence. I cherish their many accomplishments and interests. Would my life be better if they didn’t exist? Am I vile for wanting them to go out of my house some day and make their own way in the world?
So, as we think about the human race, we can chose to focus on their problems. Or we can appreciate their accomplishments. There are far more positives than negatives in the human experience. Most of our lives, most of the time, are not unpleasant. For instance, more than ninety-nine percent of the human race is not in prison. More than ninety-nine percent of the world’s population is not committing crimes, bombing each other, seriously ill, starving, or even dying. The reason there are so many people alive on planet Earth just now—over seven billion—is simply because they’re not dying like they used to. Even though the birth rate is dropping like a stone.
Pollution over the last forty years has dramatically decreased. This, despite increased population, a growing economy, rapidly rising energy use, and an ever increasing number of automobiles on the roads. I have lived in California since 1975. I remember how smoggy it was when I first arrived, compared to how it is now. In fact, while first stage smog alerts were common in the 1970s, there have been none at all during the twenty-first century.
Human beings have their faults. But the misanthropy that dominates the minds of so many critics of humanity is severely misplaced. It’s one thing to want to improve things and to worry about the problems that we face. It’s another thing to dismiss progress, ignore victories, and to see the glass as never anything but half empty. It’s actually okay to be happy sometimes. The world—and people—are not always as awful as some would like to believe.