Thoughts & Insights

The thin Cover of Civilization

A wafer-thin membrane envelops our globe. We call it the Earth’s atmosphere. It protects us from the lethal rays of the Universe whilst letting through the life-giving beams of the central star in our solar system. It’s a unique composition of incalculable value created by the very agency that hasn’t exactly shown itself to be terribly friendly to human beings – the Universe. It’s a gift.

People can do much that’s astonishing. Yet whether they will ever be able to create such a fabric seems highly unlikely to say the very least. Even so, if only for the past few hundred years, people have been busy weaving a membrane of a quite different kind. Of a terrestrial, not cosmic nature. The stuff of which this membrane is woven is called civilisation. It consists of tiny doses of experience and insights that have been gained over countless thousands of years, handed down from generation to generation and again and ever again recklessly misused and squandered. Respect is the central thread of this human material. Weaving it is a long and laborious process. And the outcome is not predictable.

The cover of civilisation that protects us from the permutations of savagery and tyranny that we have known for thousands of years is just as thin as the Earth’s atmosphere which protects our planet from the deadly rays of the sun. Yet unlike the Earth’s atmosphere, this layer still does not cover the whole planet and all the various cultures and societies that exist on it.

People now growing up in democratic societies governed by the rule of law might tend to take their given status for granted. This is a dangerous attitude for it’s quite the reverse of that. It is and will remain only a wafer-thin fragile membrane that separates us from what generations of people in Europe have suffered from over the ages – deprivation of rights, oppression, earth soaked in blood. In other parts of the world today this is still the sad reality.

If we look over the horizon of the world we are now living in, we see that our civilisation still has no qualms about pursuing the disastrous course first embarked on in countries outside of Europe by missionary fanaticism in conjunction with a colonialism hungry for gold and power – then under cover of a mission to bring civilisation, now pursued by other means, with financial dealings and weapons at the forefront.

As scientific findings confirm, the life-threatening hole in the ozone layer of the Earth‘s atmosphere could be prevented over the course of the past forty years by concerted political and practical action. How would it be then if concerted political and practical action would at some point finally close the ever-widening hole of civilization on this Earth?

Even today many people still entertain serious doubts about the sense and purpose of space travel. Yet the fact that we do now share a collective awareness of the thin and fragile nature of the Earth’s atmosphere is solely due to the photographs taken by the Apollo astronauts almost 51 years ago to this very day which revealed it for the first time to the whole of humanity.

OUBEY was an enthusiastic proponent of the exploration of the Universe and space travel. “The more we know about the Universe, the more we know about ourselves”, he once said. The Universe for him, like the Earth, was part of his feeling for what it means to be at home. He was passionately interested in evolution, science and nature. And also in the history of the fundamental upheavals earlier societies had suffered through wars like the 30 Years War in Europe or the American Civil War. It was a heavy price that our ancestors paid in these and many other armed conflicts for what was finally achieved – peace and on the basis of peace an evolutionary movement to what we now call a civilized society, one that is supported by independent citizen under the rule of law.

Today we are on the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century. Everything seems possible. Both regression and progress. Matching contending powers. Yet when were times ever easy?

If I myself who am standing on this threshold would wish for something for the coming eighty years of the century, it would be something akin to the dream that Martin Luther King spoke of in his time more than fifty years ago. It could all be so easy if only we weren’t who we are. But perhaps it could equally all just be possible precisely because we are who we are. It´s all possible.

History will tell.