Article 43


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Carl Sagan’s Warnings

The Reptile Within Us

By Horst Sommer and The Planetary Society
Opinion piece by Michael Paine. 
This does not represent the views of any organisation.
September 21, 2001

The attempt by the US media to make news rather than report it is my greatest concern.

In the book and TV series COSMOS, CARL SAGAN warns against politicians appealing to the “reptilian” portions of our brain and inciting aggression, territoriality and fear of strangers. His concern at the time was the nuclear arms race but the same concerns apply now, at a time when the USA is contemplating a response to the dreadful events in New York and Washington.

The US media have not helped the situation with a constant demand for retaliation that is pushing the nation’s leaders into making hasty decisions. There is a grave danger that an indiscriminate, aggressive response will destablize some of the many friendly Arab nations and plunge them into fundamentalist oppression.

At times like this it is not easy to question the actions of leaders. Those who do are labelled unpatriotic or traitors. But the reality is that the USA is not under any immediate threat, other than an economic slump of its own making. The US economy is highly dependent on consumer spending. The first thing that consumers did when their President said “Prepare for War” was to stop spending. The economic consequences of the terrorists attacks are becoming far more severe than they ever needed to be.

Here are some quotes from the book Cosmos:

· [Description of the human brain] Capping the brain stem is the R-Complex, the seat of aggression, ritual, territoriality and social heirarchy, which evolved hundreds of millions of years ago in our reptilian ancestors...on the outside, living in uneasy truce with the more primitive brains beneath, is the cerebal cortex...Civilisation is a product of the cerebal cortex.

· [War] When our well-being is threatened, when our illusions about ourselves are challenged, we tend - some of us at least - to fly into murderous rages. And when the same provocations are applied to nation states, they, too, sometimes fly into murderous rages, egged on often enough by those seeking personal power or profit. But as technology of murder improves and the penalties of war increase, a great many people must be made to fly into murderous rages simultaneously for a major war to be mustered. Because the organs of mass communciation are often in the hands of the state [or a privileged few] this can commonly be arranged.

· The global balance of terror is a very delicate balance. It depends on things not going wrong, on mistakes not being made, on the reptilian passions not being seriously aroused.

From the perspective of someone outside the USA, I have to say that President Bush sounds more like the coach of a high school sports team than a statesman. There is a need for Americans to call “time-out” and to scrutinise the strategy that has been cobbled together by the nation’s leaders under the untenable glare of the media. Don’t rush into actions that may have grave, far-reaching consequences.

The terrorists can be brought to justice by less reptilian means. We have to remember the traits that make us “civilised”.

From ’PALE BLUE DOT‘ also by Carl Sagan.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.



Posted by Elvis on 02/23/06 •
Section Revelations
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