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“Philip also watched and learned from the democratic assembly at Thebes. He saw the grave weakness of a system in which every man could voice his opinion and vote. Debates in the assembly were endless, while political parties worked to destroy the power of their rivals. Philip began to see how an old-fashioned monarchy like Macedonia could act much more decisively than a Greek city and be unstoppable”
-Philip Freeman


from Alexander The Great

Gravity and Alexander

TaggedSpace, Advocacy

I saw a review of Gravity that had as its blurb the reviewer stating that the movie was so good that it proves that Space is no place for human beings.

Hmmm.

I've been told from childhood that Alexander The Great 'wept for there no more worlds to conquer.'  As a person raised on the excitement of the infinite possibilities of things beyond this one little tiny planet, that line always made me sad for Alexander, because his time kept him from seeing the truly real big picture.  Recently I was told that that line was NOT historical; like Christians quoting Milton and believing they were referencing the Bible, Alexander may have had quite a different thing to say... 

Alexander, son of Philip II of Macedonia, no doubt had a larger than life life but even so over the years the truths have gotten farther from real and closer to myth both for better telling and political reasons.  As with the Bible and later religious works, the stories themselves weren't always reported as they happened but instead grew from story teller to story teller and quite possibly had some color added along the way to keep them interesting.  We know it happens even without a thousand years between event and story, take for example the day to day of Wikileaks, just a few years in the past and likely not quite as exciting as The Fifth Estate makes it because real life lacks a soundtrack, well-placed lighting and a crew of hair stylists.

In any case, Alexander was not just a military-for-military-sake hero.  Most of us learn in school or in our travels that Generals even later than Hannibal and Napoleon have trained themselves by studying the strategies of Alexander, but often forgotten is that as a young prince Alexander was personally educated by Aristotle.  Aristotle grew up with Philip II (his father was Philip's father's physician) and was forced to leave Greece after Plato's death instead of taking his place as new head of The Academy at least partly because of that Macedonian background.  Philip II was not only famous for his infantry and cavalry but also because of his very high regard for engineers and his liberal use of practical, tactical engineering.  Perhaps there was something in the North Olympian water that was lacking in the runoff on the southern slopes because Aristotle, though personally trained by Plato (and, yes, a fan of the Earth-centered universe), was much the 'scientist' praising hands-on experiment and observation as highly as traditional Greek interests of the 'philosophical' nature.

When Alexander became King and began his work of extending Philip's Macedonia into a world-wide empire, he also had among his advisers and among the smaller group of his closest friends the cleverest minds in his world.  One of these was the man I always found easy to remember thanks to his name being so close to the word "anarchy': Anaxarchus.

There's not really a whole lot of historical information about Anaxarchus. Typically when his name is mentioned it is with the immediate note that he was a sophist. But, again, as scapegoats change over the years, the knee-jerk attached to Sophism now and the current definition one-liner about Sophism being only theoretical and rhetorical may not be the same understandings and perceptions that were held back then, so be careful reading that as a throw-away and letting it disregard this man.  Alexander WAS Great and Anaxarchus WAS chosen as his friend and confidant, reportedly allowed to chide the king in ways that would have quickly made any other man a head shorter.  Alexander, a real-world King, believed Anaxarchus was worth more than others. 

While some say that that's just because Alexander was a fool... I question how much of any world these speakers have managed to first conquer and then govern ;-).

"There Were No More Worlds To Conquer".  When we see these words in quotes, who do we think is being quoted?  Eerily, it is sometimes attributed to John Milton... the same guy who wrote some of the coolest Bible stories never actually in the Bible ;-). 

However, the birth of the line currently is thought to be a bit too much license taken along the way by someone who read Plutarch's story of Alexander's counsel from Anaxarchus.  Go look for some non-crosslinked sources the web.  Plutarch isn't often read in his original hand-written ancient Greek, and I haven't done it either, but I've struggled my way thorough enjoying his translated "Lives: II: Alexander" and "Moralia: VI: Contentment of the Mind' and they don't have these words.. at least not exactly.

Instead, what we see in the Moralia is more like this:

"Alexander wept when he heard Anaxarchus discourse about an infinite number of worlds, and when his friends inquired what ailed him, "Is it not worthy of tears," he said, "that, when the number of worlds is infinite, we have not yet become lords of a single one." [Loeb edition]

Anaxarchus discourse about an infinite number of worlds. 

Not quite the same emotion as the quote we all grew up with, is it?  Not quite the same meaning in any way... is it?

Gravity is proof that humans don't belong in space?  That's maybe what the reviewer got out of the movie, and it may be one of the messages that Clooney and the producers intended audiences to feel. 

But a message is not a truth.

Seven billion human beings on this one tiny planet, and growing most quickly where any hope of world-saving genius being nurtured is unlikely.  The United Nations trying to calm us by saying the population will stabilize at 9 billion - but what is lost in the soothing network singsong is that that will happen thanks to war and disease, not from any magic happiness. There are not enough paying jobs for most humans to do, so lacking something to keep us busy we occupy ourselves by making even more children. The current generation is the first in America that will not exceed the standard of living of their parents, and that now is likely going to be the norm, spiraling down with each new set of beautiful babies. Respected research just out this week saying that if things aren't changed soon then by 2047 the hottest day you've ever known will be the coldest day of the year (and even if things are changed or were changed years ago the end result is only pushed back a couple of decades). Our water planet simply not having the ability to sustain the amount of potable water or even irrigation water required for our current population.  Less fossil fuels laying around at the surface and even with better tech to squeeze the scraps out of rocks it's not an infinite supply.  No fuel in our infrastructure means no energy.  No energy means no iPads and no American Idol and also no agriculture, no way to get foods to population centers, no more deep pumping of the few remaining aquifers, no more desalinization.

Doom and gloom?  No!

No!

No!

It is not.  It is opportunity.

But only when you look at reality from a more intelligent angle.  All of the problem statements, every one of them, has an implied addendum:  "... on Earth".

So long as we continue to believe that God put Earth at the center of the Universe we will continue to have all of the problems.  You say that we don't think that any more, that the whole reason the word "Revolution" means fundamental "earth-shattering" change is because Copernicus said that the Earth revolves around the sun and people listened.  Yes, that is why "Revolution" is a power word beyond it's original simple meaning.  But people STILL believe it.

The problem is not over population.  Seven billion, nine billion, a hundred thousand billion... none of these numbers should be a limit to the number of human beings allowed to pursue happiness.  BUT the Earth can not handle them all.

The problem is not the loss or the use of fossil fuels.  The fuels are not a fundamental Maslow need; We don't eat coal, we don't drink oil.  What we need are the things that we can make after we unleash the stored energy in these things.  That energy was put into them eons ago when living things absorbed a tiny fraction of the energy flooding over our planet.  The energy came from our Sun, the living things took it in, died and became stores of a relatively small percentage of that energy.  

We think that the Earth is the place we get our supply of energy, and that is pre-Copernican thinking.  The Earth is just where we get our batteries.

If your phone battery drains out at the airport and you're sitting next to an outlet do you run around lamenting the dead battery?  Do you beat up the old lady a few seats down to steal her battery?  Knowing that the airport has plenty of outlets all around your gate, do you go out and stock up on all of the batteries and secret them away in the pockets of your carry-on bag?  No.  You use the "free energy" sitting right there at the outlet. 

But look around.  Every major problem comes down to energy and we consider it acceptable to be ready to kill for the last battery when the source of the battery power is washing around and past us in amounts we HONESTLY could never hope to use completely.

Only thing is, it's about eight minutes straight up.  And we are letting ourselves be convinced by fear that we are not smart enough or worthy enough to have it.  I am not talking about Earth-based solar power, that is nice, but it can only get a tiny trickle thanks to the protection of our atmosphere.  Just eight minutes straight up however... there is an ocean of free energy that isn't being restricted... and isn't being used.  We don't have to steal it, we aren't destroying any natural beauty or breaking any moral law of the Universe by reaching out and taking it.  The Sun is giving it away.  

And yet down here we sit, and fight, and starve, and worry about the future, the near future.

We are being as silly as the people we think were silly for thinking that the Earth was covered by a bowl and held up by elephants.  It's just eight minutes away.  All the energy and all the space that could be needed by a thousand billion human beings, and more than enough to take good care of perhaps 20 billion who choose to stay here on Earth because if we have the energy then we have the electricity needed to have cool electric personal vehicles and a hundred electric lights burning in every room all day and all night and enough for the desalinization required to keep 20 billion people from any hint of starvation.  No lack of food, no need to have a bloody war for food.  We like war so we'll find reasons to have more of them but having them over need can be over.

Eight minutes straight up.  that's it.  Is it worth it?  People who don't think so may believe that they will be among the very few left when the lights go out but while that makes a romantic tv show or movie, I don't think it's going to be as fun as Road Warrior and Revolution make it out to be.  Everyone who has faith that they will be a survivor... probably won't. 

Eight minutes straight up.  Shorter than a drive around the block.  That's all.  Impossible to get there?  Humans used to do it routinely with slide rules, and those humans had fun up there!  Thousands of years ago thirty year olds riding horses managed all the people and infrastructure from Egypt to India.  "We" can't do it?  If "We" can't then why should "We" be allowed to get up tomorrow morning?  Why should "We" be allowed to make even more powerless "We"s?  Are we no more than animals, eating, having sex and dying fifty feet from where we were born because we are all too brutish to wonder What If and take action to find out?   

If it is all out of our puny human abilities and if "We" don't belong in places where some of us can enjoy the hard work of pursuing happiness then "We" should stop bitching about the cost of food and the smell of our water.  We should just accept that we aren't worthy of Earth either.

Alexander did not weep because there were no more worlds to conquer.  Alexander was smarter than that.  We should give him more credit and be wary of accepting small minded statements as big-picture absolutes.  Small people think small.   

 


"Philip also watched and learned from the democratic assembly at Thebes.  He saw the grave weakness of a system in which every man could voice his opinion and vote.  Debates in the assembly were endless, while political parties worked to destroy the power of their rivals.  Philip began to see how an old-fashioned monarchy like Macedonia could act much more decisively than a Greek city and be unstoppable..." [Alexander The Great, Philip Freeman] 



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