Friday, July 17, 2009

40 years ago...

So as we sit in the midst of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight (I prefer to think of the anniversary, like the mission itself, as a multi-day event, not just this single moment of “The Eagle has landed”), CNN ran the following article:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/space/07/17/moon.landing.hoax/index.html

And incidentally, as I write this, this article has been moved to the prime spot on cnn.com. Read into that exactly what you want to.

The article is a relatively good review of the moon-landing-hoax phenomena. Best of all, it includes a link to the YouTube video of Buzz Aldrin punching a leading conspiracy pusher. You’ve got to love a 72 year old guy who can still lay on one some crank’s chin. Glorious moment.

Anyway, what I find kind of depressing about this whole phenomena isn’t the fact that this amazing piece of history (by the way, I DO believe that we landed on the moon) is being attacked. Fine, go ahead, people, and believe your conspiracies. I can go on at great length about why I think people love conspiracies and so on, and will always recommend Foucault’s Pendulum as a good work about the appeal of such ideas (though the book is kind of a typical Umberto Eco slog at times).

What gets me, about the moon landing conspiracies in particular, is that they so dramatically discount our (humanity’s) ability to do something extraordinary. They are, in other words, profoundly depressing to me.

Most conspiracies, I find, seek to explain titanic events that were actually the result of small actions (e.g. a series of individually minor intelligence failures prevents detection of the attack on Pearl Harbor) as the product of grand and titanic forces (F.D.R. allowed/encouraged the attacks because he needed a way to motivate the American populace). I can get this – we all like someone/thing we can blame. And hanging thousands of lives on a series of minor events just doesn’t have the impact of One Dude Who Did It.

Similar theories about regarding the 9/11 attacks. All of them seem predicated on the idea that No One Could Screw Up That Bad. And they replace the series of minor errors with a Grand Conspiracy.

There is a theme here – an ugly, mundane, chaotic reality is replaced with something dramatic and populated by super-capable heroes or villains.

The moon landing theorists go the other way – and this is what I find so depressing. Instead of a massive, concentrated effort by thousands, pushing technical and human limits, the conspiracy theorists would drag that success down to the level of some 2nd rate work on a sound stage.

It is a sad rejection of the capabilities of humanity to take such an achievement and, in the face of all evidence, reject it.

It is a sad, mediocre mind that can only find a sense of worth by bring others down to their level.

It is a sad commentary that (some) people find it easier to subscribe to a "vision" of mediocrity than to a reality of audacious achievement. Is that number increasing (as the article claims it is) because time is passing and a younger generation (understandably) finds it hard to imagine a world, 40 years gone, where humans could walk on the moon? Or is it increasing out of a gradual settling of goals and visions, a drooping of expectations and efforts from struggling for grand, shared visions to a selfish assumption of ease and entitlement?

Yours, in hope of audacity, that we may remember and recognize what we all (and all of us) are capable of.

--Nick