“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, August 31, 2012

Facts are stubborn things

Shikha Dalmia|Aug. 30, 2012 10:07 am
Paul Ryan must have hit a home run last night – otherwise liberals wouldn’t be going bonkers right now. No sooner did he move his tingle-inducing chassis off the stage than the liberal blogosphere erupted in outrage, accusing him of being a maligner and a liar.  
But what did Ryan say that was so bad? He falsely accused President Obama of promising during a campaign stop to keep a Government Motor plant in Janesville, Wisconsin -- Ryan’s district – open, but then letting it close once he got elected. Liberals, however, claim that the plant was already closed when President Obama delivered his remarks.
This prompted the Puffington Post to huff: “Paul Ryan Misleads With His Plant Closure Tale.” Commenters on Daily Kos’s open thread titled “Paul Ryan Blames Obama for a GM Plant Closed Under Bush” went all snarky. “If they just completely ignore Bush altogether they can make all the right wingers believe that before Obama took office everything was fantastic,” scoffed one.
Now, I actually think that the plant story was the silliest part of Ryan’s otherwise stellar speech. Holding presidents responsible for the fate of individual auto plants is idiotic in and of itself – but especially so if in your very next breath you are going to say that you’d “take freedom…any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.”
But, then again, Obama did kinda ask for it. This is what he said in the speech that Ryan alluded to:
And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years.  The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive.  I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your President. 
In saying that “this plant will be here for another hundred years” when he is our president, he was suggesting that under him the plant would have some kind of a future. Ryan’s Big Lie then is that instead of saying the president “suggested” he said the president “promised” he’d keep the plant open? So sue him!
But, as it turns out, the plant wasn’t closed when Obama gave his speech on Feb 13, 2008. It was open. The liberals are challenging Ryan based on an Aug 16 story by David Shepardson, The Detroit News’ auto reporter that said “the plant halted production in December 2008, when President George W. Bush was in office.” But, as best as I can tell, Shepardson got it wrong. The decision to close the plant was made under Bush. However, the plant was not slated to close till the summer of 2009 – nearly a year and a half after Obama spoke and six months after he assumed office.
Here’s what, a Janesville paper, reported on Feb 2, 2009:
Full-size sport utility vehicle production has ended at the local General Motors plant, but medium-duty truck production is continuing—not starting—in Janesville.
And it likely will continue into May, when the lights finally go off in the facility that has been producing vehicles since 1923.
When GM officials announced last June that SUV production would cease in Janesville, they also said that medium-duty truck production would conclude by the end of 2009, or sooner if market conditions dictate.
What’s more, the administration actually did consider keeping the Janesville plant alive after it nationalized GM by commandeering the bankruptcy process. According to Shepardson’s story:
In June 2009, GM considered three sites to locate a small car: its Orion plant in Michigan; Janesville, Wis.; and a Spring Hill, Tenn., plant slated to close in November. GM picked Orion and later reopened Spring Hill.
Now why would Obama choose to close the only plant he had actively “suggested” he’d keep open? Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that it was in Ryan's (Republican) hometown? Just askin…

125 Harvard Students being investigated for cheating on course, Government 1310: Introduction to Congress

Becoming a Congressman, someone must be a person who is brainy, needless to say, NY Republican Representative Christopher Lee (or Chris Lee) is one of  them.

I see no problem here. The cheating little bastards will be perfect for Congress, Hopefully a large percentage will have a wide stance, are very diverse and related to the  same elite skunks who routinely impress enough dopey American voters to be elected time and time again. 


125 Harvard students investigated for cheating

Around 125 students at Harvard University are under investigation for cheating, in the largest ever misconduct scandal known at the school.

9:03AM BST 31 Aug 2012

The focus of the probe is a take-home final exam on which some students in a government class may have collaborated or copied answers, officials at Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said.

Students familiar with the investigation said the course being investigated was Government 1310: Introduction to Congress, according to Harvard's newspaper, the Crimson.

Harvard teachers spent months combing through the exams to identify the students who are now under investigation by the college's Administrative Board, said Jay Harris, dean of undergraduate education. Students who violated university rules face a variety of sanctions, including being required to withdraw from school for a year, Harvard said in a statement.

"These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behaviour that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends," 

Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement on the college's website.
The Administrative Board's actions are confidential, and Harvard will not reveal the identity of the students or the name of the course, Mr Harris said. He declined to predict how long the probe might take. 

Harvard is using the incident, which he called unprecedented in living memory, to increase student awareness of the importance of academic integrity, he said.

Mr Harris said school officials believe that electronic communication was part of the apparent rule violations.

Technology has shifted the way people think about intellectual property, the way people think about communicating with each other,"Mr Harris said.

All the students suspected of being involved in the cheating have been informed that they will be asked to come before the Administrative Board, Mr Harris said. Penalties may include a warning or probation, and some students may be exonerated, he said. No specific cases have been heard yet, he said.

The College Committee on Academic Integrity, which Harris leads, is preparing recommendations for reminding students of the importance of academic honesty, the school said. Harvard has orientation programs that focus on research and writing practices, such as integrity and appropriate citation, he said.

{ Sure,  to prepare them for Congress or a job in media, they will need to undersatnd “academic honesty } 

"We always stress academic integrity with our students," he said. "It's very hard to explain to someone that this raises ethical concerns and that it's not OK."

The large number of cases being investigated by the Administrative Board from a single class is "deeply disturbing," said Michael Smith, dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which includes most of its undergraduate teachers. { deeply disturbing, where have we heard that phrase before? }

"At the same time, we must not forget that the vast majority of our students complete all their assignments honestly, diligently, and in accordance with our regulations and practices," he said in a letter to Harvard faculty, students and staff.

The committee will look at practices of other institutions that have faced cheating scandals, Harvard said. Security at sites administering the SAT and ACT tests in Nassau County, New York, was stepped up this year after students were found to have hired stand-ins to take the college entrance exams for them.

Source: Bloomberg


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Obama leads Romney 60% to 31% on the question of who is more in touch with the problems facing women today.

Will young woman carry Obama over the top? 

"With regards to women's healthcare, look, I'm the guy that was able to get healthcare for all the women and men in my state."
The host, Chris Wallace, parried, "So you're saying, look at Romneycare?" To which Romney replied, "Absolutely. I'm proud of what we did."

In belatedly embracing Romneycare, Romney is trying to make up lost ground on a policy that women are significantly more likely to support than men. By a wide margin, women are more likely to support health insurance requirements than men. 


Mars from Mars

This is a large photo from the surface of Mars. It was taken by Curiosity using a two mega-pixel camera as  NASA’s Mars Science Lab looks around Gale Crater: This color panorama, which includes the highest part of Mount Sharp visible to the rover, was shot by Curiosity’s Mast Camera on Aug. 8 and 18, 2012 Click on the photo to really experience what it is that you are seeing. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Inside the mind of Joseph Campbell

hattip: Bob

The Moon Walk - The Outward Journey

Those lacking in imagination or soul might want to skip it, those who thought the mission boring, or a waste of precious time or money, they may want to pass it over.

Are we today turning mythology into fact? Let me introduce with a passage from Dante'sDivine Comedy the truly wondrous topic of this chapter. It is of that moment of the poet's visionary journey where he takes off from the Earthly Paradise, to ascend to the moon, the first celestial stop of his spiritual flight to God's throne. He is addressing himself to the reader:

O You who in a little boat, desirous to listen, have been following behind my craft which singing passes on, turn to see again your shores; put not out upon the deep; for haply, losing me, you would remain astray. The water which I take was never crossed. Minerva breathes, Apollo guides me, and the Muses nine point out to me the Bears.

That will set the mood. The breath of a goddess, Minerva, is to fill our sails, patroness of heroes; the naming of Apollo is a pleasant surprise; and we are to be guided by the Muses, teachers of all arts, pointing out to us the navigational stars. For although our voyage is to be outward, it is also to be inward, to the sources of all great acts, which are not out there, but in here, in us all, where the Muses dwell.

I remember when I was a very small boy my uncle one evening brought me down to Riverside Drive to see "a man," as he told me, "flying in an aeroplane [as they called them in those days] from Albany to New York." That was Glenn Curtis, 1910, in a sort of motorized box-kite he had built. There were people lined along the low wall at the westward margin of the city, watching, waiting, facing into the sunset. All the nearby rooftops, too, were crowded. Twilight fell. And then suddenly everybody was pointing, shouting, "There he comes!" And what I saw was like the shadow of a dark bird, soaring in the fading light some hundred feet above the river. Seventeen years later, the year I left Columbia, Lindbergh flew the Atlantic. And this year, on our television sets, we have seen two landings on the moon.

I want this chapter to be a celebration of the fabulous age in which we are living; also, of this country in which we are living; and of our incredible human race, which in the years just past broke free of its earth, to fly forth to the opening of the greatest adventure of the ages.

When I listen to some of my academic colleagues talk of their indifference to this epochal adventure, I am reminded of the anecdote of the little old lady who, when offered an opportunity to look at the moon through a telescope, commented, when she had done so, "Give me the moon asGod made it!" The only really adequate public comment on the occasion of the first moon walk that I have found reported in the world press was the exclamation of an Italian poet, Giuseppe Ungaretti, published in the picture magazineEpoca. In its vivid issue of July 27, 1969, we see a photo of this white-haired old gentleman pointing in rapture to his television screen, and in the caption beneath are his thrilling words:Questaèuna notte diversa da ogni ultra notte del mondo.

For indeed that was "a different night from all other nights of the world"! Who will ever in his days forget the spell of the incredible hour, July 20, 1969, when our television sets brought directly into our living rooms the image of that strange craft up there and Neil Armstrong's booted foot coming down, feeling cautiously its way -- to leave on the soil of that soaring satellite of earth the first impress ever of life? And then, as though immediately at home there, two astronauts in their space suits were to be seen moving about in a dream-landscape, performing their assigned tasks, setting up the American flag, assembling pieces of equipment, loping strangely but easily back and forth: their pictures brought to us, by the way, through two hundred and thirty-eight thousand miles of empty space by that other modern miracle (also now being taken for granted), the television set in our living room. "All humanity," Buckminster Fuller once said, in prophecy of these transforming forces working now upon our senses, "is about to be born in an entirely new relationship to the universe."

From the point of view of a student of mythology, the most important consequences of what Copernicus wrote of the universe in 1543 followed from his presentation there of an image controverting and refuting the obvious "facts" that everybody everywhere could see. All mankind's theological as well as cosmological thinking, up to that time, had been based on concepts of the universe visually confirmed from the point of view of earth. Also, man's notion of himself and of nature, his poetry and his whole feeling system, were derived from the sight of his earthbound eyes. The sun rose eastward, passed above, leaning southward, and set blazing in the west. The Polynesian hero Maui had snared that sun to slow it down, so that his mother could have time to finish her cooking. Joshua stopped both the sun and the moon, to have time to finish off a slaughter, while God, to assist, flung down from heaven a hail of prodigious stones: "and there was no day like that before it or after it, when Jehovah hearkened to the voice of a man."

The moon was in ancient times regarded, and in parts of the world still is regarded, as the Mansion of the Fathers, the residence of the souls of those who have passed away and are there waiting to return for rebirth. For the moon itself, as we see it, dies and is resurrected. Shedding its shadow, it is renewed, as life sheds generations to be renewed in those to come. Whereas against all this, which had been confirmed and reconfirmed in the scriptures, poetry, feelings, and visions of all ages, what Copernicus proposed was a universe no eye could see but only the mind imagine: a mathematical, totally invisible construction, of interest only to astronomers, unbeheld, unfelt by any others of this human race, whose sight and feelings were locked still to earth.

However, now, in our own day, four and one-quarter centuries later, with those pictures coming down to us from the point of view of the moon, we have all seen -- and not only seen, but felt -- that our visible world and the abstract construction of Copernicus correspond. That fabulous color photograph of our good earth rising as a glorious planet above a silent lunar landscape is something not to forget. Giuseppe Ungaretri published in that issue ofEpoca the first verse of a new-world poetry in celebration of this moon-born revelation:

Che fai tu, Terra, in ciel?

Dimmi, che fai, Silenziosa Terra?

What are you doing, Earth, in heaven?

Tell me, what are you doing, Silent Earth?

All the old bindings are broken. Cosmological centers now are any- and everywhere. The earth is a heavenly body, most beautiful of all, and all poetry now is archaic that fails to match the wonder of this view.

In contrast, I recall the sense of embarrassment that I felt two Christmas Eves ago, the night of the first manned flight around the moon, when those three magnificent young men up there began reading to us, and sending down as their message to the world, the first chapter of the Book of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void," and so on; all of which had nothing whatsoever to do with the world that they were themselves then actually viewing and exploring. I later asked a number of my friends what they had felt when they heard that coming down to them from the moon, and all, without exception, replied that they had found it wonderfully moving. How very strange! And how sad, I thought, that we should have had nothing in our own poetry to match the sense of that prodigious occasion! Nothing to match, or even to suggest, the marvel and the magnitude of this universe into which we then were moving! There was that same old childhood dream of some Babylonian-born Hebrew of the fourth century B.C., telling of the dawn of a world which those three men up there, even as they read, had refuted! How very disappointing! Better by far, it seemed to me, would have been those beautiful half-dozen lines from the opening of Dante's Paradiso :

To the glory of Him that moves all things,

penetrates through the universe, and is resplendent

in one part more, and in another less.

In the heaven that most of his light receives

have I been, and I have seen things, to recount which,

descending, I neither know how nor have the power.

To predict what the imagery of the poetry of man's future is to be, is today, of course, impossible. However, those same three astronauts, when coming down, gave voice to a couple of suggestions. Having soared beyond thought into boundless space, circled many times the arid moon, and begun their long return: how welcome a sight, they said, was the beauty of their goal, this planet Earth, "like an oasis in the desert of infinite space!" Now there is a telling image: this earth, the one oasis in all space, an extraordinary kind of sacred grove, as it were, set apart for the rituals of life; and not simply one part or section of this earth, but the entire globe now a sanctuary, a set-apart Blessed Place. Moreover, we have all now seen for ourselves how very small is our heaven-born earth, and how perilous our position on the surface of its whirling, luminously beautiful orb.

A second thought that the astronauts, coming down, expressed was in reply to a question from Ground Control asking who was then doing the navigating. Their immediate answer was, "Newton!" Think of that! They were riding back securely on the mathematics of the miracle of Isaac Newton's brain.

This stunning answer brought to my mind the essential problem of knowledge considered by Immanuel Kant. How is it, he asks, that, standing in this place here, we can make mathematical calculations that we know will be valid in that place over there? Nobody knew how deep the dust on the surface of the moon was going to be, but the mathematicians knew exactly how to calculate the laws of the space through which the astronauts would fly, not only around our familiar earth, but also around the moon and through all those miles of unexplored space between. How is it, asked Kant, that mathematical judgments can be madea priori about space, and about relationships in space?

When you walk past a rippling mirror, you cannot predict what the dimensions of your passing reflection are going to be. Not so, however, in space. Through the whole of space there are no such transformations of the mathematics of dimension. When we saw on our television screens that parachuting spacecraft of the second moon flight descending from the sky to the very spot in the sea that had been programed for its splashdown, we all became eyewitness to the fact that, although the moon is over two hundred thousand miles away from us, a knowledge of the laws of the space through which it moves was already in our minds (or at least in Newton's mind) centuries before we got there. Also known beforehand was the fact that speeds out there could be timed according to earthly measure: that the distance covered in a minute out there would be the same as in a minute here. Which is to say, we had prior knowledge of those matters. And we know, also, that the same laws will apply when our spaceships get to Mars, to Jupiter, to Saturn, and even out beyond.

Space and time, as Kant already recognized, are the "a prioriforms of sensibility," the antecedent preconditions of all experience and action whatsoever, implicitly known to our body and senses even before birth, as the field in which we are to function. They are not simply "out there," as the planets are, to be learned about analytically, through separate observations. We carry their laws within us, and so have already wrapped our minds around the universe. "The world," wrote the poet Rilke, "is large, but in us it is deep as the sea." We carry the laws within us by which it is held in order. And we ourselves are no less mysterious. In searching out its wonders, we are learning simultaneously the wonder of ourselves. That moon flight as an outward journey was outward into ourselves. And I do not mean this poetically, but factually, historically. I mean that the actual fact of the making and the visual broadcasting of that trip has transformed, deepened, and extended human consciousness to a degree and in a manner that amount to the opening of a new spiritual era.

The first step of that booted foot onto the moon was very, very cautious. The second astronaut descended, and for a time the two moved about carefully, testing their own balances, the weights of their gear in the new environment. But then -- by golly! -- they were both suddenly jumping, hopping, loping about like kangaroos; and the two moon-walkers of the following voyage were giggling, laughing, enjoying themselves like a pair of lunatic kids -- moonstruck! And I thought, "Well now, that lovely satellite has been out there circling our earth for some four billion years like a beautiful but lonesome woman trying to catch earth's eye. She has now at last caught it, and has caught thereby ourselves. And as always happens when a temptation of that kind has been responded to, a new life has opened, richer, more exciting and fulfilling, for both of us than was known, or even thought of or imagined, before." There are youngsters among us, even now, who will beliving on that moon; others who will visit Mars. And their sons? What voyages are to be theirs?

I wonder how many of my readers saw that motion picture,2001, of the imagined space odyssey of a mighty spacecraft of the not very distant future, a future indeed that most of those watching the film would themselves live to see. The adventure opens with some entertaining views of a community of little manlike apes a million or so years ago: a company of those apelike hominids known to science today as Australopithecines, snarling, fighting with each other, and generally behaving like any agglomeration of simians. However, there was among them one who had in his dawning soul the potentiality of something better; and that potential was evident in his sense of awe before the unknown, his fascinated curiosity, with a desire to approach and to explore. This, in the film, was suggested in a symbolic scene showing him seated in wonder before a curious panel of stone standing mysteriously upright in the landscape. And while the others continued in the usual way of ape-men, absorbed in their economic problems (getting food for themselves), social enjoyments (searching for lice in each other's hair), and political activities (variously fighting), this particular one, apart and alone, contemplating the panel, presently reached out and cautiously felt it -- rather as our astronaut's foot first approached, then gently touched down on the moon. And he was followed, then, by others, though not all; for indeed there remain among us many still who are unmoved by what Goethe called "the best part of man." These remain, even now, in the condition of those prehuman apes who are concerned only with economics, sociology, and politics, hurling bricks at each other and licking then their own wounds.

Thoseare not the ones that are heading for the moon or even noticing that the greatest steps in the progress of mankind have been the products not of wound-licking, but of acts inspired by awe. And in recognition of the continuity through all time of this motivating principle in the evolution of our species, the authors of this film of which I am speaking showed again symbolically that same mysterious panel standing in a hidden quarter of the moon, approached and touched there by space travelers; and then again, floating free in most distant space, mysterious still -- as it has always been and must forever remain.

One of the earliest signs of a separation of human from animal consciousness may be seen in man's domestication of fire -- which I would like to relate to the symbolism of that slab. When this domestication occurred, we do not know; but we do know that as early as 400,000B.C. fires were being kindled and fostered in the caves of Peking Man. What for? That is something else that we do not know. It is clear that the hearths were not used for cooking. They may have been used for heat, or to keep dangerous animals away; more likely, though, for the fascination of the dancing flames. We have from all over the world innumerable myths of the capturing of fire; and in these it is usual to represent the adventure as undertaken not because anyone knew what the practical uses of fire would be, but because it was fascinating. People would dance around it, sit and watch it. Also, it is usual in these myths to represent the separation of mankind from the beasts as having followed upon that fundamental adventure.

Fire is revered generally as a deity to this day. The lighting of the household fire is in many cultures a ritual act. We hear of the holy Vestal Fire as the most honored goddess of Rome. The fascination of fire, like that of the symbolic panel in the film of which I have been telling, may be taken as the earliest sign in the records of our species of that openness to fascination and willingness to adventure for it at great risk which has been ever the essential mark of the uniquely human -- as opposed to common animal -- faculties of our species, and which is eminently represented in the adventure to which I am here giving praise.

I have discussed in earlier chapters some of the other orders of fascination by which the members of our species have been led to surpass themselves: the fascination felt by hunting tribes in the animal forms all about them, by planting tribes in the miracle of the planted seed, and by the old Sumerian priestly watchers of the skies in the passages of planets and circulation of stars. It is all so mysterious, so wonderfully strange! Nietzsche, it was, who called man "the sick animal,"das kranke Tier; for we are open, undefined, in the patterning of our lives. Our nature is not like that of the other species, stereotyped to fixed ways. A lion has to be a lion all its life; a dog, to be a dog. But a human being can be an astronaut, a troglodyte, philosopher, mariner, tiller of the soil, or sculptor. He can play and actualize in his life any one of any number of hugely differing destinies; and what he chooses to incarnate in this way will be determined finally neither by reason nor even by common sense, but by infusions of excitement: "visions that fool him out of his limits," as the poet Robinson Jeffers called them. "Humanity," Jeffers declares, "is the mold to break away from, the crust to break through, the coal to break into fire, the atom to be split." And what fools us out of our limits in this way?

wild loves that leap over the walls of nature,

the wild fence-vaulter science,

Unless intelligence of far stars,

dim knowledge of the spinning demons that make an atom.[1]

In the beginning, as it seems, it was the fascination of fire that fooled man onward to a life style formerly unknown, where family hearths would become the centers and revered sanctifiers of distinctly human circles of concern. Then no sooner was he separated from the beasts than it was the animal and plant models of life that impressed themselves on man's imagination, luring our human species on to large mythological patternings both of the outward social orders and of inward individual experiences of identity: shamans living as wolves, ritualized covenants with the buffalo, masked dancers, totem ancestors, and the rest. Or a whole community might govern itself according to plant laws and rites, sacrificing, dismembering, and interring its best and most vital members to increase the general good. "Truly, truly, I say unto you," we read in the John Gospel, in continuation of this image, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life shall lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24-25). Or again, Christ's parable at the Last Supper of himself as the True Vine: "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:4-5).

As here expressed, the mythic imagery of the plant suggests an organic participation of the individual life in the larger life and body of the group, "fooling him out of his limits." Comparably, among hunting tribes with their rites based on mythologies of covenants with the animal world, a reciprocity is recognized that extends the bounds of concern of the human spirit to include much more than its own most immediate interests. The most exalting fascination that has ever, up to now, inspired human thought and life, however, was that which seized the priestly watchers of the night skies of Mesopotamia about 3500B.C.: the perception of a cosmic order, mathematically definable, with which the structure of society should be brought to accord. For it was then that the hieratically ordered city-state came into being, which stands at the source, and for millenniums stood as the model, of all higher, literate civilization whatsoever. Not economics, in other words, but celestial mathematics were what inspired the religious forms, the arts, literatures, sciences, moral and social orders which in that period elevated mankind to the task of civilized life -- again fooling us out of our limits, to achievements infinitely beyond any aims that mere economics, or even politics, could ever have inspired.

Today, as we all know, such thoughts and forms are of a crumbling past and the civilizations dependent on them in disarray and dissolution. Not only are societies no longer attuned to the courses of the planets; sociology and physics, politics and astronomy are no longer understood to be departments of a single science. Nor is the individual interpreted (in the democratic West, at least) as an inseparable subordinate part of the organism of a state. What we know today, if we know anything at all, is that every individual is unique and that the laws of his life will not be those of any other on this earth. We also know that if divinity is to be found anywhere, it will not be "out there," among or beyond the planets. Galileo showed that the same physical laws that govern the movements of bodies on earth apply aloft, to the celestial spheres; and our astronauts, as we have all now seen, have been transported by those earthly laws to the moon. They will soon be on Mars and beyond. Furthermore, we know that the mathematics of those outermost spaces will already have been computed here on earth by human minds. There are no laws out there that are not right here; no gods out there that are not right here, and not only here, but within us, in our minds. So what happens now to those childhood images of the ascent of Elijah, Assumption of the Virgin, Ascension of Christ -- all bodily -- into heaven?

What are you doing, Earth, in heaven?

Tell me, what are you doing, Silent Earth?

Our astronauts on the moon have pulled the moon to earth and sent the earth soaring to heaven. From the deserts of Mars this Mother Earth of ours will be again seen, higher, remoter, more heavenly still; yet no nearer to any god than right now. And from Jupiter, higher, farther; and so on; and so on: our planet ever mounting, higher and higher, as our sons, grandsons, and their great-great-grandsons proceed outward on the paths that we, in these latest years, have just opened, searching, adventuring in a space that is already present in our minds.

In other words, there has just now occurred a transformation of the mythological field that is of a magnitude matched only by that of the Old Sumerian sky-watch in the fourth millenniumB.C., and in fact, what is dissolving is the world not only of gods and men, but of the state as well, which they, in that inspired time, brought into being. I was greatly impressed, many years ago, by the works of a man whom I still regard as having been the most acute student of mythologies of his generation: Leo Frobenius, who viewed the entire history of mankind as a great and single organic process, comparable, in its stages of growth, maturation, and continuation toward senility, to the stages of any single lifetime. Very much as the individual life begins in childhood and advances through adolescence to maturity and old age, so likewise, the lifetime of our human race. Its childhood was of the long, long distant period of the primitive hunters, fishers, root-foragers, and planters, living in immediate relationship with their animal and plant neighbors. The second stage, which Frobenius termed the Monumental, commenced with the rise of the earliest agriculturally based, urban, and literate civilizations, each structured to accord with an imagined cosmic order, made known by way of the movements and conditions of the planetary lights. For those lights were then supposed to be the residences of governing spirits; whereas, as just remarked, we now know them to be as material as ourselves. The laws of earth and of our own minds have been extended to incorporate what formerly were the ranges and the powers of the gods, now recognized as of ourselves. Hence, the whole imagined support of the Monumental Order has been withdrawn from "out there," found centered in ourselves, and a new world age projected, which is to be global, "materialistic" (as Frobenius termed it), comparable in spirit to the spirit of old age in its disillusioned wisdom and concern for the physical body, concentrating rather on fulfillments in the present than on any distant future. The residence of the spirit now is experienced as centered not in fire, in the animal and plant worlds, or aloft among the planets and beyond, but in men, right here on earth: the earth and its population, which our astronauts beheld and photographed rising above the moon into Heaven.

My friend Alan Watts in a lecture once proposed an amusing image to replace the old one (now no longer tenable) of man as a Heaven-sent stranger in this world, who, when the mortal coil of his body will have been cast away in death, is to soar in spirit to his proper source and home with God in Heaven. "The truth of the matter," Dr. Watts proposed to his audience, "is that you didn't comeinto this world at all. You cameout of it, in just the same way that a leaf comes out of a tree or a baby from a womb. . . Just as Jesus said that one doesn't gather figs from thistles or grapes from thorns, so also you don't gather people from a world that isn't peopling. Our world is peopling, just as the apple tree apples, and just as the vine grapes." We are a natural product of this earth, that is to say; and, as Dr. Watts observed in that same talk, if we are intelligent beings, it must be that we are the fruits of an intelligent earth, symptomatic of an intelligent energy system; for "one doesn't gather grapes from thorns."[2]

We may think of ourselves, then, as the functioning ears and eyes and mind of this earth, exactly as our own ears and eyes and minds are of our bodies. Our bodies are one with this earth, this wonderful "oasis in the desert of infinite space"; and the mathematics of that infinite space, which are the same as of Newton's mind -- our mind, the earth's mind, the mind of the universe -- come to flower and fruit in this beautiful oasis through ourselves.

Let us once more recall: when that protohuman troglodyte Sinanthropus, in his dismal cave, responded to the fascination of fire, it was to the apparition of a power that was already present and operative in his own body: heat, temperature, oxidation; as also in the volcanic earth, in Jupiter, and in the sun. When the masked dancers of the totemistic hunting tribes identified themselves with the holy powers recognized in the animals of their killing, it was again the apparition of an aspect of themselves that they were intuiting and honoring, which we all share with the beasts: instinctive intelligence in accord with the natural order of Mother Earth. Similarly, in relation to the plant world: there again, the apparition is of an aspect of ourselves, namely our nourishment and growth. Many mythologies, and not all of them primitive, represent mankind as having sprung plant-like from the earth -- the earth "peopling" -- or from trees. And we have the image of the "Second Adam," Christ crucified, as the fruit of the tree of life. There is also the Buddha's tree of wisdom; and Yggdrasil of the early Germans. All are trees revelatory of the wisdom of life, which is inherent already in the plant-like processes by which our bodies took shape in our mothers' wombs, to be born as creatures already prepared to breathe the world's air, to digest and assimilate the world's food through complex chemical processes, to see the world's sights and to think the world's thoughts according to mathematical principles that will be operative forever in the most distant reaches of space and of time.

I have noticed in the Orient that when the Buddhists build their temples they often choose a hilltop site with a great command of horizon. One experiences simultaneously in such places an expansion of view and diminution of oneself -- with the sense, however, of an extension of oneself in spirit to the farthest reach. And I have noticed also, when flying -- particularly over oceans -- that the world of sheerly physical nature, of air and cloud and the marvels of light there experienced, is altogether congenial. Here on earth it is to the lovely vegetable nature-world that we respond; there aloft, to the sublimely spatial. People used to think, "How little is man in relation to the universe!" The shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric world view seemed to have removed man from the center -- and the center seemed so important! Spiritually, however, the center is where sight is. Stand on a height and view the horizon. Stand on the moon and view the whole earth rising -- even by way of television, in your parlor. And with each expansion of horizon, from the troglodytal cave to the Buddhist temple on the hilltop -- and on now to the moon -- there has been, as there must inevitably be, not only an expansion of consciousness, in keeping with ever-widening as well as deepening insights into the nature of Nature (which is of one nature with ourselves), but also an enrichment, refinement, and general melioration of the conditions of human physical life.

It is my whole present thesis, consequently, that we are at this moment participating in one of the very greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of outside nature but also of our own deep inward mystery that has ever been taken, or that ever will or ever can be taken. And what are we hearing, meanwhile, from those sociological geniuses that are, these days, swarming on our activated campuses? I saw the answer displayed the other day on a large poster in a bookstore up at Yale: a photograph of one of our astronauts on a desert of the moon, and the comment beneath him, "So what!"

But to return, finally, to the mythological, theological aspect of this moment: there was a prophetic medieval Italian abbot, Joachim of Floris, who in the early thirteenth century foresaw the dissolution of the Christian Church and dawn of a terminal period of earthly spiritual life, when the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, would speak directly to the human heart without ecclesiastical mediation. His view, like that of Frobenius, was of a sequence of historic stages, of which our own was to be the last; and of these he counted four. The first was, of course, that immediately following the Fall of man, before the opening of the main story, after which there was to unfold the whole great drama of Redemption, each stage under the inspiration of one Person of the Trinity. The first was to be of the Father, the Laws of Moses and the People of Israel; the second of the Son, the New Testament and the Church; and now finally (and here, of course, the teachings of this clergyman went apart from the others of his communion), a third age, which he believed was about to commence, of the Holy Spirit, that was to be of saints in meditation, when the Church, become superfluous, would in time dissolve. It was thought by not a few in Joachim's day that Saint Francis of Assisi might represent the opening of the coming age of direct, pentecostal spirituality. But as I look about today and observe what is happening to our churches in this time of

perhaps the greatest access of mystically toned religious zeal our civilization has known since the close of the Middle Ages, I am inclined to think that the years foreseen by the good Father Joachim of Floris must have been our own.

For there is no divinely ordained authority any more that wehave to recognize. There is no anointed messenger of God's law. In our world today all civil law is conventional. No divine authority is claimed for it: no Sinai; no Mount of Olives. Our laws are enacted and altered byhuman determination, and within their secular jurisdiction each of us is free to seek his own destiny, his own truth, to quest for this or for that and to find it through his own doing. The mythologies, religions, philosophies, and modes of thought that came into being six thousand years ago and out of which all the monumental cultures both of the Occident and of the Orient -- of Europe, the Near and Middle East, the Far East, even early America -- derived their truths and lives, are dissolving from around us, and we are left, each on his own to follow the star and spirit of his own life. And I can think of no more appropriate symbolic heroes for such a time than the figures of our splendid moon-men. Nor can I think of a more appropriate text on which to close this chapter's celebration of their doing than the following lines from Robinson Jeffers's Roan Stallion:

The atoms bounds-breaking,

Nucleus to sun, electrons to planets, with recognition

Not praying, self-equaling, the whole to the whole,

the microcosm

Not entering nor accepting entrance, more equally,

more utterly, more incredibly conjugate

With the other extreme and greatness; passionately

perceptive of identity. . .[3]

The solar system and the atom, the two extreme extremes of scientific exploration, recognized as identical, yet distinct! Analogous must be our own identity with the All, of which we are the ears and eyes and mind.

The very great physicist Erwin Schrödinger has made the same metaphysical point in his startling and sublime little book, My View of the World .[4]"All of us living beings belong together," he there declares, "in as much as we are all in reality sides or aspects of one single being, which may perhaps in western terminology be called God while in the Upanishads its name is Brahman."

Evidently it is not science that has diminished man or divorced him from divinity. On the contrary, according to this scientist’s view, which, remarkably, rejoins us to the ancients, we are to recognize in this whole universe a reflection magnified of our own most inward nature; so that we are indeed its ears, its eyes, its thinking, and its speech -- or, in theological terms, God’s ears, God’s eyes, God’s thinking, and God’s Word; and, by the same token, participants here and now in an act of creation that is continuous in the whole infinitude of that space of our mind through which the planets fly, and our fellows of earth now among them.

The US spends far more money playing computer games and watching movies about pretend aliens and astronauts than it does on NASA.

Neil Armstrong: one giant leap into the dark

Putting a man on the Moon in 1969 was a formidable achievement, but did Neil Armstrong make his small step on to the surface 50 years too early, asks Michael Hanlon.


By Michael Hanlon
7:43AM BST 27 Aug 2012

I was one of the 600 million people who watched Neil Armstrong’s Small Step on to the Sea of Tranquility live on tiny black and white televisions. Dragged out of bed in the early hours on July 21 1969, I only vaguely understood what was happening. I was four and a half.

But I knew that a man on the Moon was a big deal. Back then, everyone assumed this was indeed a giant leap into the future, the beginning of a space age not for the chosen few but for us all. By the time I was at school, we all took it for granted that we would be following in Armstrong’s footsteps when we grew up.

We collected the Apollo badges and, later, glued together Airfix models of the magnificent spacecraft, towering machines that looked more like cathedrals than vehicles.

The future beckoned, as shiny-white as those sundrenched rockets on their Florida launchpads. I was one of the millions back then who fell in love with space and it is partly thanks to Neil Armstrong and fellow crew member Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin that I write books about it and have tried to meet as many of the Moonwalkers as I can. But sadly, that dream that I and others would be able to follow in their footsteps one day was not to be.
They are all old men, now, the Moonwalkers, and with the death of Armstrong there are just eight humans left alive who have walked on the surface of another world. When they are gone, we will have lost the last living links with what British space historian Dr David Harland has called “a piece of the 21st century transported into the 1960s”.

As the Apollo programme recedes into history, the more unreal it seems. Back in 1961, just 57 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright first took to the air in their string-and-canvas contraptions, President John F Kennedy pledged to put an American on the Moon and bring him home again before 1970. Only one person, the Russian Yuri Gagarin, had flown in space. America’s manned space programme, Mercury, was embryonic and the US had to rely on the former-Nazi rocketeer Wernher von Braun to telescope what should have realistically taken 40 years into less than a decade.

For Apollo to succeed, a whole technology had to be created from scratch. This meant not just firing space capsules into space and splashing them down again, but assembling large complex craft in orbit, keeping humans alive in the radiation-drenched vacuum of outer space for days at a time and somehow navigating across a quarter of a million miles of space with pinpoint accuracy.

It meant not just building a rocket capable of propelling 120 tons of material into orbit (the mighty Saturn V) but developing computers powerful enough and small enough to fit into a capsule. It is a myth that Apollo gave us Teflon, but without that programme we would have had to wait a lot longer for the computer revolution to arrive (the Apollo Guidance Computer was the direct ancestor of your laptop or iPhone).

But the technology alone would have been nothing without finding a new breed of heroes to ride in and operate these magnificent machines. America’s astronauts defied easy categorisation. Armstrong himself was two parts warrior and hyper-fit macho hero to one part pensive engineering and aeronautics-obsessed geek.

I have been privileged to meet four of the Moonwalkers. They are indeed men apart. All brilliant, some prickly. Armstrong was usually described as a “recluse”, but he was not; this being a word used by journalists to mean “does not give interviews”. One got the impression that it was all too much, the sheer weight of expectation upon the shoulders of the first Moonwalker more than any human could handle.

The second man on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, like most astronauts preferred then and now to talk about flying and the mathematics of celestial navigation than about the glory. Aldrin, an intense, extraordinarily intelligent man, told me that one of the mistakes made by NASA was “that we never sent anyone who could really communicate what was happening”. As well as engineers and pilots, the Moonwalkers should have included writers, a poet perhaps, or an artist among the pilot-jocks. Then, along with the seismographs and geological samples, the analysis of the lunar soil and measurements of craters and mountains, we would have heard how the Moon smells of gunpowder and tastes of burnt sulphur; of how, after taking their bulky suits off in the module, moon dust and grit would get into every crack and crevice on the body, of the cold and the terror, and exactly what it is like to gaze up at the Earth, a blue and green orb that from the Moon appears four times the size that the Moon does from our world.

And the Moon – the reality of it – has remained a missed opportunity for art and literature. Even as Armstrong, Aldrin and the Command Module pilot Mike Collins were on their way, the decision was being made to abort humanity’s giant leap into the cosmos.

Politics played a big part. Richard Nixon inherited Apollo from his hated rival JFK and, while he was happy to bathe in the reflected glory of Apollo 11, he saw no need to follow it up with the planned Moon bases and manned missions to Mars that von Braun insisted were possible by 1985. The last three Moon missions – Apollos 18, 19 and 20 – were quietly cancelled, a tragic decision as the rockets had been built and the money already spent. NASA’s grand vision shrank to a parochial horizon of space stations and shuttles, missions that were banal in their ambition and scope and in which the public soon lost interest.

Even during its pomp, when Apollo was hoovering up about 4 per cent of America’s GDP, polls showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for manned spaceflight. For the enthusiasts, of which there were millions, Apollo was the most important adventure in the history of mankind. But for the rest – many more millions, it was as relevant as Dorothy’s journey to Oz.

So perhaps the greatest irony of Apollo was that its very success ended human expansion into space. Armstrong’s triumph was not the beginning of something new; it was, in fact, the beginning of the end. By meeting JFK’s absurd, vainglorious deadline, NASA won the space race, but the thing about races is that when they are won, they are over. It is a myth that America turned its back on space because of the cost; America’s wars consume far more cash than even Apollo did. There has always been the money – what has been lacking since JFK made his pledge has been vision and will.

A further irony is that while enthusiasm for real space exploration may have been limited, America’s – and the rest of the world’s – enthusiasm for fake space exploration has, since the Apollo years, boomed. The US spends far more money playing computer games and watching movies about pretend aliens and astronauts than it does on NASA. The most successful films ever made – Avatar, Star Wars, ET and the rest – have been about aliens and imagined futures in space. Here in Britain the BBC has proclaimed that Dr Who, a science fiction TV series that began in the Apollo era, may go on for ever.

My belief is that Apollo was simply a programme out of its time, a dead-end simply because it came 50, maybe even 100 years too early. We went to the Moon and simply didn’t know what to do next, just as the Vikings discovered America half a millennium before they should. In a recent, rare interview, Armstrong bemoaned the lack of direction at NASA, and he was right. Today, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many people believe he never actually went to the Moon or stepped on its surface, that the landing was brilliantly faked.
We are still exploring space, of course, but by proxy, using machines such as the brilliant Curiosity rover that landed on Mars last week. NASA’s hopes of getting a man on Mars and beyond are doomed and it is probably best for now to leave it to the robots, to search for life in the cosmos and leave the giant leaps to someone else. Because someone – most likely the Chinese or privateers – will one day take up the Apollo mantle from Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad, Bean, Shepard, Mitchell, Scott, Irwin, Young, Duke, Cernan and Schmitt. But for the surviving Moonmen, and maybe even for people of my generation, that day will probably come too late.
Michael Hanlon is the author of 'The Real Mars’ and 'The Worlds of Galileo’, which chronicle the robotic exploration of the Solar System