The Overview Effect is a phenomenon experienced by a large number of veteran astronauts, who traveled to the moon and stars searching for answers to ancestral questions about who we are, what is our purpose, and what is our destiny. They were so focused on what was “out there” that it never occurred to them how breathtaking, how awesome, fragile and how perfect their home would look from mankind’s newest vantage point. It is this profound moment when they began to feel an overwhelming sense of inter connectivity, of unity, or purpose. That we are all part of one ecosystem, and that may have been the most important discovery of the journey. Fair warning: this post will get deep.
I wanted to write about this story because it moved me emotionally. It is compellingly told, with inspiring music and visuals which are intended to break a malignant mindset that pervades western culture. But before I can talk about this story, I need to explain what I think the problem is, how I contribute to it, and how you do too.
It is a founding block of human civilization, and it is rooted in the tendency of the human mind to categorize, segregate, and break down large, unquantifiable things into manageable things. It is this tendency that is the unfortunate father to nasty behaviors like stereotyping and racism, but also contributes to humanity’s greatest successes: problem solving, ingenuity, and culture. As a society we have taken our species, and we have broken it down from raw nature, forming artificial human boundaries. These lines in sand have compartmentalized homo sapiens, seven billion strong, into seven billion souls with identities and purposes. These “unique snowflakes” are not to be burdened with collective health, safety, preservation, hell – collective anything.
We have so many challenges to overcome in the next 100 years. While a realist would say that we are our greatest enemy, and have no chance to solve them all, I would not be alone in arguing that the opportunity cost of failure is too great for far too many. Growing concerns over human impact to environment, combating extreme poverty/hunger, stemming overpopulation, depleting natural resources… We do not care for ourselves as a collective, but in a fight or flight, us or them system, a custom made constraint- as if the only viable solutions contain collateral damage.
It would not be the first time that our species has been likened to that of a virus, that has infected this planet, destroyed natural order, and cannot be stopped. We move to an area and we multiply, consuming every natural resource, with no positive replacement. We create new worlds of mortar and stone, glass and steel, on the graves of self sustaining life.
And yet we bicker alone, as individuals, as millions of opinions with the right to be heard, over whether two men can get married, whether you can own an assault rifle, how to pay back all the made up currency that we owe other countries that is not tied back to any true value. We have lost a part of our perspective. Maybe we never had it… perspective, I mean. You would think with so many individuals, there would be so many chances to get it right. But you’d be wrong! A statistically insignificant few human beings have reached the conclusion that our species has a collective responsibility to protect ourselves and our world from our worst tendencies.
I contribute to the problem. I have an identity. I am aware of it. It evolved, and I helped shape it, and yet I feel in some ways that it is undisputed fact; my identity is not something to be manipulated or controlled but rather completely interwoven into the fabric of my experience that I have no choice but to define my life through it. My identity is distinct, it is unique, and self-aware. I can identify other entities that are not mine, but I am constrained to define them only through the lens of my unique, distinct awareness.
Interestingly, I don’t identify my self as human. Do you? I am a man, I am an American, I am a 20-something caucasion, but do I identify as human? Do we frame other people first as a human being, all delimiters second from that central origin? What would be different if we did?
I believe that this collective view of humanity, gained through the visceral experience of seeing our entire world in a way that downplays petty differences and highlights the synergy and symbiotic essence of life, is the gateway to the next stage of evolution. From tribesmen to cultured countrymen, from division to inclusion into a species identity, that feels like purpose.
I hope you enjoyed the video, the diatribe of activism and philosophy, the imagery, and (hopefully) feeling part of something bigger than yourself, for a change.