Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Will the swine flu hit Aspen? There’s a good chance, since it originated in Mexico. Not only does our Hispanic population have regular contact south of the border, but half of our valley takes spring vacations to Central America.

Swine flu may not be the global connection Aspen or any place in the world wants, but it’s unavoidable since human interconnections on Planet Earth know no borders when it comes to contagions, pandemics and episodic migrations.

There is more than gravity holding our clay feet to the Earth. We may fool ourselves into a hubristic self-perception as interplanetary, cosmic beings, but we are rooted to the Earth like trees. We may act like earth aliens in our ignorance of the biosphere that encircles us with life, but we are Earthlings, often united more by our foibles than by our glories. Our common vulnerabilities are the global glue that sticks us together.

The so-called economic crisis is more than a national issue, and it’s more than financial in scope. What we’re reeling under worldwide is a combination of defaulted debt, overextended credit, material gluttony, natural resource depletion, disparity of wealth, and environmental degradation. When we fail systemically, we fail big, as we are with climate change, the biggest systemic challenge in the history of man.

The U.S. is not alone in this perfect maelstrom, which is rising like a nimbo-cumulus above our weak human agency. The world’s fiscal and ecological fate is common to us all, and its locus is this tiny planet whirling through space and time, a glimmer of blue-green in a vast, lifeless void.

If our global glue must flow from the indifference of nature and the hubris of man, then so be it. But this fundamental lesson must be learned: We are united by common need, whether we live in Aspen, Angola, Australia or Acapulco.

As the swine flu pandemic spreads across the landscape, the human community becomes more unified. Some will play the blame game and demonize one race or another, one nationality or another. But when a neighbor is stricken, blame is useless.

It all boils down to one word, to the single concept that Darwin described as the foundation for moral reasoning ” sympathy. Humans and various animals are sympathetic to others through an extension of self to another. As John Donne poeticized the concept, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

In his book “Cosmos,” Carl Sagan defines us as planetary wanderers who look to the stars for possibilities. In this quest we long for something more than the Earth can provide, something beyond the limitations of the known world.

“Earth First!” proclaims the roughneck’s bumper sticker. “We’ll drill the others later.” Such hubris reflects man’s collective ego, a proclamation that the Earth is not enough for our insatiable appetites, our grandiose notions of empire, our endless entitlements.

The view from space provides an antidote. As most astronauts discover, the view is profoundly humbling. From that view comes a longing for home on the blue-green earth of our biological origins, with all its wrens, warts and blemishes.

If we are united through common adversity, then we’re getting a big dose of unification on the financial, environmental, and health fronts. How we address these challenges as a species defines who we are psychologically and spiritually. How we act together will determine our survival.

The 1970s movie “Planet of the Apes” portrays a rude homecoming where the remorse over collective bad choices comes too late. The arm of the Statue of Liberty emerges from the sand like Ozymandias in Shelley’s poem. Our choice is clear: We either embrace a messy sense of unity or we find ourselves buried by the sands of time.