Hannah Arendt, in the prologue of The Human Condition, outlines the psychopolitcal importance of the first earth-born object successfully launched into the universe in 1957 as one of relief, rather than triumphal joy:
“This event, second in importance to no other, not even to the splitting of the atom, would have been greeted with unmitigated joy if it had not been for the uncomfortable military and political circumstances attending it. But, curiously enough, this joy was not triumphal; it was not pride or awe at the tremendousness of human power and mastery which filled the hearts of men, who now, when they looked up from the earth toward the skies, could behold there a thing of their own making. The immediate reaction, expressed on the spur of the moment, was relief about the first “step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth. And this strange statement, far from being the accidental slip of some American reporter, unwittingly echoed the extraordinary line which, more than twenty years ago, had been carved on the funeral obelisk for one of Russia’s great scientists: “Mankind will not remain bound to the earth forever.” ”
Arendt continues by elaborating our ‘newest experiences’ and ‘most recent fears,’ in some of the most powerful political writing of the twentieth century:
“The earth is the very quintessence of the human condition, and earthly nature, for all we know, may be unique in the universe in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice. The human artifice of the world separates human existence from all mere animal environment, but life itself is outside this artificial world, and through life man remains related to all other living organisms. For some time now, a great many scientific endeavors have been directed towards making life also “artificial,” toward cutting the last tie through which even man belongs among the children of nature…
This [technologically produced] future man, whom the scientists tell us they will produce in no more than a hundred years, seems to be possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself. There is no reason to doubt our abilities to accomplish such an exchange, just as there is no reason to doubt our present ability to destroy all organic life on earth. The question is only whether we wish to use our new scientific and technical knowledge in this direction , and this question cannot be decided by scientific means […]
The trouble concerns the fact that the “truths” of the modern scientific world view, though they can be demonstrated in mathematical formulas and proved technologically, will no longer lend themselves to normal expression in speech and thought. […] …[I]t could be that we, who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking.
What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.”
I’m writing this on a laptop, a complex organization of rare and common metals and materials. In a few years it will find a home in a landfill, returned to the processes that birthed it, only this time unrecognizably stubborn; lodged in the sectional esophagus of a hungry earth, it will be indigestible.
We’ve taken from the earth, filled it with our garbage. “Man walks atop the earth”…no – we are what the earth is doing. Let’s think what we are doing.