One day in April, 50 years ago, disaster struck a vessel that was, at the time, 330,000 km from Earth. The Apollo 13 mission whose anniversary is April 17 each year is of particular importance to us now.
Looking it at through the lens provided by half a century’s distance from the event makes for sobering reading. For a start no one had ever truly prepared for something like this and, when it happened, it found the crew in space and ground Control, unready.
We know that, while the mission failed, the crew was brought back home safe. What we don’t know, or at least fully didn’t until now, is how implicit trust in the layers of a system led to a disaster because no one was specifically tasked with looking at the warnings.
There are two major takeaways from this consistency in our behavior. First, that we need to make it somebody’s job to be on lookout, otherwise no one will do it. Second, that we have, as a species, the ability to pull off the impossible when we have to.
The late Muhammad Ali famously quipped that “impossible is an opinion”. This is true. Impossible is always a perception. The unexpected needn’t find us unprepared. Uncertainty needn’t blindside us all the time.
These answers beg a different question: If we prove ourselves capable of dealing with the unexpected and doing the impossible why do we then fail to take into account the present and sufficiently heed the warnings we receive about issues that affect us all?
There is no easy answer to that one unfortunately. The systems we have in place, as countries, as civilizations, have weak systemic memory. Cultural memory the means through which we establish a societally stable identity so that we can create social structures and progress as a civilization is, unfortunately, hamstrung by nationalism. This leaves us capable of overlooking warning signs whose importance we fail to recognize and vulnerable to disasters no country can handle.
The complexity of our situation is evidenced by the focus on experience vs memory, the value we place on heritage and a clearer understanding on why monuments matter. Our cultural memory can be made to endure across national borders. Better memory encoding within a globalization drive can ensure we don’t forget what’s important to us while still learning from the past.
A global government needn’t necessarily be as deeply philosophical or ideological as our earliest thinking about it make it. But it will need to be practical tasked with solving issues and dealing with problems that no country can deal with alone.
If we want to keep on pulling off the impossible and surviving long term as a species we must become even better in what we have always been good at: working together to provide solutions to problems that seem impossible to overcome.
I know you have shopped responsibly. You have coffee and donuts. Croissants and cookies. Maybe, even, some chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.