A clear example is the abolition of slavery. All civilisations have employed slavery; what is remarkable about our own is that it is the first to have outlawed slavery -- not through its prior moral superiority, but through industrialisation, which forced moral progress upon us. (The crucial legislative steps were taken by the British parliament in 1807 and 1834, in the United States in 1865, and finally in Brazil in 1888.)
Slavery is incompatible with a high-tech society, which requires an increasingly educated, affluent work-force, and the increasingly efficient employment of the talents of all its people. The 20th-century Nazi and Communist catastrophes show the reverse process in action: the result of renouncing moral progress is to re-introduce the horrendous social inefficiencies of war and economic stagnation.
"I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of . . . 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a united facade that would cry out for unified treatment . . .
"I think the view from 100,000 miles could be invaluable in getting people together to work out joint solutions, by causing them to realize that the planet we share unites us in a way far more basic and far more important than differences in skin color or religion or economic system. The pity of it is that so far the view from 100,000 miles has been the exclusive property of a handful of test pilots, rather than the world leaders who need this new perspective, or the poets who might communicate it to them.
"[. . .] At one hundred miles up, you are just skimming the surface, and you don't get a feeling for the Earth as a whole. It's a pity that we have stopped going a greater distance from Earth, as with the moon missions. By that, I mean 100,000 miles minimum. When you are in orbit, it's like a roller-coaster ride. On the way to the moon, that feeling of motion stops. It is definitely two very different elements.
"Also, seeing the moon up close is really startling. When you are sixty miles away, you realize we are really lucky to be living on Earth. You sort of have to see the "second planet" [the moon] to appreciate the first [the Earth]."
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins
quoted in Frank White, The Overview Effect (Houghton Mifflin, 1987), p.202.
Last revised 25 May 2003 / 34th Apollo Anniversary Year
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