restricted access Chapter 10. Troubleshooting
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148 CHAPTER 10 TROUBLESHOOTING In the 1880s Oscar Wilde made a tour of the American South. He was there in part to promote a traveling production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, a show in which he was heavily mocked. So he was bathed in even more irony than usual, but as he soon discovered, the beauty of it was lost on many still kicking through the ashes of their late crusade . Wherever he went, he later said, whatever he remarked upon, people told him, “You should have seen it before the War.” Still, he never grasped the depth of feeling behind those words until the evening in Charleston when he said, “How beautiful the moon is!” Came the reply: “You should have seen it, sir, before the War.” In some stereopticon of the future I see a twist on that same idea: Earth’s last survivors standing in their steaming rags looking skyward as reports of war are coming in. I’ll never look at it the same way again. Pope Brock ✴ 149 That’s what they said when Apollo landed. This is different. Of course things may not play out that way. To say that once humans are installed on the moon, animosities may be provoked, insults traded, supplies sabotaged, systems hacked, caves bombed, shrines defiled and settlements leveled under cover of darkness is not to predict it. Peace, as I said before, could hold for quite some time. The problems of motion, everyone shifting about in a sort of burglar’s creep, the care required for the smallest tasks, the thousand traceries of science connecting the whole: an awareness of living in a glass menagerie may be the very thing that protects it. I’m less confident of that though after stumbling across a letter Leonardo da Vinci wrote in the 1480s. It turns out that technology’s visionary supreme, the patron saint of the patent office, believed that ultimately nothing we invent will defeat the beast that stalks us from within. He pictured doomsday as the moment when the darkness inside all of us emerges and coalesces into one lumbering giant, and then “for us wretched mortals there avails not any flight, since this monster when advancing slowly far exceeds the speed of the swiftest courser . . .” Actually that scenario sounds a lot like Forbidden Planet (1956), in which Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) runs technology that once belonged to a vanished race—vanished, we learn, because they were attacked and massacred by their own “monsters of the id.” But it’s 150 ✴ TROUBLESHOOTING one thing to watch Walter Pidgeon’s subconscious running around loose. It’s something else to come upon da Vinci describing the few survivors of the Great Suicide living “after the manner of crabs and crickets.” At least it gave me pause. Then I thought, Hell, I’m more optimistic than that. But why? How can that be possible? There followed a long spell of looking for hope with a flashlight. I knew it was there; I could hear it somewhere ahead beating around like a bat. But it wouldn’t come near. So I gave up and whistled and thought of other things, and at last a couple of possibilities crept lichen-like to mind. The thing with feathers springs eternal? Yes, probably true and not to be sneezed at. The hope of a parent? That certainly. That’s centered in my chest: it’s the one kind of hope I think that grows stronger the worse things get. And there’s a third thing too that cheers me. As anyone who watched thousands of hours of TV in the 50s and 60s can tell you, the idea of good guys clobbering bad guys enters the very marrow of the partially developed mind, and nothing that happens in later life ever completely expels it. Having been reared in this cult—for that’s what it was, a sort of Procter & Gamble fundamentalism —in some faint, lambent way I’m still impervious to reality. All together that’s not a lot to push on with, but it’s something —and who knows, as we think our way through man’s Pope Brock ✴ 151 long-term lunar prospects perhaps we’ll find more cause for optimism yet. Let’s start then with our mission statement: to live in peace on the moon. What’s the chief threat? Sooner or later, “a gold rush with all the problems that entails,” as astronomer Paul Spudis put it...


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