January 20, 2008
Today was our moral moon landing. Those of us alive when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon understood we were witnessing a transcendent moment, not just for Americans, but for all mankind. We were finally viewing the earth from a silent, solemn distance, seeing it whole, without artificial divisions and borders. Of course there were borders, and armies, and less commendable rockets than the Saturn V threatening the earth’s destruction, and ordinary people carelessly polluting the very atmosphere to which they owed their existence, of which the moon had none.
For this was a technical achievement. It was a moment of which people had always dreamed, or not dared to dream, since our oldest ancestors first peered at the night sky. And those of us watching still could not believe, even as Mr. Armstrong was speaking his famous words. There had never been in the history of the world such an indisputable example of mankind’s greatness.
But not his goodness. For morally we remained a disappointing species. The history of humanity is a story of progress. But technical progress. From stone to iron to bronze to agriculture to industry to information, nearly all our achievements have been achievements in technology. If we look at our ancestors and ask what separates us from them, we could say that we are clothed in the raiments of civilization. We live longer more complicated lived. We talk with people continents away, we interact with machines. We walk on the moon and disentangle DNA. We are greater, by far.
But are we better?
Today we can say: Yes, we are.