The Moon revisited
Come July, it is fifty years since man landed on the Moon. 1969 is a long time ago. I was only 37 and just moving from the heady advertising world of wine and roses to the more sombre enclaves of the City and ‘Millocrat House’. Where there had been flowers there was now flour. Where I had been regarded as a Dusty Thinker I was now considered a Dusty Miller. The ticks on my Savoy Grill expenses submissions started to appear as question marks. Business was changing. At my insistence women were allowed into the Management Dining Room.
So it wasn’t only landing on the moon that shook us up. Our bowler hats were replaced by trilbys, our rolled umbrellas by plastic overmacs. Data was growing in volume, not to the extent that it would when personal computers appeared but enough to make lugging it home noticeably more of a chore. The banana in the briefcase became a calculator. As the Financial Times got heavier so its readability got lighter. Harold Wincott allowed his son to write his column.
What on earth was going to the moon for? We understood Camelot, appreciated the rhetoric and enjoyed the First Lady’s style and panache. But all that money to plant a flag, walk a mile and then come back again. Even David Livingstone was more purposeful than that. We were slow to realise that America’s confidence was waning, that Kennedy’s tenure was fragile as the economy faltered, and that his disastrous Bay of Pigs adventure had left a bitter taste. We saw the television pictures of attempted desegregation and wondered at the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. We had yet to realise how important the American values of those days were to us.
The Moon Landing was politically vital to Kennedy’s administration. For three weeks after he announced the programme America and the rest of the world shook with laughter. In the fourth week the United States voters rolled up their sleeves and set about making it happen. Economically it may have been a waste; politically it was a triumph. Humankind aspires to great achievements and this was a visible and memorable one.
In my childhood the stories of the Man in the Moon, and his cheese with holes in it, maintained an air of mystery about the universe. We half-believed the craters on its surface were the indents on a face. At the time of the big August Moon we knew were being watched. Suddenly, the mythology was dispelled. We had conquered space travel. Man was now in charge, whatever the prelates said. There was more to reaching the Moon than simply trampling in some dust.
Humankind had made a step forward that our parents had assumed would never be made. Since then more and greater steps towards humankind’s control of the universe and all it contains have been coming fast and furious. Now we assume we are whatever and whoever God was, and that immortality is but a flicker away. So much for technological revolutions. They will keep coming but we already know their potential. We have yet to comprehend their limits.
Human control over our physical existence is barely the outer fringe of real control of humankind. Brain, Mind, Feelings, Capacity for enhancement, are where our souls reside. At every stretch of our imagination is another corner, further away, another horizon waiting to be breached. These are not technologies but ideologies, not capacitors but pliables we can fashion to our own ethical standards. We shy away from controlling them for fear we can’t. We are more scared of God now he doesn’t exist than we ever were when we thought he might.
The standards we must fashion for ourselves need a moon-shot of major proportions. Without it they will wither even faster than they already are doing. The next human WOW! concept won’t be technological but philosophical. When you give young children LEGO they first scatter the pieces all over the floor. This is to prove their control. Later they start to make sense of the bits, fitting some of them together, trying to build a coherent something. If they persevere they will end up making a new possession, possibly beautiful, certainly challenging.
Our modern world is our LEGO. At present we have only the pieces. We are free to construct what we will. Can we apply our imagination to building something more than a casino?
If we can, we will survive as a race.
If we can, we will remain human.