Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Body In Motion

Newton's Laws of Motion were the first definitive set of rules that allowed humanity to understand its relationship to the universe. He was the first scientist after Galileo to determine how the inimical forces of nature acted upon things in their environment in a systematic way. Others had nibbled around the edges of the problem – Newton boldly set forth his bible of science, a cookbook for God's works, as it were.

One of the most interesting of the laws states that “a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force.” In the Newtonian world, rolling a ball along an infinite and frictionless floor meant that once imparted with motion, the ball would continue on forever in a straight line unless it encountered something with which to exchange energy (another ball, a bullet, a dip in floor, etc.). A profound bit of thinking, to which Albert Einstein would apply corrections later on to account for all manner of forces unknown at the time of Newton. But this simple rule would provide a deep insight into how the world worked, and prove the driver for scientific inquiry right up to this day.

Newton's laws apply to the world we know, but they apply to humanity as well, in a manner more complicated than simple physics can calculate. Human beings are always in motion, and their path through life is often directed by inner forces as much as outer ones. We find it difficult sometimes to know which path to take, and can seemingly defy logic in the choices we make. Multiply this by the sheer number of us in any given place, and you get a whirling mixture, a humming, stirring, sweeping mass of humanity, always in motion. This creates a human momentum, and it can be said that the great mass of us moves in ways that are not easily discernible on our human scale, but are very evident in how we shape our landscape and our world.

If humanity can be said to be in motion, that motion is generally forward, toward an unknown future. A simple equation of motion might suffice to tell us how far we are going, and how fast we will get there, but the value we calculated will ultimately prove to be higher than our measurable progress. That is because there is a terrible drag on humanity, a friction, an inertia, brought about by members of our species for whom the constant march of progress is at too fast a pace. They would dig in their heels, cling to the past, and attempt to anchor us all to a history which, while filled with remarkable feats and triumphs of humanity, is fraught with the division, divisiveness, and ignorance that we had hoped to escape. They would sooner see us all die than progress.

What profit is there in holding on to the vestiges of societies that could not cope adequately with their time and place, save in the most rudimentary and perfunctory ways? Why hold on to dogma, superstition, patriarchy, and ignorance, when those things were of no use other than to retard our natural growth and understanding of our universe? Fear is the primary driver that cause some to cling to a world they know, as if it were so much better than the world they are in currently. They gloss over the imperfections of their past, and bemoan the changes they see around them, wishing for a “simpler time.” When they manage to gain power to any degree, they begin the process of trying to reverse humanity's forward progress, confident everyone will be better off.

These, then, are the dinosaurs of our society, content to graze and hunt in the same way, growing, expanding, but never adapting. Darwin tells us that those species that cannot adapt, perish. So to, does it go with human society; you learn to adapt to the change, or you are left behind to face the asteroid, or the plague, or the food shortage that eventually dooms you. The problem is, these dinosaurs threaten to drag us all down with them.

Going backward is never the answer. It may seem like a lovely idea, to return to more “pastoral” times, to revisit a world things were “better.” But these ideas are mere illusion. What was better for some was worse for others, and those who, in the past, were disenfranchised, or discriminated against, or dismissed of, surely do not feel the need to live through those times again, and we should not ask them to. Those days are over, gone, for the history books – our destiny lies ahead of us.

The beauty of a body in motion is the inertia it carried, and to halt it, or even reverse it, requires equal or greater force in the opposite direction. Those who would halt our progress are far from a majority, and though they may occasionally rise to power, and confound us with their backward thinking and continued ignorance, rarely can they retain that power. There is only so much Americans will take before they tire of rhetoric and inactivity, and shift the balance of power. Let the dinosaurs have their last moment in the Sun – before they become the relics they are destined to be.

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