“Houston, we have a problem!” Those exact, iconic words, while capturing the essence of the situation, were not spoken by astronaut John Swigert during the Apollo 13 mission to the moon in 1970. On the way, the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the service module upon which the command module had depended. For some harrowing times following the explosion, it seemed nearly certain Apollo 13 would not only never reach the moon but also be lost in space forever. The message was timely since the engineering ground crew on earth came up with a solution and the craft, along with those on board, were saved.
Fast forward 49 years to 2019 and that same iconic message applies, only it doesn’t concern a spacecraft in an ordinary way. Instead, it concerns our spacecraft earth and we too have a problem. There is no ground crew of engineers, separate and apart from our craft since we are already on the ground and there is nobody but us to fix our problem. And what’s the problem?
We have created a use-it-and-lose-it, planned obsolescent, throw-away society and are paying the inevitable price. Our military personnel are an anomaly: They are supposed to die and not become a liability to society. Our parents (and now those of us who are nearing the end) are an anomaly: We were not supposed to live as long when the Social Security System was established. We too are now an unaffordable social liability, which given current political ideology, must be cast adrift to save those we produced. We take pleasure in what is unwrapped but are drowning in the tossed away wrappings. We enjoy luxuries never even imagined in previous centuries but are breathing in toxic fumes, roasting in unbearable heat, living in the residue of devastating hurricanes, and combatting diseases with a diminishing supply of antibiotics—all the residues of manufacturing and living with such luxuries. We made a bargain with the devil and love one side of the bargain but hate the other side. In our inability to look at the consequences of our choices we have created a monster scenario of us destroying us. We are no longer citizens but rather exclusively consumers—using and throwing away.
We are like the insurance salesman in The Truman Show who discovers his entire life is actually a television show, yet we have not discovered our charade. Instead, we remain proud and unaware, inclined to throw a parade and celebrate our genius, but be sure it does not last not too long for fear we will be late for watching our favorite reality TV show. We have collectively become nothing more than that reality TV show with a reality TV show host as our leader. We have forgotten who we are and have not heeded the advice of the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” There is no “them.” There is only “us,” and we are destroying ourselves, all by ourselves.