On the same day that a deranged extremist chose to kill strangers (the “others” you know that he had to protect us from and “take back” America as Sarah wanted) a bunch of young people are showing us what the human body can do at the Olympics and a bunch of geeks are showing us what the human brain can do by landing a cleverly conceived spacecraft on another world. Meanwhile the mean-spirited war rages on in the U.S. with Repugs trying to find the spin to fool the rest of us of why we should enrich already obscenely rich people and glorifying selfishness as Rand implored us to do. The worst and the best of our species was on display, the glory to inspire us juxtaposed with the worst to horrify us – how good we can be and how small and awful we can be.
Many dismiss the Olympics as over-hyped and wasted resources but I continue, every four years, to be amazed at these young people: their skill, their energy and drive, their muscles!, but most of all the incredible hard work they did to even get there. I started participating in athletics later in life than most and naturally was about three orders of magnitude less capable than these athletes but I did get to experience the thrill (and the pain) of working hard (four years of constant practice for just a few races) to achieve more than I thought I could. For most watching we admire these young athletes but if you’ve ever tried any of those sports yourself you can really appreciate their skill and accomplishment. But it’s the spirit, the will to excel, and most of all the optimism to believe that hard work, pain and sacrifice can lead to testing yourself against the best. Even though sport is only a single facet of human existence it is an easy one to observe and admire the best.
Like most people I also look at the amazing bodies these kids have. The human body is a miraculous machine and to see it developed so completely and into many diverse shapes is astonishing. Biologists note how the common dog, good old Canis lupus familiaris, has such a plastic genome it can be shaped by selective breeding into so many forms. But look at these examples of the human species: tiny yet incredibly muscled precision athletes, the amply muscled forms of the strength and endurance athletes, even the brute forms of weight lifters and wrestlers, the tall and graceful volleyballers – all that the human gene pool can produce on display. Some find the size 2 anorexic models attractive but I admire the attractiveness these toned and sculpted bodies that demonstrate what our species can do. But even those great bodies are nothing without that will and determination to extract maximum performance from this optimized bodies. We don’t need cybernetic bodies to excel, just use what we’ve got to its fullest so we can see the best of humanity.
As the Curiosity landing on Mars and the Olympics both competed for our attention some want to find one or the other more interesting. I like both, seeing how both our brains and our bodies can perform amazing feats. We don’t have to choose, let’s admire both. Exploring Mars has the potential for a much bigger change to our mindsets, esp. if it finds life. As amazing as the human body is, the universe, even the little part of it we can explore, is more amazing than we can imagine. That act of exploration, of wanting to know how (and not being content to accept old myths on faith) the universe works takes the most of our talents (and resources) but in many ways makes us feel small . While the Olympics glorify the human species the amazing machine that is our universe grounds us and bites a chunk out of our conceit. But the fact that we can ask questions and seek answers shows we have to capacity to go beyond ourselves and our little world. So this too shows the best of humanity.
It is very sad that demented and selfish members of our species drag us down, to show the worst in us. Intolerance, greed, viciousness and just plain old selfishness show our dark side and drag us down. It’s sad that the news on most days is the negative stuff so when we get a blast of the good stuff let’e enjoy it.