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Dust to Dust

by on July 15, 2022

Dust to Dust

by Marco M. Pardi

“……all my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity, dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind…..” penned byKerry Livgren, American band Kansas.

What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live….?” sung byDionne Warwick, the film, Alfie.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment. Feel free to forward this site to anyone you wish.

Today we see the initial pictures taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. Of course, like so many around the world I am enthralled. Astronomers are now able to peer back, albeit through tiny windows opening onto the universe, 13.7 billion years ago. Perhaps the ancient Greeks were right, in a way. They commonly thought the sky was a perforated dome through which, at night, light shone through in points from an outside dimension. Perhaps that dome is the limit of our technology and as we penetrate it with our James Webb telescope and other vehicles we peek into the dimension we call Time. The “Big Bang” is thought to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

The Cosmos is a violent place. Stars and planets are born and perish in spectacular explosions and collisions, spawning massive dust clouds. The photographic images show thousands of swirling points of light, each a galaxy like our own and only a few of the trillions of such galaxies out there. Most of us have seen computerized images of our Milky Way galaxy. Earth is an almost imperceptible dot on the outer fringe. Yet, everything on this planet is stardust in one form or another. Oh, we recombine things and call them man-made. Cute. Kids in the sandbox.

I thought back to my first experiences with star gazing, years before I lay on the Sahara Desert watching the early Soviet and American satellites sweeping overhead. I remembered the deep in the core excitement I felt with my first exposure to literature, in primary school, telling of intelligent life on other planets. I avidly read all I could, yearning to go to such places, to live there. Not well connected to human life, I assumed anywhere was better and would feel like my true home.

But then, as I expanded my reading to include the blooming of popular science literature dealing with the “reality” of such ambitions I discovered that many of the stars seen by our telescopes of the day were many light-years away. As understanding dawned, I realized some of what I was seeing might not even still exist, at least not in the form it was then appearing to me. Which meant that any intelligent life on planets orbiting those stars would likely never know of me, nor I of it. That realization brought me back to Earth.

Looked at from two perspectives, longitudinal and latitudinal, the depth and breadth of human life is as staggering as the sparkling panorama of the desert night sky with stars too numerous to count circled by untold numbers of planets. But only those stars a young man could see. A historian could greatly extend my knowledge of the longitudinal human cosmos, but only for those societies who recorded history. And only for those very few people who, like the galaxies in the Webb pictures, made it into the history books. An anthropologist could open the human cosmos indefinitely in both dimensions, longitudinal and latitudinal. But why bother?

I began getting answers in the 1960’s. While still in the military I enrolled in a spread of college courses and found myself most drawn to Anthropology. Contrary to the common trope at the time, that students who majored in Anthropology were alienated and looking for a home, I was alienated and not looking for a home. I had already concluded I would never find one. Through reading a variety of the finest science fiction I had come to realize that humanoid societies, no matter the planet, most likely had internal issues similar to what I already knew in ours. And, more to the point, were I to be in some alien planet society I could not “know” it as alien and survive. I would be living just as I am now, a “natural” member of the society with no consciousness of anything different. So, where’s the gain?

Another common trope was that students of Anthropology were “do-gooders” who, out of their love for all Mankind, wanted to travel the world spreading love and joy. I won’t grace that with much comment, except to say, Heard of the Peace Corps? Oh, for a few years I did study parasitic diseases. I don’t recall ever loving any.

Returning to the Cosmos as metaphor for human society, the longitudinal view brings us history books filled with the thousands of persons who have given rise to our modern world. But history is a tiny part of our past. Several of the early forms of prehistoric Man had brains the same size and general morphology as ours. There is no justification for the view of “caveman as unthinking brute”. And, while the numbers were low in harsher environments, evidence supports positions such as that of Jared Diamond who posits populations in the millions in Pre-Columbian North and South America.

A central lesson permeating through history is that human populations have a signature tendency to wipe each other out, through armed conflict, transfer of disease, or absorption of one by the other. A cosmic and ongoing conflict of the flesh. Diamond and others claim that European introduced smallpox and other diseases killed millions of the people living in the Americas on their arrival. Interestingly, many of these native cultures practiced “sky burial”; exposure of the corpse on an elevated platform for carrion eating birds to consume. The bones were left to become dust.

Of course, reasonably educated readers are well familiar with the history of wars, the slaughter of whole populations, the starvation of others through destruction of food resources or access to food and water, diseases spread by mobile armies, and the many examples of genocide. In that context I found the following excerpt illustrative:

Between 1936 and 1938 the Soviet Union arrested 1,548,366 people. They were accused of disloyalty, espionage, sabotage, or counterrevolution. Most were innocent. But 681,692 were executed. Of those who were not killed, most were sent to severe labor camps, known as the “gulags”. Stalin reportedly said, while signing execution lists, “Who is going to remember this riff-raff in ten, twenty years? No one.” (biography of AGENT SONYA. Ben Macintyre).

In my library I have the names of dozens of those 681,692 people. One day even their names will be dust. By the way, Stalin was not a name. It was a title, “Man of Steel”. His name was, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. Similarly, Josip Broz – “Tito”, dictator of what was then called Yugoslavia, was called Tito because of his habit of saying, “Do it!” for any suggestion or idea he liked. In Serbo-Croatian Tito means “do it”. The world knows him as Tito. Another amusing figure was “U. Thant”, a Burmese who rose to become Secretary General of the United Nations. Amusing because in Burma people commonly use one name and in Burmese U is an honorific, such as English speakers would use Mister. So, introducing Mr. U. Thant is introducing Mr. Mr. Thant. Ah, well. Who cares, right?

Life can easily begin to look pointless. And, before I became a father and grandfather that view was hard to defeat. But look, what if my descendants choose to not have descendants? What if I can see the end of the line right now? Looking at the present and developing situations in and on the planet right now, would you encourage your descendants to “go forth and multiply”? Seriously, would you?

Almost certainly someone will raise the concept of Posterity. Assuming a planet killer asteroid is not speeding our way just now, Posterity does deserve some thought. How deeply should we care about people we will never see, or even know about? My greatest concerns are for the innocent victims of humankind’s stupidity: the non-human life on this planet. In doing what I can for them I likely will contribute to conditions which also benefit humans. But I continue to support, financially and otherwise, a couple of dozen or more non-human animal shelters, sanctuaries, rescue groups, and environmental organizations, even if humans derive some benefit.

I’ve had this website for several years, and have posted about 300 entries of my own and a few from willing contributors. At times it has been read in countries around the world. I know that because the software tells me what country a reader is in. Only that. Nothing more. The number of reads far exceeds the number of people who are kind enough to comment. Disappointing. But hey, welcome to life in the big city. What will happen to all this material once I go behind Door Number Four? I don’t know.

Over many years and for various reasons I was quite active transmitting over various kinds of radios. As a kid I learned that radio transmissions “go on forever”. So, somewhere in that cacophonous universe someone may be listening and trying to figure out how a lunatic got hold of a microphone. But for here and now this is my soapbox.

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10 Comments
  1. Tilly permalink

    Marco, a great post! Sometimes we need to pause and look at things from 10,000 feet up to readjust our perspective. I think we are in general, an arrogant species thinking ourselves unique in our superority over other forms of life. I’ve also always thought the idea absurd that we’re the only intelligent life ” out there”. Just because we don’t recognize or understand something doesn’t mean it isn’t there! In some ways perhaps we’re just protecting our brains from ideas larger than we can fathom. A very good post to give our minds some exercise on a Saturday morning!

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  2. Thank you, Tilly. I suspect the proof of intelligent life out there is that they HAVE NOT visited us.

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    • Tilly permalink

      I suspect you’re quite right! Other more intelligent forms of life likely avoid us at all cost- haha!

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  3. jkent33 permalink

    I’ll say it again, what I’ve said before, one of the most interesting things in your post is that as I read I also experienced in many ways what you are writing. I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters younger than me, but none of them were anything like me. So I pretty much learned to live in my own little cocoon 10 miles away from any form of a city life both north and south. Since very few of my neighbors had full time night lights, our views of the skies were unimpeded from pollution from street lights save for an occasional vehicle passing by our little oasis: combination grocer, gas, fast food and light duty hardware store we maintained 6 days a week from early to say 8pm. But not one light existed past 8pm. Many of our neighbors were WWI and WWII widows who still used oil lamps and candles. So after bedtime one could go outside and see very, very far into the universe. It wasn’t until I moved into the city could I learn the contrast in the sky from where I was born and lived until I was 20. Our small school had no library, until my dad got a contract to build one in my freshman year. Except for some early tv shows, I wasn’t aware of what was beyond the abundance of visible stars.

    I did discover that from the sheer number of Native American arrow heads and an occasional ax head, there was evidence people had lived on the small acre of land we called home. There wasn’t any airports within range, except for a very small private one, did we see any aircrafts in the sky. I had one friend in school who was a wonderful artist who could draw anything. He drew pictures of some aircrafts we could see on our TV that resembled what we later knew as Sputnik that made it possible to go to outer space.

    This new camera/telescope has already captured my imagination, as much as, you have also discovered. I made a one day trip to Charleston WV last week and when I crossed the OHIO river on my way home I took a brief break and when I looked into the sky I again discovered what was missing when I look up at the sky from my backyard in Columbus, OH, where over 900K of us call home in Franklin county. For security, I maintain a night light of 150W LED protected by a “caged jar lamp fixture” 10 ft high that floods by fenced area. Sad to report it blocks any view to the sky and destroys the environment my nocturnal creatures that visits throughout the evening who dine on food on my deck.

    I always enjoy your posts and learn things that would have otherwise remain buried in my memory. Otherwise, my summer has been rather normal. I got to visit with my daughter living in Pittsburgh who hadn’t been traveling since her divorce 3 years ago due to the fear of Covid. Before that I learned after a visit to my Dermatologist some places needed to be bio’d, on my already covered head with those nasty Sybaritic Keratosis spots. Fortunately, for me I was able to be seen by the chief doctor who created the OSU Wexner Dermatology department. He is our age and still practices medicine for senior patients, that better fits my needs. So last Thursday afternoon he removed a spot on my right cheek discovering it was benign saving me from possible long-term treatments. It was during the several hours after the procedure, waiting for the test results, did I have a long time to reflect on what is going to be awaiting me for my remaining years. I had to resign myself to think ahead, what it would be like, if I was faced to deal with long term issues, that will no doubt someday plague me. On the bright side, I have established several changes of gratitude for my current health, by giving thanks to my past healthcare givers and friends like you, whom, I depend on for strength and guidance.

    To pause a minute before closing, I have been missing your comments on the never ending kerfuffle in the White House. I feel positive at this juncture but know well have fast things could go upside down. Just one thought to end: What can you imagine life might be if Herschel Walker became a senator???

    Ciao for nonce…

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    • Thank you, Jerry. Many astrophysicists currently feel our universe exists in a froth of co-existent universes – called the multiverse. Like bubbles in a froth, we are separated by only a thin membrane. So, poke your finger out once in a while and see if anyone gives it a tug. Marco

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  4. There is peace to be found in solitude and a starry night. I was a Girl Scout for most of my youth, and had the occasional opportunity to gaze into that sky and dream of what might be “out there” in the great beyond. I can’t imagine my view ever rivaled that offered by your desert sky, and my fantasies took me places that would be unlikely to be offered by my reality. Life has taken me to some wonderful places and introduced me to some wonderful people; it’s been a fair trade, I suppose, at least for the most part. It is what it is.

    The reality is that none of us will live forever, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on the things that matter to us. I’ve been fighting an angry depression lately, but fighting is the operative term. I intend to wage battle until things are once again what they should be, or at least to the degree that I can make them so. We may not be able to conquer the world, but if we give up trying, the world will conquer us. I have a few dreams yet to bring to fruition, and i intend to see them through.

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    • Thank you, Rose. Giving up is exactly what the AFP – formerly the GOP, wants us to do. You are, and always have been a fighter. And that is exactly what the AFP is most afraid of.

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  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, I’ve always felt mostly alienated from my own species, and can recall feeling that way since very early childhood. As I progressed in elementary school I felt this even more, and bullies picked up on their perceived differences in me. That was no fun.

    Yet I’ve always connected to Nature, and that is where I feel at “home.” From an early age I was content to be alone, exploring the outdoors in solitude, or reading alone in my bedroom. When at school, even though I was coordinated and athletic I was always picked last for team games and sports. Competition is something to which I’ve never related, not in games and certainly not in a workplace. My mindset, even when I was too young to express it, was wanting everyone to succeed – not just me. From my experience, this outlook doesn’t seem to work well around many others, and it’s part of the reason I’ve drifted from job to job.

    Especially today, life can indeed seem pointless at times. I often wonder if I would continue living if all my loved ones were suddenly wiped out. So does that mean I live my life purely for the (very) few others who might like having me around? I’m not sure. I’m certainly relieved I had my children in the 1990s; were it today, I would not choose to have children. That is nothing against them or my feeling fulfilled as a mother. In fact, I feel that has been the best and most meaningful part of my life. They won’t know what it’s like to have biological children, but I accept and support their decision either way.

    Truthfully, I can’t imagine anyone consciously deciding to force unsuspecting humans into the catastrophe we have made of our beautiful planet. And with what is certain to be even more horrifying and deadly viruses? Who could do that to anyone? I’m sadly shaking my head at the thought. I already feel enough guilt and remorse for things I know I could have done so much better as a parent. But to knowingly procreate today with alarming news and despair everywhere we turn? It is unbelievable to me that anyone would make that choice today.

    Marco, I learn so much from you and I’m thrilled you continue to write. When you go behind Door Number Four, you will have left an incredible legacy both in this site and through the countless others you have influenced for the better. I’m very glad to still be here with you and the handful of others. Maybe that’s how it was supposed to be all along, but you know my difficulties with destiny or “fate.” Regardless, no matter how much some humans enjoy and even need to be alone, we still fare much better with social interaction. I’m so glad we have that here, as well as a platform for sharing thoughts and ideas. Thank you again for providing that for us.

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    • Thank you, Dana. I really relate to how you felt in your childhood. I played football, and I do not ever remember caring which team won; I was out there only to work out the anger that was in me. That need carried through well beyond sports.

      Knowing what I do of your children, the world is a better place since they are here. We have you to thank for that.

      Thank you for your kind words. I had hoped more people would have been glad to have a venue for interaction, but I am so glad “the handful of others” take the interest that they do. I learn every day as I read the comments.

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      • Dana permalink

        Thanks Marco. I’ve often wondered what more traffic on the site would be like. The type of content you offer does not lend itself to just any mind combing the Internet. In fact, those seem pretty rare.

        Like

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