Are We Really All in this Together?

June 08, 2020 at 10:44 am by Frank White

It has taken me some time to return to blogging because I have been watching and listening to what is going on in American cities, and asking myself how I could say something different from all that has been said by so many in the past week.

Let me give it a try. Many of my recent blog posts have been about the remarkable synchronicity between the astronauts saying, "We're all in this together" when they view the Earth from orbit or the Moon, and a variety of people saying it in regard to the COVID crisis. There did seem to be a remarkable display of unity globally for about a month at the beginning of the massive shutdown that was implemented to slow the spread of the virus. However, in the US at least, that consensus began to fray as the lockdown continued. We began to have people demanding their rights to open their businesses and go where they wanted to go, with or without masks. Opposing them, we had people supporting even more stringent controls and shaming those who did not want to go along with the plan.

This division became political, as "Red States" began opening up and "Blue States" stayed shut down. President Trump supported the "liberation," as he put it, of certain states and the Democrats decried his actions. I suppose all of this was predictable and it reminded me of what happened when Sputnik was launched, but that is a topic for another blog.

Suddenly, though, COVID was pushed away as protests began over the death of George Floyd. Anyone who saw the video of a cop's knee on Mr. Floyd's neck and heard the cries of "I can't breathe" had to be outraged by the incident. It soon became a symbol of oppression of African Americans by police and the marches began in every major city, and around the world.

As the protests began, SpaceX launched its Dragon Crew Capsule and it flew flawlessly to the International Space Station. The space community had been waiting for this event for years and wanted to celebrate, but it was hard to do, given the circumstances on the surface of the planet.

Now, there are articles being written suggesting that NASA's hope for the flight to generate some kind of unity in troubled times was misplaced. While many of us have compared this moment with 1968, another difficult year that ended with Apollo 8 and Earthrise, some commentators are arguing that it did not unify us and didn't improve things. If it had, wouldn't we be better off now?

Regardless of how that particular debate works out, one could easily say, "No, we are not all in this together. Isn't it obvious?"

But we need to make a distinction in the meaning of the statement.

When an astronaut says something like "We're all in this together," they are stating an objective fact. It is similar to "If you jump out of a window, you will hit the ground." The space traveler perceives the Earth as a whole, interconnected system, of which we are a part. The actions each of us takes affects every other person and the fate of our planet is the fate of all living things on it. This reality that we are part of a whole system is as real as the law of gravity.

When a surface dweller looks at COVID and realizes the same interconnectedness because the virus threatens everybody, she or he briefly has "astronaut awareness," but it does not mean that we are all going to act in unity and harmony in the face of this realization. Our goal must be that we move into alignment with the objective fact of interconnectedness with our actions on the ground. The astronauts do not see an "other" from orbit, but it sometimes seems that we are attuned to seeing only that when we are on the Earth. Aligning our experience on the Earth with the objective reality seen by the astronauts is the next step in understanding the deep meaning of the Overview Effect.