23.5 Degrees of Sorrow

23.5 Degrees

As I look back upon my own blog posts since 2016 I realize how much of my thinking is tinted with ruin, gloom, and a general lack of optimism. The habits of thought that contribute to this grim perspective include my assumption that we make the world in our image, and that the trajectory of the evolution of human consciousness is skewing sharply toward self-destruction.

I think of these events as intertwined:

  • The human community knows it is destroying its own habitat and willfully continues to do so.
  • America elected an overtly selfish and self-absorbed man as its leader.

It’s the behavior of the criminally insane, but a LOT of people are 100% on board with it, passionately endorsing the destruction of institutions that nurture human well-being and the ecosystem that makes human life possible.

What I think is happening is that there are now an overwhelming number of people whose understanding of themselves is that they are entirely separate from everyone else. Long-term, collectively-beneficial projects are incomprehensible to them. Rather, each knows in their heart of hearts that they are alone, moving toward inevitable death, and they will never have anything except what they can acquire and enjoy in their too-short lifetime. Along the same lines, anything that is taken from them, or anything that might have come to them that goes to someone else, is a deeply felt personal loss and affront. For them a selfish, self-absorbed president is comforting and affirming, and even cosmic confirmation that efforts to help or comfort others are just plain wrong.

Something that I find myself doing in response to my own doom-and-gloom world view described above is indulging in sentimental reflections. For example, I love the moon. I remember walking naked in the desert in the middle of the night under a full moon, caressed by wisps of sand tossed about on a warm breeze. The world all shades of silver and shadow. I think of the moon as metaphoric of the unconscious…the vastness of what is not yet known, and what might unexpectedly and suddenly come into the light. Mysterious potential. The moon rising over the sea paints a shimmering path across the water to her. A sweet summoning that feels like an invitation to come home.

And my delight in the moon is not diminished by science, which increasingly describes her uniqueness and benevolence in ever more glowing terms. Here are some highlights I find especially delightful.

  • About 4.5 million years ago Gaia, now called earth, was struck by a Mercury-sized astronomical body some whimsically refer to as Theia.
  • The collision kicked up a tremendous cloud of debris that swirled around Gaia for a long time and eventually accrued into what we call the moon.
  • But the moon ended up circling the earth in an orbit different from the earth’s rotational axis, which was back then perpendicular to the earth’s path of orbit around the sun.
  • Over time the earth’s rotational axis began to tilt in response to the gravitational pull of the moon as its mass increased, eventually settling into an angle 23.5 degrees different from an axis perpendicular to the earth’s path of orbit.
  • A key consequence of the earth’s axis tilt is that we have seasons. During half of the year the northern hemisphere is closer to the sun and during the other half of the year the southern hemisphere is closer, warmer and graced with longer days. Pretty much everything about us and all other life on the plant is as it is because of the moon.
  • Another key consequence is that a lot of the earth is habitable. If there were no axial tilt the equatorial region of the earth would be huge and intensely hot. And the polar regions would be immense and extremely cold. In such a circumstance the earth would likely have only a few small habitable areas, and those would likely be separated by great distances.

When my wife and I put our heads together regarding a solstice image for this year the themes that came to mind included 23.5 degrees of extraordinary good fortune and squandered benevolence slipping through our fingers.

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