Humanity’s Triumph in Technology and Failure in Human Relationships

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the most extraordinary technological feat that the world has ever seen. It was a day like today that Apollo 11 took off on its historic spaceflight to the moon. On July 20, 1969, at 3:17 PM EST, astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins landed on the moon. At 9:56 PM EST, Armstrong stepped onto the moon for the first time. Aldrin followed 19 minutes later. It was a spellbinding, thrilling moment. All of us alive then remember exactly where we were when we watched that first step. I can tell you that my girlfriend at the time had no chance of prying me away from that black-and-white television at her house! In my opinion, we have not surpassed that engineering and technological feat and will not until humans return to the moon, still some five years away.

I was struck by a recent statement by a news anchor who posed that if we could land on the moon 50 years ago, is there anything we can’t accomplish? From a technological and scientific perspective, I believe that there is almost nothing we can’t achieve. The pace of new knowledge and new technology is breathtaking. Unfortunately, even over centuries, our mastery of human relations has not made that much progress.

One thousand years ago the Crusades pitted Christians against the Muslims that controlled Jerusalem. In the 16th century Galileo challenged the idea that we were the center of the universe, and he barely survived the Inquisition. In the same century Michelangelo painted “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, a wonder of artistic interpretation that, at the time, some called scandalous. The Chinese Cultural Revolution destroyed countless pieces of art and religious representations because they were considered unacceptable to its dogma. In the late 1970s the Khmer Rouge destroyed all vestiges of Buddhism in Cambodia by destroying symbols and art but also through mass execution, forced labor, and famine. The Holocaust during World War II is one of the darkest moments in human history. Millions of Jews and other “undesirables” were persecuted because they were seen as threats to the Nazi ideology. The Hutus felt the same disdain for the Tutsis they killed during the Rwandan genocide. I could go on forever, unfortunately.

All of the above, from genocide to condemnation of art and science is rooted in fear and ignorance. That members of the same human race that took us to the moon can exhibit such levels of ignorance, disdain of other humans, cruelty, and basic intolerance of different ideas is baffling to me. I can only wish that the future will bring us as much respect, tolerance, and understanding of each other’s ideas as new knowledge of technology and science.

-Rafael L. Bras

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