On the moon

3 minute read

Sometimes I lose myself in unproductive thoughts, assessing the validity of old sayings through the lenses of a 21st-century internet man. I call it a Transiberian train of thought that takes me from nowhere and leaves me in the middle of another nowhere, at the shores of a Pacific nowhere (no offence, people of Vladivostok).

If it is between one of the poor of your city and one of the poor of another city, the one of the poor of your city takes precedence. (Talmud, Baba Metzia 71a).

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t care much about what the so-called “sages” of old have said and how their opinions are radically different but valid simultaneously, like quantum “Talmudic” perspectives that sometimes collapse under their open claims. For a Universe, so ordered and mathematical, religious commentaries are notoriously speculative and relativistic. But what isn’t if there are humans around? This saying stuck with me, like some tool I’ve bought for fixing something in the house but never had the chance to use it properly. You remember the tool’s closeted existence, and you contemplate on justifying the Initial investment.

The year is 1970, my father is 11, my mother is 8, and Gil Scott-Heron releases a song called Whitey on the Moon.

A rat done bit my sister Nell
With whitey on the moon
Her face and arms began to swell
And whitey’s on the moon
I can’t pay no doctor bills
But whitey’s on the moon

How can anyone be so offended by this lovely scientific trip to the moon and back? It’s our shared victory; just like in sports, the human team scored against the vast, cold, extremely hot at times, and viciously inhospitable (team) Universe. It’s so empty; when it’s not, it wants to break your chemistry. But, we’ve just conquered Space by travelling one light-second to excellence, to the moon and back.

Thirty-five years later, another American musician, Darondo, released a brilliant album and a song called: Let my people go. Same topic, same lyrics, more music (in the classical sense) than spoken poetry:

Man, to your rocket ship
Take you to the moon
A million-dollar mission
To bring back a piece of rock
We got starvation, panic across the land
And here’s a fool in a rocket ship
Trying to be Superman

And then I realised that going to space is like feeding the poor of another city without taking care of your own. Which city?

But what if cities are within cities, and where do their borders end?

Furthermore, if you are a king ruling over a kingdom with multiple cities, which one is your city? The capital city? The Palace? Your vast bed chambers or the poor thoughts running through your head?

What if you live alone; people who live alone can’t build physical rocket ships. No offence, please, people who live alone.

What if all the people of your city are poor, but they don’t realise this fact about them? They are flawed in ways that are not obvious to an uneducated eye, and so are they: uneducated. But does it matter how educated your eye is if we’ve got starvation and panic across the land? Darondo asks.

Is it a sin to invest time and money in something so immediately useless as going to the moon without properly fixing your city first? Rocks are boring, the moon has almost no atmosphere, the view is not great, and the “climbing” (or “diving”) equipment is quite heavy even in low gravity.

Is this trip as “useless” as being a mathematician of the old centuries, spending unhealthy amounts of time studying prime numbers, while the poor are wearing wooden sandals and are dying of malnutrition, wars and pneumonia? After all, who needs your primes and zeta functions, when there is not enough bread on the tables or wheat in the granaries?

What if the poor are not poor? Whom should you help first?

What if you are poor in your city? In this case, by the Talmudic advice based on proximity, you’d better help yourself first.

I don’t have the answer, but it’s an exciting topic to meditate on. Should we science our way in directions so remote from eradicating poverty, or should we dedicate everything we have to fix our world, and the rest can wait? But why hurry?

At least Bowie’s spiders haven’t sold the world.