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There was good news this week, and there was bad news.
The good news is that scientists have discovered another Goldilocks planet, a planet at just the right distance from its star – not too hot, and not too cold – to offer the prospect of supporting human life, or something like it. And given that we seem hell-bent on making a pig’s ear of our current home, having somewhere else as a back-up could be kind of handy.
The bad news is that the planet – Kepler 438b, if you wondered, which isn’t quite as snappy a moniker as ‘Earth’, but then I guess you can’t have everything – is 475 light years away. Even longer by bus. So getting there isn’t going to be like nipping round your mom’s when the boiler in your bedsit goes belly-up in a cold snap. It’s going to be tricky. Oh, and the sky might well be red, so you’d be living in something akin to perpetual sunrise, or – for those of you who don’t do mornings – sunset. And, for better or worse, it’s unlikely they have the bedroom tax, Simon Cowell, or Channel 5.
If that scientific bombshell isn’t enough to make you aware of our collective unimportance in the grand scheme of things, then I don’t know what is. If you can ponder the mind-boggling distances involved in getting to Kepler 438b and decide you’re still going to hate Ali from down the road because his skin’s a different colour, then – no offence intended – but you’re a stone-dead idiot. And I know it’s a little late, and we’re not off to the best of starts, but how about we make our new year resolution for 2015 to give up on stupidity?
Let’s decide that this year – as a species – we stop looking for simple answers to complex problems just because they’re answers which suit us, answers which pin the blame on other members of our species who speak a different language or worship a different god. We’ve tried it before, after all, and it never ends well. How about a little bit of perspective instead? We’re each of us here for the blink of an eye, with millions of years of evolution behind us, clinging onto a small blue-green planet spinning through the backwaters of space where a gossamer-thin atmosphere is the only thing saving us from extinction and our best hope of a second home is so far away that whatever lives there hasn’t heard about the Great Fire of London yet.
In that context, whether someone’s drawing cartoons which you find offensive is neither here nor there. Nor is how they speak or dress. Or who they sleep with. Hate speech just looks more stupid than ever, up there with holding grudges over slights no-one else cares about, or choosing to carry on fighting wars that ended when Noah was a boy.
I know it’s not going to be that simple. I know it’ll take more than a new-found sense of perspective to stop our resident chumps of the political extremes from hanging onto their bigotry, despite overwhelming evidence of its irrelevance. No doubt Nigel Farage will heap praise on Kepler 438b’s strict immigration policies – no Bulgarians, natch – and by next week that pantomime villain Anjem Choudary will have claimed it as part of the Caliphate. Idiots will always be idiots. Personally, I hope whatever creatures live there have learned to rub along together rather better than we have, and that they aren’t treating their planet like a dustbin and are proud of their NHS. And if any of them who are reading this put on poetry gigs, and think that last sentence sounds like I’m pitching for a gig, damn right. It’ll look great on my CV and it beats the hell out of Glastonbury. How about it Kepler 438b? You up for it?
Drop me a line.