When I was a boy I imagined the world of the future. Nowhere in my imagination were the wars, the famine, the brutality and mindless division of today’s world. It was the 1960s and mankind was reaching for the stars. The war to end all wars was still etched deep in racial memories and nobody wanted to go back to that. War was horror. War was bad. Yes they were still fought, but not with the rabid, boastful enthusiasm of today.
The Americans tried to keep war going in Vietnam, but human hearts weren’t in it. Pictures of dead children on the cover of Time and Newsweek, the iconic image of a young girl set ablaze by napalm, this was a war that served only to prove war was evil. The arms trade called the next two decades the dark ages. Arms dealers would flit from country to country lobbying politicians for a bit of conflict. “Hey guys, anybody need some people killing? No? C’mon you gotta want to kill someone! Listen, I was over in yadayada the other day talking to their president. You know what, he said your mama was a fat whore. Hey! Get that f***ing hippy away from my car! Bloody peaceniks with their love everybody s**t!”
Ah the good old days when we didn’t have the Internet or reality TV, only sailors had tattoos, and plastic goods were luxury items not impending toxic filth. In my dotage I have come to realise there is no halcyon age of man. It wasn’t then, except in the mind of a child, it isn’t now, and it looks as if it shall never come to pass. We are closer to our animal selves than I thought. A surprisingly thin-skinned, savage species with a wafer thin veneer of sophistication, beneath which rages nature, red in tooth and claw.
I think back to the boy I was and I know where the best part of me comes from. Not in terms of doing good, or being good, but in aspiring to be more than human. Fifty years ago I liked to lie on the bonnet of a Peugeot 304 (registration number LM 3592), looking up at the stars with my mother. She’d point out Orion’s belt and sometimes we’d find the weird star that was both the evening star and the morning star, or Venus as it was. On rare occasions you could see an orange dot that I learned was Mars, not the landing lights of a plane. She told me it was also known as the red planet, and because it was the colour of blood the Romans associated it with their god of war. We’d talk about how early man looked up to the heavens, breathed in the majesty of the stars, and aspired to be up there with the gods. I could look up at the glittering night sky and understand that desire, the aspiration to be so much more than man.
Go outside tonight and look up. If you’re too lazy just pull back the curtains and examine the night sky. To fight our primitive fear of the dark we created so much background light you can’t see anything but grey sky and aeroplanes. No wonder the world is a mess. What unity of purpose can one expect from a bunch of semi-evolved monkeys when they no longer have the stars to guide them?