Monday, July 20, 2009

Real-Life Heroes: "One Giant Leap"

"It was the overwhelming response of people starved for the sight of an achievement, for a vision of man the hero."
-Ayn Rand, "Apollo and Dionysus"

Well, I'm still on summer vacation, but I'll gladly take a moment to honor the heroic crew of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, as well the many engineers the rocket scientists who got them there. Despite my Libertarian(ish) opposition to government programs, it was my original ambition to be an astronaut myself (I went with "musical space cadet" instead.)

What was so heroic about the first moon landing? I'm going to turn the floor over to the
words of Ayn Rand on this one, who's said it better than anyone else I've heard. How about this:

What we had seen, in naked essentials—but in reality, not in a work of art—was the concretized abstraction of man's greatness.
Or this:
The fundamental significance of Apollo 11’s triumph is not political; it is philosophical; specifically, moral-epistemological.
Or this:
One knew that this spectacle was not the product of inanimate nature, like some aurora borealis, or of chance, or of luck, that it was unmistakably human—with “human,” for once, meaning grandeur—that a purpose and a long, sustained, disciplined effort had gone to achieve this series of moments, and that man was succeeding, succeeding, succeeding! For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel—not "How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!"—but “How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!”
Rand was a big supporter of this event, while other commentators of the day went on about about the "collective" significance of the "Dionysian" Woodstock festival, deriding the "destruction" of the "poetic-romantic glamour of the moon" by the Apollo landing. [Side note: with the recent death of legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite, I have to add that Rand noted him as an "notable exception" to the Apollo-haters, who still exist today in the legacy of the "Anti-Industrial Revolution."] She saw that there was indeed more peace, love, and passion involved in the latter, and gave a better description of the "Apollonian" side of life that did not divorce reason from passion.

Despite the subsequent...lackluster legacy of NASA since the moon landing, Rand reminds us that the ultimate achievement of Apollo 11 isn't scientific, but, in the best sense of the word, "spiritual":
Frustration is the leitmotif in the lives of most men, particularly today—the frustration of inarticulate desires, with no knowledge of the means to achieve them. In the sight and hearing of a crumbling world, Apollo 11 enacted the story of an audacious purpose, its execution, its triumph, and the means that achieved it—the story and the demonstration of man’s highest potential.
In other words,
This was the meaning and motive of the overwhelming worldwide response to Apollo 11, whether the cheering crowds knew it consciously or not-and most of them did not. It was the overwhelming response of people starved for the sight of an achievement, for a vision of man the hero.

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