NASA Mars Landing Deserves More Attention Than Ryan Lochte and the London Olympics


Why are we distracted in our lives? 

I'm watching the Olympics on TV as I write this, and Usain Bolt just won a gold medal for sprinting. He's breaking all kinds of records. All week we've enjoyed the sports, the sense of pageantry, the ridiculous levels of nationalism. 

But at this very moment a human-made laboratory is being set up on the planet Mars. With the help of many nations, NASA launched the Curiosity rover on top of a rocket from our rock and hurled it, for over a year, at another rock in space. Once there, scientists all over the planet - and gathered audiences in Times Square - waited to hear how well Curiosity executed its complex landing routine. It takes seven minutes for signals traveling at the speed of light to reach our launch center from Mars, so there were about seven minutes of dead air while we wait.

I couldn't find this historic moment on any channel!

We are all badly distracted.

Sunday, the Olympics were a distraction from some very real record-breakers. Things are really being achieved by all nations together that, unlike gymnastics, have a lasting impact to our survival as a species.

The Olympics were designed as a distraction. The Games provide the fiction of fair play, teamwork, and honest, good-spirited competition in a world that is more often motivated by hostility, fear, and an international military complex that promotes distrust. 

In short, the Olympics channel the heart of sports by distracting us from the real problems of our world. They do that in three big ways:

1) The Olympics make us think that our countries are separated into neat categories. 

The truth is, we work together and fight against each other with more complexity and vigor than the teams, flags, and anthems suggest. The neat NBC narrative is so much easier to understand than the complexity that is transnational athletics, not to mention all transnational cooperation and competition.

Brian Cox deserves a medal!

2) The Olympics make us think that sports and athletics are more than forms of play and fitness.

3) The Olympics help us forget our own, personal relationship with death by using images of exceptionally fit persons of every ethnicity and gender. 

I know that I don't look like Ryan Lochte, but I'm heartened to know that his perfect body exists. The truth is, most of our bodies are in bad disrepair. But even Lochte will die, just like me and you. Today, tomorrow, next year, in several decades - it is an inevitable part of living. No amount of training, swimming, or tight swim trunks can do anything but delay our death.

That's all pretty dark: what should we do? 

For starters, let's be more interested in things that last, like once-in-a-lifetime scientific discoveries and truly international human projects. We all have a stake in our species' survival, every nation together. 

International cooperation at CERN

And instead of focusing on athletic feats in competition, can we focus on feats of compassion, connection, and mutual growth? Is there a better way to make our world better than to inspire individuals to run really quickly, no matter the obstacles? 

Pipe dreams, perhaps, but I think this is our future in the new millennium.