Carl Sagan’s Eloquent Humanism

As a writer, there are a few people whose writing leaves me in awe of their eloquence. HL Mencken, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens, and Mark Twain, among others, frequently astound me with their ability to turn a perfect phrase. Andrew Sullivan provides this quote from Carl Sagan that does the same, both for the craftsmanship of the language and the message:

“We humans are one among millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.

We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. We have an obligation to fight for life on Earth — not just for ourselves but for all those, humans and others, who came before us and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent than to survive to eliminate on a global basis the growing threats of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse and mass starvation. These problems were created by humans and can only be solved by humans. No social convention, no political system, no economic hypothesis, no religious dogma is more important.

The hard truth seems to be this: We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We would prefer it to be otherwise, of course, but there is no compelling evidence for a cosmic Parent who will care for us and save us from ourselves. It is up to us.”

This is the core message of humanism, that we and we alone can fix the world’s problems. There’s no one else to do it for us. Time to get to work, don’t you think?

9 comments on this post.
  1. slc1:

    Even the god bots should remember the old saw that god helps those who help themselves.

  2. Nick Gotts:

    This is the core message of humanism, that we and we alone can fix the world’s problems. There’s no one else to do it for us. Time to get to work, don’t you think?

    The trouble is, most of the most powerful and influential among us are actively working to prevent any such fix; and the socio-politico-economic system we’ve inherited – capitalism – makes things easy for them, and hard for those opposing them.

  3. Reginald Selkirk:

    After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one.

    Too bad Sagan didn’t live to see the “birds are dinosaurs” evidence come to the fore.

  4. grumpyoldfart:

    Time to get to work, don’t you think?

    Work? That’s what most of the population is trying to avoid. That’s why religion is so popular with the majority of all humans. No need to work, just sit back and pray.

  5. marcus:

    “It is up to us.”
    Doomed we are.

  6. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!:

    @ ^ Marcus : Or not maybe.

    Depending on what we choose to do.

    Human nature has potential for acts of incredible good and co-operation and thought as well as their opposites y’know.

  7. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!:

    Great sagan quote there Ed.

    Here’s another quote :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ylu0O0_rTMI

    I agree with esp. Morgan Freeman’s addition.

    The world is what we decide to make it.

    “No fate but that we make for ourselves.” To quote another classic movie line.

    We cannot do this making alone.

    We cannot choose not to make it either because choosing not to do so, not to participate or act inthe fate-making process is a choice of its own.

    Plant trees.

    Argue, think, learn. Argue more. Act. Share, like, love, grieve, fight, surrender, run negotiate, pay or beg or just be. We make our fates by what we choose to do and how we choose to act.

  8. Abby Normal:

    Sorry to be that guy, but apparently not sorry enough to stop typing.

    And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.

    Humans have only been on this obscure clod of rock for a few hundred thousand years. Even our oldest fire and tool using ancestor, homo erectus, is less than 2 million years old.

    Second, many other species have been the architects of their own extinction. Some before us have befouled their niche to a point where it could no longer sustain them. Others have literally fucked themselves to extinction through hybridization. What makes us special is we’re the first species that has created an easy button for it.

  9. minordeth:

    I miss Carl. :(

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