Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cymbal #35:: Repentance

Evil comes to all of us. Petty evil, shrinking in its gown, preceded by its defenses. Reasons of state, fictions of law, the bogeyman of subjectivity. Like crafty accountants, we write these sins off; this one deductible, that one set-off against some plausible good. We even abuse the terms of the moral universe - sin is associated more firmly now with chocolate than murder in the common vocabulary.

They are peccadilloes in the grand scheme of things, misdemeanors, breaches of trust, victimless crimes, more indiscipline than evil. It's tempting to imagine that we are good people, that we are mislead. And if we were mislead, surely we are entitled to raise our hands and plead innocence?

In 1957, the Soviet Union put the first living being in space. She came from no home, and she went where there will never be homes. Laika was a mongrel, picked off the streets of Moscow, put into a tin can, and shot into space. First amongst all of Earth's creatures, Laika saw her planet turning before her eyes like an orange. She made four orbits, and on the fourth day, she died of overheating when the temperature controls failed. 

For almost forty years, the Soviets lied about Laika's death. They claimed she had been euthanized painlessly with poisoned food. Even the Soviets, who denied millions of people every conceivable right and liberty, could not fairly justify sending a dog to die in space. But they did it.

Mecano - Laika - 1989

Now, I'm no expert on Spanish pop or the theory of tragedy, but this surely can't be a fitting response. 

History will judge us for Laika. And we know it. Even before the jets ignited, the scientists on the launchpad knew they were taking on a moral burden both substantial and indescribable. They gave her names, they took her home, they took pictures. Forty years later, they still felt the need to admit that she broiled to death. Since that day, Laika has given her name to bands and TV studios. They have statues of her at Star City.

Kylesa - Distance Closing In - 2010

But why this much guilt? Why is there so much more guilt than for all the rabbits that the cosmetics companies have killed, or the frogs dissected by biologists, or for that matter, every scrap of lamb you have ever eaten? Street dogs die everyday. Probability indicates that she would have died sooner on the streets of Moscow than in the space program.

The most pernicious class of sins are those not based on dogma or desire, but on expediency. These are sins we commit because they are cheap, because we could avoid risk or expense. They are considered sins; sins of moral economy. When humanity was invited on its greatest adventure yet, the first steps were taken by a street dog. From the seed of that pusillanimity springs the tree of guilt, the hand enclosing on your throat. However much is accomplished in space is built on the sacrifice of Laika.

Ryan Bingham - The Weary Kind - 2009

Tonight, do yourself a favor. When you take your last drink or cup of tea, step out and look up at the night sky and see what I see, the endless universe expanding infinitely, like the mind of God the administrator. Think of the ghost of Laika, orbiting Earth in kaleidoscope circles. We are only redeemed by how much love we give back to the world, how far we venture when we are uncertain, how we treat boundaries. 

Be good. If you can't be good, at least be kind.

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