Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos:

The surface area of Mars is exactly as large as the land area of the Earth. A thorough reconnaissance will clearly occupy us for centuries. But there will be a time when Mars is all explored; a time after robot aircraft have mapped it from aloft, a time after rovers have combed the surface, a time after samples have been returned safely to Earth, a time after human beings have walked the sands of Mars. What then? What shall we do with Mars?

There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing this question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes. The existence of an independent biology on a nearby planet is a treasure beyond assessing, and the preservation of that life must, I think, supersede any other possible use of Mars.

There is a certain beauty to every thought that comes from Carl Sagan. I sometimes think he has to consider the universe as his child. His philosophies about the universe are so macroscopic and yet filled with such care and concern.

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We (and by we I mean any living organism) are driven by survival. If that requires the extinction of a species from another planet, we’ll gladly take it. After all, they’re not any more special than us. We are all made of the same elements forged in the cores of distant stars.

On the other hand is the view that indigenous people must have claim to their land. But what makes something ours? Living at a place for a fraction of a fraction of its existence? Is the Earth ours? We’ve lived here as humans for 200,000 years of its approximately 4,500,000,000 years of existence. Claiming it as ours is the equivalent of someone sitting in a parked car and claiming it as theirs. You might say the difference here is that Earth created us. Not quite. Elements from far-away stars created the Earth and us.

This is a topic where I find a contradiction within myself. When it comes to xenophobia in the United States towards Arab-looking people or in Maharashtra towards North Indians (or many other such examples), I can see how those who feel so are in the wrong.

But–and I’m taking a cliched example–I feel for the Tibetans. Perhaps the difference there is that Tibetans are losing their land by force. Would I then feel okay with a sustained cultural takeover of Tibet by Chinese migrants? Probably not.

I suppose in cases of cultural takeovers that I don’t quite see, it is because I either find it imagined or I find it is changing things for the better. But Tibet has undeniably been helped by the modernization. From healthcare to education to social changes. (I’m not an expert on the topic so these observations could be shallow. Just play along.) I still don’t feel very good about the takeover. I doubt I ever will.

And that’s the contradiction.

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In effect, what I’m saying is I have no idea why I feel what I feel about certain issues. You don’t either, do you?

Let’s call it bias.

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