Many astronauts who get to see our planet from space come away with what is called “the overview effect”. It is the recognition of how precious and fragile our planet is, as a cradle for life in the vastness of space. They come back with an understanding that our planet is like a spaceship with no escape pods and (currently and foreseeably) no alternative spaceships.
If we think of our planet as a ship, it is an interesting to imagine all of the parts of earth as parts of our ship. This sort of idea brings us to an interesting question: what is our engine? In literal ways, we are powered by the sun. Less literally, we fueled by the actions of the dominant species, which happens to be humans.
Humans have two main drives behind our actions, both of which fuel us to try to end our suffering. The first drive is fear. This fear is for one's own self in the face of danger. The second drive is love.
Of course, these drives are not exclusive to humans. Rayla and I live with a big lovely dog named Jake, who is clearly driven by them too. He was abused and neglected before we picked him up from a local pound two years ago. Because of his trauma and his breed (he is a war dog), he is very frequently afraid of the world around him. When new people come into the house, we have to give them very specific instructions to help them assimilate. He has never hurt anyone, but he can act aggressive (which can be very scary due to his size).
Jake’s experience of people he doesn't know is driven by fear. Because he feels like he cannot trust a stranger, he spends the first part of a new interaction in a heightened state of anxiety. In situations where he would be alone and approached by another animal that exclusively wishes him harm, this fear response may be useful. But in the reality he lives in, where nearly everyone he comes across wishes him well, the fear drive makes him act in a way that distances others from him, making it harder for him to both give and receive love.
At the end of the day, all Jake really wants to do is make friends to go on walks and snuggle with. His fear makes him do things that give him the illusion of safety, when in reality, all those actions succeed at is dissuading others from giving him the love he deeply craves.
Jake’s fear and love drives are very similar to our own.
The fear drive convinces us to act in ways that are violent, particularly toward things we do not understand, even as it destroys the parts of us that are the most important.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the fear drive. At the individual level, it can be incredibly useful for staying alive; it is that deep genetic need for self-preservation. In the face danger, it makes sense. Whether it’s a child recoiling from the stove after burning their hand, or the way that insurrectionists revolt against their oppressors, the fear drive makes sense.
But we cannot create a society powered by the fear drive. The fear drive is inherently destructive. It’s power is to separate, whether by retreat or annihilation—fight or flight. The fear drive immediately creates an “us” vs “them” story of the world. It separates the individual from the other in order to keep itself safe. While it may have uses at the individual level (pretty much exclusively in moments of urgency), it simply isn’t scalable.
Societies powered by the fear drive consistently fall into the same traps. They target anything “other” and and try to destroy it. This often comes in the form of oppression and extermination; it is always toward outsiders and internal minorities. The fear of the people who are “different” gives those who are “the same” the illusion of unity, and from this, they believe they have strength. The flaw is that a society built on fear makes fear pervasive in the people who support it. They cannot help but feel fear on a personal level, and as fear is meant to do, it separates each individual who feels it from everything “other”, including the people with whom the individual should feel the safest.
History has taught us that societies driven by fear, being made up of people who cannot help but to be afraid of each other, both destroy themselves from the inside out and destroy everything else while they are at it—this simply isn’t a viable survival strategy. The inhabitants of Spaceship Earth cannot survive long term while we are powered by our fear drives.
The fear drive attempts to secure individual survival, nothing else.
If we seek to create a society that is able to survive, it must be built on the love drive.
The best of us is ingrained in us on a deep emotional level. The love drive is what we feel when we understand the suffering of another and try to lessen it; it is the parent soothing the child that cries, the support of friends in a time of need. The love drive is what we feel when we understand the pleasure of others and seek to increase it; the tender embrace of a lover, the sweet nuzzle of a faithful dog. Love is that condition where the happiness of another is necessary to your own.
This drive brings us together and continually attempts to create unity and interbeing. It is the source of our greatest pleasures and the drive that most values our long term survival, particularly as a social animal.
Furthermore, love is scalable. This drive binds individuals within a group together and incentivises reaching out to “others” to do the same. These relationships are contagious and when individuals recognize the pleasure experienced from fully utilizing their love drive, nothing will convince them to do otherwise.
The love drive makes us realize that we must always be curious about things we do not understand, for that is the first step of a new unity. It helps us to be self-aware so that we know from where we act, what we feel and why we feel it. It shows us to always be consensual in our actions, for the suffering of others is our shared suffering.
The fear drive tries to ensure our individual survival, but the love drive engenders our collective pleasure. The love drive makes the survival of all life on Spaceship Earth viable.
We have reached a point in time where there are many different societies on our planet that are built out of fear and currently have the means to destroy each other. If these means, these powers of fear, are used, they will not only destroy the people they are used against, but everything on Earth.
For our species to survive, we must dismantle the relationships of fear that our societies are built on, replacing them with relationships driven by love. This must happen on all of Earth, for any relationships built on fear can easily lead to the use of the most effective available tools of destruction which, in this era, endangers all life on Earth.
We must come to realize how lucky we are to be alive and conscious—to have this amazing planet that we are perfectly adapted to. We need no air scrubbers, no protein synthesizers, and no laser cannons.
It is time to realize that human society on spaceship earth must be driven by love so that we can not only survive together but someday create paradise for each other.
It is time for our collective planet to boldly go where we have never gone before.