Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan

Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the MillenniumBillions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This falls into the Books I Should Have Read Already category, although it could also be in the Small Stacks of Found Books one because I did find it at a used bookstore while looking for something else.

Sagan covered a lot, in his very accessible way, and a reader might get an impression that he ran out of time, which of course, he did. I’ll not summarize here but I will share a few notes I made and observations I flagged… I do want to point out that even good thinkers like Sagan make mistakes; he attributed something to Hitler that Hitler never said. That it was passed around the ether before this book is still no excuse. Because of that, I had to check the Rudolf Hess quote that preceded it, which was more or less the English translation for what Hess did say in 1934.

On language and communication

Ethnocentrism – the idea that our little group, no matter which one it is, is better than any other – and xenophobia – a “shoot first, ask questions later” fear of strangers -are deeply built into us. They are by no means peculiarly human; all our monkey and ape cousins behave similarly, as do many other mammals. These attitudes are at east aided and abetted by the short distance over which speech is possible.

Some humans, and human mimics, have a hard time with that simple fact that we are genetically still rather primitive. Aggression and fear of others is sadly normal.

On the environment

The worse the catastrophe is, the harder it is to keep our balance. We want so badly to either ignore it utterly or to devote all our resources to circumventing it.

Hard truth boiled down to a simple dichotomy. And on the predictions of climate change, for the ignorant “ideologically driven radio talk-show hosts [and wrongwing politicians and media] who insist that the greenhouse effect is a ‘hoax.’”To roughly quote Richard Dawkins, it’s science b*itches! He notes “Considering hw contentious the scientific community is, it is notable that not a single paper is offered claiming that depletion of the ozone layer or global warming are snares and delusions or that global warming is considerably less than the estimated 1 to 4 C for a doubling in the carbon dioxide abundance.” Well, no legitimate scientific peer-reviewed paper – there is a host of cottage industry trolls masquerading as scientists that have cropped up since Sagan’s death spewing gibberish that is eaten up by the wrongwing.

I’d forgotten that the first truly horrendous president of my adulthood, Reagan, had the solar-thermal converter take off the White House roof. Sagan observes “It was somehow ideologically offensive.” Idiot (not Sagan, of course.) And now the administration of 2017 is bent on rolling back all environmental progress of the last 100 years. Ideological offense has something to do with it, as does lining the pockets of the billionaire cronies.

An uncomfortable truth, Sagan, after noting the annexations and occupations of the Soviet Union, turned to the United States

Excluding World Wars and expeditions to suppress piracy or the slave trade, the United States has made [as of 1996] armed invasions and interventions in other countries on more than 130 separate occasions, including China (on 18 separate occasions), Mexico (13), Nicaragua and Panama (9 each), Honduras (7), Columbia and Turkey (6 each), the Dominican Republic, Korea, and Japan (5 each), Argentina, Cuba, Haiti, the Kingdom of Hawaii, and Samoa (4 each), Uruguay and Fiji (3 each), Guatemala, Lebanon, the Soviet Union, and Sumatra (2 each), Grenada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Syria, Iraq, Peru, Formosa, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Add Iraq again, Afghanistan, Syria again, Somalia, and I don’t know how many more. Those data came from records of the House Armed Services Committee. We’re not clean and never have been.

He talks about abortion and opens “The issue had been decided years ago. The court had chosen the middle ground, You’d think the fight was over.” … well, actually… far from. He’d likely not be surprised, and still somehow remain optimistic.

Ann wrote a heart-tugging epilogue that if you aren’t moved after reading, well, you’re not human.

I should have read this long ago – I had an unread copy that was lost to a fire. Life’s too short to keep making that mistake. I do believe I’ll revisit Demon Haunted World this year…we’ll see.

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