Carl Sagan, Rhetoric, and Critical Thinking

“For me, the most ironic token of that moment in history is the plaque signed by President Richard M. Nixon that Apollo 11 took to the moon. It reads ‘We came in peace for all mankind.’ As the United States was dropping 7.5 megatons of conventional explosives on small nations in Southeast Asia, we congratulated ourselves on our humanity. We would harm no one on a lifeless rock. That plaque is there still, attached to the base of the Apollo 11 lunar module on the airless desolation of the Sea of Tranquility.” –Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

How profound, and how sad. I try to steer away from politics on this blog, not because I don’t have strong political beliefs but because that’s just not the set-up for Part Time Monster. But Sagan’s quote points us not just to politics, but to critical thinking skills and historical context. I’ve no idea at what point Sagan made the connections described herein; what I mean is that he very well could’ve noticed this juxtaposition, the bombing of Vietnamese cities alongside Nixon’s grand message to the stars, at the time of the moon landing itself, or Sagan could’ve noticed the timelines years later. It’s important, though, that he didn’t fail to recognize them, and in placing the two alongside one another, managed to make an important and rather unique point about American culture and politics in the waning years of the twentieth century. The rhetoric is there. The critical thinking is there. In order to really disagree with it, then, one needs to think critically and formulate an alternative, supported historical view. This is the kind of thing I want to teach my students to think about, to do.

 

 

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