Tag Archives: the environment

Earth, Jeff Bezos, And The Overview Effect

The Overview Effect: How Seeing the Earth from Space Changes You

What happens to someone when they’ve spent their entire life seeing the world one way, only to have it radically change in an instant?

What happens to someone’s perspective when everything they thought they knew and understood suddenly seems smaller and less grand than they thought?

It can be a jarring experience. For some, it might even be traumatic. It can take the form of a religious experience, a major life-changing event, or even something as simple as falling in love. Whatever the case, it’s powerful. You see the world one way when the day starts. Then, when the sun sets, you see it completely differently.

That brings me to astronauts, space flight, and Jeff Bezos. I promise there’s a connection there and it’s one worth highlighting.

Most are aware that Amazon founder, and world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, took his first flight into space. It was well-covered by the media and was certainly fodder for plenty of criticism, some of which was quite warranted. However, I’m not going to touch on that. Instead, I want to focus on how this experience might affect him and his outlook.

That’s where the Overview Effect comes in. If you’re not familiar with this unique psychological phenomenon, then think back to the questions I asked earlier. Those are very relevant in that they’re part of what certain people experience when they go into space.

In short, the Overview Effect is a byproduct of this newfound prospective astronauts have when they go into space and see Earth from afar. Some treat it as a religious experience, so much so that it has an almost euphoric effect. That’s to be expected.

Up in space, there are no national boundaries. There are no politics, prejudices, and personal gripes. It’s only in space that you realize just how small Earth is and how small humanity is by comparison. That has a major impact on a person’s psyche. Some in the field of neuroscience have even studied it. One retired astronaut, Scott Kelly, once described it like this:

“The planet is incredibly beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. Having said that, parts of it are polluted, like with constant levels of pollution in certain parts of Asia. You see how fragile the atmosphere looks. It’s very thin. It’s almost like a thin contact lens over somebody’s eye, and you realized all the pollutants we put into the atmosphere are contained in that very thin film over the surface. It’s a little bit scary actually to look at it.

And then you realize looking at the Earth, that despite its beauty and its tranquility, there’s a lot of hardship and conflict that goes on. You look at the planet without borders, especially during the day. At night you can see countries with lights, but during the daytime it looks like we are all part of one spaceship, Spaceship Earth.

And we’re all flying through space together, as a team, and it gives you this perspective — people have described it as this ‘orbital perspective’ — on humanity, and you get this feeling that we just need to work better — much, much better — to solve our common problems.”

That sort of perspective is hard for most to imagine. The number of people who have been into space is less than 600. Jeff Bezos is only the latest entry into a very exclusive club. That may also mean he’s the latest to experience the Overview Effect.

Now, it’s hard to say how much or how little he was influenced by that effect. His trip to space didn’t last very long. However, the journey may have already left an impression. He has already been quoted as saying this:

“The most profound piece of it, for me, was looking out at the Earth, and looking at the Earth’s atmosphere….But when you get up above it, what you see is it’s actually incredibly thin. It’s this tiny little fragile thing, and as we move about the planet, we’re damaging it. It’s one thing to recognize that intellectually. It’s another thing to actually see with your own eyes how fragile it really is.”

That could just be him making good PR, but it could also be revealing. Again, not many people have gone into space. They haven’t had a chance to experience the Overview Effect for themselves. While plenty of trained astronauts have done it, none of them are Jeff Bezos. None of them are worth in excess of $200 billion.

There aren’t many people on this planet who have access to resources like him. There are even fewer with the means and the skills to take a grand vision and make it real. Now, Bezos has seen the world in a new light. He has had his perspective changed. What will that mean for him and for us?

Before he took his famous space flight, Bezos stepped down from Amazon. He’s still very involved, but he now has time to focus on new ventures. Some of those ventures may take us into space. Some may go towards fixing the environment.

It’s hard to know where this will lead. However, if someone like Jeff Bezos can be impacted by the Overview Effect, then what does that say about the rest of us? How much would the world change if more people got to experience that perspective? Maybe we’ll find out one day. Maybe we’ll get that chance because Jeff Bezos funded it.

Only time will tell. Personally, I’d like to experience the Overview Effect myself. Maybe I will one day.

Also, Jeff Bezos should still pay his workers more.

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Why Evil Billionaires And Politicians Will Save The World

The world is fraught with so many problems. There’s climate change, poverty, economic turmoil, disease, and reality TV shows. At times, it seems so overwhelming. Even though I’ve argued the world is getting better by most measures, I don’t deny there are still a lot of problems in the world that need solving.

So who’s going to solve them? Who will save us from all these destructive forces and guide the human race forward? Movies, TV shows, comic books, religion, and Oprah have convinced us that it’s the selfless, loving heroes who live to dry the tears of sick orphans and shit rainbows who will save us. Hell, a part of us needs it to be true.

However, in the same way media that pretends us that sex involves a lot more rose petals and spanking than it really does, reality presents a colder, harsher truth. Like the making of a sausage or the outcome O.J. Simpson trial, the truth tends to shatter your preferred fantasy with a hammer and shotgun.

The hard truth, in this case, is that superheroes, saints, and legendary kings who pull swords out of stones won’t save us. Robert Downy Jr. is not going to put on a giant suit of armor and defeat terrorists. Christian Bale is not going to put on a costume and beat up all the criminals. In reality, it’s the evil billionaires and self-serving politicians that will save the world.

I’ll give everyone a moment for their eye to stop twitching. Take all the time you need. I have a feeling I’m going to get plenty of hate for this post. It wouldn’t be the first time either. I know this is not a popular sentiment, especially from someone who loves comic books and superhero movies as much as I do. It is, however, the cold hard truth.

Before you try to punch me through your computer screen, please hear me out. I’m not bringing this up to upset people. I’m talking about it because sometimes, a dose of harsh truth is necessary. In a world where too many people look for easy solutions to impossible problems, it helps to maintain some level of perspective.

In this case, it’s less about perspective and more about understanding how the world works and how people, in general, govern their affairs. Most people who aren’t billionaires or in high positions of power probably have some vague, albeit cynical understanding of how they operate. Whether you’ve seen every Michael Moore documentary or watched one too many Chuck Norris movies, the vision is similar.

You imagine a dark room in a highly secure, underground bunker. In that bunker, there’s a group of men in fancy suits. Sometimes they’re old white men. Sometimes they’re evil foreign dictators. Sometimes they’re scheming celebrities who fantasize about all the ways they’ll corrupt the world’s youth.

It’s a mental picture that plays out in every James Bond movie and every hippie fever dream. We all think that the politicians and billionaires of the world live only to destroy the environment, spit on poor people, and pleasure themselves while sick children suffer. It’s a simple, understandable sentiment that makes us feel like the underdogs in our own movie.

However, this isn’t a movie, nobody is an underdog, and that mental picture is complete bullshit. The reality is that evil billionaires and corrupt politicians are still human, like you and me. They still want similar things. Sure, they may want crazier things like a pool of orphan tears to swim in every now and then. At the end of the day, though, they still eat, sleep, and get horny like everyone else.

As such, they have a vested interest in making sure the world stays in one piece and people don’t die needlessly. They need a world that’s stable, prosperous, and not full of rotting corpses. They need it because their power, wealth, and everything in between depends on it.

It’s the harshest, but most refreshing truth, in a sense. Since we don’t live in a James Bond movie, the companies, governments, and religious groups have a lot of incentive to keep the world in one piece. Sure, they’ll still take stupid risks that end up causing a lot of destruction, but in the grand scheme of things, they want the world to keep turning. They can’t get money, power, and adherents if it doesn’t.

That’s why all the evil organizations and sinister dictators we see in fiction wouldn’t last a day in the real world. It doesn’t matter if they’re as smart as Lex Luthor or as devious as the Red Skull. If they enter this world, they have to go through Disney lawyers, criminal cartels, entrenched lobbying groups, corrupt bureaucrats, and governments with bloated military budgets. They really don’t stand a chance.

I can sense that some are still skeptical, though. I imagine the left-leaning crowd will scoff at the notion that big corporations will somehow save the planet. The crowd on the far right will scoff even harder at the idea that governments, dictators, and all things un-American will do any good whatsoever.

Well, while you’re scoffing, all those things you don’t think can happen are happening. Countries like China and Saudi Arabia, who have an abysmal human rights record, are investing heavily in green energy, biotechnology, and robotics. They are making a concerted effort to be the greenest, cleanest, most efficient society on the planet.

Now, they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. Don’t think for a nanosecond they are. Their goals are more pragmatic. They understand that relying on fossil fuels, polluting the air, and trashing the environment is not good for the stability of their country. Even if they’re evil to the core, they like they’re power and they want to hold onto it.

Like the Empire in “Star Wars” or Big Brother in “1984,” the biggest concern of any government, especially the repressive ones, is preserving power. They can’t do that if their society is dirty, inefficient, and disease-ridden. They also can’t do that if their people are sick, weak, or improvised. They need doctors, scientists, lawyers, and henchmen who don’t fall after a single judo chop.

That means these sinister rulers need to create a functioning economy that allows at least some of its citizens to prosper. If they don’t, they risk losing everything. They know as well as any high school history student that the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire, and the entire state of Venezuela collapsed for being a bit too evil and corrupt.

The same goes for evil billionaires running businesses that make the Lisa Simpsons of the world cry. Whether they’re cigarette companies, oil companies, or companies that sell lead-laced candy, they need a society that’s peaceful and prosperous. They need people to be alive and healthy enough to actually buy their shit.

That’s why companies that people love to hate will donate billions to charity, invest in new technology, and fund the kinds of social change that combats our tribal urge to slaughter one another for petty reasons. Money may very well be the root of all evil, but it doesn’t discriminate. Money from a minority is as good as money from Bill Gates.

Again, these big companies don’t do what they do out of the goodness of their greedy hearts. They do it to make more money. Sure, big pharmaceutical companies may charge obscene prices for life-saving drugs, but they’ll also work to create new drugs that save even more lives.

On top of that, some evil companies go so far as to compete with one another. If one company does something particularly evil, like make a drug that only treats the symptoms of a disease rather than cure it, another might try to give that company a big middle finger by creating a cure instead. Evil selfish people are petty like that. The fact their actions save millions of lives in the process is just an afterthought.

That’s the greatest irony. In order for all this peace and progress to be made, we need evil billionaires and corrupt governments to embrace some of that evil in order to make the progress we seek. We need them to be selfish, paranoid, and cunning.

That’s why it won’t be some selfless scientist, gentle nun, or peace-loving hippie who will fix the problems of this world. It will be some ruthless company or corrupt government looking to strike it rich, gain power, or selfishly fuel their ego. It’s callous, but the end result still benefits everybody.

For all we know, these devious people just want to do what they do to get laid. If that means running a country that funds education and green energy programs or creating a business that makes billions treating disease, then we should cheer them on. Sure, they’re still not heroes, but they’re going to save our asses and expect us to kiss theirs. If it means a better, safer world, then I’m ready to pucker up.

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