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Pondering Globes
by Paul Cella
November 16, 2002

 Philosophical musings on the importance of understanding where everything really is located around the world, as opposed to living in an artificial world such as the false reality brought to us by television.

A man may derive great wonder from the simple endeavor of studying a globe. The topography with which we are familiar is so dependent on the inevitable and necessary distortion of maps that a globe’s accuracy brings its own delightful surprises. Item: Atlanta, Georgia is farther south than any point in Europe; indeed, the state of North Carolina is farther south than any major European city. Meanwhile, London is farther north than anywhere in the United States save, of course, Alaska. And Rome is north of New York City, Paris north of Montreal, Berlin north of Calgary.

Even within the U.S. there are some head-scratchers: Seattle is farther north than anywhere out East, save perhaps the tip of Maine; Honolulu is south of Havana, Cuba; and Denver is at roughly a latitude equal to Washington, D.C.

If, as the anthropologists tell us, mankind has been around for some 30,000 years, then he was largely unaware of the earth’s lineaments, and completely unaware of its curvature, for about 98 percent of his existence; and as I sit and look upon this globe, I reflect on the palpable fact that I am glazing upon one of the grandest achievements in all of the history of human civilization; an achievement which in importance and profundity surpasses, say, the television by several orders of magnitude. My impression is that the natural inversion represented by the undeniable disparity in importance between these two things, globe and television, in our society reflects the basic poverty of our ideas.

Standing on the shoulders of genius, modern man declares himself the tallest. We would be an unquestionably wiser, more patient, less self-absorbed and more interesting people who redirected one tenth of our attention paid to the television toward a casual and amateur study of the globe. I emphasize that I use the term amateur here divested of its implication of talentless or unskilled; but rather merely as opposed to professional, as in done precisely for income or monetary profit. Would that we were all amateur globe-studiers; the superiority of our human intellect would be readily apparent.

Somewhere, a reader is laughing at what seems the foolishness of my staring at a globe for anything more than a moment of complacent diversion. The only obvious riposte is: No, it is not foolishness; what is foolishness is to be consumed by fabricated events delivered through the medium of an optical illusion; almost by definition it is foolishness, because the essence of television is a facsimile which fools the brain into seeing what is not actually there. The cynic replies in all seriousness that all vision itself is illusion; indeed, that all human perception is illusion. Very well, let him take that dark path, for if we follow that logic to its terminus we discover only suicide: and I, for one, will not follow him even a single step. The cynic who asserts that all reality is an illusion must contend with the horror of waking to an illusion every day, and of living and breathing that same illusion every moment. He has integrated insoluble contradiction into the very fabric of his being, and thus confronts insanity as a way of life.

Let us leave the cynic and his tenebrous philosophy behind with only this final thought: that here again is yet another reflection of the poverty of our ideas -- the temper of the cynic is the fashion of our age. A more generous, a more august and confident temper would be that of the navigator, whose life, when not spent traveling by the light of the stars, was spent hunched over maps, and if he was lucky, globes. His vocation was to chart God’s Creation. Ours is to forget it exists.

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