The loss of opportunity
I loved the stories about the Opportunity rover as much as the next guy. The rover, a robot launched as part of Nasa’s Mars Exploration Program, was announced to have completed its mission of discovery and exploration this week. It is supposed that in 2018 the rover must have been lost to a dust storm on the red planet, and the announcement of its demise triggered an outpouring of shared grief across social media, especially when Nasa relayed the robot’s final message: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
I can’t even count the number of Wholesome Memes and fan art I’ve scrolled past on my feed paying tribute to the robot, who’s both a part of one of the most successful ventures in space exploration, an accomplishment for humankind, and an easy target for our softer feelings toward any small, defenseless, pure and earnest creature.
But that’s the thing: Opportunity was not a sentient thing, as adorable as it may have been. In the context of grim events in the political arena this week, my feelings over Opportunity soured as it became clear how much easier it is to expend grief and sympathy over a robot, which most of us have never touched or seen and with whose accomplishments we share no credit, than to share in the grief of those who have suffered under the current administration, or to be angry, and vocal, and to risk being offensive when we talk about defending press freedom or the ridiculous circus of our political candidates.
Soft feelings about things like Opportunity — remote from our daily lives and from the human condition, and “safe” and easy to express — are a huge contrast to the way we handle misfortune that is close and unpleasant, which disrupts our convenience, which begs us to ask uncomfortable questions and take uncomfortable sides.
Only recently, a space that should have been safe for these uncomfortable truths, the University of the Philippines
Diliman, was host to this type of numbed conscience. The UP Fair, with its theme of “RakNRally” — signifying its purpose both as a social gathering and as a vehicle for advocacy and awareness — gave a platform for students of the “lumad” to share their stories of displacement, fear and grief. However, there were several anecdotes of the lumad youth being made fun of or ridiculed during their spiels, either because of the way they looked or spoke or because they served as interruptions to the fun.
How is it that we evoke feelings of sympathy so easily for things that aren’t even human, yet find it so easy to lose our humanity when faced with someone standing right in front of us? The student leaders of the People Power era would have been appalled. Many from UP are appalled right now. Even an armchair type of activism, one would think, is better than none at all, if the alternative is this hard shallowness. There’s surely nothing wrong with enjoying the superficial, but something deeply wrong when we let it displace what’s important. Even daily interactions, online and offline, are riddled with this gravitation toward what is safe and apolitical. We’re more likely to talk about Netflix than about Maria Ressa.
If all that global connectedness is doing is making us less connected to what’s more local, more immediate, more grave, then we’re not using it right. I’d rather have less mourning for the Opportunity rover, and more mourning for the loss of opportunities which should have been enjoyed by those who have been killed or detained without due process, by journalists who fear for their safety, by the children of the lumad whose basic rights to safety and education have been threatened, by every group which has suffered under this unfeeling, dehumanized administration. For those who can’t enjoy the privilege of being apathetic or apolitical, morale is low, and it’s getting dark.
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