Across the US today, hundreds of thousands of people celebrated “solar eclipse parties.” They toasted the darkening of the sun with champagne, burgers, beer, or all kinds of desserts. They ordered and wore special eclipse glasses – and they paid a lot of money for them. They left work early and went in boats, cars, and even planes to get the best view.
This is historically weird.
A century or two ago – and even in much of the world today – a solar eclipse was a sure sign of an impending doom for a civilization. The lack of knowledge about the astromechanics of the event also made this once-in-a-lifetime anomaly even more frightening.
It makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t the mysterious darkening of the sun scare people? We aren’t scientists. If we didn’t have some to do the work for us, we would be just as superstitious.
It makes very little sense why the covering of the sun – the source of pretty much all life on this planet – should be an occasion for parties, but it is.
That’s a wonderful, weird thing about our modern world. Scientific investigation has completely transformed our experience of anomalies like this. While we don’t have mastery of our world quite yet, we do have an understanding of its operations which boggles the mind.
That understanding banishes fear. It lets us celebrate and appreciate a thing that once might have us in mindless panic. And now we can plan something down to the minute that was once only in the hand of fate.
As we celebrate the solar eclipse today, we have a good reason to continue building the kind of world in which nature can be celebrated, worked with, and enjoyed – rather than feared. None of this would exist without wealth and specialization and voluntary cooperation among hundreds and thousands of hardworking, intelligent people. None of this would exist without that allows young people to grow up to be the scientists tracking the motion of planets and giving us times for their junction.
If we wish, we can continue to build the kind of world that celebrates eclipses. But that does mean letting an old world die – the world of control, power, and enforced ignorance. We’ll know we’re there when more of the things we fear become things we celebrate.
I don’t fear the solar eclipse, but I’ll drink to that apocalypse.